Gene Robinson traditiocomYou know, I’m still hacked off with Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.

This is an old story by now, and Gene is safely ensconced in his role and living with his male partner.  In his own mind he’s won, claimed justice and can now lord it over the rest of us.

But, wait.  Doesn’t the Bible say homosexuality is wrong?  Should he have continued in holy orders after divorcing his wife?  Should he have clamoured for the episcopacy?  Should he have divided a worldwide Anglican Communion with 76m members?

Gene Robinson getreligionorgAt what point do we put our pride and wrongheadedness above Holy Scripture, tens of millions of faithful and the Lord Jesus Christ himself?  Uhh, that would be never.

At what point did Gene Robinson ever sit down and think about all this?  Did he pray, ‘Lord, I may be a sinner, but I have so much to give Episcopalians in the United States.  Please help me find a way to please You, do Your will and put my own personal pride aside.’ 

What Gene Robinson did was ungodly.  In making such a showpiece of himself for a position he shouldn’t even be entitled to is unspeakable.  And how the Episcopal hierarchy and General Convention in the United States could allow it to happen is unforgiveable.  Some supporters cite the 1976 General Convention resolution which states:

It is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.

Yet, allowing admission of the LGBT community as full-fledged members of the Episcopal Church is different to saying that openly practicing homosexuals should be ordained or allowed to continue in the priesthood or become bishops.  Jesus commanded us to love our brothers and sisters.  However, the Bible also clearly states that homosexuality is a sin.  

Gene Robinson jeremiahandrewswordpresscomSo, who is Gene Robinson and how did he get where he is today?  Gene Robinson’s given name is really Vicky.  He was born to a tobacco sharecropper in Kentucky.  Gene’s mother suffered complications with the birth, and it looked as if the newborn would die of head injuries.  Doctors advised the Robinsons to choose a name for the child which could be put on the birth and death certificates as well as a gravestone.  Expecting a girl, the couple already had ‘Vicky Jean’ in mind: a combination of their names — Victor and Imogene.  So, they promptly wrote down Vicky Gene, thinking it was immaterial. 

But, God’s plan was for little Gene to survive.  The Robinsons were members of the Disciples of Christ church, a fundamentalist denomination.  Growing up, Gene wanted to become a pediatrician and began his studies at the well-respected University of the South in Tennessee, an Episcopal university.  Then he began having thoughts about entering seminary.  (At the same time, he also sensed his sexual orientation was different. The therapy he voluntarily underwent at university did not change his feelings.) 

He told Lawrence Ferber, writing for Passport Magazine, in June 2009: 

‘It wasn’t the science in medicine I was interested in,’ he recalls. ‘It was the contact with people. So I thought, “Why should I do all this science for all these years just to get to be with people?” I’d always been a part of the church growing up, a fairly fundamentalist church. Despite what my church was telling me about homosexuality I heard God’s affirming, loving, accepting voice coming through scripture …

‘I think the understanding of God in the Episcopal Church has a kind of integrity and authenticity I don’t often see in other religious groups.’

He’s right. The Episcopal Church, like the Anglican Communion of which it is a part, is a broad church.  You can be Anglo-Catholic or Calvinist or Evangelical, and you’ll find a congregation that’s right for you.  However, 76 million Anglicans are spread throughout the world.  Culture, tradition and Scripture shape their views.  An Episcopalian of Anglo-Saxon heritage living in Boston will view the Church differently than a Bishop in Nigeria will.  And it’s this tension between Scripture and socially accepted behaviour that makes the ordination of sexually active gays a sensitive issue for millions.  The Bostonian will say that the Episcopal Church has a social responsibility to enter the 21st century: Western society trumps Scripture.  The Bishop in Nigeria will counter that homosexuals must repent and not be ordained: Scripture trumps Western society.  Homosexuality is accepted in Boston.  It is taboo in Nigeria.

Anyway, back to the story.  Gene married Isabella McDaniel after he graduated from seminary.  They had two daughters, now adults.  Gene ‘came out’ in 1985 and the couple divorced.  By all accounts, Gene’s ex-wife and his daughters support his ministry and speak well of him.  In 1988, Gene began a serious relationship with Mark Andrew.  They entered into a civil partnership in 2008.

Normally, the appointment of an Episcopal bishop is done at a diocesan level.  The Diocese of New Hampshire elected Robinson bishop on June 7, 2003.  However, because the Episcopal Church’s General Convention would be taking place within 120 days of this decision, it, too, needed to ratify the decision.  And this was how Gene Robinson became a household name in the United States and beyond.  A. Katherine Grieb explains the sensitivity of the situation in the Fall 2005 issue of the Anglican Theological Review (highlights mine):

The perception of North American arrogance is complicated by ECUSA’s [Episcopal Church of the USA’s] failure to consult widely enough and to signal clearly enough its nearly-thirty-years-long conversations predictably moving towards the actions it finally took. It is perhaps also the case that for some of that time the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican leaders found the issue so distasteful that serious discussion of it was not allowed. Even when the issue was discussed at the [Anglican] Communion level, some of the primates [bishops] returned home to provinces where the death penalty is imposed on anyone with same-sex affections, limiting frank discussion of an already difficult issue. For whatever reasons, one result of not engaging this controversial issue was that in some parts of the Anglican Communion, the people had no word for same-sex relationships, did not believe there was such a thing, or believed that ECUSA had invented it a few months before the consecration of Bishop Robinson. Perhaps this is the most important difference between this issue and the way the question of women’s ordination was handled. Because there had been extensive anticipatory conversations about the possibility of some provinces ordaining women to the episcopate, primates were not surprised. There had already been agreements to disagree and assurances that women bishops would not be imposed on unwilling provinces, agreements that stand fast today. Though there were fears of potential schism, there was also more time to get used to the idea because of the conversations that had occurred. Provinces without ordained women could learn from the experiences of those, like Hong Kong, that had already ordained them.

You know, if I had been Gene Robinson in 2003, I would hope I would have had a close friend sit me down and say, ‘This is such a difficult situation.  Yes, you believe you have a “right” to become a bishop, regardless of your sexuality.  But many people in our denomination do not think you are reading or understanding the Bible correctly.  And there are tens of millions in the Anglican Communion who see homosexual relations as an abomination and know it to be a criminal act.  Let’s pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit and for humility.’  And had I heard that, I would have gone off for a few days by myself with access to an impartial spiritual advisor.  I would have read the Bible, prayed and avoided outside contact.  I’m sure that, at the end of it, I would have withdrawn my name from further consideration — and I’m no angel.

I cannot imagine splitting a religious denomination just for my own ego or my heartfelt cause.  The pride, the arrogance!     Gene Robinson

And, even now, six years later, his position as bishop hasn’t made things any easier.  Following Robinson’s ordination in 2003, The Revd Jeffrey John’s name was put forward for the post of Bishop of Reading (England). John maintained that he was celibate. The nomination created considerable controversy in the Church of England, and John withdrew his name.  Instead, he became the Dean of St Albans. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Willliams, set up the Eames Commission to examine the issues involved.  At that time John’s name was under consideration as Bishop of Reading.  The Eames Commission produced the Windsor Report, which recommended that no more active gays or lesbians be consecrated as Anglican bishops (no mention of their becoming priests or deacons).     

And now, it all gets very complicated.  Wikipedia has the most straightforward explanation of where we are at present:

In July 2009, clergy and laity in the US voted to reject the three-year moratorium on the consecration of gay [bishops]. The Archbishop of Canturbury responded to this in a statement which regretted that this move would not heal the divisions in the church, and effectively sets in motion a two-tier system of Anglicanism in which those within the covenant can speak as Anglicans, and LGBT clergy and those who support them fall outside the covenant, and so cannot speak on behalf of other Anglicans.  A coalition of thirteen LGBT Christian groups in the UK formulated a united response to the Archbishop’s statement, questioning whether the ‘listening process’ he had called for had been properly engaged with, that LGBT people are committed members of the communion, and criticising a ‘two-track’ system within Anglicanism.

In August 2009, it was announced that two gay Episcopal priests were among the six nominated candidates for the role of assistant bishop of Los Angeles. Both are in committed same-sex relationships. The appointment will be voted on in December. At the same time, the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota has also announced a lesbian has been nominated as a a bishop.

Well, Gene, I hope you’re proud of yourself.  To me, it just bears out the pain we create for others when we put our needs above theirs.  To some, you might be a hero or a pioneer.  To me and millions more, you’re just a self-serving egotist.  

You can read more here: ‘Bishop V Gene Robinson: The Right Reverend — The Gay Bishop Doing God’s Work’, Lawrence Ferber, Passport Magazine, June 2009;  ‘”But It Shall Not Be So among You”: Some Reflections towards the Windsor Report within ECUSA’, A. Katherine Grieb, Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2005.

Coming soon: Gay ordinations in the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America)