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Deputies protest Robinson confirmation

By James Thrall
8/6/2003
[Episcopal News Service]  Deputies dismayed by the confirmation of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop-elect of New Hampshire expressed that unhappiness Wednesday morning when more than two dozen stood behind a spokesman as he read a prepared statement on the floor of the house.

“We believe that this is a profound misstep,” said the Rev. Kendall Harmon of South Carolina. “But understand this clearly: We are not leaving the church. It is rather this church which has left the historic faith and has fractured the Anglican Communion.”

While many are celebrating the decision, “many of us are mourning,” he said. “This church will never be the same again.”

The results of the vote in the House of Bishops confirming Robinson were announced after the House of Deputies had adjourned Tuesday evening. Harmon made his statement at the invitation of George Werner, president of the House of Deputies, after the New Hampshire deputation had escorted Robinson to the front of the house at the beginning of the morning session Wednesday. As is customary, deputies stood and applauded as the deputation came forward, although individual deputies and some deputations remained seated.

Calling the action of General Convention a “terrible mistake,” Harmon said the “consent to the election of a person sexually active outside of holy matrimony changes both the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church.” He warned that “there is no question that it will be perceived as such by our people, the universal church and society at large."

Signers of his statement, he said, agreed with the call for intervention by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates of the Anglican Communion that 19 bishops requested after the House of Bishops' vote. “In overturning the unambiguous moral teaching of the church universal, ... this church has erred and must be corrected by the Anglican Communion,” Harmon said. According to a spokesman for the American Anglican Council, about 20 bishops and deputies had signed the statement by the time it was presented, although others would be signing it as well.

Harmon said some deputies would be returning home immediately, while some have chosen to absent themselves from the house for a period of fasting and prayer. Others, however, though opposed to the confirmation, have decided to remain “because they feel duty-bound to vote on other important issues where the orthodox faith of the church is at stake.”

The Rev. Mark Anschutz of Dallas later announced that one member of the Dallas deputation, the Rev. David H. Roseberry, has resigned as a deputy. Noting that he did not agree with Roseberry on the reasons that caused him to resign, Anschutz still praised the “grace and integrity” he demonstrated and expressed thanks that Roseberry and others who may choose to leave the house still have not chosen to “commit what I believe is an act of heresy to entirely leave this church.” As long as they remain within “that circle of love that is God’s church, that is the Episcopal Church,” he said, there is hope that “the things that divide us, in God’s good time, and in God’s spirit, will in fact be understood, and overcome, and set in the past.”

In his statement, Harmon stressed the impact the confirmation will have on other churches in the Anglican Communion, noting that, during a committee hearing and the house debate on the confirmation, “not a single person, not one who spoke in favor … mentioned anyone beyond the borders of this country.” While “the vast majority of Anglicans throughout the world” consider the confirmation vote “terrible,” he said, “it would appear that in the United States the opinion is ‘So what?’ This is what horrifies the vast majority of Anglicans,” since such an attitude makes the issue more than just about sexuality, but “about the way we make decisions as Anglicans.”

Illustrating his point, the Rev. Oscar O. Lopez of Honduras said through an interpreter that he was not sure what would happen when he returned to his country “after this news has traveled around the world.” Serving the 52 missions in his region of Honduras has required “a lot of work” and “struggle as we try to bring the Good News of salvation,” he said. “With what just happened here, all the work that I have been doing goes down the drain.”

After Harmon’s statement, the Rev. Brian N. Prior of Spokane, chaplain of the house, led the deputies in an extended period of silence, concluding with prayer that God “would give us strength and courage to move beyond what stands between us.” In the midst of “our struggles, in the midst of conflicts, in the midst of our confusion,” he prayed, “we beg that you will make [your] presence abundantly clear to us.”