When Gene Robinson told the Church he was gay, he feared his career as priest would be over.
But Robinson’s official introduction into the House of Bishops on Wednesday cemented his place in Church leadership.
“I have gotten so much support here, and, despite a few shrill voices, for the most part everyone has been so respectful,” Robinson said. “I have a full and sufficient number of hugs.”
Many came from supporters, whom Robinson said were “unusually warm.” But most striking were the reactions of opponents who threatened to walk out of the House of Bishops upon Robinson’s consent.
“I sat in the House of Bishops for the first time, and a number of bishops came up and said, ‘You know I wasn’t able to vote for your consent, but now that you’re here in the House of Bishops, I consider you a brother bishop, and I look forward to working with you,’” Robinson said.
Tuesday night’s consent vote, its impact softened by the bishops’ somber voices singing the hymn “Ubi Caritas,” transformed foes into sympathizers, if not supporters.
One bishop, who Robinson said had been a strong opponent, apologized for withholding applause when Robinson’s consent was announced.
“He said that’s no way to build relationships in the House and pledged himself to working this out,” Robinson said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
But there are some things preventing Robinson from feeling whole: His perennial garden desperately needs weeding, and he has not seen his 3-week-old granddaughter, Morgan Isabella, since Convention began.
Before he is consecrated in November, Robinson is going to share his Convention experience with the diocese he will soon serve as a bishop.
“I’m going to be preaching in all the congregations,” Robinson said. “I will tell them that the Episcopal Church is alive and well and growing and exciting and blessed by God. … I’m sure that our parishioners are going to be very excited to hear first hand from me how [Convention] was, how it felt, how God was present in it, and I will be eager to tell them that.”
Robinson said his message will be one of understanding and respect for his strongest supporters and most determined opponents.
“I don’t regard any of these people as my enemies,” he said. “I feel that the debate was carried out in such a positive way and, after all, the ultimate result was that I was given consent by the General Convention.”
Even though protests to Robinson’s consent were swift and poignant – the day after his vote, some wore black armbands or ashen crosses on their foreheads as signs of mourning – he does not predict a split in the Church.
“Our unity is not imperiled but is very achievable, and that is for one reason – because God wants that,” Robinson said. “The Holy Spirit is that which draws us together despite that which might divide us. … That Spirit remains in the Church, working to heal wherever rifts might surface.”
Robinson said he was encouraged by the early signs of temperance in those who spoke out against his consent.
“I think it’s important to put [the protests] in perspective,” he said. “By my count there were about 25 or 30 people who left the House of Deputies feeling that they could no longer participate, and that’s out of nearly 900.
“That is not to diminish what is happening for those folks, but it’s to put it in perspective. This was not the massive walkout that was predicted.”
Robinson said he has tried to depersonalize the dissent and remember that “people are arguing about an issue and a theological principle, and not about me personally.”
“Occasionally some of the more shrill voices have come through my protective barrier and pierced my heart, but for the most part I have been proud to be part of the Episcopal Church and proud to be part of this discussion.”
The discussion, which sparked worldwide debates about sexuality and religion, created a venue for Robinson, with his newfound celebrity, to share the Church’s message.
“I’m trying to win fans for Jesus, not for Gene Robinson,” he said. “I’ve been trying to use every opportunity with the press to talk about the Episcopal Church what a wonderful fellowship it is, what a terrific and marvelous Savior we serve, what a great God we have; and if [people are] looking for something like that in [their] lives, then come on in because the Episcopal Church wants you.”
Robinson said he already has received an outpouring of calls and e-mails from people saying his reception as bishop of New Hampshire has led them to the Episcopal Church – a church where they will feel included.
“In New Hampshire, since my election, every single one of our congregations is reporting new people every Sunday who say they are coming in because of [my consent],” he said.
Robinson’s election has shaken the Church, but the Church will not crumble, he said.
“It won’t be too long before this is old news, and there will be other [openly] gay and lesbian bishops” he said.
And the Convention that could set the wheels in motion to institutionalize consenting to gay and lesbian bishops sends an important message to the world, Robinson said.
“This process says that we worship a God who loves us beyond our wildest imagining,” he said. “The Episcopal Church will do everything it can to embody that love which embraces all of God’s children.”