Robinson, V. Gene
V. Gene Robinson
Born May 29, 1947, in Lexington, KY; son of Charles (a sharecropper) and Imogene (a sharecropper); married Isabella "Boo" Martin, 1972 (divorced, 1987); children: Ella, Jamee. Education: University of the South, Sewanee, B.A., 1969; General Theological Seminary, NY, M. Div., 1973. Religion: Episcopalian.
Office—Diocesan House, 63 Green St., Concord, NH 03301.
Began career as curate, Christ Church, Ridgewood, NJ, 1973; moved to New Hampshire to open girls' summer camp and horse farm, 1975; Youth Ministries Coordinator for Province I, 1978–85; coordinator of staff and ministry for the New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese bishop, 1988–2003; bishop of the New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese, 2003—.
Executive secretary, Episcopal Province of New England, 1983—; Board of Trustees member, General Theological Seminary, 2001—.
The Advocate's Person of the Year, 2003; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Leadership Award, 2004.
V. Gene Robinson created a rift in the Anglican Communion in 2003 when he became Episcopal bishop of the New Hampshire diocese. As a gay man, his elevation to bishop represents a break from 2,000 years of Christian tradition and may force a split of the 70–million–member worldwide Anglican Communion to which it belongs. Opponents call Robinson an abomination and say he is defying the Bible's teachings by living in sin with his partner. Supporters, however, say his life's work serves as an excellent example of Christianity and they hail his elevation as a breakthrough for inclusion.
Robinson is confident the controversy will pass. "Once people see what little effect this has in their day–to–day life and in the life of their local congregation, I don't believe people will want to give up their churches just because the bishop of New Hampshire is gay," he told Washington Times writer Julia Duin.
From the very beginning, Robinson's life has been filled with trial and triumph. Robinson was born May 29, 1947, in Lexington, Kentucky, to tobacco sharecroppers Charles and Imogene Robinson. He was not expected to live. At ten pounds, Robinson endured a rough delivery with forceps that crushed his head and partially paralyzed his body. Believing he would die, the doctor asked Robinson's father for a name to list on the birth and death certificates. The couple thought they were having a girl and had chosen Vicki Imogene. Robinson's father figured it would not matter what the tombstone said, so he went with the chosen name, changing it to Vicky Gene. Robinson, however, struggled on. After a month in the hospital, his parents took him home, though they were told he would never walk or talk, but the paralysis eventually went away.
Growing up, Robinson attended a rural, conservative Disciples of Christ church in Nicholasville, Kentucky. By high school, he was questioning its doctrine. As Robinson told Advocate writer Bruce C. Steele, "I was in a fairly fundamentalist congregation, and I would ask all kinds of questions, such as 'How could a loving God send people to hell if they have never even heard of Jesus?' The response from the adults in my church was 'There are certain questions you shouldn't ask.'"
After high school, Robinson entered the University of the South, located in Sewanee, Tennessee, and became an Episcopalian. In 1969, he earned a bachelor's degree in American studies and history. That fall, he began studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York, hoping to become a minister. He also entered therapy, hoping to sort out his feelings. He wondered if he was gay. "I had been struggling with this for quite some time, and all of my significant relationships had been with men," he told the Advocate. "But then I got into therapy for a couple of years to cure myself. I really wanted to be married. I wanted to have children. I felt that I was in a place that I could have a mature relationship with a woman.…"
Before Robinson married Isabella Martin in 1972, he warned his wife about his concerns over his sexuality, though he thought he had benefited from the counseling. In 1973, he graduated from the seminary, was ordained, and began serving at Christ Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey. In 1975, Robinson and his wife moved to New Hampshire where he began ministering to youth as co–owner and director of a girls' summer camp and horse farm. They eventually had two daughters. Over the course of the next two decades, Robinson dedicated his ministry to helping teens, AIDS patients, and congregations in conflict. He also launched "Fresh Start," a mentoring program for clergy adjusting to new positions.
By the mid–1980s, Robinson began to question his sexuality and entered counseling again. He came out to the church in 1986 after he and his wife decided to divorce. "I was increasingly feeling that I could not continue to deny who I was," Robinson told the Advocate. "We made a mutual decision. We felt that she deserved the opportunity to know a relationship with a heterosexual man and that I deserved the opportunity to make my life with a man."
In the late 1980s, Robinson cashed in some frequent flier miles and took a vacation to St. Croix. There, he met Mark Andrew. In time, Andrew moved to New Hampshire and the two have lived together since. They led a fairly quiet life for more than a decade until Robinson was elected bishop in June of 2003, confirmed in August, and consecrated in November of that year. Since then, other churches in the Anglican Communion have threatened to sever ties with the Episcopal Church of the United States, citing Scripture that condemns homosexuality. Church leaders from Africa to Asia have expressed anger. Peter Karanja, of the All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi, Kenya, summed it up this way for Time: "We cannot be in fellowship with them when they violate the explicit Scripture that the Anglican Church subscribes to. It's outrageous and uncalled for."
Robinson, however, believes Scripture is to be interpreted. "We take Scripture seriously, but not literally," Robinson told the Washington Times's Duin, citing passages that call remarriage after divorce adultery. "We went against Scripture and 2,000 years of tradition by relaxing those rules and allowing remarriage. We used our own experience and reason to come to that conclusion." By the same measure, gay bishops should be no big deal, he believes.
No matter what happens within the Anglican Communion, Robinson plans to continue dedicating his ministry to people on the edges—not just the gay and lesbian community. His life's work has touched many people on the fringes, offering hope in the face of despair. For example, after his consecration, Robinson received a note from an 18–year–old imprisoned for killing her mother. Recalling the note to the Advocate, Robinson said it read, "I am neither gay nor Christian, but your election makes me think there might be a community out there who could love me despite what I've done." Robinson's election to bishop gave her hope. Robinson's supporters say this inmate is just one example of the many people touched by Robinson's ministry and that is why he was chosen to become bishop—and should remain as such.
Advocate, December 23, 2003, p. 34; March 30, 2004, p. 22.
New York Times, June 8, 2003, p. A1.
Time, August 18, 2003, p. 50.
"Gay Canon Defends Role in Church," Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/functions/print.php?StoryID=20031023–114717–6294r (April 20, 2004).
"Profile: Bishop Gene Robinson," BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3208586.stm (April 20, 2004).
"The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson," Diocese of New Hampshire, http://www.nhepiscopal.org/BishopSearch/The_Rev_Canon_V_Gene_Robinson.htm#Biography (April 20, 2004).