- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS — A New Hampshire clergyman moved a step closer yesterday to becoming the first openly homosexual elected bishop in the Episcopal Church, winning one of two final votes required to be confirmed.

The House of Deputies, a legislative body comprising clergy and lay people, voted to approve the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. He faces a final vote today in the House of Bishops.

The House of Deputies voted by delegation, with 128 delegations voting yes and 63 voting no. The votes of 25 delegations were not counted because their members were divided.

The American Anglican Council, which represents conservative bishops and parishes, said it was “deeply grieved” by the results.

“It is a tragic decision that leads the Episcopal Church to the brink of shattering the Anglican Communion,” the council said in a statement. Episcopalians form the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member communion.

Mr. Robinson, 56, divorced the mother of his two children and has lived with a partner, Mark Andrew, for 13 years. If he is confirmed at this week’s Episcopal General Convention, it will have an impact far beyond his diocese.

Bishops who believe homosexual acts are sinful contend that allowing Mr. Robinson to serve is a tacit endorsement of ordaining homosexuals. These conservatives said it would force them to consider leaving the church, weakening the denomination and sparking a bitter fight over parish property and funds.

Like-minded bishops in the Anglican Communion have said they, too, would consider severing ties with the American church over Mr. Robinson.

But liberals said the threat has been exaggerated, and note that many conservatives pledged to break ties before over issues such as ordaining women but did not follow through.

Mr. Robinson was elected by his diocese in June, but the church requires that a majority of convention delegates ratify his election. It is rare for the General Convention to reject a diocese’s choice of bishop.

The vote by the House of Deputies, representing dioceses nationwide, came after about an hour of emotional but polite debate.

Bonnie Anderson, a parishioner from the Diocese of Michigan, said deputies should not be swayed by warnings about a potential split in the church.

“You may be afraid — afraid of schism and afraid it will hurt your church budget. Don’t be afraid,” she said. “The power behind you and within you is far greater than the resistance before you.”

George Marshall, a parishioner from the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., said confirming Mr. Robinson would send a damaging message that Episcopalians are guided by shifting cultural attitudes, not by Scripture.

“It will prove once again that our church doesn’t have the confidence to proclaim the Gospel,” Mr. Marshall said. “Do not do this thing.”

A chaplain led the deputies in prayer before their vote. The president of the legislative body had asked them to remain quiet when the results were announced and they complied.

Mr. Robinson has served as assistant to the retiring New Hampshire bishop. He has repeatedly rejected calls from opponents to withdraw his candidacy to prevent a breakup of the church, as a homosexual clergyman in England did recently.

A final vote in favor of Mr. Robinson could build momentum for approving blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples, Episcopalians on both sides of the issue say. A decision on the proposed ceremony is expected later in the meeting, which runs through Friday.

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