Sunday, October 10, 2004

New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church’s first openly homosexual prelate, predicted yesterday that an upcoming report judging the effect that his consecration has had on the world’s 70 million Anglicans would not lead to a split.

“I think the communion will be a stronger place for having had this conversation,” Bishop Robinson said during a visit to the downtown Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, which attracted 315 persons, three times the normal Sunday-morning attendance. “I think it will stay together.”

A number of same-sex couples, he said, identified themselves at the door of the church, where the bishop, dressed in a bright gold and green cape, stood to greet parishioners.

The bishop arrived in Washington on Friday to receive an award from the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual-rights lobby based in the District.

It was the first time that Bishop Robinson — who dined last night with Washington Episcopal Bishop John Chane — had visited the Diocese of Washington since his consecration.

Despite his warm welcome here, nine of the world’s Anglican provinces have cut ties with the 2.3-million member Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion, because of Bishop Robinson’s consecration on Nov. 2.

About one-tenth of the Episcopal Church’s members in the country are aligned with a new conservative network of 11 dioceses, 1,100 clergy and 735 churches opposing the new bishop.

Two British newspapers, quoting anonymous sources, say a report to be released Oct. 18 in London will levy sanctions against the Episcopal Church for its actions.

But Bishop Robinson shrugged off the possibility, saying it is canonically impossible to undo his consecration and that the debate over his sexuality is a mere difference of opinion.

“I don’t think this is all about the authority of Scripture,” he said. “It’s all on our interpretation of Scripture.

“We believe God didn’t stop revealing God’s self when the canon of Scripture was closed,” he said. “We worship a living God, not one who checked out 2,000 years ago.”

The Bible has been “hijacked by the religious right,” he said. “That is our Bible. It’s time we take it back.”

He continued, “I keep on saying to gay and lesbian people: Let’s reclaim this book. It is our story.”

For instance, the Old Testament book of Exodus is the “greatest coming-out story in the history of the world,” he said at a Sunday school forum.

“Gay and lesbian people know what it’s like to be slaves in Egypt,” he said. “We know what it’s like to hear of the promise of freedom in the Promised Land; we know how scary it is to step out and leave Egypt [by] leaving the closet; and we know what it’s like to wander in the wilderness for 40 years and wonder why it’s taking so long.

“We know what it’s like to depend on God every day … and we know what it’s like to depend on other people to get to the Promised Land. That’s our story. But you can’t claim it as your story when you don’t know it.”

The 57-year-old bishop, who is divorced with two daughters and living with his male lover, said he does not teach celibacy to unmarried heterosexual or homosexual couples but rather “responsibility in relationships.”

Acknowledging that his daughter, Jamie, had been living with her fiance before they were married, he said, “I can’t remember the last couple I married who weren’t living together.”

Bishop Robinson also said his diocese is growing, with new members coming from the ranks of Roman Catholics and people disaffected with religion who are returning to church.

“We spend almost no time talking about this in the Diocese of New Hampshire,” he said.

The issue of homosexual bishops will not leave the Episcopal Church, he added, because behind him are many homosexual deans of cathedrals, rectors of large congregations and staff members of various dioceses waiting to be elected.

“Do you think that if I had declined to be consecrated, this would have all gone away?” he asked. “That toothpaste isn’t going back into the tube. Even if something happened to me, there are gay and lesbian people everywhere waiting to be elected.”

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