First Gay Bishop Consecrated

Gene Robinson proud, unbowed by brewing Anglican schism

Right wing zealots in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican communion did their best to derail the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire, but he survived the Sunday ceremony in a Durham ice rink with the backing of the majority of his brother and sister bishops, the clergy and laity in his diocese, his partner, Mark Andrew, his ex-wife, Isabella McDaniel, and his daughter, Ella Robinson.

While conservatives screamed at him to forgo the consecration for the sake of Anglican unity and some called him a devil, Robinson acknowledged their pain and, appearing on television, invited them to visit his home.

“The church is always in some kind of crisis if it’s paying attention,” he told Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today Show,” “and this a crisis that is going to get us somewhere. God is in the middle of it and God is teaching us something.”

British newspapers had reported (and we repeated) that Robinson was under FBI protection due to death threats and that he would meet with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, prior to his consecration. Neither of these stories turned out to be true, though the Diocese of New Hampshire did provide Robinson and his family security. Williams has no direct authority over Robinson in the loosely organized Anglican communion, many parts of which declared themselves to be “in impaired community” with the Episcopal Church USA that affirmed Robinson’s election.

“I’m in very good company in this ‘impaired community,’“ Robinson said on “Today.” “We’ve been in impaired community ever since we decided to start ordaining women. Women bishops could not exercise their ministry in most of the Anglican communion. But it was the right thing to do and this is the right thing to do.”

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, attended the Sunday ceremony in New Hampshire and wrote that it gave him great hope: “Four thousand guests––congregants, really ––came not just to witness but to wholeheartedly endorse what is to many abject heresy: the consecration of an openly gay man as a bishop of the church.”

Foreman noted, “At the moment of consecration (the “laying of hands”)––an act repeated for 2,000 years––all the bishops gathered around Gene and extended their arms toward him. With the threat of worldwide schism hanging over their heads, it was an act of unbelievable courage.”

Foreman was especially heartened by the makeup of the majority of the assembled—“flinty,” non-gay New Englanders. (His full commentary can be read at ngltf.org)

An anti-gay priest from Pittsburgh, Earle Fox, rose to condemn Robinson’s consecration during a part of the ceremony that openly calls for objections. When Fox started describing gay sex acts including “rimming,” Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold interrupted him, asking to be spared the details.

Robinson, a model of Christian forbearance, was more generous with his enemies. Speaking at the ceremony he said, “There are faithful, wonderful Christian people for whom this is a moment of great pain and confusion and anger. And our God will be served if we are hospitable and loving and caring toward them in every way we can possibly muster. And they must know that if they must leave, they will always be welcome back in our fellowship.”

Williams has appointed Robert Eames, archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, to head a commission to defuse the crisis in the church over gay issues. He’s the same official that Anglicans turned to in the 1980s to head off a schism over women’s ordination.

While the right wing in Anglicanism threatens to dissociate itself from gay-accepting parts of the church, progress is still being made on gay issues. Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Diocese of Washington, D.C. announced plans to develop a rite for blessing same-sex unions, something New Hampshire has done for six years. And Jeffrey John, the out gay British canon who Williams prevailed upon to reject an appointment as bishop of Reading, is in line to become dean of Norwich Cathedral, a placement that will be decided by Prime Minister Tony Blair (not Williams) in an effort, an Australian newspaper reported, “to force the Anglican communion to set aside its squabbles on the [gay] ordination issue.”

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