“Father, make Gene a bishop in your Church.”
— Episcopal Church USA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold,
at Sunday’s ordination of The Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson
Today’s consecration of the new, openly gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire was, by many accounts, a beautiful, moving affair marred only by the protests of a few.
From the New York Times:
With the ceremonial laying on of hands by a cluster of bishops, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson was consecrated the next bishop of New Hampshire and the first openly gay prelate in the Episcopal Church USA on Sunday, laying the groundwork for a split in the American church and a break with fellow Anglican churches abroad.
In a ceremony both solemn and celebratory, Bishop Robinson accepted his bishop’s stole and chasuble from his parents, the gold miter for his head from his two daughters and his partner, and his shepherd’s crook from his predecessor, Bishop Douglas E. Theuner of New Hampshire.
The nearly 4,000 people in an arena at the University of New Hampshire rose to their feet, applauding, cheering and whistling. After Bishop Robinson quieted them, he said, “It’s not about me; it’s about so many other people who find themselves at the margins.”
Addressing the crowd, he said, “Your presence here is a welcome sign for those people to be brought into the center.”
Yes, the ceremony was lovely. Expect its aftermath to be ugly.
Of course, the ugliness rising throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion stems from those who take a dim view of Sunday’s proceedings in Durham, NH.
The BBC presents the view of the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of the Anglican Communion:
Dr. Rowan Williams reiterated concerns within the church after Canon Gene Robinson was consecrated on Sunday.
Dr Williams said: “It is clear that those who have consecrated Gene Robinson have acted in good faith on their understanding of what the constitution of the American church permits.
“But the effects of this upon the ministry and witness of the overwhelming majority of Anglicans particularly in the non-western world have to be confronted with honesty. …It will not be possible for Gene Robinson’s ministry as a bishop to be accepted in every province in the communion.”
Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Robin Eames, chair of an global commission tasked with preserving the future of the Anglican Communion, told the Reading Chronicle that the ordination poses a serious threat to church unity. “Time alone will tell what the reaction is across the Anglican Communion to this consecration,” he said. “I suppose we have to be patient and wait and see what various churches will do and what their attitude will be to it.”
The anti-gay American Anglican Council, an alliance of bishops, clergy, and 600 Episcopal churches committed to “preserving Biblical orthodoxy,” reacted as expected. “Today is a grievous day in the history of our Church. Heresy has been held up as holy. Blasphemy has been redefined as blessing,” the AAC said in a statement. “Holy scripture has been abandoned and sin celebrated over sanctification.”
The UK’s Telegraph reports that anti-gay traditionalists within the denomination intend to make Robinson’s supporters pay:
About 20 conservative primates – more than half of the archbishops who lead the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion – are expected to vent their fury.
Led by Archbishop Peter Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria, they will refuse to recognise Bishop Robinson’s ministry, barring him from operating as a bishop across most of the Church.
They are also expected to ban the 50 or so bishops who participated in his consecration by laying hands on him at last night’s ceremony in Durham, New Hampshire, and all those involved in his election.
The conservative primates are demanding protection for traditionalists so that conservative parishes can be overseen by sympathetic bishops.
They are particularly furious with what they regard as the provocative role played by the liberal primate of the Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.
Although he was a signatory to the statement drawn up by all the primates at last month’s emergency summit at Lambeth Palace which called on all sides to exercise restraint, he led the consecration in America.
The Associated Press reports that objections were raised as part of Bishop Robinson’s ordination ceremony:
Assistant Bishop David Bena of Albany, NY, spoke for 38 opposing bishops in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. He said his group and most bishops in the international Anglican Communion will not recognize Robinson as a fellow bishop. Indeed, the world’s Anglican leaders affirmed their opposition to same-sex relations at an emergency meeting in London last month.
Reading from a statement, Bena said Robinson’s “‘chosen lifestyle’ is incompatible with Scripture and the teaching of this church.”
Bena spoke after Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold asked if there was “any reason why we should not proceed,” a traditional part of Episcopal consecration services.
The Rev. Earle Fox from the Pittsburgh Diocese also objected. But when he began citing specifics of same-sex behavior, Griswold politely cut him off, saying “please spare us the details and come to the substance.”
In all, the objections took about 10 minutes.
Interestingly, I am acquainted with Rev. Fox, and his behavior at Bishop Robinson’s ordination does not surprise me one bit. From 1998 through 2000, he was director of Washington, DC’s Transformation Christian Ex-Gay Ministries. In 1999, I spent time in TCM, an Exodus International-affiliated enterprise, as a reporter doing an undercover investigation for Baltimore City Paper. Fox’s goal was to convince gay people that they could, through the power of God, change into heterosexuals.
In 2000, Fox testified before a Maryland State Legislature committee in opposition to a measure that would give gays and bisexuals protection in the workplace. While there, he recited a list of purported gay sexual behaviors until he was cut off by the panel’s chair.
Fox, an Episcopal priest, still bangs the anti-gay drum as president of Emmaus Ministries (another right-wing fundamentalist endeavor), and as marketer and presenter of “The Biblical Agenda for Human Sexuality,” a seminar that covers “how to reach out to homosexual persons and how to deal with the ‘gay’ agenda in the public arena.”
The AP story continues:
A national association for conservatives opposed to ordaining gays, the American Anglican Council, says parishioners already were drifting away in protest of Robinson’s elevation. It plans to hold the denomination’s conservative flank together by building a network of “confessing” dioceses and congregations.
The network will exist more or less separately from the national denomination, claiming to preserve the traditional beliefs of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion of which it’s a part.
Some predict this will develop into the worst Episcopal split since the denomination was founded in 1789, which boggles the mind of Open Source Politics’ Allen Brill, who wonders what the big deal is. And depending on the shape things take, a spate of church lawsuits may well result.
For his part, Gene Robinson, who begins his new assignment next month, was close to tears — joyful ones, I trust — while preaching his first sermon as Bishop. “You cannot imagine what an honor it is for you to have called me,” he said, ostensibly to God, but perhaps also to those in the Episcopal Church who made this day possible.
One final statement comes from Bishop Carolyn Irish Tanner. From her statement to the Episcopal News Service: “Because of Robinson’s homosexual orientation and partnership there has since been an escalation of angry rhetoric by those in this country and abroad who seem to be strategizing for schism, as they have threatened to do for several years. In fact, by claims for a singular orthodoxy, recommended breaches in diocesan and provincial integrity, the diversion of financial support for the Episcopal Church USA, and planning for separate enclaves or parallel communions of like-minded people, it appears that they want to create a whole new church, one very different from traditional Anglicanism.
“Our church is, and has always been, the most comprehensive of Christian families, because we have sought to embrace theological and cultural diversity of the kind that has sometimes fractured other Protestant churches. Presently the issue of homosexuality has put us on a global and very public stage, but that appears to be the really new element in our situation, not the challenge of abiding in our differences. Indeed, more than abiding.”
It bears noting that the ministry of Bishop Tanner, who is female, is not accepted by many provinces within the Anglican Communion — and the denomination has not split.