About 4,000 Episcopalians from New Hampshire and beyond gathered at a university ice-hockey arena on Sunday afternoon to enact what they decided during the summer: that an openly gay man is a wholesome example to his people and should become a bishop of the church.
Once again, conservative Episcopalians appealed to the church's historic teaching in pleading with church leaders not to consecrate Gene Robinson as the next bishop of New Hampshire. Once again, they cited statements by Anglican primates warning about the divisive nature of consecrating Robinson.
Once again, Episcopal leaders responded that they've given ample consideration to such concerns, and—to quote the formulaic response used at all protested consecrations—"We will proceed."
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold asked the assembled to listen with respect as their fellow Episcopalians expressed objections to Robinson's consecration.
The Rev. Earl Fox began those dissents on a scatological note, saying that most homosexual men engage in oral sex, anal sex, or mouth-to-anus sex. His remarks were causing scattered laughter when the presiding bishop intervened.
"Father Fox, would you spare us the details and come to the substance of your remarks?" Griswold said.
Two other protesters, who (unlike Fox) were working with the American Anglican Council, appealed to theological and ecclesial arguments.
"This is the defiant and divisive act of a deaf church," said Meredith Harwood, a parishioner at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Ashland, New Hampshire, who read from a prepared statement. "The clear teaching of Holy Scripture in both testaments without exception is that sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong for the people of God, yet we are deaf to the Bible. The vast majority of Anglicans worldwide have told us not to take this step, which many of them see as a scandal, yet we are deaf to their cries."
David Bena, suffragan (assistant) bishop in the Diocese of Albany, New York, also stressed the consecration's divisive fallout as he read a statement from 36 American and Canadian bishops.
"This consecration poses a dramatic contradiction to the historic faith and discipline of the church," the statement said. "We join with the majority of the bishops in the Communion and will not recognize it. We also declare our grief at the actions of those who are engaging in this schismatic act."
Griswold, saying he felt he could speak for the primates, said they have expressed concern for "maintaining the highest levels of communion" and have recognized that the church functions differently in different parts of the world.
Griswold quoted one primate—without naming him—as saying, "The Holy Spirit can do different things in different places."
Robinson's predecessor, Bishop Douglas Theuner, preached a consecration sermon that highlighted the theological conflicts inherent in the debates about Robinson. Theuner said he read through all four gospels to prepare his sermon, and he summarized what he called the whole gospel, the full message of Jesus.
"Our Lord's attention was directed entirely to the outcast and the marginalized," Theuner said. "His wrath was reserved for the religious leaders of his own faith. They were chastised by our Lord because they thought that people were made for their religious institutions and not that their religious institutions were made for the people."
Theuner alluded to opponents of Robinson's consecration by reading aloud, with ever-louder drama, from a 19th-century pastor in South Carolina who said that all Christian truth relied on the Bible supporting slavery.
"Does that sound familiar?" Theuner said.
He also cited an argument in which one Christian attached a Bible to a weapon to justify violence.
"The argument was about control, about power, about who is in and who is out, about who is right and who is wrong," Theuner said.
Theuner categorically rejected arguments that Robinson's consecration would harm Anglican unity.
"Because of who you are, Gene, you can stand for the unity of the church in a way that none of us can," Theuner said, as the congregation applauded vigorously. "Because of your presence, the episcopate will be more a symbol of unity than it ever has been."
And Theuner challenged both the Archbishop of Canterbury and Presiding Bishop Griswold to help persuade Third World Anglicans to agree with the Episcopal Church's choices.
"Canterbury and New York may have to move to the margins if they are to help Nigeria or the West Indies," Theuner said.
For his part, Robinson struck a kinder tone just after he was consecrated and vested as the 993rd bishop of the Episcopal Church.
"It's not about me," Robinson said. "It's about so many other people who find themselves at the margins. Your presence here is a sign of welcome."
As he did when elected in June, Robinson reminded the congregation that many faithful Christians would feel pain about his consecration.
"We must do everything we can to remain the brothers and sisters in Christ that we must be and God wants us to be," Robinson said. "The eyes of the world are on us. Let's use every inch of it. We couldn't buy this kind of listening. Let's use it for God."
To what extent that's still possible for the Anglican Communion should become increasingly clear in the weeks ahead.
Douglas LeBlanc is an associate editor of Christianity Today
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See also today's Weblog;for international reaction to the consecration.
Christianity Today's other recent articles on the Anglican crisis include:
Weblog: With Gay Bishop Consecration Days Away, D.C. Bishop Vows Same-Sex Blessing Rite | Plus: Anglican panel named (Oct. 29, 2003)
Weblog: Are Anglicans Getting a Pope? | London Times reports plans to give Archbishop of Canterbury much more authority (Oct. 24, 2003)
Translating the Anglican Primates | Interpretations vary widely on what last week's statement means, how forceful it was, and what's next. (Oct. 21, 2003)
One-and-One-Half Cheers for the Anglican Primates' Statement | An interview with theologian—and longtime Anglican—J.I. Packer (Oct. 17, 2003)
Dispatch: Conservatives Just Got Clobbered | Last week's American Anglican Council meeting in Texas announced victory prematurely. By Douglas LeBlanc (Oct. 17, 2003)
Anglican Leaders Criticize Episcopal Church, Canada's New Westminster Diocese on Homosexual Actions | Future of the Anglican unity "in jeopardy," they say, but don't break communion—yet (Oct. 16, 2003)
Anglicanism's Communion of Saints | Under the somber portraits of their predecessors, Anglican archbishops will discuss the fractious issues of the church and homosexuality (Oct. 15, 2003)
Weblog: Where Else to Go for News and Analysis of the Anglican Primates' Meeting | The best (and worst) articles and sites monitoring the breakup of the world's third-largest Christian body (Oct. 15, 2003)
Florida Bishop Defies Episcopal Church Head | The consecration of a new bishop becomes the latest battleground between Frank Griswold and the American Anglican Council (Oct. 10, 2003)
Reimagining Anglican Bonds of Affection | Orthodox American leaders begin describing what realignment of the Anglican Communion might look like (Oct. 9, 2003)
Conservative Episcopalians Challenge Church Politics as Usual | "A Place to Stand" conference combines unofficial convention, pep rally, and communiqué to Anglican leaders (Oct. 8, 2003)