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Gene Robinson Becomes First Openly Gay Episcopal Bishop

Gene Robinson Becomes First Openly Gay Episcopal Bishop

Photograph

By: Lee Marriner

Date: March 7, 2004

Source: The Associated Press

About the Photographer: Lee K. Marriner is a photojournalist based in Belmont, New Hampshire and makes frequent contributions of news and sports photographs to the Associated Press.

INTRODUCTION

The Episcopal or Anglican Church is a union of national churches forming the third largest Christian denomination in the world, with about seventy-seven million members. Anglicanism combines features of Protestantism and of Roman Catholicism and is governed primarily by its bishops, hence its name ("episcopal" means "of or having to do with bishops"). In March 2004, an openly homosexual priest of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., Vicki Imogene Robinson ("Gene" Robinson) was consecrated as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. The decision to consecrate Robinson aroused intense controversy among the Episcopal churches; conservative members, both in the United States and abroad, viewed the decision as an abandonment of traditional Christian doctrine, which has characterized homosexuality as sinful. The controversy threatened to split the church in two after almost 600 years of organizational unity.

Gene Robinson received a Master of Divinity degree from the Episcopal Church's theological seminary in New York in 1973. During his seminary time, he sought psychotherapy to cure himself of homosexual feelings. He married in 1972 and had two daughters with his wife before divorcing in 1986. Robinson is monogamously partnered with a New Hampshire man named Mark Andrews. He was elected bishop by the members of his New Hampshire diocese (a geographical unit of church organization) in 2003, but his election had to be ratified by the Episcopal General Convention, the governing body of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. (which meets every three years). Despite much controversy, the Convention voted to confirm Robinson. He became bishop of New Hampshire on March 7, 2004.

PRIMARY SOURCE

GENE ROBINSON BECOMES FIRST OPENLY GAY EPISCOPAL BISHOP

See primary source image.

SIGNIFICANCE

Robinson's consecration as bishop has threatened both the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the larger global communion of which it is a part, the Anglican Church, with schism (religious division into separate churches). Many conservatives, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, do not accept the idea of an openly homosexual, noncelibate man being a bishop of the church. Particularly strong resistance to the acceptance of Robinson's appointment has been voiced by many of the Episcopal churches of Africa. In a historic reversal, the church that began as a strictly English institution has, as a result of its own missionary efforts, become a global institution, and the formerly majority-white, majority-European/American organization is now overwhelmingly Third World and nonwhite in membership. Moreover, these Third World churches tend to be much more theologically and socially conservative than the European and American churches from which they sprung.

For example, the Bishops of the Anglican province of the Democratic Republic of Congo issued a statement on January 5, 2004 regarding "homosexuality and blessings of same-sex unions within the Anglican Communion." In the statement, the Congolese bishops specifically mentioned the consecration of Gene Robinson, along with the ordination to priesthood of "actively gay and lesbian people" and "the use of the newly devised Prayer Book published by the Diocese of New Westminster/Canada for the purpose of officiating the blessing of same-sex marriages." They stated that these acts "clearly and deliberately misrepresent the Word of God" and various resolutions and findings of the Anglican church and further declared that "the Anglican Province of Congo strongly condemns homosexuality and wishes to disassociate itself from relations with Dioceses and Parishes involved in homosexuality." The bishops stated their view that "active homosexuality" is "ravaging the western world." The Archbishop of Nigeria spoke separately of "the reality that a small, economically privileged group of people has sought to subvert the Christian faith and impose their new and false doctrine on the wider community of faithful believers." Nigeria alone has about eight times as many Episcopalians as does the United States.

In October, 2004, an official report was issued by a church commission, the Windsor Commission, which had been convened in an effort to stave off breakup of the global church. The church recommended a moratorium until at least 2006 on the consecration of gay bishops and on public ceremonies blessing or marrying same-sex couples. At a meeting held in February, 205, however, most of the heads of the thirty-eight Anglican Provinces (national churches) agreed in essence to reject the Windsor Report's wait-and-see approach and asked that the Episcopal Church, U.S.A. and the Anglican Church of Canada withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council (a body through which the 38 national churches communicate) until at least 2008, when a conference of all bishops of the global Anglican church is scheduled to occur in England.

The Methodist Church and other "mainstream" churches are also afflicted by debate between liberal and conservative members over the permissibility of homosexuality. Homosexuality is not condoned by any Fundamentalist or Evangelical branches of Christianity, nor by the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Web sites

AmericanAnglican.org "A Statement from the Primates gathered at the first African Anglican Bishop's Conference held in Lagos, Nigeria, October 2004." 〈http://www.americananglican.org/site/apps/nl/〉 (accessed April 4, 2006).

Goodstein, Laurie. "Gay Episcopal Bishop Sees Glint of Hope in Church Report." New York Times. Oct. 21, 2004. Available at 〈http://www.americananglican.org/site/apps/nl/〉 (accessed April 4, 2006).

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS): Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. "Interview with Gene Robinson, Oct. 31, 2003." 〈http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week709/exclusive.html〉 (accessed April 4, 2006).

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