Episcopal Bishops approve Robinson
Historic vote called 'a big step' for gays and lesbians
[ENS -- August 6, 2003] -- A long and difficult journey, for
both the church and the bishop-elect of New Hampshire, ended Tuesday evening
the House of
Bishops voted to confirm the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson's election as the
next diocesan bishop of New Hampshire. The vote - 62 for and 43
against - capped a dramatic and history-making session that began with
an exoneration of Robinson on charges of misconduct.
announcing the results, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold permitted Bishop
Duncan of Pittsburgh,
among the most outspoken opponents
of Robinson's consent, to make a statement rejecting the General
Convention's action. Surrounded by 18 bishops, many of whom were
signatories to the Truro statement opposing Robinson's election, Duncan
said by the bishop's vote the Episcopal Church "has divided itself from
millions of Anglican Christians around the world, brothers and sisters
who have pleaded with us to maintain the church's traditional teaching
on marriage and sexuality."
In the prepared statement,
which was also read in Spanish by Bishop William Skilton, suffragan
of South Carolina, the dissenting bishops
said they would be calling on the primates of the other 37 provinces of
the Anglican Communion, in accordance with a 1998 Lambeth Conference
resolution, "to intervene in the pastoral emergency that has overtaken
The Lambeth resolution (III.6)
from a subcommittee on the church's work in a plural world calls for
the expansion of authority of the Primates
Meeting to include "intervention in cases of exceptional emergency
are incapable of internal resolution within provinces." It further
states these responsibilities should be carried out in consulation with
the provinces and the Anglican Consultative Council.
Duncan concluded by stating "we
must go take counsel with our people
minister to them."
Challenge of living in 'tension of disagreement'
In a news conference following
the vote, the presiding bishop said in a written statement that the
decision would bring "great joy" to some in
the church while for others it "signals a crisis and reflects a
departure from biblical teachings and traditional church practice."
Griswold said he hoped the
inevitable outcry would not "drown out the
quieter voices" of the many persons who have yet to come to terms with
what the decision means for the church.
Robinson's confirmation, he continued, honors the search and election
process of New Hampshire. The church, he said, has a long history of
honoring diocesan choices of Episcopal leadership.
Griswold said he in fact
had voted for Robinson "because I see no
impediment to assenting to the overwhelming choice of the people of New
He acknowledged there would
be difficult days ahead as the church addresses the question of how
a faith community can live "in the
of disagreement." He noted that the fact "we are willing to do this
in a public way that is honoring of one another says a great deal about
who we are as a community of faith."
In the question period following
in his statement, Griswold said he valued his relationship with other
primates and the Archbishop of
Canterbury and would be in contact with them soon. Archbishop Rowan
Williams, said Griswold, is "profoundly aware" of the differing
within the various provinces and is sensitive to the strains within the
Archbishop of Canterbury responds
Responding to the consent,
the Archbishop of Canterbury's office released a statement late Tuesday
from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan
Williams who said the decision "will inevitably have a significant
impact on the Anglican Communion throughout the world," but it was too
soon to predict how provinces will respond. Williams said he hoped the
Episcopal Church and the rest of the communion would have a chance to
reflect more deeply on the action "before significant and irrevocable
decisions are made in response."
Said Williams: "I have said
before that we need as a church to be very careful about making decisions
for our part of the world which
the church elsewhere."
Easter out of Good Friday
Appearing before reporters
after Griswold, Robinson said, "God has once
again brought an Easter out of Good Friday." Affirming his love for the
Episcopal Church, Robinson said the last 36-hour period "has made me
love it even more."
Asked about the impact of
the decision, Robinson called it "a huge step
for gay and lesbian folk in the church." The church has attempted to
affirm this before, he noted, but by the action today it has made its
position really meaningful.
Robinson, who was joined by Bishop Douglas Theuner, the present bishop
of New Hampshire, and Hays Junkin, president of the diocese's Standing
Committee, said his consecration had been scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 2,
at 4 p.m. in Durham, N.H. He then was joined on the dais by his
Mark Andrew, and daughter Ella.
Debate mirrors tone in deputies
The hour-long debate, close in spirit to the forceful but respectful
arguments made in the deputies' debate Sunday, involved 21 bishops,
seven speaking against consent. Before engaging in open debate, the
bishops shared reasons for and against consent in table conversations.
Bishop Andrew Fairfield
of North Dakota, the first to speak, argued
Robinson's sexual orientation was at odds with the church's basic faith
principles as expressed in Scripture and the Nicene Creed. The Apostle
Paul argued in Romans that "humanity has exchanged the truth of God for
a lie and worshipped a creature rather than the creator," said
and that homosexual activity "is a sign of this rebellion and
The issue before the house
today, he said, "touches the deepest roots
our community, the community of love," and must be weighed against the
truth of the Nicene Creed as revealed in Scripture.
The issue of homosexuality in Scripture is not so easily settled,
responded Bishop Robert Ihloff of Maryland, a member of the House of
Bishops Theology Committee. In its report to the bishops meeting in
Kanuga last March, the committee found significant differences for
interpreting eight passages that address homosexuality, he said,
acknowledging that it is not enough to disregard the passages or to
assume they have no application to the church today.
"It is important to be able to grapple with the realities of the
scriptures and their time," he said, "and the effect of those
as they are read today." But it is fair to argue, he said, that the
scriptures on prohibiting homosexual behavior "are not speaking to
people who are identifying themselves as gay and lesbian persons by
nature, because all of those scriptures were in fact written in an
ancient time and assumed everyone was heterosexual." In that era the
thinking was that if someone committed homosexual acts "it was against
their nature," he noted.
The passage on Sodom and
Gomorrah, he said, may be seen not as about "a
group of gay men behaving badly but a group of heterosexual men
Trying to apply these passages
against Robinson or any other gay or lesbian Christians in long-term
relationships shows how complicated
these issues are and how bishops "need to work with our people on the
complexity of the issues and be open to a variety of interpretation."
One of the strongest dissenting
statements came from Northern Indiana Bishop Edward Little who shared
how he had been overwhelmed during the
Convention Eucharist procession Sunday with the thought this might be
the last time he would be in procession with many of his fellow
bishops. "What should have been the most glorious moment of convention for me
became one of profound sadness," he said.
If the bishops confirm Robinson,
he said, "the unity of this house will
be shattered forever," and the Episcopal Church will emerge from
convention "broken, wounded, divided and more desperately polarized."
Some churches and provinces
will disown the Episcopal Church forever,
warned. "We cannot abandon the teaching of the church and expect any
other result," he said.
Bishop James Jelinek of
Minnesota, a supporter of consent, painted a less dire portrait of
the house, emphasizing that the bishops were in
agreement on their fundamental understanding of God, the creator and
God's relationship with creation. Where they part is on their
understanding of what it means to be human, he said. "That's what we're
struggling with, and I don't think that's enough to break communion."
Introducing himself as "still the bishop of New Hampshire" and looking
forward to retirement, Bishop Douglas Theuner said Robinson's 28 years
in New Hampshire more than qualified him to lead the diocese. "I doubt
if there are many people who have ever been elected bishop who are
better known than Gene Robinson," he said.
When the vote is finally
taken, he added "it will seem like Good Friday
for some of us, and it will seem like Easter day for others of us. I
pray that I, and all of us, can remember, that in the things that
count, that in the things in which we wish to bear witness, Easter
always follows Good Friday.
Investigation exonerates Robinson
In his report to the house
after the bishops spent over an hour in executive session, Bishop Gordon
Scruton of Western Massachusetts
announced he had completed his investigation and found "no necessity to
pursue further investigation" and no cause for preventing bishops with
jurisdiction from going forward with a vote on consent.
Scruton, who had been appointed
by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold Monday to head the investigation,
said he had thoroughly checked the
complaint from an adult male in Manchester, Vt., as well as concerns
raised by officials with the American Anglican Council over an
adult-content Web site supposedly linked to an organization associated
with Robinson. In both cases the charges do not warrant further
and there is "no reason" to further delay the vote on Robinson's
consent, said Scruton.
Addressing the press and
gallery before Scruton delivered his report, Griswold said the bishops
had spent the executive session in prayer and
the ministry of reconciliation, which included a community anointing,
a way to free themselves, he said, from the "various affectivities"
have surrounded the Robinson consent and allow them the greatest degree
of "interior freedom" in their debate.
The allegations of inappropriate contact stem from two encounters the
complainant had with Robinson at a November 1999 Province I
The complainant, David Lewis, who is married and a member of Zion
Episcopal Church, said Robinson had touched him during two
at the province meeting, contact that Lewis described as inappropriate.
The Web site belonged to the Concord, N.H., chapter of Outright, an
organization that supports gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual
youth. Robinson helped found the Concord chapter but has not been
in the organization since 1998, said Scruton, and had no involvement in
the development of the chapter's Web site, which was established in
Episcopal News Service writer Richelle Thompson contributed to this
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