Bishop-elect Bonnie Perry of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan was interviewed last week by Niraj Warikoo of The Detroit Free Press, and some of her statements indicate that she should run for political office or become a lobbyist, rather than a bishop. Perry told the Free Press that she intends to get the church involved with secular foundations and government officials to help make the region more equitable:
“I really do believe that the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan needs to be a partner with all of the development that’s going on in the Detroit metro area so that it’s equitable and really have close connections with our elected officials so that we’re able to enact our values of welcoming, fairness, equity,” she said. “In order to make that happen, you have to be connected with the power structures. That’s something I’m very interested in doing.”
Perry was elected last week on the fifth ballot from a slate of four female candidates. This was her third nomination for the episcopacy since 2006 (Mary Ann Mueller from Virtue Online has an excellent overview here). Perry will have the distinction of being not only the first female bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, but also the first partnered lesbian to lead a diocese (Mary Glasspool, currently serving as Assistant Bishop for the Diocese of New York, was elected in 2009 as a bishop suffragan).
A former Roman Catholic, Perry joined the Episcopal Church while attending Union Theological Seminary in New York, a liberal institution with a focus upon political activism.
Perry’s sexuality has understandably drawn attention; she joins The Rev. Thomas James Brown, elected in February as bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, who is also in a same-sex marriage. Brown was the first person in a same-sex marriage elected to be a bishop since Glasspool, ending a nearly decade-long period in which gay and lesbian candidates were regularly nominated to the episcopacy, but not elected.
Recent elections of partnered gay candidates in both Maine and Toronto have shown that no serious consequences will come from the worldwide Anglican Communion’s “instruments of unity” (including the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury). Scripture and tradition have long ago been displaced in favor of “the lived experience of the LGBT community”.
Perry will have her work cut out for her. According to data provided by the Executive Office of the General Convention, the Michigan diocese reported 28,960 members, 95 parishes and 9,574 attendees in 2002, not long after her outgoing predecessor, Bishop Wendell Gibbs Jr., assumed office. By 2017 the diocese had declined to 16,889 members (-42%), had shuttered 20 parishes and had only 6,006 attendees (-37%). Declines in weddings and baptisms were even more steep, from 605 baptisms and 205 marriages in 2002 down to 217 baptisms (-64%) and 100 marriages (-51%) in 2017.