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Jack Kelly: The great divide / An openly gay bishop is a fundamental contradiction

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Shortly after the vote in Minneapolis was taken, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson said: "God has once again brought an Easter out of Good Friday," implicitly likening the "ordeal" he had endured -- a 24-hour delay in his selection as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church -- to Christ's suffering on the Cross.

Jack Kelly is national security writer for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (

The vote of the bishops was delayed so that church officials could investigate two last-minute charges of misconduct that proved baseless.

Robinson's vindication forced Episcopalians to focus on the only important question: Should someone living in what the Bible plainly calls sin be made a bishop in what is nominally a Christian church? In the vote, 62 bishops said yes, 45 said no.

This may not be the last word on the subject. The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican Church. Anglican bishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America were harshly critical of Robinson's election.

"We cannot comprehend a decision to elect as bishop a man who has forsaken his wife and the vows he made to her in order to live in a sexual relationship with another man outside the bonds of marriage," said Dr. Mouneer Anis, the bishop in Egypt.

Archbishop Greg Venables, who heads the church in several South American countries, said the controversy over Robinson could split the Anglican church. About a quarter of the Episcopal bishops boycotted the final sessions of the General Convention after Robinson's election. They made plans to meet in Dallas in October to discuss what to do next.

If the worldwide Anglican Church divides, traditionalists will form by far the larger part. There are only about 2.3 million Episcopalians in the United States, compared with about 70 million Anglicans worldwide. Aside from England, with 26 million, the largest congregations are in Africa and Asia.

Robinson and his supporters pooh-pooh the prospects for schism. They note that there was a brouhaha 30 years ago over the ordination of women, but that in the end, only a relative handful left the church. But that dispute was over relatively arcane interpretations of the apostolic succession. This one is fundamental.

The Bible condemns three sex sins: adultery, fornication and homosexual liaisons. If Robinson were constantly on the prowl for babes, or was cheating on his wife with another woman, he likely as not would be drummed out of the priesthood, not promoted to bishop.

The situation is not quite analogous. Robinson and other good people who happen to be homosexual can legitimately complain that neither church nor state recognize stable, loving sexual relationships between two people of the same gender. That's not fair.

But it is Christian. Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions, and they didn't come with an expiration date. Parts of the Bible seem to me to be murky and confusing, open to multiple interpretations. But the condemnation of the three sex sins is as clear as clear can be.

Three of the finest people I know are homosexual. Two are in stable, loving relationships. The third was, until her partner tragically died. All suffer difficulties in obtaining health insurance for dependents and in disposition of jointly held property that heterosexual couples -- within and without the bonds of matrimony -- do not.

This isn't right. The state can -- and in my opinion should -- provide homosexual couples with some basic legal protections.

But what the state cannot provide -- and the church ought not to attempt to provide -- is approval of such unions. I understand why good people who happen to be homosexual want this approval. I remember as a young man arguing with my pastor that fornication wasn't really all that bad. I still kind of think that. But God doesn't.

God's laws sometimes seem harsh. But they are God's laws. Christians believe God knows more about what's right and what's wrong than we mortals do.

Supporters of the ordination of Bishop Robinson say social mores have changed, and the church should change with them. But as the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis said, "All that is not eternal is eternally out of date."

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