Thursday, October 23, 2003

The world’s soon-to-be-consecrated first openly homosexual bishop refused to assume responsibility yesterday over whether the worldwide Anglican Communion splits after his Nov. 2 enthronement as the new Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire.

“I will bear the responsibility for trying to discern God’s call and following it, but we are not in control of whether people choose to leave or not to leave,” Canon V. Gene Robinson told The Washington Times in an interview yesterday.

“If they choose to do that, that is their choice. I can shoulder a lot of responsibility, but I can’t shoulder all the responsibility for everyone staying in the Anglican Communion,” he said.

His consecration and a western Canadian’s diocese’s decision to bless same-sex unions were the topic of an emergency meeting of the world’s Anglican archbishops last week in London. Thirty-seven archbishops released a statement on Oct. 16 saying Canon Robinson’s enthronement “will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level.”

But the bishop-elect said such predictions were premature.

“Once people see what little effect this has in their day-to-day life and in the life of their local congregation, I don’t believe people will want to give up their churches just because the bishop of New Hampshire is gay,” Canon Robinson said in an interview with The Washington Times.

Americans, he added, didn’t get permission from the rest of the 70 million-member Anglican Communion — of which the Episcopal Church is one member — when they voted to ordain women in 1976.

“We didn’t come apart over that, and we won’t come apart over this either,” he said. “I am staying, and I think the vast majority of the Episcopal Church will stay.”

God is leading Episcopalians toward “greater inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the church,” he said. “That’s what Jesus did. If we don’t allow gay and lesbian folk full inclusion in the church, then we shouldn’t baptize them.”

Pope John Paul II expressed his displeasure over Canon Robinson’s election to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams during the latter’s Oct. 4 visit to Rome, on the grounds that it would further disunify world Christianity.

“Let’s be honest about our relationship with the Roman Catholic Church,” Canon Robinson said. “[Media reports] sounded as if we were on the edge of reunification and blamed me for it falling apart. The pope does not even recognize that Rowan Williams is a priest, nor a bishop. We are not allowed to take Communion there; they don’t recognize our orders [clergy], and we are nowhere near reunification with the Roman Catholic Church.

“I want to have good and cordial relations with the Roman Catholics here, but they didn’t check with us when they decided to ban girls a few weeks ago from being acolytes around the altar,” he said.

Canon Robinson, 56, was a finalist for bishop of the Dioceses of Newark, N.J., and Rochester, N.Y., before winning the New Hampshire post in June. Although he felt a sexual attraction toward other men during his seminary days in New York, he underwent two years of therapy so that he could marry Isabella Martin in 1972. But after the birth of two daughters, the couple divorced in 1987.

Canon Robinson declined to say when he became homosexually active, “but I can say that during our decision to be divorced, no one else was involved for either one of us,” he said. His ex-wife will be part of the Nov. 2 consecration.

So will 50 active and retired Episcopal bishops, he added, including Washington Bishop John B. Chane, former Suffragan Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon and retired Maryland Bishop Theodore Eastman.

Neither Maryland Bishop Bob Ihloff nor Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter J. Lee are attending but a female relative of Bishop Lee’s — either a daughter or niece — is coming in his stead, Canon Robinson said.

“I don’t think anyone could be absolutely sure this is [the will of] God,” he said, “but as best as I can discern it, it’s God’s will for me to move forward on this decision. I’ve received many more letters begging me to not step down. My mail is running 90 percent positive.”

He has not met nor does he plan to meet the archbishop of Canterbury. He brushed off claims from African Anglican bishops who say extremist Muslims will link millions of African Anglicans with the homosexual American bishop.

“The child-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church might have ruined the reputation of Christians overseas more than the election of a bishop in New Hampshire who is in a faithful monogamous relationship,” he said. “No one complained of that causing difficulty in Muslim countries.”

Many of the world’s Anglican provinces will not recognize his ministry nor the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church as well, the archbishops warned in their statement.

“While I’d not welcome such a shunning,” Canon Robinson said, “it would not be a big surprise. As a gay priest, I am not recognized in many dioceses around the world. A lot of women bishops and priests aren’t allowed to function in the vast majority of the Anglican Communion, so I’d be in very good company.”

But female priests are allowed in most Anglican provinces, and seven allow women as bishops. However, only the United States allows openly homosexual clergy — and now bishops. Canon Robinson says scriptural prohibitions against homosexuality will be reinterpreted just like remarriage after divorce was.

“We take Scripture seriously, but not literally,” he said. “Scripture says to be remarried after divorce is adultery, but in this country, we put tradition together with our own experience of formerly married persons who have found a second marriage to be a blessing.

“We went against Scripture and 2000 years of tradition by relaxing those rules and allowing remarriage. We used our own experience and reason to come to that conclusion.”

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