Tag Archives: Gene Robinson

The Message of Small Scale Protests

After hearing about Gene Robinson being heckled during his sermon in Putney yesterday, an interesting question has been bobbing around. Although with events like this, and the installation of Jeffrey John in St Albans, there is always preparation for some sort of big protest, and quite often the press turn up in force, conservative groups seem to stay away with any sort of official protest.

As to why, I’m thinking that perhaps those groups realise how such a protest might be portrayed. Whilst in the main, their views are that they do not think that Gene Robinson should be a bishop, it wouldn’t take much for such a protest to be shown in the media as being along the lines of the well known protests by the Westboro’ Baptist Church in the USA, or the Christian Voice protests in this country. Certainly any protest will highlight the presence of Gene Robinson more than no protest, and the press would love a large group of crazy Christians waving placards. As Gene Robinson himself said on his blog, the media are looking for a story.

And that is exactly what they got last night. Had a biker not started heckling Robinson, his sermon probably would have merited a few words, and certainly nothing on the TV news – instead, his sermon was elevated to one of the top stories of the night, and his presence highlighted even more. What the protest of the lone biker seemed to highlight even more is that it was just that, a lone protester amongst a congregation of hundreds. It is interesting to note that the point where the man starts shouting is just as Gene Robinson is talking about fear, and ironically the heckler quite neatly provides an example for the point that is being made. Also worth noting that Robinson doesn’t argue back, he stands quietly and takes the shouting from the heckler, and then asks the congregation to pray for the man. In an age where media perception is everything, what message is that sending?

If you want to judge for yourself, many of the news sites have clips of the heckle. Alternatively, a video of the whole sermon, including the heckle, is online. I would highly recommend watching the whole sermon too, at about thirty minutes it’s a bit longer than your average Anglican sermon, but well worth the effort. It speaks so much more about the calling of the Church than one bloke heckling, and really shows why the people of the Church in New Hampshire chose to elect Gene Robinson as their Bishop.

Crunch Point

In all the recent goings on in the Anglican Communion, the obvious crunch point has always been the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Every ten years all the Bishops of the Anglican Communion from all over the world get together, ironically not in Lambeth but at the University of Kent in Canterbury. However who attends is entirely down to who the Archbishop of Canterbury, so there has been much speculation and discussion as to who will be invited, particularly with reference to the Episcopal Church.

Yesterday, the months of speculation were ended by the announcement that the invitations had been issued. Reading the letter of invitation, those worried that the whole of the Episcopal Church will have been sidelined had their minds put at rest. Rowan Williams said the following:

An invitation to participate in the Conference has not in the past been a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy. Coming to the Lambeth Conference does not commit you to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline, or to any action that would compromise your conscience or the integrity of your local church.

and also this:

I have said, and repeat here, that coming to the Conference does not commit you to accepting every position held by other bishops as equally legitimate or true. But I hope it does commit us all to striving together for a more effective and coherent worldwide body, working for God’s glory and Christ’s Kingdom. The Instruments of Communion have offered for this purpose a set of resources and processes, focused on the Windsor Report and the Covenant proposals. My hope is that as we gather we can trust that your acceptance of the invitation carries a willingness to work with these tools to shape our future. I urge you all most strongly to strive during the intervening period to strengthen confidence and understanding between our provinces and not to undermine it.

However, then comes the following:

At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. Indeed there are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this. Such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.

Although they are not mentioned by name, neither the Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, nor Martyn Minns, recently consecrated by Peter Akinola against the wishes of Rowan Williams have been invited.

The reasons for the exclusions though are rather different. Minns isn’t invited, fundamentally because Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), although being regarded as part of the Anglican Church in Nigeria is not recognised as part of the wider Anglican Communion.

The exclusion of Gene Robinson is for no other reason than the fact his is gay and is being honest about it. All of the sixty or so Bishops who supported him and were involved in his consecration are invited, it is only Robinson who is being denied an invite. However, the communiqué issued by the February 2005 Primates meeting said the following:

The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.

Not surprisingly this has provoked a good deal of outrage from across the communion, there is a good roundup on Episcopal Cafe. Interestingly both sides of the debate are not happy with the decision, for differing reasons, as detailed by Andrew Plus:

So far the blogs seem to go like this. The blogs on the right are disappointed because invitation to Lambeth was seen as test of orthodoxy. They assumed that only orthodox Anglicans would be invited, and Archbishop Akinola has said that if +Gene or the Episocpal Church was included he and the Global South would gather in Alexandria or someplace else and have their Lambeth conference.

The bloggers on the left are disappointed because of the active and deliberate exclusion of Bishop Robinson, once again placing the burden of division on the back of one man–the open, affirming and partnered gay man. This once again smacks of condescension and avoidance–talking about people instead of to people–and so this solution seems to be a capitulation to conservative pressure. The words in his letter about the limits of inclusivity seem to reinforce this.

Andrew’s position is much the same as mine – everybody should have been invited, and then it should have been left to the individual Bishops as to whether they would attend. Mark Harris on PRELUDIUM says much the same. By excluding Minns and Robinson from the invite list it seems to please no-one, indeed Peter Akinola is already threatening to have the entire Anglican Church in Nigeria boycott the meeting over Minns not being invited. Minns himself doesn’t seem quite so bothered. Gene Robinson’s statement describes him being excluded as an affront to the whole Episcopal Church. Certainly it will be interesting to see how many of the Episcopal Church choose not to attend in protest.

However, there is a possibility that Robinson will still attend the conference. A number of reports including USA Today and Ruth Gledhill suggest that Robinson may well be invited as a guest – perhaps the irony of that is that as a guest he may well have more visibility than if he was within the conference.

Anyway, if all of this is totally depressing, thanks to Dave Walker for his spin on why the two Bishops weren’t invited…

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Going to Heaven

I’m currently reading a copy of “Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinsonâ€? by Elizabeth Adams, which as the title suggests tells the story of Bishop Gene Robinson, particularly with regards to his election as Bishop of New Hampshire. I’d wanted to read the book for a while, putting in an order almost immediately with Amazon, but found that the order kept being pushed back and back as they tried to import it from the States, so I jumped at an offer from Richard Nash, the publisher of the book in the US (who even gets a thank-you in the preface of the book from the author) who arranged a review copy for me direct from the UK distributor.

Before reading it I had been expecting the book to cover similar ground to “A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexualityâ€? by Stephen Bates, which although it included a picture of Gene Robinson on the cover, was primarily about the appointment and subsequent withdrawal of Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. It is interesting to note that the massive furore that arose here over the appointment of Jeffrey John has died away, much as I expected it would once Gene Robinson had been elected across the pond. Indeed as I have commented, when Canon John was invested as Dean of St Albans, despite the best efforts of some groups to kick up a fuss, only a single protester showed up – a far cry from the increased security, armed police, bullet proof vests and bodyguards that were needed for the ceremony in New Hampshire. In fact the only mention of Jeffrey John in the Adams book so far is a somewhat misleading quote that the decision to appoint him was only made by Bishop Richard. For clarification, as with the appointment of a parish priest in the Church of England what happens currently is a much more consultative process, even if on paper it seems to be a one person decision. In the case of Jeffrey John, as with the current process for a successor to Bishop Richard in which we were involved, a committee that includes a lay element was appointed to oversee the process, and they took contributions from the wider Church. Jeffrey John was backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and also backed by the committee who interviewed the candidates. Ultimately it was one of the lay members of that committee, Philip Giddings who after agreeing to the appointment took the lead in the campaign to get Jeffrey John to stand down and became convenor of Anglican Mainstream. There is more detail on that whole process, including extensive interviews with Giddings himself in the Stephen Bates book.

Anyway, Going to Heaven is a very different book, in a large part I think because of the contribution of Gene Robinson himself, so there is a lot about his background, and also a lot of detail of his life in the Church prior to his election. There are also numerous contributions from people across the Episcopal Church including a number of people who on paper you would expect to be opposed to the appointment of a ‘gay bishop’, but supported Gene Robinson because of the work he had done for both his diocese and the Episcopal Church as a whole for many years before his election. In fact through these passages what comes through most clearly is that for many he wasn’t elected because he was gay, but he was elected because he was the best person for the job, in spite of the fact he was gay. Many of the people who backed him were willing to do so not because of some great ideal to bring the issue to the fore, but because they, and the majority of the people in the diocese believed that he was the right man for the job. This certainly contrasts with what happens in the UK where although we have involvement in the process for choosing a Bishop, ultimately we don’t see who the candidates were, and we are then told who has been appointed. In the Episcopal Church the process is much more open, with a shortlist of candidates being drawn up, and a long process of consultation where the candidates meet people from across the diocese, leading ultimately to an election with representatives from across the diocese.

Another element of the book is in drawing a comparison with the campaign for the ordination of Women, and the subsequent appointment of women Bishops, and of course as of November 1st, a woman as primate of the Episcopal Church as a whole. What struck me as interesting was the differences in the way the two issues were addressed. What I was unaware of was that it was that the first ordinations of Women in the US were conducted illegally, ahead of the approval from the General Convention. In comparison, New Hampshire were scrupulous in ensuring that the election was carried out properly, so there would be no question over his appointment. This of course has ultimately been what has caused much of the hand wringing and arguments across the Anglican Communion as a whole, as under the rules of the Church Gene Robinson has been appointed entirely properly.

One thing that is also clear is that it is apparent that nobody really expected the events that have happened since, and the worldwide element that his appointment took on. Looking again at the ordination of Women issue, there is disagreement across the Anglican Communion as a whole over the issue, but the communion has remained largely in tact. It certainly seems that many people in New Hampshire thought that whatever outcry there would be would die down, which of course it hasn’t. Bishop Gene Robinson has ended up being the trigger for a battle over what it means to be an Anglican itself.

As such, the book contains quite a few comments and anecdotes putting the liberal side of the argument. There are two points that I will repeat here. The first, is that whatever parts of the Anglican church may like to say, the Church is based on a combination of Scripture, Tradition and Reason – Richard Hooker often credited alongside Thomas Cranmer and Matthew Parker as being one of the founders of Anglican theological thought. Whilst some may have you believe that it is a recent idea, way back in the sixteenth century he was arguing that the scriptures should be read in their historical context, and be looked at in the light of the specific situations for which they were written. Elizabeth Adams book includes the application of this tenet to the various passages of scripture often raised by opponents that Gene Robinson himself used during and after the process that elected him as Bishop.

The second point is a bit different, and is an analogy:

There are four soldiers fighting in the war. One of their number is killed, and the other three find a Church and a priest, and ask the priest to bury their friend. This he does, but the cemetery in the churchyard is only for baptised Christians, so the priest enquires from the three as to their friends religious background. They do not know if he is baptised, so the priest says that he can only bury their friend outside the Church fence.

Later, as they are returning home from the war, the three remaining friends decide to go and visit the grave of the fourth friend, but when they get to the Church they find that there is no longer a grave outside the fence, so they go and seek out the priest. The priest remembers these soldiers, and explains. “After you left,â€? he says, “I thought about it, and what I had told you and felt that it was wrong. I couldn’t change where your friend was buried, but I did what I could, I moved the fence.â€?

The book is an excellent read, and certainly goes a long way towards providing a more rounded view of both Gene Robinson, and the events surrounding his election as Bishop, putting to rest a lot of the misinformation that came out through some of the UK tabloid press at the time. Fundamentally it provides a way to move from thinking of the man as a label, or a single issue, into understanding why the people of New Hampshire wanted him as their Bishop.

Yet More Anglican Postings

Father Jake has posted a series of interesting posts over the past few days. The Bishop of New Hampshire has written an open letter in the wake of B033, especially with regards to the feelings of delegates who felt they were betraying other members of the Church in the cause of Anglican unity, only to have it thrown back in their faces. The Times has published an article questioning whether Rowan Williams is too brainy to lead the Church. Perhaps the most interesting comment item is this article from the Guardian comparing and commending the US Church, and comparing it with what is happening in the Church of England. Michael Hampson, the author of the article has a new book, The Last Rites: The End of the Church of England that will be published in October.

First Female Primate

In a move that will probably go down like the proverbial lead balloon in certain quarters, and in what is certainly an interesting counterpoint to the slow moves to even get a woman Bishop in this country, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the USA has narrowly elected Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first ever female primate of an Anglican Church. For those of you who don’t know much about the Church hierarchy, this roughly equivalent to us having a woman as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Putting aside that many parts of the worldwide Church don’t even have women priests, let a lone female bishops, she also voted for the election of Gene Robinson three years ago, and is supportive of blessing same-sex unions. A split in the Church is probably now a foregone conclusion.