St. Paul Pioneer-Press, 5 Aug 2003
Episcopalians make Christian history
BY STEPHEN SCOTT
The Episcopal Church of the United States gave its landmark approval
Tuesday to the election of an openly gay bishop, a day after an
11th-hour investigation abruptly postponed the historic decision.
Bishops of the church ? by a 62-43 vote, with two not voting ?
consented to the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson to become
bishop of New Hampshire.
Immediately after the vote at a national convention in Minneapolis,
nearly 20 bishops stood before the House of Bishops "with grief too
deep for words," said Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh. He asked
world leaders of the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal
Church is a part, to "intervene in the pastoral emergency that has
Robinson's backers urged that the General Convention uphold his
election in the Diocese of New Hampshire, a vote that occurred in
June but required the consent of the church's bishops and clergy and
lay leadership this week at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
"New Hampshire did not set out to elect a gay bishop but to elect the
most qualified, capable individual," said Bishop Jon Bruno of Los
Angeles. "As a bishop in this church, I would not want to interfere
with the autonomy of any diocese after they've struggled through the
process of electing a bishop."
The vote, which makes Robinson the first openly gay bishop in
mainline Christianity, had been held up Monday after allegations
surfaced about Robinson's conduct and character.
But Bishop Gordon Scruton of western Massachusetts informed the
General Convention on Tuesday afternoon that an investigation over
two days found no reason to further delay the bishops' vote on
"Today is a very good day, because Jesus is Lord," Robinson said
after the vote. "Yesterday was a terrible day, but I made it through
yesterday because Jesus is Lord.
"Yesterday it occurred to me that I worship and love a savior who
knows what it's like to be unjustly charged and wrongly accused."
The allegations had temporarily held up the church's emotional debate
about ordaining Robinson, which opponents argue will fracture the
church, drive away its members and impair its credibility.
"I sense an impending train wreck the magnitude of which this portion
of Christ's church has perhaps never seen," said Bishop Peter
Beckwith of Springfield, Ill.
He argued the church first should have come to a consensus about
matters of sexuality, about which Episcopalians ? as most Christian
denominations ? are sharply divided.
"My greatest frustration is that I believe a lack of leadership in
this House of Bishops is responsible for allowing our church to come
to this potentially destructive moment," Beckwith said.
Minnesota Bishop James Jelinek voted for Robinson's consent, saying
the issue need not divide the church.
"My heart is just overwhelmed and awestruck by how much we are in
agreement about who God is," Jelinek said. "We have a great deal of
difficulty in discerning what it means to be human. I don't think
that's enough to break our communion."
In recent weeks, conservative members of the Episcopal Church and
some leaders in the worldwide Anglican Communion promised they would
plan a response to Robinson's ordination, which is set for Nov. 2 in
They believe homosexual sex is contrary to Scripture and to the
church's teaching about marriage.
Robinson, 56, a priest of New Hampshire for three decades, has been
in a committed gay relationship for 13 years. His partner and one of
his two grown daughters accompanied him throughout the deliberations
Many likened his consent to the church's historic approval of the
ordination of women, also enacted in Minneapolis, in 1976.
"I would simply say the church and the communion over time have
weathered storms of controversy and threats to unity and some dire
situations," said Barbara Harris, whom the Episcopal Church elected
as the Anglican Communion's first female bishop in 1988.
Despite similar threats of schism, the church has held together, she
Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island said before the vote she recalled
the Israelites being called to the promised land.
"Everyone was invited to find the promised land," she said. "And then
I thought I had made a huge mistake. I had thought the House of
Bishops was the promised land. It's not. It's part of the wilderness.
And I need Gene Robinson in the wilderness here to enter the
conversation so that together we can find the way to the land God has
The bishops began their deliberations late Tuesday afternoon after
Bishop Scruton said his investigation essentially cleared Robinson of
two allegations that arose Sunday evening.
A man from Vermont had sent an e-mail to the bishops alleging that
Robinson inappropriately touched him at a church meeting in 1999. It
was determined that Robinson had touched him on his arm and back
during two public conversations.
The man declined to sign a formal charge of misconduct.
Scruton's investigation also determined that Robinson had no direct
involvement with an Internet site that purportedly included links to
The Rev. Spenser Simrill, dean of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in
Minneapolis, has spoken frequently with Robinson during the
"He is a person of deep spiritual conviction and leads a model life,"
said Simrill. "Since his election, the Diocese of New Hampshire
already has experienced growth. This fear that we'll lose members is
simply not true. It's time to move forward."