Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson

The Episcopalian House of Bishops approved the first openly gay bishop yesterday. Gay activists and sympathizers like Rev. Sandye Wilson of the Minnesota Diocese rejoiced saying, “It’s a great day for the church. This is a church which has finally understood that men and women created in the vision of God can be the guardians of the faith and be gay or lesbian.”

Conservatives, such as Bishop Robert W. Duncan of the Pittsburgh Diocese, were grieved, declaring a pastoral emergency saying, “The bishops who stand before you are filled with sorrow. This body has divided itself for millions of Anglican Christians around the world, brothers and sisters who have pleaded with us to maintain the church’s traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality. With grief too deep for words, the bishops who stand before you must reject this action. May God have mercy on this church.”

As author of “Too Christian, Too Pagan,” I was called upon to offer a perspective, and the following are some of my reflections.

Oddly, the first thing that came to my mind was the lyrics to the song from “The Graduate.”

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson ,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson ,
Heaven holds a place for those who pray.

This is not an issue about whether God loves gay people; we know God loves Mr. Robinson, that is NOT what is at stake here.

The second thing to cross my mind was the church at Corinth. Lest we think this is the first time the church has been shaken by sexual mores infiltrating the church, in pagan Corinth, a first-century sex addicted community, the sexual proclivities of the city had entered the church in a way that even exceeded the pagans’ practices. In the church in Corinth, a Christian man was having sex with his mother-in-law. Paul’s reaction to this intrusion of promiscuity into the church is instructive. He urged Christians not to associate with a Christian caught in such behavior. At the same time he counsels them that this advice does not apply to unbelievers, because the presence of Christians in their lives allows them an opportunity to see the truth and be liberated from their sin.

Third, I am reminded that Paul had higher expectations for leaders than other followers of Jesus. All Christians come to faith from a life of sin, but it is expected that those sinful behaviors remain in their past. A leader would be “above reproach” in this regard.

I Corinthians 6:9-11
9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

1 Timothy 3: 1 – 7
1 The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.

Finally, it is clear that what is really at stake is the authority and interpretation of the Bible itself. In this vote, the Episcopalian Church is abandoning the apostolic teaching and practice that has guided Christians and the Church from the beginning, and does so at its own peril.

Below are comments in reaction to the vote. And a few verses about the end times that seem apropos.

[Bishop-elect Robinson, 56, told reporters that his approval was a “tiny sign” of a broader movement in the church and across this country in the acceptance of gays and lesbians. As a culture, he said, “I think we’re seeing the moving into a mature adulthood” about the treatment of gay people.

As his longtime partner, Mark Andrew, and his grown daughter, Ella, looked on, the bishop-elect said he doubted that the approval would make much difference in Episcopalians’ daily lives. While sexuality is an important issue to people, it is by no means the only one, he said.

“When they go to church on Sunday,” he added, “it’s going to look pretty much like last Sunday.” “I am proud to be in a church which works to be a safe place for all of God’s children,” the bishop-elect said.]

[In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Robinson said he hoped his critics would not leave the church, though he disagrees with their view that gay sex violates Scripture.

“I think they’re wrong about this,” he said. “I think they’ll come to know that they are wrong, in this life or the next one.”

But Robinson said he values diversity within Anglicanism and hoped his critics will, too.]

[The presiding bishop here, Bishop Frank T. Griswold, said the decision did not “resolve the issues about homosexuality” for the church.

“What it does do,” he said, “is place squarely before us the question of how a community can live in the tension of disagreement]

[After the vote, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and the titular leader of the Anglican Communion, said the church faced difficult times.

“The General Convention’s decision to approve the appointment of Gene Robinson,” the archbishop said, “will inevitably have a significant impact on the Anglican Communion throughout the world, and it is too early to say what the result of that will be. It will be vital to ensure that the concerns and needs of those across the Communion who are gravely concerned at this development can be heard, understood and taken into account.”]

[`This body willfully confirming the election of a person sexually active outside of holy matrimony has departed from the historic faith and order of the Church of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Robert W. Duncan said. “This body has divided itself from millions of Anglican Christians around the world.”]

[The bishops who stand before you are filled with sorrow,” Bishop Robert W. Duncan of the Pittsburgh Diocese said. “This body has divided itself for millions of Anglican Christians around the world, brothers and sisters who have pleaded with us to maintain the church’s traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality. With grief too deep for words, the bishops who stand before you must reject this action.”

Bishop Duncan, one of a group of church leaders who had fought Bishop-elect Robinson’s approval for weeks, said he and his colleagues would call on the top leaders of the Anglican Communion, the 38 primates around the world, to intervene in the “pastoral emergency that has overtaken” the church.

“May God have mercy on this church,” Bishop Duncan said.]

[I am absolutely committed to Jesus Christ, absolutely committed to this church, absolutely committed to this House, absolutely committed to you,” Bishop Edward S. Little II of the Northern Indiana Diocese said. “If we confirm Gene Robinson as a bishop of the church, the unity of this house will be shattered forever.”]

[“It’s wrong and it’s against the Bible,” said the Rev. Joseph Mutie Kanuku, the bishop of the Machakos Diocese, east of Nairobi. “How can we go against God’s words? Two men being joined is contrary to nature and contrary to the Bible.” The Episcopal church “is alienating itself from the Anglican Communion,” said the Very Rev. Peter Karanja, provost of the All Saints Cathedral, in Nairobi, Kenya.

“We cannot be in fellowship with them when they violate the explicit scripture that the Anglican Church subscribes to,” he said. “We’d counsel they reconsider the decision. It’s outrageous and uncalled for.”]

[Anglican bishops across Kenya, where there are more than three million church members, signed a letter of protest today against the elevation of Bishop-elect Robinson. One of the signatories, Father Kanuku, said he planned to pray for the new bishop and for his church as well.

“You in the West may not consider it a sin but we in Africa do,” he said in a telephone interview, referring to homosexuality. “We stand with the Bible. When we are wrong, those in the West should tell us. We are telling them this is wrong.”

The bishop of the diocese that covers North Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, the Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, portrayed the controversy as similarly grave.

“The Communion now faces a crisis over what holds us together and indeed whether we can remain together if we hold not merely adverse but contradictory views of the Scripture and what it teaches.”]

[Opposition was just as fierce in Asia, where bishops said they might meet next week to discuss cutting ties with the 3.2 million members of the Episcopal Church USA.

Bishop Lim Cheng Ean, leader of the Anglican Church of West Malaysia, said bishops from the communion’s nine-nation Southeast Asian province may discuss cutting ties with the U.S. church at a meeting next week.”Practicing homosexuality is culturally and legally not acceptable here,” he said.]

[Archbishop of Perth Peter Carnley, the primate of Australia’s Anglican Church, acknowledged Robinson’s appointment would have a negative impact, but doubted it would tear the denomination apart.

“We have to have a debate about how to apply the biblical principles … to this modern and contemporary issue,” said Carnley, who is considered a liberal voice in Australia’s Anglican community.

But conservative Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen said Robinson would not be welcome in his diocese. He urged opponents in the United States to fight the appointment by withholding contributions to church coffers.

“For the first time, a branch of our Anglican church has knowingly appointed a person to this senior position who lives in breach of the Bible,” he said.

He called the decision “catastrophic,” and said it was the beginning of a “loosening of ties” within the Anglican communion.]

[The Rev. Martyn Percy, director of the Theological Institute at Manchester University in England, supported the Episcopal Church move.

“Somebody has to break the issue and similar things would have been said about women priests in America 27 years ago,” he said.

“I really don’t think the argument can be won or lost by appeals to scripture and tradition. The issues are just too complex for that,” Percy said. “The Bible is too silent and ambiguous on this.”]

[2 Timothy 3:1-9
1 You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! ]

[2 Peter 3:3-7
3 First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” 5 They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, 6 through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.]

‚© CRS Communications, Dick Staub 2003

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