Gene Robinson’s journey to becoming bishop of New Hampshire passed a crucial milestone Sunday afternoon when the House of Deputies voted to consent to his election as bishop coadjutor. While the bishops appear poised to follow suit, the response by the rest of the Anglican Communion — and the wider church — could prove a rough road.
In a vote by orders on resolution C045, lay deputations voted 63 yes, 32 no, and 13 divided. Clergy deputations voted 65 yes, 31 no, and 12 divided. With the deputies' action, the final decision now rests with the House of Bishops, which will take up Robinson’s consent Monday afternoon.
If the bishops grant consent, then Robinson may well be seated in the house that same day. The custom with the other bishops-elect who have achieved full consent this week has been for the bishops to give them seat and voice.
The spirited but cordial debate impressed deputies on both sides of the issue, particularly president of the house, the Very Rev. George Werner.
“What you saw out there today was the church when it is at its very best,” he told reporters at a news conference following the vote. Werner said he was impressed at the quality of the debate and its tone. ”You saw the demeanor of that house, you saw the restraint and the discipline,” he said, pointing out the lack of applause or other celebration when the results were announced.
“You saw something today that you are not going to see again for a long time in your life. You saw something today about people really trying to find their souls.”
When the results were announced, Werner asked Chaplain Brian Prior of Spokane to lead the house in prayer. Before a silent house, Pryor prayed: “Where there is sorrow assist us to help, where there is confusion assist us to find clarity.”
Candice Corrigan and Johanna Leuchter held hands as the votes were announced. During the prayers, the partners for three years each wiped away their tears.
“I think this is a loving and affirming way to be,” said Corrigan of Austin, Minn. “If the church is going to be a place for faith for people in the next millennium, we need to find new paths to walk down.”
Added Leuchter, “God created people in God’s image, homosexual and heterosexual.”
At the news conference, Werner acknowledged he had voted for consent, explaining he had only made up his mind since hearing testimony at the hearings and in conversation with deputies and bishops. Coming from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, whose bishop is a leader for the church’s conservative faction, Werner noted he would face tough going when he returned home.
The restrained reaction to the vote acknowledges the decision will be received differently in the church and the Anglican Communion, he said.
“For many it is going to be a time of hope, and for many it is going to be a time of great despair,” said Werner. “But that is why we turn at moments like this to as much prayer, silence, discernment.”
Robinson, who talked to reporters after Werner, said he was feeling “very peaceful” and “very humbled by what has just happened.” People throughout the church are talking about building unity and opening the church to new members, he noted.
He was also aware, he said, that the decision “involves some pain for a lot of us.” However, he added, the church’s gays and lesbians have suffered the pain of not being fully included in the church for a long time. While troubling for the church and the Anglican Communion, Robinson emphasized the decision signals that the Episcopal Church “is wide open and no one is beyond God’s love.”
“We mean what it says in our signs, that everyone is welcome here,” he said.
That message was not clear to everyone today. The American Anglican Council (AAC) released a statement after the vote declaring its members to be “deeply grieved by the decision today,” an action that “leads the Episcopal Church to the brink of shattering the Anglican family.” The statement went on to call for the church’s bishops to spend the night in prayer and fasting before taking up concurrence on the consent during Monday’s session, urging them to “uphold the historic Christian faith” by voting no.
The Anglican Communion’s future unity hangs in the balance, claims the AAC. “It is our hope and prayer that they will choose the Godly path — the path that leads to repentance, transformation and unity.”
Surrounded by two dozen members of the AAC-sponsored youth presence — the Fellowship of Young Reforming Episcopalians — the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a deputy from South Carolina, said he was “incredibly heartbroken by the vote today,” one that “showed a deeply divided church and showed the full degree to which this issue is unresolved in our midst.” Harmon said he was distressed that the presiding bishop had shown partiality to consent in his letters to the Anglican Communion primates and to the church’s bishops in the weeks leading up to convention.
If Robinson receives final consent on Monday, he said, then the office of bishop which is “supposed to be a symbol of unity will be a symbol of disunity and a source of deep pain for millions of Anglicans worldwide.”
By taking this matter to the floor and settling it legislatively, the church’s progressives accomplished “an endrun around the debate,” he said, and made moot any further inquiry around the underlying moral and theological questions.
If the vote goes against consent on Monday, Robinson said he will not attempt to have his name put forward outside the canonical and constitutional provisions. If the House of Bishops does not give consent tomorrow, he said, “my election is null and void, and I would never, ever participate in any kind of move to be consecrated outside the canonical procedures, ever.”
The debate tracked the issues that have been filling e-mail lists and news and talk-show broadcasts for weeks leading up to convention and were addressed in the Friday morning hearing of the Committee on the Consecration of Bishops: faith and order in the Episcopal Church, sexual morality, and accountability within the Anglican Communion.
“I would imagine there are many deputies in this house who have made up their minds. I’m not going to try to change your mind,” said Bonnie Anderson of Michigan before the vote. “My grandmother always told me fear is the absence of faith. Your vote to consent may have some repercussions for you at home. You may be called to exercise your pastoral skills in ways you never imagined. You may be afraid of schism. Do not be afraid."
But the Rev. James Flowers from Western Louisiana was concerned. “I do not know what I will tell my people back home should this election be confirmed,” he said, “how to tell them that on a certain Sunday this church chose to separate itself from the body of Christ.
“My parishioners are not homophobes, they are not bigots. They are good people, hardworking people, and I don’t have a clue what I might tell them. I am profoundly opposed to this resolution,” he said.
The Rev. Altagracia Perez of Los Angeles had words of assurance for the house. “We need not fear, God will keep God’s church in unity if we follow the prompting of the spirit,” she said.
Episcopal News Service writers James Thrall, Sarah Moore and Richelle Thompson contributed to this article.