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Oklahoma bishop discusses Episcopalian decisions regarding gay inclusion


United Methodists aren't the only denomination to grapple with the issue of gay inclusion in recent years.

The Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Episcopal Church USA all have made significant changes to their denominational policies and laws regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay people.

The Episcopal Church, in particular, made international headlines when it decided in 2003 to consecrate and ordain the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the denomination's first openly gay bishop.

The Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny was elected and consecrated as Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma's fifth bishop in 2007, four years after Robinson's ordination rocked the worldwide Anglican Communion. As the American arm of the Communion, the Episcopal Church found itself dealing with division both from within its national jurisdiction and within the global Communion.

Recently, Konieczny said he has empathy for the Methodists gathered in St. Louis because he has been in their situation.

"I know what they're facing. It's a difficult proposition in a lot of ways," Konieczny said.

Robinson's ordination set off a firestorm that eventually resulted in some dioceses separating from the Episcopal Church to form the Anglican Church in North America in 2009. The Episcopal Church wrestled with the issue of same-gender marriage for several years before deciding in 2012 to adopt a provisional rite of blessings for same-gender relationships. At that time, bishops were given the authority to decide if their dioceses would use the rights.

In 2015, the canons of the Church were changed to make the rite of marriage available to all people regardless of gender. Then in 2018, the denomination decided to allow clergy to perform same-sex marriages even if their bishop was theologically opposed to it.

Konieczny said in Oklahoma, over a period of several years, he asked parishes to hold congregational discussions to explore the topic of same-gender marriage. The bishop said this was a way to encourage parishioners to talk together about the issue and try to come to a consensus about whether or not they were at a place as a congregation theologically, to be a parish where same-gender couples could receive the sacrament of marriage. He said the parishes were asked to report back to him and he made the determination from that report whether the parish would be able to offer same-gender marriage rites.

He said the most challenging part of incorporating the different changes into the diocese was coming to terms with the reality that there were people across the spectrum, "from both extremes to the middle."

Konieczny said it was important that parishioners were given space and time to have conversations with each other.

"We didn't implement or impose anything overnight. We provided a process that allowed people, regardless of what the outcome was, to be able to say and to share and be passionate about who they are and what their position was," he said.

"And I think at the end of the day, over the number of years that we've been addressing this, we had a healthy process, that while not everybody agrees with it, we have been able to live together with one another in the midst of our disagreements and our tensions — on the foundations of loving our God, loving one another and respecting the dignity of every human being. That has seen us through to where we are now, where there are congregations in this diocese that are supportive of LGBTQ same-gender-marriages and there are congregations in this diocese that, as a congregation, it's not part of their particular practice."