14 August 2008

Bishop Robinson vs. Bishop Jensen

The Rt. Rev’d. V Gene Robinson, Ordinary of the Diocese of New Hampshire has finally commented on the actions of the Rt. Rev’d. Peter Jensen, Ordinary of the Diocese of Sydney.

The article (which credits no author) appears in the 13 August issue of SX News, a gay Sydney news agency, is titled Eye of the Storm, begins

By his very existence, the Reverend Gene Robinson – the openly gay Anglican bishop of New Hampshire – is an agent for change in his church, and society at large.

He is friendly, mild-mannered and avuncular. He doesn’t seem like someone who’d tear an entire church apart. Yet Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the history of the Anglican Church, has been accused of doing just that.

The article exposes the absurdity of the fundamentalist bishops who did not attend because of the “Robinson problem.” The writer states that they stayed away, even though Robinson was not invited to the conference, because even being in proximity to those who supported Robinsons consecration would contaminate the fundamentalist bishops.

But the world’s first openly gay Anglican bishop (indeed, the first in all of mainstream Christendom) won’t let recalcitrant reverends curb his life’s work.

Speaking of his appearing “on the fringe” at Lambeth, +Robinson said

I took a vow, as did all bishops, to participate in the councils of my church to the best of my abilities, and that’s what I [went to Lambeth] to do.

I shifted my focus from being a part of the conference to other work, around LGBT issues instead. And I’m not happy about that. I mean, I’m not unhappy working around those issues, but I don’t like being cast into the role of a single issue person.”

All humans are much more than a simple sexual identity and there is so much more to Bishop Robinson.

His recent book, In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Centre by God, is the work of a man concerned with social justice generally. His ministry seems especially concerned with those traditionally on the margins of his church: women, young people, prisoners, and yes – gay and lesbian people too. Yet the world at large has reduced his life to the glib tag of “the gay bishop.”

But Robinson has come to an understanding:

I’ve made peace with the fact that this just happens to be an accident of history. In earlier times, an openly gay man could not have been a bishop. In the future, I believe, there will be many openly gay bishops. So rather than bemoaning my lot, I just want to be a good steward of this opportunity, at this juncture in history.”

First and foremost, that stewardship involves reaching out to gay and lesbian people who have been “damaged” by the church, and inviting them back into the fold.

Gay people have been abused, really, by the church, and just mindlessly suggesting that they go back is like telling an abused spouse to go back to her husband. But what I say is that God and the church aren’t the same thing. The church has gotten this and many other things wrong. God hasn’t gotten it wrong.

Moreover, the church that you left may not be the church that’s there now. There has been a lot of change. It doesn’t mean that every church is safe, but there are enough safe places that gay and lesbian people can find a place that will really welcome them.

The journalist then tells the Bishop Robinson’s story including his work n the Diocese of New Hampshire. He includes a great quote

The one place where I am not ‘the gay bishop’ is in my own diocese. I tell people that if you want to see what the church is going to be like when we finish obsessing about sex, come to New Hampshire. There I’m just the bishop. I spend ninety per cent of my time in the diocese doing the things that a bishop does, and my sexuality is rarely mentioned. [It’s only] when I leave the diocese that I become this other thing.

That is the truth. But he is the “gay bishop” only to those who do not know the him, mostly. A few people who know him personally still see him as the epitome of what ails the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, was one of the bishops who refused to attend Lambeth this year. Instead, Jensen attended an alternative event in Jerusalem called the Global Anglican Future Conference.

SX was unable to arrange an audience with Jensen; however, his senior media advisor, Russell Powell, agreed to relay several questions to the archbishop, which were answered by email.

Asked why he did not attend Lambeth this year, Jensen replied:

The reasons for not attending Lambeth involved matters of conscience and pastoral concern, matters which the Archbishop of Canterbury said he fully understood and appreciated. In a sense, the attendance or non-attendance of Gene Robinson was beside the point. The problem was the attendance of those who had consecrated him.

The consecration of an actively homosexual bishop was a presenting issue, but the reasons for the current crisis go much deeper … The fabric of the communion has been torn by the actions of the North American church.

When asked the direct question: ‘Do you believe that gay and lesbian people have any place in the Anglican Church – and if so, can you describe what that place might be?’ Jensen did not respond.

For his part, Robinson says:

It is ironic that the Sydney Diocese, taking in one of the great gay cities of the world, is also among the most bigoted.

While the Diocese of Sydney is not atypical, it would be a mistake to see Robinson as a pigeon among the cats – to invert a cliché – whenever he steps outside his New Hampshire ‘safety zone’.

Influential figures within the church, such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town, strongly support Robinson. Tutu even penned the foreword in Robinson’s book.

Apartheid, crassly racist, sought to penalise people for something about which they could do nothing. I could not stand by while people were being penalised again for something about which they could do nothing – their sexual orientation … Gene Robinson is a wonderful person and I am proud to belong to the same church as he.

Robinson also enjoys powerful support in the wider community. Although the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, only had one meeting with Bishop Robinson – and then under such secrecy that he was told the venue at the last possible moment – Robinson has already had three one-on-one meetings with US presidential candidate Barack Obama, the man many believe will be the next President of the United States.

According to Bishop Robinsons:

What people like Obama and Tutu realise is that far from being dependent on texts from thousands of years ago for God’s word, the human relationship with God is a living, breathing, ever-evolving one.

The beauty of Anglicanism is that we are not a church that believes God stopped revealing himself at the end of the first century, when the canon of scripture was closed.

God did not reveal everything about himself with the end of the life of Jesus, but promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us all into the truth.

I believe that’s what happened with slavery, and the church’s treatment of people of colour, and it’s happening with the treatment of women, and now it’s happening again with sexual minorities.

For a long time, we’ve had a church that’s believed you can’t put ‘gay’ and ‘Christian’ in the same sentence. I believe those days are coming to an end.

I've said it before, but I’ll say it again: If I ever meet Bishop Robinson, the first thing I will do is take off my shoes. (Exodus 3.5)

OT - Remember to keep Tim and Fran in your prayers.

UPDATE: I have a Google alert set for Archbishop Jensen. About two minutes ago the alert came though and when I clickd the link, it took me to The Three Legged Stool. Now, how about THAT?