Mixed reaction to New Hampshire bishop election
(ENS) Reaction to the June 7 election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson,
an openly gay priest who is living in a committed relationship, as the
ninth bishop of New Hampshire has ranged from joy to outrage. Yet all
parties have one thing in common--concern for how the election is handled
at this summer's General Convention in Minneapolis.
That's where Robinson's election may be either ratified or rejected, first
by the House of Deputies and then by a subset of the House of Bishops
composed of bishops "with jurisdiction"--those who head dioceses in the
Episcopal Church. Both houses must concur for the election to be validated
and the consecration to proceed this fall.
Robinson's will not be the only episcopal election coming before the triennial
convention. Nine other episcopal elections occur within 120 days of the
convention. That triggers a provision of the church's canons that requires
ratification of the election by the House of Deputies rather than the
standing committees of each of the church's dioceses, plus a majority
of all diocesan bishops.
Failure to ratify a bishop's election is a rare event in the history of
the church. In 1874, George Franklin Seymour, the Anglo-Catholic dean
of the General Theological Seminary in New York, was elected third bishop
of Illinois. Seymour was widely perceived as a "ritualist," introducing
what were then considered "dangerous" Roman Catholic liturgical innovations,
such as candles on the altar, into what was then a very Protestant-oriented
denomination. According to historians, his election was refused by a technical
majority of the House of Deputies during a vote by orders, although the
numerical majority was favorable.
Another "ritualist" whose election was denied, and who is now commemorated
on March 22 in the church's yearly calendar, was the Rev. James deKoven,
nominated as bishop for the dioceses of Massachusetts and Wisconsin and
elected bishop of Illinois in 1875, just one year after Seymour. His election
was not confirmed by a majority of diocesan standing committees.
Two years later the diocese of Illinois was split into three: Chicago,
Quincy, and Springfield. Seymour was unanimously chosen bishop of the
new Diocese of Springfield and his election was confirmed by the diocesan
standing committees and bishops. But Seymour declined the election. The
next year, 1878, he was again unanimously chosen in Springfield and became
its first diocesan bishop.
'A fine bishop'
Robinson is a fine priest and, we believe, will make a fine bishop," said
the Rev. Michael Hopkins, president of the lesbian and gay affinity group
Integrity, in a statement released by email shortly after the news of
Robinson's election broke. "We do not believe it was primarily about sexuality.
Nevertheless, we rejoice that this threshold--the election of an honest
and open gay person living in a committed relationship--has been crossed.
The emphasis should be on the words 'honest and open.' Canon Robinson
will certainly not be the Church's first gay bishop.
regret that this election is the source of pain and controversy to some
in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion," the statement continued,
but it called on the leadership of General Convention to "enable a fair
process for the confirmation hearings and votes in the two Houses of the
The president of Province I, Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine, described
Robinson as "a man of prayer who lives intimately with the Good Shepherd
to whom he has given his life. God has blessed him abundantly with gifts
of wisdom, skill, vision and courage. His extensive experience in parish,
diocesan and national church ministry has repeatedly revealed his greatest
gift: that of drawing people together in the mission of Jesus Christ.
Reconciliation happens when Gene is present; the movement of grace is
apparent in every dimension of his ministry."
'Holy Spirit moment'
From the opposite coast, the first to welcome Robinson's election was
the first openly gay priest elected dean of an Episcopal cathedral. The
Rev. Robert Taylor of St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle called it "a Holy
God is a God of generous love and hope, always embracing those who the
Church might not fully embrace. While the institution of the Church has
often battled over who to keep out, the story of God is a different one--God
is always inviting, including, and celebrating the richness of all people,
be they black, white, gay, straight, rich, or poor," said Taylor, who
was an anti-apartheid activist in his native South Africa.
Robinson's election will cause angst on the part of some in the Episcopal
Church, Taylor acknowledged, but will also be celebrated by many as a
sign of God's mercy, hope, and love for all people and their gifts. He
noted that there have always been gay priests and bishops throughout the
history of the Church, and said Robinson's election means that there will
come a day in which no one in the Church feels they have to deny the God-given
gift of their sexuality. He added, "Robinson was not elected because of
his sexuality but because of the gifts he has been given by God and the
depth of his ministry as a pastor, reconciler, and proclaimer of the good
news of Jesus Christ."
A dangerous man?
Those accolades for Robinson were sharply contrasted by the statements
of conservative renewal leaders and advocacy groups.
The American Anglican Council (AAC) issued a statement declaring itself
"deeply saddened" by the election of Robinson, calling it "a clear illustration
of the deep dysfunction in our "anything goes" Episcopal Church, and is
a witness that is not consistent with the global Anglican Christian Church.
It also shows us again just how far much of the Episcopal Church has moved
out of the thriving mainstream of worldwide Anglicanism... We would strongly
urge Convention to act in accordance with scripture, tradition, reason
and the mind of the Anglican Communion and withhold consent."
The Rev. Todd H. Wetzel, executive director of Episcopalians United, said,
"Several years ago, I called the Rev. Gene Robinson 'the most dangerous
man in the Episcopal Church.' I did so, not because Canon Robinson was
inept or because he was lacking in compassion. On the contrary, he is
one of the most talented clergy in the church and a powerful candidate
for Bishop in any diocese. Were it not for the fact that he is engaged
in an immoral lifestyle and openly displays his commitment to another
man, he would in all other areas be qualified." Wetzel argued that Robinson's
"exemplary capabilities do not warrant an exception to 2000 years of the
teaching of Scripture ... Clearly, Canon Robinson's behavior is a scandal,
not only to the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world, but
to Moslems as well."
Wetzel concluded by urging the General Convention to "override sentiment
and refuse to certify the election" of Robinson, while at the same time
asking conservatives to avoid "rancorous debate. The arguments are clear
on both sides."
Change in doctrine
In another statement entitled "Grave Concern over a Great Crisis," the
bishops of the Diocese of South Carolina seemed to turn the focus of their
objection from Robinson's sexual orientation to the fact that his 13-year
relationship with partner Mark Andrew is "outside the bounds of marriage."
The statement was signed by Bishop Edward Salmon, Jr. and Bishop Suffragan
While acknowledging that "to his credit, Canon Robinson made no secret
of his involvement in a relationship with his same sex partner, whom he
named but didn't make a focus of the election process," they warned that
if the church ratifies Robinson's election, "we would clearly be approving
of the relationship in which Gene Robinson is involved. This is not about
a person or a diocesan election process; it is about a radical change
in church doctrine.
union in which Canon Robinson participates is not Holy Matrimony but an
intimate relationship outside the bounds of marriage. This would be true
whether he were cohabiting with a man or with a woman," the statement
said. "For the church implicitly to sanction such a partnership will be
a clear repudiation of the teaching of Holy Scripture and the tradition
of the church; it also would signify a massive overhaul of the Christian
theology of marriage by the Episcopal Church."
An approval of the election, they said, would fly in the face of the will
of the Anglican primates expressed in a recent pastoral letter, as well
as "a whole host of General Convention resolutions on this subject dating
back several decades. If Gene Robinson's election is confirmed by General
Convention, it would bring through the back door a practice that the Episcopal
Church has never agreed to approve through the front door. How can this
be considered doing justice?" said the South Carolina bishops. "We do
NOT have a theology for same sex relationships, and to agree to the Robinson
election would be tacitly to sanction relationships still searching for
a theology. We do not believe such a theology is possible without doing
violence to Holy Scripture."
'A grievous wound?'
Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh issued his own statement terming the
election a "grievous wound" to the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion,
and to "Christians everywhere, though some wholeheartedly rejoice, and
many others are uncertain." But Duncan called for restraint and understanding
on both sides of the issue.
prayer is--and my efforts will be--that the election not be confirmed,"
Duncan said. "I have, quite carefully, used the adjective 'well-meaning'
about those who have (and who will) support this election. Equally true
is that most Christians desire to love and to serve those with whom they
disagree, even on something as basic as the boundaries of human sexual
expression. Actions which are body-rending can still be actions that both
sides meant for good. However this present drama plays out, we need to
continue to see these values in each other."
Internet busy with reactions
As news of the election spread, reactions also began to sizzle across
the Internet. A Midwestern man announced that the election was "the last
straw" and he was leaving the Episcopal Church immediately. A man from
Florida said that "a queer is a queer and always will be," charging that
the election proves that Episcopalians don't believe in God's teachings
and "you are deserting God." On the other hand, a woman said, "You are
a forward-looking religion, not dwelling thousands of years in the past,
as so many religions seem to do."
Another called homosexuality "unnatural and wrong," pleading for the church's
leadership to block the consecration. Those sentiments were echoed by
a General Convention deputy from California, who asked if it was possible
for "sinful human wilfulness, either personal or collective, to thwart
the leading of the Spirit?" But a man from Michigan asked, "What has this
world come to? It's a pretty sad day in the church." A church member from
Tennessee was "thrilled" to hear of the election and said that "gay Episcopalians
everywhere will see hope for the church in this small glimmer of light."
A Roman Catholic said that he welcomed the election "with hope for my
own faith. This is a brave and inspirational step, and it can serve as
a message of inclusion worldwide."
Others said they were "so proud to be an Episcopalian." One reported,
"I just called my gay son and he wept when I told him the news. He even
said he might come back to church."
Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service.
Send QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS to Mr.
James E. Solheim, director of Episcopal
News Service, or to the Rev.
Jan Nunley, deputy director.
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