SAN DIEGO--In the voice of the Rt. Rev. Gethin B. Hughes, Episcopal bishop of San Diego, there lingers a trace of Wales, where he grew up in the same small town as Rowan Williams, current archbishop of Canterbury. Williams, titular head of the 79 million members of the Anglican Communion worldwide, must be worrying about some turbulent American priests now in Minneapolis at the Episcopal Church's triennial convention.
Hughes and 23 other bishops have urged the convention not to do what it probably will do -- approve the election by New Hampshire Episcopalians of a male bishop who is in a 13-year relationship with another man, and approve a rite for blessing same-sex unions. Hughes' point is not that either action would certainly be wrong, but that both would be premature because there is not sufficiently settled theology about such things.
Given media proclivities, Hughes and kindred spirits in Minneapolis will be portrayed as provocateurs. But Hughes is urging only prudence in response to impatient ``progressives'' who always are pushing to keep church practices congruent with whatever the secular culture considers advanced thinking.
In a recent Canadian provocation, a Vancouver bishop approved churches performing same-sex unions. But, then, that bishop airily declares, ``We have no reason to suppose that any one religion is truer than the others'' -- an interesting idea from an ordained minister of a religion supposedly based on revelation.
Archbishop Williams approves of same-sex unions but understands the role of prudence in the conservation of institutions. He recently met for six hours with a gay man selected to be an English bishop. Then the man declined selection.
``Progressive'' Episcopal clergy, and their counterparts in Canada and Britain, are increasingly preoccupied with politics and have become a marginalized faction within Anglicanism. This was dramatized in 1998 at the most recent Lambeth conference, a once-a-decade convocation of Anglican bishops. American bishops had their sexual liberalism emphatically rejected by the bishops from where the Anglican Communion is flourishing--Africa, Asia and Latin America.