- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

The man who beat a field of racially and sexually diverse candidates to secure the top spot in one of the country’s most liberal Episcopal dioceses said yesterday that God, “transparency” and an ability to please multiple constituencies may have helped him win.

“I really prayed a great deal,” said Alabama Suffragan Bishop Mark Andrus, 49, who was elected Saturday on the third ballot as bishop of California.

“I spent a lot of time in preparation trying to see how transparent I could be,” he added in an interview with The Washington Times. “While in front of the people of the Diocese of California, I tried to be seen in the depth of my abilities and my limitations. Perhaps they saw a whole person.”

Three of the seven candidates for bishop of the 27,000-member Diocese of California were homosexual. Two were female, one was black and all were from varying sections of the country. All seven — including Bishop Andrus — were theologically liberal in terms of favoring same-sex “blessings” and homosexual clergy, both of which the San Francisco-based diocese has allowed for years.

However, California Episcopalians’ ability to see beyond categories “spoke to the strength of the diocese,” their new bishop said. “It spoke to their spiritual maturity.”

The diocese was under tremendous pressure to avoid electing any of the three homosexual candidates. Homosexual leadership is forbidden in the 70-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is one part. In 2003, Episcopalians elected Canon V. Gene Robinson as the nation’s first homosexual bishop, prompting 22 Anglican provinces — more than half — to partially or completely break off relations with the U.S. church.

Californians also were pressured to make their eighth bishop different from the white, heterosexual men who have always filled the post.

“If we don’t diversify the diocese, we’re not going to make it in the 21st century,” Canon Eugene Sutton of the Washington Cathedral, the sole black nominee, told a candidate forum, as reported by the San Mateo County Times.

“Eugene made a very strong appeal to [the diocese’s] desire to be more of an evangelistic diocese,” Bishop Andrus said.

The laity were taken with this argument, throwing the majority of their votes toward Canon Sutton for the first two ballots. But the clergy remained solidly behind Bishop Andrus until enough laity switched sides to give the Alabama bishop his victory.

Bishop Andrus, who served in Virginia as rector of Middleburg’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church from 1996 to 2001, said he showcased his biblical background, nurtured by a childhood in Tennessee growing up as a United Methodist.

“My mother was a deeply grounded woman who spent her whole life reading the Scriptures,” he said, “so I’ve spent a lot of time with them.” His favorite biblical books are the Gospels of Mark and John, “the earliest and the latest Gospels,” he explained, “presenting paradoxical pictures of Jesus.”

Bishop Andrus’ good relations with the homosexuals in Alabama didn’t hurt, either. Integrity, the Episcopal Church’s homosexual caucus, issued press releases soon after the final vote, praising the new bishop as a “long-time Integrity ally.”

“Bishop Andrus is a person of vision who has led our diocese in confronting poverty and racism,” said Brad LaMonte, Integrity’s Southeastern regional vice president, calling the clergyman a “great champion for human rights — including equality for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] people.”

Bishop Andrus, who had 70 confirmations to perform yesterday in Alabama, will not fly to California until later this week. His predecessor, Bishop William Swing, is not scheduled to retire until July.

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