Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina has claimed a historic landslide victory at the recent national convention of the Episcopal Church to become the first African-American leader. The Associated Press reports that this victory is controversial because this denomination of the Christian faith supported slavery in the past.
Curry emerged as the 27th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church by getting 121 of 174 total votes by bishops of the church on the first ballot at the Episcopal General Convention last Saturday. None of his three rivals for the position got more than 21 votes.
The bishops’ decision was ratified by an 800-12 vote by the church’s House of Deputies, which comprises of clergy and lay people at the convention.
Curry, who currently heads the 48,000-member Diocese of North Carolina, said his election as the next presiding bishop was “a sign of our church growing more deeply in the spirit of God and in the movement of God’s spirit in our world.”
He will be installed during a service held at the Washington National Cathedral on November 1, 2015.
Curry’s election is quite remarkable, given the Episcopal Church’s historic links to slavery, racism and segregation. The church, which the AP describes as “the faith home of many Founding Fathers and U.S. presidents,” was said to have built many of its church buildings, cathedrals and schools with donations made by slaveholding members.
The Episcopal Church has been trying to appease those who might have been offended by its links to slavery and racism. Current Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to hold that position and the first woman to lead an Anglican national church, organized a national service of repentance in 2008 to issue an apology for the denomination’s historic involvement in slavery, segregation and racism.
“We’ve got a society where there are challenges before us,” Curry told the assembly after being introduced as the presiding bishop-elect. “We know that. And there are crises all around us. And the church has challenges before us.”
The Episcopal Church has endured a sharp decline in membership over the years as more people choose not to be formally affiliated with a specific religious denomination. Membership has fallen by around 18 percent in the last 10 years, and that is one of the first challenges Curry will need to deal with.
The AP reports that the bishop is known for his emphasis on evangelism, social justice and public service. And unlike many Christian leaders who are outraged by the recent legalization of gay marriage in the country, Curry is known to be firmly in support of gay rights, even speaking against a 2012 constitutional amendment in North Carolina which banned gay marriage.