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Anglicanism / Episcopal Church  
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The controversy surrounding the consecration of The Reverend V. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the American Episcopal Church in 2003 brought into sharp relief the complex ways in which members of the worldwide Christian body known as the Anglican Communion have dealt with issues of sexuality, a complexity rooted in historical struggles and shaped by contemporary pressures.

The Anglican Communion

The Episcopal Church in the U. S. A., a small but influential mainstream Protestant denomination, is one of 38 national churches loosely joined in the Anglican Communion; these churches fully recognize each others' ministries and acknowledge the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, a mark of these churches' historical origins in the Church of England.

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The Church of England itself was created amidst political and sexual controversy in the sixteenth century, specifically in Henry VIII's desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, in hopes of producing a male heir to the English throne. When Pope Clement VII refused to grant an annulment, the king broke with Rome, had himself (and subsequent monarchs) declared Supreme Head of the Church of England by the Act of Supremacy (1534).

Theological Positions

From a theological perspective, the creation of the Church of England was the particular English expression of the trends of the Protestant Reformation across Europe, as groups in various countries separated from the strict centralized authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Along with other Christian churches, Anglican churches share a central belief in the salvific action of God through Jesus. Other core doctrines are found in the historic affirmations known as the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.

The distinctive aspects of Anglican practice include an ecclesial structure rooted in the historic episcopate, an emphasis on liturgical worship deriving from The Book of Common Prayer (first published in 1549), and a theological approach often characterized as the via media (middle way), distinct both from the hierarchical authority of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity and from a religious understanding centered on the experiences of the individual believer that characterizes most Protestant denominations.

Anglican theologian Richard Hooker (1554-1600) used the image of a three-legged stool, or tripod, to explain the grounding of Anglican faith in scripture, reason, and tradition; all three are needed for stability. The result was a polity that drew on both the traditions of the church and the integrity of the individual experience.

The churches that evolved from Henry VIII's Church of England have historically not defined themselves by rigid adherence to particular doctrines (whether on matters of sexuality or other issues), but by this via media that strives for a unity of truth revealed in scripture, understood by the reflection of reason on experience, and lived out in the tradition of the Church through the years.

The Anglo-Catholic Revival and Glbtq Identification with the Anglican Tradition

Until recent years the policies of the Episcopal Church (U. S. A.) have not been more notably supportive of gay men and lesbians than other denominations, but there has nonetheless been a notable presence (often sub rosa) and acceptance of gay men and lesbians in Episcopal churches, particularly in urban areas. Although this acceptance is in part due to the absence of sustained and overt condemnation of homosexuality from the typical Episcopal pulpit, such tolerance may also derive from the cultural identification of the Episcopal Church with upward social mobility and from the effects of the Anglo-Catholic revival on the aesthetic life of the Episcopal Church.

Often called the "Oxford Movement" because of its origins in that university, this nineteenth-century revival sought to recover the richness of the spiritual and liturgical life of the earlier Christian tradition that such leaders as John Henry, (later) Cardinal Newman felt had been lost. Worship services became occasions for liturgy that emphasized the mystery and wonder of spiritual truth, rather than the cold rationality of the Enlightenment or the aesthetic preferences of the Puritans.

Drawing inspiration from the church traditions of the Middle Ages, Anglo-Catholic parishes embraced elaborate liturgical vestments rich in color and texture, Neo-Gothic architecture adorned with paintings, sculpture, and tapestries, and musical offerings inspired by the full heritage of Western religious music. Douglas Shand-Tucci has explored how gay men such as the architects Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Goodhue spurred a liturgical renaissance in the final decades of the nineteenth century that was nurtured by the gay artistic communities of large cities.

Research that analyzes these connections is only beginning to appear, but the cultural aptness of the identification of gay men with the Anglican tradition can be found in literature. In Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), Charles Ryder is advised by his uncle to choose his associates at Oxford carefully: "Beware of Anglo-Catholics--they're all with unpleasant accents." Andrew Holleran's Dancer from the Dance (1978) offers the more provocative suggestion that Malone, the novel's mysterious protagonist and sometime-escort, numbers an Episcopal bishop among his regular clients. In More Tales of the City (1980), Armistead Maupin gleefully imagines a cannibalistic cult operating at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

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A portrait of Henry VIII (1542), the first Supreme Head of the Church of England, by Hans Holbein.
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