Robinson consent sent to House of Deputies
- August 1, 2003
Robinson consent sent to House of Deputies
by David Skidmore
Episcopal News Service
[ENS] The election of the church's first openly gay bishop may be
decided Sunday afternoon in the House of Deputies. In the aftermath
of an intense marathon hearing at the Hyatt Hotel Friday morning, the
Committee on the Consecration of Bishops recommended the consent
resolution (C045) on Gene Robinson, bishop-elect and current canon to
the ordinary of New Hampshire, be adopted by convention.
Adhering to instructions from the Rev. Carolyn Keil-Kuhr, co-chair of
the committee, the crowd of bishops and deputies and reporters
packing the hotel ballroom refrained from applauding or cheering the
announcement. The committee's hope is that their decision "is received
with grace," said Keil-Kuhr.
The measure is expected to be reported out to the House of Deputies
for action on Sunday afternoon and, if adopted, go to the House of
Bishops as early as Monday morning.
The two-hour hearing held in the Hyatt's Nicollet Ballroom drew more
than 300 bishops, deputies, reporters and supporters of Robinson and
the Diocese of New Hampshire. Nearly equal numbers of speakers signed
up to speak for and against consent. When the allotted time ran out,
19 had spoken for Robinson and 18 against. Most major papers and
national news programs were present. CNN carried coverage of the
consent at the top of its broadcast throughout the day.
Robinson elected for his gifts, say supporters
The Rev. Randolph Dales, deputy from New Hampshire and one of five
diocesan representatives invited to speak before the general
testimony period, said his diocese had chosen to call someone who
they knew had the talents to be a bishop. His status as a gay man was
not part of the decision, he said.
"The choice was a person, it was about the ministry, not an issue. We
called Gene Robinson for his humanity, not his sexuality," said Dales
who also serves on the diocese's Standing Committee.
His point was echoed by other New Hampshire representatives who talked
about Robinson's gift as a leader and his teaching and pastoral
skills. "Never in my life have I worked with a person in whom I have
more confidence than I do of Gene Robinson," said New Hampshire's
current diocesan bishop, Douglas Theuner. Throughout his 17 years as
bishop, Theuner, who will be retiring in March 2004, has known
Robinson, first as a consultant to the diocese and for the past 15
years as his canon to the ordinary.
Describing him as a man of uncommon ability and proven worth, Theuner
said Robinson had always conducted himself "with the greatest
The delegation's youngest member, 15-year-old Jenny Lombardo of St.
Paul's, Concord, talked about how Robinson had inspired her to
greater involvement in the church. "He respects youth and he simply
cares," she said.
Also speaking was Robinson's daughter Ella who shared a statement from
Robinson's former wife, Isabella (Boo) McDaniel. In her statement,
McDaniel took pains to correct a British newspaper story widely
circulated that claimed her former husband had abandoned her and their
daughters to take up a relationship with a gay man. The truth is they
chose to end their relationship after years of dialogue and
reflection, she said, and eventually chose to release each other
from marital vows in a private service conducted by a close friend.
She maintains close connections to Robinson and his partner, Mark
Andrews, she said, and they continue "to cherish each other's
families, heritages, and values."
As for Robinson's suitability for the episcopate, McDaniel praised his
strength of character, his intellect and organizational ability,
pastoral sensitivity and charisma, which she said "will draw more
people to the church than will leave due to his sexuality."
Marriage affirmed as sacrament
During questioning by the committee, Robinson said he was making an
effort to reach out to members of his diocese opposed to his
election. He has appeared at several forums and has been making
unannounced Sunday visits to congregations for the past few weeks.
Noting that there are three or four people in virtually every parish
troubled by his election, Robinson said he was asking clergy to join
him in reaching out to them, "just as on the international level it
will be all of our jobs to reach out to the Anglican Communion."
Taking issue with New Hampshire's emphasis on the personal qualities
of Robinson as opposed to his sexual orientation was committee
member Dean Mark Lawrence of San Joaquin who stressed that sexuality
cannot be divorced from the matter.
Asked by Lawrence about God's purpose in creating sexual beings, male
and female, Robinson said he believed that God gave humanity sexual
nature so "we might express with our love the love that is in our
hearts" and which is lived out in marriage. The mutual desire between
two humans "is just a glimpse of the desire that God has to be in
relationship with us," he said, and why this love, as expressed in
marriage, is a sacrament.
Robinson said that he experiences this same love in his relationship
with his partner and through it "experiences, just a little bit, for
the kind of never ending, never failing love that God has for me."
Church's teaching threatened, claim critics
Most of Robinson's critics, particularly the bishops, distinguished
their appreciation for Robinson as a gifted leader and Christian from
his suitability to be a bishop of the church. Bishop John Howe of
Central Florida, disputing Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold's position
in a recent letter to the church's bishops that the election did not
change church teaching, said past statements, studies and resolutions
have "unambiguously" affirmed the church's teaching that sexual
intimacy must be confined to heterosexual marriage. "In commending to
the church as a wholesome example a person who is sexually intimate
in a relationship other than holy matrimony is a massive repudiation
of that teaching," said Howe.
Bishop David Bane, suffragan of Albany, said a Robinson consent
separates the church from traditional teaching and "threatens to
shatter the Episcopal Church as we know it." He justified his
statement citing the overwhelming vote at the 1998 Lambeth Conference
upholding traditional teaching on marriage, the House of Bishops
Theology Committee report urging the church to avoid legislative
action on same-sex unions, recent statements from the primates of the
communion, and British priest Jeffrey Johns standing down from his
appointment as bishop of Reading.
Said Bane: "We will lose vast numbers of congregations, members and
revenue, and this act will show us not to be the prophets of the
Anglican Communion but American mavericks going our own way."
Stating he was "humbly" asking Robinson to step down as bishop-elect,
Bane warned that proceeding to a vote, up or down, "will simply
rupture the Episcopal Church family."
Ominous warnings were also given by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh
and Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana. "The departure from the
Christian consensus will separate us from the one holy catholic and
apostolic Church," said Duncan, "and in the matter of the historic
faith we will separate ourselves from the teaching about
Given the church's fourth-century ruling that a council erring on one
matter of faith invalidated all other actions of that council, Duncan
warned that chaos created by a consent adoption would free many
church members to "disregard all actions of this convention: its
resolutions, its canons, and its budget."
An adoption by convention, he said, "will invite intervention
precisely because the council has erred and the only court of appeal
is outside this nation," referring to the primates and other
provinces of the Anglican Communion.
Noting the difficulty in offering pastoral care to gays and lesbians
and still remaining faithful to scripture, Bishop Little warned that
confirming Robinson's election would effectively end dialogue on the
issue. "We will have set aside the moral consensus of the Christian
church throughout the ages, and there will no turning back," he said.
"It will be a definitive moment."
The tragedy of that action, he added, will be the likelihood of
fostering "deeper and more disastrous conflicts" over the church's
faith and order.
Fear of schism overstated, supporters say
Warnings of schism and impaired communion were countered by Robinson's
supporters who pointed out that the Episcopal Church's vote in 1976
admitting women to the priesthood and the Massuchusetts diocese's
1989 election of Barbara Harris as the first woman bishop in the
Anglican Communion had not resulted in a lasting break with other
Anglican provinces. "Instead it has made us stronger and a more
vibrant church with the full inclusion of women in ministry," said
Massachusett's Bishop Thomas Shaw, arguing the same could hold true
for extending the church's full ministry to gays and lesbians.
At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, Harris and the other 10 women bishops
were warmly welcomed, he said. "Far from being spurned, far from
causing schism, they were the toast of the town."
The potential for experience to transform people's understanding of
scripture and tradition was also shared by the Rev. Mariann Budde of
Minneapolis. When she was called to her first parish, Trinity Church
in Toledo, Ohio, in 1988 the members had never experienced a woman
priest. Some were confused and stayed away, but after several months
they came back and told her they believed she was called to the
ministry. The same could hold true for Robinson, she said.
It is not the Episcopal Church that is abandoning the historic
catholic and apostolic faith, argued the Rev. Howard Anderson of
Minnesota. In keeping with its 20/20 mission, the Episcopal Church
is at a place where it could spread its doors wide open to welcome
all people into its ministry, he said, and the confirmation of
Robinson would be one sign of that.
The Episcopal Church, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, is known for
its unique charism of inclusivity, he said. "We ordain women. We
know the primary sacrament is baptism, not ordination." The
committee needs to think hard about this charism, he said, "and
decide whether we will be the last catholics - big 'c' or
little 'c' - or whether we will be watered down Roman Catholics
trying to defend some moral like the Pharisees, or dressed up
Issue moves to deputies, bishops
At the end of the testimony the committee withdrew to an adjacent room
for a closed-door discussion lasting 15 minutes. In her report on the
committee's decision, Keil-Kuhr did not indicate whether the
committee's vote was unanimous, saying only that it was taken by
secret ballot. She also reminded their action is not a final
decision. It will be up to both houses to approve the consent, she
The plan, confirmed at this morning's news briefing, is for the
resolution to be placed on the House of Deputies' daily legislative
calendar for Sunday afternoon. If adopted there, the measure goes to
the House of Bishops for action, possibly as early as the Monday
morning legislative session.
In his remarks following the committees vote, Bishop Chester Talton,
Los Angeles, bishops chair, said the six bishops on the committee
found the hearing to be fair and the groundwork laid for a full
discussion in the House of Bishops.
With 106 bishops with jurisdiction in the church, the consent may
require up to 54 affirmative votes to pass. In the consent votes on
two other bishops-elect yesterday, the votes totaled 99 and 102 in
the house. The bishops customarily have voted after the consent to
seat the new bishops and give them voice during the sessions.
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