Episcopalians Will Vote on Gay Bishop-Elect. (News)

The Christian Century, June 28, 2003 | Go to article overview

Episcopalians Will Vote on Gay Bishop-Elect. (News)


THE FIRST openly gay bishop to be elected in the worldwide Anglican Communion has made summer seem hotter than usual for Episcopalians. The New Hampshire diocese chose V. Gene Robinson, a popular priest-administrator in the state, as its next bishop. But traditionalist groups vowed to campaign to overturn the election at the denomination's upcoming convention in spite of the presiding bishop's plea to "respect" the New Hampshire choice.

Robinson, 56, elected on the second ballot against out-of-state candidates, hugged two adult daughters, a son-in-law and his partner of 13 years after the results were announced after the June 7 balloting in a Concord church. He urged supporters to be "kind and sensitive and gentle" to churchgoers who "will not understand what you've done here today."

Because Robinson's election fell within 120 days prior to the triennial General Convention, church rules stipulate that it must be certified by delegates and diocesan bishops during the ten-day legislative meeting in Minneapolis starting July 30. Bishop Douglas E. Theuner, the current bishop of New Hampshire, who has backed gay causes in the church, told the New York Times that he believes delegates elected Robinson, an assistant to Theuner, because they trusted him, not because they wanted to create a controversy.

Nonetheless, Robinson's election is sure to combine with other developments to challenge anew the fragile, frayed unity in the 70-million-member Anglican Communion, which in 1998 called gay sex "incompatible with scripture." The bishop of Vancouver angered Anglican leaders last month by sanctioning the blessing of same-sex unions, and in the first week of June a British newspaper revealed that Jeffrey John, a new assistant bishop in Oxford, has been living with his gay partner for 25 years.

The only Episcopal bishop to declare publicly his homosexuality was retired Bishop Otis Charles of Utah, who did so after leaving office in 1993.

Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity, the lesbian and gay affinity group for Episcopalians, said that he rejoiced that "this threshold--the election of an honest and open gay person living in a committed relationship--has been crossed." In a statement, Hopkins urged Episcopal leadership to "enable a fair process for the confirmation hearings and votes" in the bicameral convention in Minneapolis.

Likewise, prominent conservative Robert Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh, called for restraint on both sides even while promising efforts to overturn the election. Duncan described the New Hampshire action a "grievous wound" to the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and "Christians everywhere."

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold III urged in a letter to fellow bishops June 13 that the church "move with grace through this time," adding "that though we may disagree, no one can say, 'I have no need of you,' to another member of the church. …

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