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Divide and Conquer 

Divide and Conquer 


The Episcopal Church may have just lost 100,000 members because of its pro-gay stance, but Bishop V. Gene Robinson says the denomination isn't about to waver in its support.

It was a significant turning point in the Episcopal Church's holy war over gays when four U.S. dioceses and dozens of individual parishes -- accounting for as many as 100,000 members -- split from the denomination in December. But according to the Reverend V. Gene Robinson, the gay man whose 2003 consecration as bishop of New Hampshire set off a fierce debate among church members worldwide, the new offshoot, called the Anglican Church in North America, is a necessary development.

"The Episcopal Church is risking its life for gay and lesbian people," Robinson says. "We could have run in the opposite direction on this issue and avoided this split, but the church is not willing to do that, which I'm very proud of." So far the church has refused to accede to demands by conservatives to renounce Robinson and the blessing of same-sex unions by clergy. Robinson's importance to the church was underlined last month when President Obama chose the bishop to deliver the invocation for his inaugural concert.

Robinson says his church's rift is just the latest iteration of the same four dioceses' discontent with a liberalizing church, which started with the 1976 decision to ordain women. The situation has heightened in recent years as conservative Anglican dioceses around the world used their resistance to gays as a way to assert power.

"Just like the Federal Marriage Amendment was used as a wedge issue in presidential politics, gays have been used in Anglican politics," says the Reverend Susan Russell, a priest at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., and president of Integrity USA, a group working for gay inclusion in the Episcopal Church. She expects the church to move forward on approving marriage rites for same-sex couples as early as this summer.

"A lot of other mainline denominations are watching us very carefully, to see if we're going to move forward," Robinson says. "What's happening with us is part of what's happening in the culture in terms of fuller LGBT inclusion in our common life."

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