Veteran journalist Ted Malone wrote before General Convention that its votes this year could cut the Gordian knot of the Episcopal Church's nearly three-decade debate on homosexuality. Now the Gordian knot is half-severed, and the House of Bishops must decide whether to keep on slashing.

The Rev. Canon Gene Robinson of New Hampshire coasted to victory Sunday afternoon in the House of Deputies, winning more votes than he needed among both clergy and laity.

Robinson needed 56 votes in both the lay and clerical orders to be approved by the deputies. In the lay order, he won 63 votes (32 dioceses voted no, and deputies in 13 dioceses divided their votes equally). In the clerical order, he won 65 votes (31 dioceses voted no, and 12 were divided).

At the urging of its president, George W. Werner, the house observed an extended moment of silence and chaplain Brian Prior said a prayer before the vote. Werner also stressed that neither deputies nor observers should express their joy or dismay about the results. The Rev. Rosemari Sullivan read the dissenting votes calmly, diocese by diocese, before announcing the tally in Robinson's favor.

Robinson's advocates sounded a consistent theme of "Do not fear" and alluded only occasionally to the concerns of Southern Hemisphere primates who have announced their opposition to Robinson's confirmation. Liberal deputies described those concerns as "threats of schism."

"My grandmother always told me that fear is the absence of faith," said Bonnie Anderson of the Diocese of Michigan.

During an open hearing on Friday morning, James Bradberry of the Diocese of Southern Virginia dismissed the overwhelming vote of the bishops gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998. "On this issue, Lambeth is absolutely irrelevant," Bradberry said.

The Rev. Mark Seitz of the Diocese of West Virginia cited General Convention's vote in 1979, which said that ordaining homosexual clergy is not appropriate, and the Archbishop of Canterbury's intervention in the near-consecration of Jeffrey John, a celibate gay man who had been appointed an assistant bishop for Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. "To proceed without consent [of the broader Anglican Communion] would do injury to all members of the body — here and elsewhere," Seitz said.

"God is waiting to see what we have to say today," countered the Rev. Jeff Cerar of the Diocese of Virginia. "The Episcopal Church will go where the theology of this vote sends it."

Also during the open hearing on Friday morning, the Rev. Howard Anderson of the Diocese of Minnesota described Episcopalians as "the last Catholics standing," adding that Roman Catholicism has "abandoned big C and little C" Catholicism by not ordaining women and teaching that homosexual conduct in sinful.

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Robinson was quietly radiant during a news conference after the results were announced.

"It's kind of a bittersweet moment," he said. Robinson said he rejoiced with gays and lesbians that the church has "opened its doors to all God's people," but "We are also very aware that this is a troubling decision for many in our church."

Robinson said that one bishop, who earlier had signed an open letter opposing Robinson's confirmation as a bishop, chose to receive Communion from him on Saturday. The two men wished each other the peace of Christ, Robinson said, though he declined to name the bishop.

"If we can continue doing that, we're going to be just fine," Robinson said.

Asked what message his possible confirmation would send to the Church of England, Robinson said, "Perhaps it says that the child can sometimes teach the parent."

The American Anglican Council released a statement once the votes were announced. "We call upon the Bishops of the Episcopal Church to fulfill their apostolic obligation tomorrow and uphold the historic Christian faith by voting against the giving of consent to the election of Gene Robinson," the statement said. "We urge the Bishops of the Episcopal Church to spend the night in individual and corporate prayer and fasting. They face an historic decision, and the future unity of the Anglican Communion hangs in the balance."

Douglas LeBlanc is an Associate Editor of Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere

Other LeBlanc dispatches appearing on our site today include:

Gene Robinson Takes Questions in a Church called Gethsemane | Speaks on reparative therapy, potential schism, and whether he really "left" his wife for his male lover.
What in the World Is God Doing? | For Episcopalians, the night may be darkest before the dawn.
Praise the Lord and Pass the Condoms | Southern Hemisphere primates warned that approving Gene Robinson would place the church outside most of the world's 72 million Anglicans. "You'll get over it," responded about 60 percent of the House of Deputies.

See LeBlanc's earlier dispatches from the General Convention:

Gene and Me | My history with the openly gay man elected bishop of Rochester
Integrity Doles Out God's Not-So Inclusive Love | The Integrity Eucharist has become a triennial sort of mass pity party.
Gay Rites Would Not Bless Ecumenism | Could also impair Anglican work overseas.

More coverage of the General Convention is available from the ECUSA website, which has streaming video. Conservative and orthodox perspectives are available from Classical Anglican Net News, the American Anglican Council's A Place to Stand, and David Virtue's Virtuosity.