In 2003, Gene Robinson became the world’s first openly gay person to be ordained as a bishop in a major Christian denomination.
His elevation to the post of Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New
Hampshire created an international furor within the Episcopal Church
and prompted thousands of clergy and lay people to leave the church in
Robinson, 63, spoke to the Blade following an appearance before D.C.’s
St. Thomas’s Parish, an Episcopal congregation in Dupont Circle in the
process of rebuilding its church destroyed by arson in 1970.
He noted that lesbian Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool’s election as
bishop earlier this year in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles
resulted in far less controversy than his election seven years
earlier, indicating a gradual acceptance of gays in church leadership
Blade: You spoke tonight about the importance of the community
getting involved in the effort to build a new church building for St.
Thomas Parish. Do you have any message for the broader LGBT community
here in Washington about the benefit of this church and what
they might do to help?
Robinson: You know, asking an LGBT person to go back to the church
that has been the source of so much pain and abuse is a little like
asking an abused spouse to go back to her husband. The fact of the
matter is in many places the church is changing. And the church
realizes that for years it got it wrong about LGBT people. And what I
love about St. Thomas’ Parish is that it is really leading the way in
that kind of radically inclusive message. And it doesn’t stop with
LGBT people. It reaches out to really all of God’s children. And so I
would say to the gay community, take another look. The church you left
may be different now. And certainly St. Thomas is modeling I think the
kind of inclusive love that God is all about. And those who would use
the church or use scripture, be it the Hebrew scriptures or the
Christian scriptures, to beat us over the head, they’ve gotten it
wrong and it’s time that we rediscover God’s love in the middle of all
Blade: While you’re here in D.C. can you give a brief update on
where things stand with the Episcopal Church, including your
Robinson: Well, there’s never been any question about my situation. I
was duly elected and consented to and consecrated. So there’s never
been any question about whether I would continue. What I can say is
over the last seven years I think you have seen the Episcopal Church
make dramatic steps forward. I think they consented to my election in
2003. In 2006 at our national gathering we sort of put things on hold
to figure out if what the rest of the world was saying us us — that we
were crazy and unfaithful in consecrating an openly gay person. We
stopped to consider and listen. But last summer, in 2009, when we
gathered, it was very clear that the Episcopal Church had made up its
mind that, in fact, it was being the church that God was calling it to
be and that we’re going to move forward. And of course in the ensuing
year we’ve seen the election and consecration of another openly
lesbian person at this point in time in Los Angeles. And my sense from
– even the bishops and people who might have liked to see it go a
different way have realized that this is who the Episcopal Church is
going to be and they’re ready to get on with it. And you haven’t seen
near the controversy over the consecration of the second openly gay
bishop as you saw with mine. And I think it just shows how far we’ve
come in seven years.
Blade: Is there some sort of schism taking place?
Robinson: Well you know, if you just read the headlines you would
think that it was virtually a 50-50 split in our church. The fact of
the matter is out of a little better than two million members, only
about a hundred thousand have left. And that’s their count, that’s how
many they claim have left the Episcopal Church.
Blade: Is it the U.S. Episcopal Church you’re talking about?
Robinson: Yeah, the U.S. church. And so we’ve seen the departure of
some 100,000 people who just can’t believe this is God’s will. But for
the most part the U.S. Episcopal Church is alive and well and moving
forward. And as I think you’ll see the same thing worldwide in the
Anglican community. There are many African and Asian Episcopal
dioceses who still don’t understand what we did. But more and more of
them are saying to us, “We don’t understand this. We don’t agree with
it. But you know we have people dropping dead of malaria and AIDS and
of severe abject poverty. We have women and children being abused.
This is so far down our priority list. We’re just going get on with
being the church.” And so I think at the end of the day we’re going to
be just fine, both internally in the Episcopal Church and the
worldwide community. That doesn’t mean there won’t still be
controversy. People will still be uncomfortable. But that’s O.K. It’s
going to take a little while to get used to it.