WHEELING, Ill. A moderate church leader, the Rev. Jeffrey Lee, was elected the 12th Bishop of Chicago at the diocese convention on Saturday over seven other candidates, one of them an openly lesbian priest.
In a statement distributed to the more than 500 delegates before the vote, Lee said he wanted to keep a conversation going with conservatives on the issue of gay clergy. But he also said he has stood for "the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church."
"He would be perceived as someone who is qualified for the job, but not polarizing as other candidates might have been," said the Rev. Canon Mike Stephenson of the Diocese of Chicago.
If the Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, had been elected, she would have become the second bishop living with a same-sex partner in the Episcopal Church, which is the Anglican body in the United States. The 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who has a male partner, pushed the world Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.
Lee, rector of St. Thomas Church in Medina, Wash., was elected on the second ballot, after winning the most votes on an earlier ballot without achieving the needed majority.
Lind was fourth on both ballots.
Lee's church supports the inclusion of lesbians and gays, but also does not exclude members who disagree with that stance, Lee said in his statement.
"I make it clear that I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but as a leader I have a duty to articulate my own understanding of what God may be calling the church to do," Lee wrote of his position on welcoming gays to the church.
A consecration ceremony is planned for Feb. 2. Chicago Bishop William Persell plans to resign after his successor is consecrated.
Lee said he was "honored and humbled" to be chosen to head the 41,000-strong diocese, which encompasses Chicago and most of northern Illinois. He did not address the issue of same-sex clergy in his brief comments by phone.
A majority of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, a loose-knit worldwide coalition of churches that align themselves with the Church of England, hold traditional views that homosexuality is condemned by Scripture, while a majority in the Episcopal Church do not.
Earlier this year, Anglican leaders demanded that the Americans pledge unequivocally not to consecrate another gay bishop or approve an official prayer service for same-sex couples.
In response, Episcopal bishops said at a September meeting in New Orleans that they would "exercise restraint" in approving another gay bishop and wouldn't authorize prayers to bless same-sex couples a position Lee supported.
Lee explained in his written comments that his support for that stance "came from a deep desire to keep the conversation going forward at the international level."
Many theological conservatives condemned the response as inadequate, while some liberals accused the bishops of sacrificing gays for the sake of unity.
Persell, the outgoing bishop, said many delegates Saturday understood that the election of Lind would have caused controversy.
"But this election should not be seen as a vote against a gay or lesbian person," he said, adding that the 40,000-strong diocese was as committed as ever to the full inclusion of gays and lesbians.