Liberal Washington, D.C. think tank the Center for American Progress (CAP) announced last week that Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who was ordained in 2003 as the first openly gay clergy member in North America, will be joining its ranks as a part-time senior fellow.
"Bishop Robinson will bring his well-respected perspective and experience to this fellowship, helping to discuss and analyze a wide array of policy areas in a progressive religious light," the announcement said, noting that the bishop will be focusing on issues related to social justice, gay rights, and others.
Regarding Robinson's qualifications, author William Murchison, an Episcopalian, said, "I think Gene's qualifications for this role probably approximate his qualifications for the role of prophet, which he has assumed in the Episcopal Church."
"Everything Gene does tends to be conditioned upon his absolute faith that he knows what he is talking about," Murchison told the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). "He's a man of some charm, but if you get beyond these somewhat basic and superficial credentials, I don't believe there's a whole lot of 'there' there."
Robinson made headlines and arguably one of the largest schisms in Anglican history in 2003 when he became the Episcopal Church's first openly gay clergy member.
The church's second gay bishop, the Rev. Mary Glasspool, was given final approval earlier this month and is set to be consecrated in May.
Well beyond Episcopalians, however, Robinson's ordination has tipped off a furious debate over homosexuality within nearly all mainline denominations.
The Presbyterian Church (USA), which has struck down several proposals from its governing members to allow gay clergy into its church, engaged in a lawsuit this month against one of its pastors, the Rev. Jane Spahr, for marrying a lesbian couple in California in 2008. PC(USA) bans its clergy from marrying same-sex couples although "blessing" them is permitted.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is currently in negotiations with two East Coast congregations who have voted to leave the church based on a 2009 decision by the group's governing body to ordain gay clergy members.
Congregations in Fort Pierce, Fla. and West Manchester, Penn. both made overwhelming votes to leave the ELCA this month, although the Florida congregation's request was denied by its governing synod based on mission-related reasons. The congregation in West Manchester will be making a second vote in June before its decision is presented to its synod.
Meanwhile, another Florida ELCA congregation has begun drafting a policy against an active homosexual pastor in its ranks.
"We believe that the proper place for sexual relationships is between a married man and a woman," the Rev. Dave Charlton, pastor of Living Lord Lutheran Church near Vero Beach, told a local newspaper.
Last week, the Episcopal Church released a report detailing the findings of a year-long study on same-sex marriages and their relationship to the church.
While intended to be one paper, the study became divided between strong "traditionalist" and "expansionist" viewpoints held by its participating members.
The "expansionist" paper argued that same-sex couples should be blessed because the church "requires their testimony to the love of Christ and the church, and because it recognizes that same-sex couples stand in need of sanctification no less than opposite-sex couples."
It also said that "to deny committed couples marriage deprives them not of a privilege but of a medicine. It deprives them not of a social means of satisfaction but of a saving manner of healing."
The "traditionalist" paper made note of a rule of thumb taken by reformation theologian Richard Hooker which said, "where practices and institutions develop in accordance with reason and tradition, and when they are not in contradiction with Holy Scripture, then there is no requirement to abolish such understandings and practices (such as church vestments, hierarchical ministry, and so on)."
"While it may be possible on grounds of justice (in a modern sense) to argue in favor of same-sex relations, it would be in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture, and it would be in contradiction to the guidance from reason which Hooker articulated in his understanding of natural law," the paper continued.
"Though tradition and reason carry weight, they are, finally, not on the same level as Scripture, which must be deemed the decisive factor."