US reactions to Robinson consecration still coming in

November 4, 2003

Statements continue to be issued by a variety of groups and individuals in the aftermath of the consecration of openly gay priest Gene Robinson as bishop coadjutor of New Hampshire.

Immediately following the consecration on November 2, the conservative American Anglican Council (AAC) decried the ceremony, saying that in making Robinson a bishop “heresy has been held up as Holy. Blasphemy has been redefined as blessing. The hope of the transforming love of Jesus Christ has been denied. Holy Scripture has been abandoned and sin celebrated over sanctification.”

The AAC promised a new network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes that will “serve as the core of the new Anglican realignment in the United States” along with a new “Conference of North American Anglican Bishops” in the works, but cautioned that “it will take some time to put all the pieces of the realignment together.”

The Rev. David H. Roseberry, one of the hosts of the AAC’s recent gathering in Dallas and rector of Christ Church in Plano, Texas, issued a statement predicting “the disintegration of our worldwide Anglican family" and “the end of the Episcopal Church as a relevant moral voice in our society and around the world" as a result of the New Hampshire action. In a separate letter addressed to his parish, Roseberry acknowledged his own divorce 20 years ago as the act of “a broken person, ignorant of the Bible's important teaching for my life. … That's the whole point of the last three months, really--that any person living outside God's best can change his heart and start anew.”(Roseberry, ordained in 1983, remarried the same year.)

Declaration of independence

The Colorado-based Anglican Communion Institute, in a statement that seemed somewhat tongue-in-cheek, called on Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to “have the courage to declare his independence from the Communion” and urged those bishops who participated in or consented to the consecration “to follow through with proper conviction and declare themselves an independent Episcopal Church, operating outside the constraints of Communion.”

Bishop Jack Leo Iker and the members of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth called the consecration “essentially a schismatic act” which has resulted in “broken fellowship with us.” In a statement they said, “We declare our solidarity with those Bishops and Dioceses and those Primates and Provinces that will now move forward with a realignment of the Anglican Communion.” Similarly, the governing council of Forward in Faith, North America, declared that it “cannot in any way recognize the authority of the bishops in question, until or unless they repent of their schismatic and apostate actions.”

The Rev. Frank Gough of Shepherd of the Hills, a mission congregation in Lecanto, Florida—in the Diocese of Central Florida—sternly declared that he and his congregation would not recognize Robinson’s episcopacy or that of “any bishop who participated in this act of ecclesiastical depravity and prostitution of the office of bishop in Christ's one holy, catholic, and apostolic church...We publicly declare the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire to be, by it's [sic] own choice and action, excommunicated.” A news release from an otherwise unidentified group calling itself “The North Carolina Council of Concerned Laity” said that the Episcopal Church has “consecrated sin in the name of Christ. “

For the three-year-old Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), Robinson “does not qualify for church office according to the Holy Scriptures and the universal consensus of Christianity for two thousand years.” The Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) and the Anglican Province of America (APA), scheduled to unite by 2008, vowed to “reject and repudiate” Robinson’s consecration in a lengthy document which ended with a pledge of support for the “emerging Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes.” The AMiA’s eight bishops and the bishops of the REC and APA are not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury as part of the Anglican Communion.

Open to possibility of blessing

The objections voiced by conservatives during the consecration fueled at least two responses of their own.

A group of clergy and laypeople called Albany Via Media declared that they “do not endorse our Suffragan Bishop’s [David Bena] formal objection, read during the consecration liturgy.” The Albany group asked those who object to Robinson’s consecration to “be open to the possibility of God’s blessing the ministry of Bishop Gene Robinson” in the spirit of the advice given by the rabbi Gamaliel during the debate over whether to punish the apostles Peter and John for preaching Christ: “So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39).

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, which describes itself as an “organization of concerned laity and clergy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh,” asked Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh to disassociate himself from the statement of the Rev. Earle Fox at the consecration. Fox, who lives in Virginia but is canonically resident in Pittsburgh, was interrupted by Griswold in the midst of a clinical description of homoerotic sex acts.

“We ask you to do all in your power to see that the Rev. Fox receives appropriate pastoral, episcopal, and psychological care to help him understand that his actions in New Hampshire were an embarrassment to himself, his diocese, his superiors, his Church, his vows, and his Lord,” the Pittsburgh group requested. “Your silence sends a message of agreement with his position. If you are truly sincere in your message of love and welcome, you must demonstrate that embracing welcome now by clearly stating that Earle Fox did not speak for you or the diocese.”

Officials of Integrity, the affinity group for lesbian and gay Episcopalians, offered congratulations to the Diocese of New Hampshire on its new bishop. “Just as the historic ordinations of Absalom Jones and Barbara Harris offered new opportunities for mission and ministry for all Episcopalians, we believe Bishop Robinson's election is yet another step forward on behalf of the inclusive Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the statement said.

“Such prophetic steps forward are never without controversy, but we are confident that the promise of a church where all people-regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation-are truly welcome at the table is worth the work it takes to create. In the weeks and months ahead we look forward to being part of this historic opportunity to tell the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. By embracing diversity as we affirm the unity of our lives together as the Body of Christ, the Episcopal Church proclaims itself to be the spiritual home for which many in our society are seeking. “

--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service.