All entries for Friday 04 March 2005

March 04, 2005

Gene Robinson.

This is an article I wrote for non – fiction as reasearch towards a piece on homosexuality and the CU. I hope no one finds it in any way offensive, it is a piece based on what I believe – but please let me know what you think!

Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, and tolerance within the Christian Church.

A few years ago, the Christian Union at Warwick University was given a two year ban from it’s affiliation with the Student’s Union, due to a homophobic remark made to one of it’s members. Since then, the university has drawn up an equal opportunities policy for all the societies included within the student’s union, and slowly but surely, the rift is being healed.
However, homophobia is at present the centre of the Christian media as a whole due to the appointment of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire, who, controversially, lives with his partner of thirteen years, Mark Andrew. As the church is split, this time on an international scale, we are forced to ask ourselves whether such concerns, although admittedly classed as ‘sins’ in the bible, are really an issue for the world of today. This then leads onto asking is such a relatively small aspect of a person’s life, such as their sexuality, more important than unity and love within the Christian community.
There was great opposition to Gene Robinson’s ordination in 2003, mainly because of his sexual orientation. One of the leaders in this opposition was the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams who, although the issue of Robinson’s sexuality does not appear to directly concern him, is concerned for what this will do to the church, and whether it might result in an absolute, unhealable divide. He says that the US church will “have to admit they are in the wrong over homosexuality if the unity of the Anglican Church is to be preserved”. Indeed, it is hard to deny that great controversy surrounds this issue within the church, but some Christians can’t help but ask – why the controversy? We are all taught from the beginnings of our Christian teaching that the fundamental word in our faith is love; love for each other, love for the world, and love for God. The attitudes of some who oppose Robinson’s appointment, as Bishop is less than loving however. An English Anglican sent the new bishop a postcard saying “you fornicating, lecherous pig”; Fred Phelps, a Baptist minister, describes Robinson as “a disgusting, detestable, loathsome, filthy abomination – the great whoremonger”. This is the language used by Christians to a fellow human being, a fellow follower of Christ; these are words said by people who stand in God’s presence and speak the words of John 13, verse 34 – “Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you.”
There are thousands of references to love in the bible, and one of the most famous passages is from Corinthians 13 tells us “love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not boast, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, is not selfish, and does not get upset with others. Love does not count up the wrongs that have been done.” This is the love that should exist within the Christian community, but which in issues such as this, we sadly see very little of. The idea of the community within the church is the theory that a group of people can work together in order to follow God and create a better, more compassionate and equal world. Therefore, it should be argued that a community cannot exclude certain people because of their race, or their gender, or because of their sexual orientation. We are told that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and that we must not judge others for “you will be judged in the same way that you judge others, and the amount you give to others shall be given to you” (Matthew 7). Therefore, the division and arguments that have spread, and now cause a great threat within the church, due to Gene Robinson’s appointment as bishop, could be seen as highly hypocritical as this dispute itself is going against the teachings of the Bible. Robinson has told his congregation that he hopes that engaging in “infinite respect and radical hospitality” can unite his diocese, and the greater Anglican Communion.
There are critics of Robinson’s appointment however, who that are more reasonable, and object because he is not married to his partner; one such critic is Kendall Harmon, the canon theological of South Carolina, USA, who says that “I think it is wrong to be in a sexual relationship outside marriage and I’d say that to a heterosexual as well.” Undoubtedly, and rightly so, the sanctity of marriage is a state that has been very important in the Christian faith, for centuries, although some would argue that this is outdated now, when we live in a modern world of free sexuality, and independence. Therefore, if indeed such critic’s objections are that Robinson is not married to the man he lives with, a sceptical onlooker cannot help but wonder what the likes of Harmon would think if they undertook a guy marriage. I think the Archbishop of Canterbury, who condemned the Canadian churches that gave blessings to same sex marriages, asking them to “consider their place within the Anglican Communion”, probably answered this question last week. Therefore, it can be safely assumed that even if Gene Robinson and his partner Mark Andrew had a gay wedding, the church would not recognise it, and the problem would still exist.
Robinson’s supporters counter this argument by pointing out that his family life is as wholesome and loving as it could possibly be; his wife Isabella knew when they married that he was gay, and after ten years, and after they had had two daughters together, they decided it would be best for them and their children if they divorced, so that each of them would be able to pursue a relationship that would hopefully make them happy, After the divorce, they had a private service in the church and asked each others forgiveness – they have remained friends since and bring up their daughters Amy and Jamee together. Robinson met his partner three years later, and now they all work together as a family unit, and were described at the ordination by the All Saints interim rector, Bruce H. Jacobson, as “a most wholesome example of a family”. Robinson is very open in his love for his partner, saying that “I couldn’t love him more”, and is adamant that by his divorce both he and his wife felt that they “were honouring each other by letting each other go… we were honouring our marriage by getting a divorce”. Therefore it seems fair to argue that Gene Robinson is actually a perfect example of how divorce, despite being a breach of the Bible, is actually the best way for two people to be happy and more able to follow in God’s faith. In this case, it enabled both Gene and Isabella to become the people they really were, and find happiness in a relationship suited more to them as individuals, as well as allowing them to salvage their strong platonic love for each other and their daughters. It is in cases such as these that the religious conflict becomes difficult – is the maintaining of a bond made in the sight of God more important than the happiness of two people? But, if they do divorce, and find a lasting, prosperous love elsewhere, is not this a blessing from God in itself?
Clearly, in this case, there is the undeniable complication of the fact that Gene Robinson is gay, a sin as stated in the Bible itself; “you must not have sexual relations with a man as you would a woman. That is a hateful sin.” (Leviticus 18, 22) And this is a reason why the Archbishop of Canterbury is so concerned that Robinson’s appointment as bishop will result in a split in the international Anglican Church. However, as Robinson points out, “to raise the issue of homosexuality above the Nicene Creed and belief in the Trinity seems to me to border on idolatry… if this is all about the authority of scripture why haven’t people threatened to leave over the church not obeying Christ’s commandment to reach out to the poor?” This focus on the sexuality of Robinson is drowning out more important issues, such as what the church can do to help the people suffering in Iraq, or in the aftermath of the Tsunami. Also, it is choosing to ignore that despite being homosexual, Robinson is clearly an increadebly loving, caring and devout man. His faith in God is highly commendable, as he is insistent in claiming, “God seems so very close right now that prayer almost feels redundant. I feel absolutely surrounded by his love and his presence is almost palpable to me. I am calm and at peace and I am prepared to move forward.” This strength of faith is surely commendable, as is the love shown towards his family and parishioners. Should such a good example of a follower of Christ be excluded from the church ministry purely because he is a homosexual?
In his sermon at his ordination in 2003, Robinson told the congregation a parable; “Four American soldiers became best friends in the trenches of France during World War I. When one of them is killed, the others vow to give him a proper burial. But when they ask a priest to allow them to bury their comrade in the parish cemetery, the priest denies their request because the men can’t guarantee that their dead friend was baptized. Instead, the men bury the soldier just outside the graveyard. After the war, when they return to visit the grave, they can’t find it. When they ask the priest what happened, he explains, “I felt bad about my decision. Why should this man not deserve the same status before God as all these others who have gone before him? Who am I to judge him? So I moved the fence.”” Here, Robinson was talking about extending the borders, to become more open. The Christian church is an open door; it is not a door that closes to homosexuals, or women, or people in relationships out of marriage. It is open to everyone, and we do not have the god – given authority to judge a person, we can only observe the spiritual life of a person and commend them for being a true follower of Christ, and this is what those who appointed Gene Robinson to by ordained by God as a bishop believed him to be. I, for one, would be honoured to have a man who appears so devout and loving to guide me through my life as a Christian.

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