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Robinson redux

Robinson redux


Four years after his election as the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson talks about life now, for him and his church.

"I thought three months after my election and consecration I would be old news," says the Reverend V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church's New Hampshire bishop--and the first openly gay person to hold such a post in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

But four years after his election, Robinson--and the issue of homosexuality in the Anglican world--is more in the news than ever. The new convocation headed by Peter Akinola is just one development. By September 30, Episcopal leaders have been asked by their colleagues around the world to repudiate the blessing of same-sex unions and to promise not to ordain more openly gay bishops.

The lingering controversy has taken its toll on Robinson: In February 2006 he spent a month in a Pennsylvania rehabilitation center for treatment of alcoholism. He spoke to The Advocate by phone from his home in Concord, N.H.

The Advocate: Are you tired of being the poster boy for this whole discussion of gays in the church? Robinson: [Laughs] It gets a little tiring sometimes, but most of all it's been a blessing. I love being the bishop of New Hampshire, and I love having taken my place in the house of bishops. I'm receiving so much support from so many places in the United States and around the world that the blessings far outweigh the burdens.

What has surprised you most since becoming bishop? I guess how much I love being out in congregations. It's what really keeps me grounded and sane amid all the turmoil. It's such a privilege to sit with a congregation that's really trying to figure out how to live out the gospel in today's world, to be with them in that process.

You seem so free of anger, unlike your opponents. You're all praying to the same God. Why are they hearing a different message? You know, you'd have to ask them that. What I can tell you is that every time I take this to God, I get this amazing sense of calm. The message is "Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I'll show you the way." I know in my heart that this is going to end up with the full inclusion of all of God's children in God's church.

Have you noticed a greater gay and lesbian presence in the church? Absolutely. We have so many people coming back to church that had left it because it fell so far short of their vision for what the church ought to be. Frankly, we are getting a lot of people from other denominations--mostly, I would say, young families--who are coming to us [saying], "This is the kind of inclusive community we want to raise our kids in."

It's been reported that you're planning to enter into a civil union with your partner once the new law in New Hampshire takes effect January 1. True? What is true is that Mark [Andrew, Robinson's partner of 17 years] and I are planning to take advantage of the new law. What is not true, but I've seen reported, is that I've said we want to be the first. We've never said that. We are planning a service probably for next June.

Two ceremonies, actually--a religious one and a civil one. Is that right? I have been very vocal in the public debate about separating civil rights from religious rites, saying that religious people can set aside their particular religious views about whether or not to bless such unions and fight for full civil rights for all American citizens. At the moment, our plan is to have the civil ceremony presided over by a justice of the peace and then move into the church for a religious service--a Eucharist, a Holy Communion service--that will give thanks to God for showing up in our relationship and that will bless our union.

Is that the way to reach consensus on the issue of the blessing of same-sex unions? To separate the civil right from the religious rite? Exactly. And frankly, I would say that most clergy would like to disentangle those two processes for heterosexual marriages as well. Every clergyperson I know can tell you more than one horror story about people who come to the church to be married and have no religious belief or sensibility at all. They're just there because it makes a beautiful backdrop for the pictures.

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