On June 14, 2006, the second day of the 75th Episcopal General Convention, Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop to be ordained in the church, made the following statement:
It is very clear to us in the religious community that God is alive and well and working in the culture in organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, and so we sought to become allies with them. They and other so-called secular organizations were cautious about our seeking them out, as well they should be.
Let’s be clear here: The church has been the primary source of the oppressions that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people have experienced through out their lives. Just as Scripture was used to justify slavery as recently as 150 years ago, just as Scripture was used to keep women out of leadership positions in the church . . . Scripture was used to fight both of those movements of the spirit. And so, indeed, the Church has been the source of most of the pain that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people have experienced. And what we try to say to the Human Rights Campaign and others is, if the church is the cause of this oppression it needs to be church people who undo this oppression, and that is what we are trying to do here.
Let’s also be clear that the religious right, both within our church and in other churches, are still proclaiming those kinds of oppressive things that are causing our children to grow up doubting whether indeed they are beloved by God or are an abomination. . . . Only religious people can undo that oppression and that is indeed what we along with the Human Rights Campaign are trying to do in this day and time.
I agree with the conservatives on one point. The conservative voices in our church are saying that at this very moment in the life of our church we are fighting for the soul of the church. I think that is absolutely right. The question is whether this will be a church about rules, about walls, about division, about schism, about threats, about violent language, or will this be a church about the all-inclusive love of God in which every, every baptized person will hear in his or her own heart what Jesus heard at his baptism – you are my beloved, in you I am well pleased.
The reason we are at this moment in the life of the Episcopal Church is that there are enough of us gay and lesbian folk that have laid claim to that promise, to that blessing, if you will, that we are God’s beloved children also along with all other baptized members of the church, and we will not let go of that blessing. And the reason we are at this moment is that there are other people, many people in our church who recognize Christ in the faces and lives of its gay and lesbian members. And so we are fighting over the soul of this church, about whether this will be a church about God’s love for all of God’s children or something else, something from the past, something from which we should repent. It is a great moment to be here . . .
After his statement, Robinson and others took questions from the assembled press, who represented the secular and religious media. Following are Bishop Robinson's answers.
What evidence do you have against the likelihood of schism?
I think we are at a place in our church where we want to listen very carefully to what is being said to us from our partners in mission around the world, and at the same time not be dictated to. We are a confederation of 38 autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion and I am not aware of other times when the Communion has tried to tell one of its constituent autonomous provinces what will and will not be done. What I think the call of this convention is, is for us to discern the mind and will of God as humbly and as best as we can and to stand up and say that. It is not our job to decide what the Anglican Communion will or will not do in response to our actions. What we are called to do is to as faithfully as we can discern God’s will and act on it in our context.
Let me remind you that no one, not in this church, is asking anyone else in the Anglican Communion to raise up gay and lesbian people to affirm them, to ordain them, to consecrate them bishops. This is not some kind of ecclesiastical colonialism here . . . We are only asking to be allowed to do this in our own context.
It is not a surprise to me that the Archbishop of Nigeria is opposed to this issue. The Archbishop of Nigeria is supportive of legislation in that country that imprisons gay and lesbian people and he is supporting currently proposed legislation that will even criminalize a heterosexual person for speaking out for gay and lesbian rights. It is not a surprise to me that he does not know any faithful Christian gay and lesbian folk. No one is asking that church in the Anglican Communion to change its policies or its beliefs.
However, we do know those people in our church who are faithful and monogamous and have lifelong intention in their relationships. We know them because they are sitting here, they are deputies to this convention, they preside at our altars at Holy Communion and they now have one of us as a bishop. We do know those people and we are only seeking to do what God seems to be calling us to do in our context. We are not trying to export that anywhere. We are just trying to say this is what God is calling us to do at this moment . . .
What do you think will happen when there is a vote on this [the Windsor Commission report]?
I have made a commitment not to do a lot of conjecture about what will or won’t happen. They don’t give you a crystal ball when they consecrate you a bishop. I could have used that. What I will say is that we are not going away. We have been a part of this church since its inception. We will continue to be a part of this church. We are not threatening to leave. The last thing we will do is leave the table. And you see, I think that is what communion is about. It is some kind of commitment to stay at the table, no matter what.
It is our great gift as Anglicans to offer to the worldwide church of every denomination, which is to say that we can disagree about lots of things, and Lord knows Episcopalians do. We are all over the map on virtually every issue you can name. But we all go up to the altar rail and receive the body and the blood of Christ as humbly as we can, and then we go back to the pews and fight about all those things. That is our great gift to the worldwide church.
And we are going to stay at the table. That is the table of the Lord’s Last Supper, the table around which we can discuss all these issues. That I am absolutely sure will continue no matter what happens at this convention.
Two virtues Episcopalians focus on are the unity of the Anglican Communion and a sense of justice. How do they come together in this situation?
Balancing a desire for unity and desire to meet the justice demands of the Gospel are two things that are often in conflict. We certainly saw that in the cvil rights movement of the 60's. There were lots of people who threatened to leave and take their money with them, who proclaimed profound pain over what the church was about to do. And at some point we turned the corner and stopped worrying pastorally about offending people and decided that we would do the right thing and fully include people of color in the life of our country and the life of our church and then deal as pastorally as we could with those who did not understand why we had done such a thing.
I think we are called to that kind of moment now, which is to say it is time to do the right thing and then to do all that we can to preserve the highest level of unity that we can accomplish. If, indeed, it calls for some kind of sacrifice, we would be in very good company, wouldn’t we, since we follow a man who made considerable sacrifice for doing the right and good thing.
How has the controversy affected your day-to-day work?
To be honest, it doesn’t affect my work much at all in New Hampshire. It is a little hard for people to believe, but I am just Gene Robinson, the bishop in New Hampshire. I said to folks in England when I was there in November, if you want to see what the church is like after we finish obsessing about sex, come to New Hampshire, because we spend little or no time on this. We are just setting about the work of the Gospel. Now, I do have this other ministry, which is to the wider church and the wider world, and hence my work with the Human Rights Campaign, and that is a very important ministry and the people of New Hampshire understand they have to share me a bit with the rest of the world. But in terms of my work in New Hampshire, I am so thankful that I am able to be about the work of a bishop and to do those things every bishop does every day being a pastor to my flock.
How did you decide to take this other ministry [the fight for the inclusion of the LGBT community within the Episcopal Church] public?
When I was elected I said I wanted to be the bishop of New Hampshire, not the gay bishop, and I think to be honest I was a bit naïve about that. The world has not fully permitted me to do that. My own diocese has permitted me to do that, but one gets called on and drafted to do things that one has not necessarily seen in the future.
I don’t think any of us thought this would have the breadth and depth in the life of the communion that it has. And because that is important and because mine is the only voice who can speak from experience in the House of Bishops, it has seemed an important calling for me to do the best I can to represent people who otherwise are not welcome in certain places. Even to this day there are lots of councils of the church I am not a part of because of who I am. I begged to give testimony to the Windsor Commission and was not allowed to address them. So there are still places that I am not welcome, even as a bishop of the church. But in those places that I am welcome it is imperative I give voice to those who are not yet welcome there and while it is something that I hoped wouldn’t be necessary, it has become clear to me that for this day and this time it is necessary and it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously and I am humbled and honored to be in this place.
You use the name of Jesus in connection with the gay and lesbian agenda in the Episcopal church. Are you convinced that those who oppose you on this issue are following a false Jesus?
First of all, let me say that Jesus is the agenda, the homosexual agenda in the Episcopal Church. I believe that with my whole heart. Second of all, I would in no way issue such a judgment against anyone who disagrees with me. Let me just use the Most Reverent Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, as a name, a representative. I believe that Peter Akinola is following his journey back home to God as faithfully, as prayerfully and as thoughtfully as he can. I am, too.
I am following my journey back to God faithfully and prayerfully. And I think this wonderful Anglican Communion of ours is large enough to hold us together at the same communion table while we continue to figure this out. God is going to sort it out in God’s time, and in the meantime, what Peter and I can do is continue to receive sustenance from God through the body and blood of Christ, respect the dignity of each other and treat each other as the brothers in Christ that we are. And then over time we will figure this out.
Perhaps we are wrong, I don’t know. Perhaps Peter Akinola is wrong, I don’t know. But the last thing I would accuse him of or judge him to be is faithless. I believe that we are having a faithful conversation about this. The question is whether some of us are going to leave the conversation. We are not going to leave the conversation.
Can you elaborate on your statement that Jesus is the homosexual agenda in the Episcopal Church?
I am standing here before you believing that I am the beloved child of God because of God’s action in my own life. When I took Jesus Christ to be my lord and savior, I was speaking about a God who is not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, but is alive and well and working in my life as we speak. And my agenda is to speak the witness that I know of this living, loving God who loves me for all I am and all that I was created to be, wants the best for me, wants to forgive me of all my sins and raise me up from all my foibles . . . Jesus rarely pointed to himself in the synoptic gospels, he was always pointing to God and that is what homosexuals in the church want to do, to keep pointing to God and saying this God saved me from what the world and the church was telling me about myself.
While the church said I was an abomination, God somehow, miraculously, gracefully got through to me and said, “Wrong. You are my son, my beloved, in who I am well pleased.” I want to tell the world about that kind of God because the world tells people all kinds of reasons why God doesn’t love and accept them and they are all wrong. Because God loves all of God’s children. That’s the homosexual agenda in the Episcopal Church.