The Reverend V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop-elect, told parishioners Sunday that his election is a sign of a changing church, one that will continue even if he resigns. "If I step down, do you really think other qualified gays and lesbians wouldn't be elected?" he asked about 40 people during a religious education meeting at Grace Church in Concord, N.H. "My standing down isn't going to make it all go away." His comment was prompted by a suggestion from a parishioner that Robinson reconsider accepting the role of bishop because of the turmoil it has caused and the threat it poses to the international church. "I personally think it's not worth losing the family," said Paul Apple, of Mont Vernon. Outraged conservatives have threatened to break away from the Episcopal Church in the United States, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. "I don't want anyone to leave the church, and I don't like being thought of as the reason they leave the church," said Robinson, 56. But he said the vigorous and sometimes bitter church debate over homosexuality would continue whether or not he left the stage. "It's not all going to go back to being nice and pretty again. It's going to be messy for a while," he said. "This is not our church to win or lose. It's God's church."
Robinson predicted the church ultimately will survive the turmoil. "I've been here an hour, and look! The roof's still on," he said. "I think it will calm down when people see not a lot has changed." But Apple's question prompted Robinson to talk about his struggles to discern God's will: "I agonize about this all the time. This is one of the hardest things I'll ever do. I do have this sense I'm supposed to go forward, and I do feel that's coming from God and not my own ego. But I don't know. If I'm wrong, God help me--and God will help me."
Robinson was elected by New Hampshire clergy and parishioners in June and confirmed by the national Episcopal Church in August. He is scheduled to be consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire in two weeks. At an emergency meeting in London last week, Anglican leaders warned that if Robinson is consecrated, "the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy." However, they acknowledged that each province has the right to choose its own leaders. Robinson remains optimistic, saying the church has weathered similar crises in the past. Much of the Anglican Communion still does not recognize the ordination of women, he said, and yet the Communion holds together. Asked by one parishioner to explain what's behind the anger over his election, Robinson said he believes it is a sign that patriarchy is ending in the church as women, people of color, and gay men and lesbians become more fully included.
Conservative Episcopalians in the United States have said they plan to form an independent network of churches opposed to Robinson's elevation and the blessing of same-sex unions in some dioceses. Anglican leaders, representing 77 million members worldwide, have called homosexuality "contrary to Scripture." Robinson and his supporters say that is outweighed by the Scripture's call for love and acceptance of all. Scripture does not address faithful, committed relationships between members
of the same sex, Robinson said. The concept didn't exist back then. What it does condemn is promiscuity and abusive relationships, he said. Robinson has lived openly for years with partner Mark Andrew, who was applauded by the congregation when he was introduced Sunday. Robinson is widely known and admired in New Hampshire, where he has been assistant to the retiring bishop for years. At the end of a second question-and-answer session Sunday, Robinson received a standing ovation from parishioners.