St. Paul Pioneer-Press, 5 Aug 2003

Episcopalians make Christian history

BY STEPHEN SCOTT
Religion Editor

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 overtaken us."

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 Robinson.

"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 Concord, N.H.

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 in Minneapolis.

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 said.

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 promised."

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 pornographic material.

The Rev. Spenser Simrill, dean of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, has spoken frequently with Robinson during the convention.

"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."