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Some stay and some go in response to Robinson consent

By David Skidmore
[Episcopal News Service] 

The statement and show of support yesterday in the House of Bishops by 19 bishops opposing Gene Robinson’s confirmation was not a walkout of convention or the Episcopal Church, said Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana, one of those who voted against the consent to New Hampshire’s bishop elect.

“We had no desire to do any kind of public demonstration,” said Little, who participated in yesterday’s debate on the Robinson consent.

The statement, delivered by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh and signed by 18 other bishops who stood with him on the dais as he read it, “is essentially a statement of disassociation from an action, not from the body that approved the action. The bishops that stood there said that we believe this action is contrary to Christian teaching and we cannot accept it,” said Little during Wednesday morning's press briefing. Little is one of four bishops serving as briefing officers during General Convention.

For those who feel the church has departed from the Christian consensus on moral teaching, “it is a time of profound sorrow,” he said. Responses will probably vary, he said. As for his plans, he will go back into session with the house. “My own response is to go back to my work, to be clear about my convictions and stay connected.”

Deputies sign protest and leave the house

Some deputies opted for more dramatic action today. After the introduction of Robinson on the floor of the House of Deputies early in the morning session, the Rev. Kendall Harmon, on a point of personal privilege, read a statement protesting the convention’s action on Robinson. Joined by more than two dozen deputies at a floor microphone, Harmon said they were rejecting and dissociating themselves from the consent and were inviting others to sign the statement that Harmon had drafted. After delivering the statement, several dozen deputies removed their name badges and left the hall.

By issuing consent, the Episcopal Church was “overturning the unambiguous moral teaching” of the universal church, said Harmon, and that “must be corrected by the Anglican Communion.”

Those signing this statement, said Harmon, were in agreement with the statement delivered yesterday evening in the House of Bishops by Duncan which calls for the intervention of Anglican primates under the auspices of Lambeth Conference resolution III 6(b).

Some deputies will leave convention to return home, and others will leave the floor for fasting and prayer. Others, he said, will stay to make their witness to the church’s traditional teaching.

“We are not leaving the church,” he stressed. “It is rather this church which has left the historic faith and has fractured the Anglican Communion.”

American Anglican Council officials claimed more than 20 bishops and deputies had signed the statement before Harmon’s delivery this morning.

The signers included Bishops Robert Duncan (Pittsburgh); Jack Iker (Fort Worth); John-David Schofield (San Joaquin); Terrence Kelshaw (Rio Grande); Peter Beckwith (Springfield); Andrew Fairfield (North Dakota); John Howe (Central Florida); James Stanton (Dallas); Gethin Hughes (San Diego); Keith Ackerman (Quincy); Ed Little (Northern Indiana); Stephen Jecko (Florida); Don Johnson (West Tennessee); William Wantland (retired, Eau Claire); William Skilton (South Carolina); Daniel Herzog (Albany); John Lipscomb (Southwest Florida); David Bena (Albany); Henry Scriven (Pittsburgh).

A need for pastoral sensitivity

The pain and distress of conservatives was felt by many progressive bishops and deputies. Bishop Chilton Knudsen emphasized the need for pastoral sensitivity to convention participants and church members back home.

People have to “grieve before new life can begin,” she said “and there is terrible loss here. I am glad they are grieving and hope they gather with the people with whom they can grieve.”

Although the predominant response in her diocese is one of celebration, she knows some members “who feel they lost their church and are grieving.” Her hope is to sit down with them and talk and “will try hard to listen pastorally.”

Knudsen said she was sympathetic to the dissenting bishops' request for pastoral intervention, if it follows the “gentle and nonintrusive offering” approach used in some dioceses with visiting bishops. “They are transitional. They are not permanent,” she said. “And I really support that.”

Colorado deputies warn of financial implications

Distress marked the response by Colorado deputies the Rev. Donald Armstrong, rector of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s in Colorado Springs; and the Rev. Ephraim Radner, rector of the Church of the Ascension in Pueblo, following Harmon’s statement. Radner and Armstrong told reporters outside the house that they had removed their name tags and were leaving convention.

“We are leaving this convention and perceive it as an unconstitutional convention and illegitimate,” said Armstrong, charging it had violated the church's historic faith and order. They will be returning to their parishes, he said, and consulting with members regarding their relationship with the national structure of the Episcopal Church.

“Most of us will withdraw funding from the national church,” he said. Depending on how their bishops and fellow deputies voted on the consent, there could be “financial implications” for them, he said. Armstrong said he expected some of his parishioners to restrict their giving so that “the bishop and diocese of Colorado will no longer get that money, nor will the national church.” Instead, those funds will be spent on other Christian ministry, he said.

Armstrong said he didn’t expect his 2,500-member parish to leave the Episcopal Church. “We are staying in the Episcopal Church,” said Armstrong. As a member for 54 years, he wants to stay and “reclaim the church for the faith once delivered.”

Their decision to leave convention in advance of consideration of the same-sex blessing resolution — C051 — is not premature, he said, since conservatives see the consent on Robinson and authorizing development of same-sex blessing rites to be equal triggers for their action. “I would still find one or the other an apostate action,” he said.

Fear and suspicion characterized many conservative deputies’ comments. Radner questioned the intent behind the bishops’ voting process on the Robinson consent yesterday that extended past the deputies session. 

The plan as he understood it was for the vote to be scheduled so the results would be announced while the deputies were still in session. “There was a plan that people would pray together, people would go out together who were in objection,” but that was “totally subverted,” he charged.

No ulterior motive in bishops’ extended session

There was no attempt by bishops to upstage conservative plans, maintained a Massachusetts deputy, the Rev. Ian Douglas at the morning news briefing. The bishops' process allowed a half-hour for table conversations, an hour for debate and up to an hour for them to turn in their written ballots. “I wouldn’t go with any conspiracy theory that this was trying to be done out of session so that the House of Deputies could not respond in total,” he said.

Bishop Wendell Gibbs of Michigan, also a briefing officer, said the bishops opted to continue the session as they didn’t want to have to wait until Wednesday morning to learn the results.

“I don’t think there was any attempt to say anything negatively to the other house,” said Gibbs, pointing out that, when the deputies were debating the Robinson consent, the bishops were in recess, and many bishops were sitting in on the debate.