The Convention’s cognate Committee on the Consecration of Bishops decided Friday to send the question of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson’s election as bishop-coadjutor of New Hampshire to the House of Deputies.
The decision came after nearly 90 minutes of early-morning testimony. Deputies are expected to take up resolution C045 Sunday afternoon.
Witnesses Friday repeatedly focused on whether approving Robinson’s election would depart from Scripture and 2,000 years of church teaching, and split the Anglican Communion, or encourage church growth. Constitutional issues also figured in the testimony.
“I think that Gene’s consecration will make the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Communion a stronger church, a church that’s more ready to respond to our vision of 20/20,” Bishop Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts told the committee and the nearly 800 listening to the hearing.
Shaw made his prediction based on the experience of his diocese electing Barbara Harris in 1989 as the first women bishop in the Anglican Communion. “And everyone said that what the action of the Diocese of Massachusetts would do would be to split the church, would cause schism, would separate us from one another, and instead it made us a stronger, more vibrant church,” he said.
“Good morning, Gene. I love you,” Bishop Keith Ackerman of Quincy told Robinson as he began his allotted two minutes of testimony.
This is painful.”
“This unprecedented action will separate us from the rest of the catholic church, the rest of the Anglican Communion,” Ackerman said.
“It is my belief that New Hampshire isn’t asking everyone to stand where they are standing,” said Arkansas Bishop Larry Maze. “But they are asking that they be allowed to have the room to stand where they are.”
The Rev. Howard Anderson of Minnesota spoke about what he called “our unique charism” as Anglicans. “Let me say that we are the last catholics left standing,” he said. “The Roman Catholic Church has abandoned big C and little c. We are the ones whose unique charism is to include. We ordain women. We know that the primary vocational sacrament is baptism, not ordination.”
He urged the committee to decide if Episcopalians are going to be “watered-down Roman Catholics trying to defend some law like the Pharisees, or dressed-up Presbyterians.”
Suffragan Bishop David Bena of Albany asked Robinson to follow the example of the Rev. Canon Jeffrey John in England who withdrew from his episcopal appointment because many people feared it would cause a schism. “A vote either up or down will simply rupture the Episcopal Church too badly,” he said.
While some witnesses insisted that the decision was not personal, others seemed to disagree. “This room is full because of Gene’s sexual behavior, about which he’s been quite open,” said clergy deputy Mary Hayes of Pittsburgh, adding that all clergy declare at their ordination that Scripture is the word of God. “The Scriptures, the Word of God which we vow to uphold, are clear: Homosexual behavior is wrong.”
To consent to Robinson’s election would be to tell those people “who are remaining faithful to the church’s age-old teaching that Christians are to be celibate outside of marriage is not true for both sides,” said Clergy Deputy Carola von Wrangel of Albany.
Lay Deputy James Bradberry of Southern Virginia said relying strictly on the Bible to oppose Robinson would require the General Convention to vote to resume slavery and the submission of women. “There a lot of things in the Bible that we no longer do because our faith has evolved. This is one of those instances where our faith has continued to evolve,” he said.
Massachusetts Clergy Deputy Mark Hollingsworth said the consent process before the committee was not about discerning Robinson’s fitness for the episcopate. “Rather the consent process is the church’s vehicle by which it ensures and protects autonomy of the individual diocese in finding and electing, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that person most appropriate to serve as its bishop,” he said.
Pittsburgh Bishop Bob Duncan said consenting to Robinson’s election would be “broadly and sweepingly unconstitutional” based on the first sentence of the Episcopal Church’s constitution. The sentence declares that the church is a member of the Anglican Communion and the catholic church, and is committed to upholding and propagating the historic faith and work of the church.
Prior to taking testimony Friday morning, the committee allowed people from New Hampshire 10 minutes to make their case for Robinson. The Rev. Ruth Kirk, a finalist in the New Hampshire election, said the process was not a set-up for Robinson’s election. “From the moment I opened the first mailings to the calls and letters I received after Gene’s vote my experience is that the search committee fulfilled its charge from the diocese to be open, fair, transparent and Spirit-driven,” she said.