June 27, 2015

Episcopalians Choose First Black Leader in Landslide Election

Episcopal Church Bishops gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah for their denomination’s triennial General Convention have elected a new Presiding Bishop to lead the 1.8 million-member U.S.-based church.

Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina was chosen in a landslide on the first ballot, a first for any Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Curry is also the first person of African-American descent to be elected to lead the denomination, whose membership is overwhelmingly white.

Curry, who received 121 votes out of total of 174 cast, came in well ahead of second-place finisher Bishop Dabney Smith of the Tampa-based Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida who garnered 21 votes. Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio was a close third at 19 votes, while Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut had 13 votes. Curry will serve a nine-year term in office.

“This is a good and wonderful church, and we are good and wonderful people,” Curry enthused as he greeted the denominations House of Deputies following a confirmation vote of 800-12 by the body of clergy and laity. “We are part of the Jesus movement, and nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world.”

Curry is known as a dynamic preacher, although in the days leading up to the election he also highlighted the administrative work of his Raleigh-based diocese, reporting that every parish was giving its full asking amount. The Diocese of North Carolina is also somewhat unusual for largely maintaining its membership and attendance numbers in a wider denomination that has rapidly shed nearly 20 percent of members and a quarter of attendance in the past decade.

Curry has also frequently emphasized his relationship with Jesus Christ. While he declined to identify himself as an Evangelical when pressed at a media conference on Saturday afternoon, Curry laughed “it will be interesting to see what terms people use about me” and instead opted to say he is “a follower of Jesus.”

“I take Evangelism, discipleship and witness seriously,” Curry told reporters following his election. “I think those three things are critical.”

By “witness,” Curry referred to what the church speaks to the society around it.

“The Episcopal Church has something to offer in the public square,” Curry declared. “We will find ourselves seeking to be a reconciling voice in the public square … particularly on the cluster of racial issues which surround us.”

“We’re in a time when the church that has historically been more established is finding that the Gospel hasn’t changed but that we do need to learn and discover new ways of carrying out and sharing the good news of Jesus,” Curry assessed, adding that the church “must go to where the congregation is” rather than the other way around, and that this will have impact on evangelism.

While Curry in known for quoting Evangelist Billy Sunday and using the language of both the black church and Evangelical Christianity, he has firmly established himself among Episcopal Church liberals concerning political issues outside the church as well as controversies within it. Under Curry’s leadership, the Diocese of North Carolina began permitting parishes and clergy to begin conducting blessings of same-sex unions in 2004, long before most dioceses embraced the practice. Curry has also participated in the “Moral Mondays” protests held by progressive clergy and political activists upset by the direction of his state’s legislature.

While Douglas, not Curry, was widely considered the candidate closest to outgoing Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the two claimed each other as close friends at the media conference, noting that they both entered the church’s House of Bishops in the same year.

When Jefferts Schori was elected to the position of Presiding Bishop in 2006, “I was in the room, and it was a movement of the Holy Spirit — it really was,” Curry recalled. “And today felt the same way.”

Curry was supportive of Jefferts Schori’s legacy during the media conference, stating: “I concur with and support wholeheartedly the Presiding Bishop’s statement [endorsing the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage]”.

“We’re in the business of love,” Curry announced of the oldline church’s endorsement of same-sex unions, which are now permitted by three-quarters of Episcopal dioceses. “There’s a hymn that where true love is found, God is there.”

Asked about how he might pursue reconciliation with Anglicans in the Global South who have impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church, Curry declared “The Spirit of God will create space for all of us” and noted that “I have friends in the Global South.”

Asked about the church’s litigation strategy against departing Anglicans in the United States, which has reportedly cost the church in excess of $42 million, Curry did not place any daylight between Jefferts Schori and what policy he might pursue.

“I am supportive of our Presiding Bishop and the policies of our church,” Curry noted, while allowing that he was unfamiliar with the details of ongoing court cases involving the denomination and several of its former dioceses and congregations.

“I am committed to the work of reconciliation that is a part of our Gospel mandate,” the Presiding Bishop-elect announced.

6 Responses to Episcopalians Choose First Black Leader in Landslide Election

  1. Beau Jackson says:

    That was a no-brainer. After having a woman as presiding bishop (and a total disaster she was), they weren’t going to have a white man as her successor. They’re not going to reverse their membership decline.

  2. Greg says:

    I was hoping they would have elected a transgendered albino midget.

  3. Weasel1886 says:

    More tokenism.
    Did the church grow under its first woman presiding bishop?
    Maybe at this point they’re not even hoping to retain members, maybe they just hope to get as many grievance groups represented among their bishops as possible, before the church ceases to exist.

  4. BishopAndrewGeralesGentry says:

    “Ms. Schori was an excellent CEO and defended the “bottom line” more fiercely then anyone dared to imagine and rightly therefore called herself “the new sheriff in town”. She spent over 44 million dollars! to retain or to confiscate property that her national corporation did not pay for and used very effectively the strategy of bankrupting those who opposed her views and policies. In her unparalleled zeal to keep monies and investments that legally did not belong to the national organisation in the first place she alienated more people than any single issue or person previous to her tenure and proved beyond contradiction that what was important was not fidelity to inclusion or gender equality but the retention of investments and returns. She made no pretence about her welcome of the money changers in the temple. She represented well her deism and feel good “progressivism” as “the brand” that is the Episcopal Church in the U S at least for those who governed it. Those of us on the outside including this proud liberal can only hope that ECUSA will stop worrying about “the brand” and the image and will worry instead about being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus that welcomes everyone and respects the dignity of everybody.”

    ON the election of the new PB: A hopeful and positive sign that instead of being a corporation ECUSA with the new presiding bishop, who has indicated he will be a presiding pastor rather than a CEO, can return to the ministry rather than the portfolio.!

  5. Paul says:

    I’ve watched some videos of his preaching. This looks like the right person to help stem the tide of decline. He’s not here to be a shill for the Democratic Party or to continue the status quo of TEC being your typical religious social club…he’s here to help the Episcopal Church get back in the church business. I like his emphasis on discipleship and gospel-spreading.

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