A Church’s Choice: First Openly Gay Bishop
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FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The emotional state over homosexuality was set aside Sunday as 6,500 delegates came together for services. There was no doubt that the center of attention at the conference was V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay person to be elected bishop. He was elected by his New Hampshire diocese but there were fears his confirmation by delegates here could splinter the two million member church. The Episcopal Church is part of worldwide Anglican communion. Only U.S. Episcopals can vote at the convention but some foreign Church leaders have publicly opposed it. Nigerian Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearu did not mention Robinson but urged the gathering to carefully consider the impact of their vote.
ARCHBISHOP JOSIAH IDOWU-FEARON, Nigeria: There is a saying in my part of the world, when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. ( Laughter ) our family, which is the Anglican family, takes the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., Very seriously. I want to plead that you don’t sneeze too much.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: However, debate followed quickly at the church’s house of deputies. It has both lay and clergy members, and it’s one of two bodies that must confirm new bishops. Supporters of Gene Robinson says that autonomy of each church must be respected at national and diocese level.
JOHN GOLDSACK, New Jersey; New Hampshire has elected a man they know, a man they love, a man they believe is someone who follows Christ in all that he does. I ask that you honor their decision because they know him, they trust him, they love him!
BONNIE ANDERSON, Michigan: Your vote in favor of consent to the election of my friend Gene Robinson may have some repercussions for you at home. You may be afraid, afraid of schisms and afraid it will hurt your church budget. Don’t be afraid, be of good courage. Fear is the absence of faith.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Opponents said their faith is based on biblical teachings.
LONELL WRIGHT, Louisiana: My opposition is based upon holy scripture. Nowhere in scripture is homosexuality affirmed. It is mentioned no less than five times, and in all cases scripture disaffirms homosexuality.
REV. LORNE COYLE, Florida: We’re on a luxury liner representing the worldwide Anglican communion. And the Episcopal Church, or more specifically this general convention is loading itself into one of the lifeboats. If we vote to approve Gene Robinson today, the boat will be lowered.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Deputies in the packed, dense auditorium were admonished to refrain from public demonstrations.
SPOKESPERSON: This are 65 “yes” votes, 31 “no” votes and 12 divided votes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So the vote in favor of Robinson was greeted by silence and a prayer.
SPOKESMAN: Where there is joy, assist us to celebrate. Where there is sorrow, assist us to comfort. Where there is confusion, assist us to find clarity.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Reverend George Werner, president of the House of Deputies, appealed for unity.
GEORGE WERNER, President, House of Bishops: There are many of us who are on different sides. And I don’t want to say two sides– we’re on about fifteen or twenty different sides on this one– who are going to get together and wrestle with this thing and pray for each other and talk to each other. I am hoping our bothers and sisters in the Anglican community and in the rest of the Anglican world will understand we’re wrestling and trying to do our best to discern God’s will and not trying to be arrogant Americans and not trying to hurt anybody
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many delegates noted that the church was united through previous controversies like the ordination of women 30 years ago. But the Reverend Kendall Harmon, a South Carolina theologian, said things were different this time.
REV. KENDALL HARMON, South Carolina: If the vote goes through tomorrow, what will happen? I think you’ll see a major line has been crossed, because the church will become formally heretical in its doctrine of marriage and the family. There comes a point where you have drawn so many lines in the sand that you have hit bedrock. And that in the view of a huge number of Anglicans is exactly where we find ourselves today.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Robinson, who was flanked throughout the conference by his partner, Mark Andrew, and daughter, Ella, from a previous marriage, reacted with mixed feelings.
BISHOP-ELECT V. GENE ROBINSON, New Hampshire: It involves some pain for a lot of us. Of course, not being fully included in the church for so long has brought a lot of us pain. So it’s a kind of bittersweet moment because, while I rejoice with my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and all of those who are working for a full inclusion in this wonderful Episcopal Church of ours, we’re also very aware that this is a troubling decision for many in our church.
RAY SUAREZ: But this afternoon, a final vote was suddenly put off. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, the head of the Episcopal Church, released a statement saying questions had been raised about Robinson. A thorough investigation would be taken before a vote. Our correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro joins us now live with the latest. Fred, how did it happen that the vote was delayed?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It was about the 11th hour, just before the bishops were about to meet to debate his confirmation, that two separate allegations surfaces. The first was that Reverend Robinson’s — a Web site with which he has been associated which services gay and bisexual youth, had inappropriate links to pornography sites. The second separate allegation was of inappropriate sexual advances, and that was brought forth by an adult male, a member of the church in Vermont.
RAY SUAREZ: Was the timing a surprise? One would have thought this man was very closely vetted long before this conference started in Minneapolis?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Absolutely. It did absolutely stun this gathering here. A spokesman for the church called the timing “curious.”
RAY SUAREZ: And any word on how long the investigation talked about by Presiding Bishop Griswold will take, whether they will even be able to have a vote before they break up and go home?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s a great deal of uncertainty because not a lot has been revealed so far. We were told this process is a relatively automatic one of investigating allegations of such gravity. He did not say how long the investigation would take. The mood over here, as I said, was one of stunned… there’s a somber mood here. However, there is an admonition from all sides that cooler heads prevail. This is a church that celebrates the liturgy in many ways across the spectrum, but when it comes to decorum, there’s a high premium on it in parliamentary affairs. Nobody is shouting back and forth. There are no allegations flying back and forth. It’s indeed very civilized here even though the mood is clearly one of stunned silence for the most part.
RAY SUAREZ: Have any individuals on either side of the question talked to you about whether this is the way they want to win or lose this thing?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s a very interesting anecdote I can relate. This afternoon we ran into one of the leading members of the Anglican Communion – Bishop Anderson – not the Communion. His name is David Anderson. He was one the leading spokespeople against the Robinson nomination. He said, “we would not want Gene to win or lose this way.” In the gathering in that small space was a leading proponent of Robinson and we were expecting a confrontation. This was with the Reverend Susan Russell. Instead, the two hugged. They talked about the need for cooler heads to prevail until the truth comes out. Supporters say they are confident in the disciplinary procedures of church and in their processes, and this will be cleared up very, very quickly, that Robinson will be cleared. The opponents said let’s wait and see.
RAY SUAREZ: Fred de Sam Lazaro joining us from the Episcopal Church convention. Fred, thanks a lot.