For the Reverend V. Gene Robinson, it's two down and one to go. The New Hampshire clergyman, who would become the first openly gay elected bishop in the Episcopal Church, faces a final vote Monday that some fear could prompt conservatives to leave the church. On Sunday the House of Deputies, a legislative body composed of clergy and lay people from dioceses nationwide, approved him on a 2-to-1 vote; a committee endorsed him by secret ballot Friday. The House of Bishops now takes up the matter. After the deputies' endorsement, Robinson said, "I rejoice with my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and all those working for full inclusion" of gay men and lesbians in the church. He appealed to opponents not to leave the denomination but said he would not be responsible if they did. "What binds us together is our faith," said Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two. "We should not hold any one issue above or higher than our commitment to Jesus Christ."
Robinson's partner of 13 years, Mark Andrew, and Robinson's daughter, Ella, have been by his side throughout the Episcopal General Convention, taking place this week in Minneapolis. Robinson's ex-wife has also been supportive. The American Anglican Council, which represents conservative bishops and parishes, said it is "deeply grieved" by Sunday's results. Bishops who believe gay sex is a sin contend that allowing Robinson to serve is a tacit endorsement of ordaining gays and lesbians. The council plans a meeting in October to decide whether to break away from the church or take some other action. Like-minded bishops in the Anglican Communion, the 77 million-member global association of churches, said they too will consider severing ties with the denomination if Robinson wins confirmation. Episcopalians form the U.S. branch of the communion. "This will be a symbol of disunity and a source of deep pain for Anglicans worldwide," said the Reverend Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina. If conservatives decide to leave, it will spark a bitter fight over parish property and funds and undercut the denomination's influence. But liberals said the threat has been exaggerated and note that many conservatives had pledged to break ties before over issues such as ordaining women but then remained in the church.
Robinson was elected by his diocese in June, but the church requires that a majority of convention delegates ratify his election. His chances in the House of Bishops are unclear, although it is rare for the
General Convention to reject a diocese's choice of leader. The House of Deputies used a complex voting procedure that required clergy and lay people in diocesan delegations to cast separate ballots. Robinson needed a majority of votes in each delegation to win. In the combined results, 128 delegations voted yes and 63 voted no. The votes of 25 delegations were not counted because their members were divided.
Robinson has rejected calls from conservatives that he withdraw his name from consideration as another gay clergyman, the Reverend Jeffrey Johns, did recently in England. The 1998 Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade gathering of Anglican leaders, approved a resolution calling gay sex "incompatible with Scripture." Asked what message the U.S. church would be sending to the mother Church of England by confirming Robinson, the New Hampshire clergyman said, "Perhaps it says that the child can sometimes teach the parent." A final vote in favor of Robinson is expected to build momentum for approving blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. A decision on the ceremonies will be held later in the meeting, which runs through Friday.