The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Aug. 4, 2003
By JOHN BLAKE , The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
MINNEAPOLIS — The Episcopal Church moved one step closer to making history Sunday when an openly gay man won the first of two votes he needs to become a bishop.
After an hour of sharp debate, the church’s House of Deputies voted 128-63 in favor of Bishop-elect V. Gene Robinson’s confirmation, with 25 deputies undecided. Robinson will face his final hurdle today when the church’s other governing body, the House of Bishops, votes on his confirmation.
The New Hampshire clergyman would become the first openly gay bishop in a mainline denomination.
“I feel like I want to take my shoes off — this is holy ground,” a beaming Robinson said during a press conference after the vote.
But Deputy Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina said he was “heartbroken” by the vote.
“It represents a disagreement about fundamental matters of our faith and a radical change from Christian teaching,” said Harmon, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of Robinson’s confirmation.
Harmon said the vote for Robinson was closer than most people expected.
“If it was such a great thing, why did so many people vote against it?” Harmon said. “This is a deeply divisive vote of a deeply fractured church.”
At least 2,000 people gathered for the vote in the Minneapolis Convention Center, at the denomination’s 74th General Convention. At least 100 deputies lined up behind two microphones to speak beforehand, and people stood in the doorways to watch the proceedings.
The vote comes at a time when others are pressuring lawmakers to oppose same-sex marriage. The Vatican last week asked Catholic politicians to oppose gay marriage, and President Bush declared that in his view, marriage was between a man and a woman.
Those who opposed Robinson’s confirmation argued it would split the Anglican Communion, a global alliance of 70 million people in churches that trace their heritage to the Church of England.
They said the Episcopal Church would lose its moral authority by capitulating to the prevailing view of modern society.
“I do not know what I will tell my people at home,” said Deputy John Flowers, from Louisiana. “How will I tell them that the church I love is now an apostate church?”
Those who supported Robinson said his confirmation would lend the church new vitality. They said Anglican churches worldwide were not obligated to follow the communion’s decisions.
“It is not the liberals or the gay agenda but God who is challenging the church,” said Deputy Mark Hollingsworth.
After the vote was announced, Robinson’s partner, Mark Andrews, broke into a huge grin and hugged well-wishers. Robinson’s daughter, Ella, who sat next to Andrews during the vote, hugged supporters as well.
The House of Deputies is the largest governing body in the Episcopal Church. It is made up of clergy and lay people from each of the church’s 110 dioceses.
Georgia has two deputations, one representing Atlanta and the other the remainder of the state. In Sunday’s vote, the Atlanta group voted in favor of Robinson’s confirmation while Georgia’s voted against it.
The Rev. Sam Candler, pastor of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead, had argued through the week that Robinson’s 13-year relationship with his partner showed that same-sex couples could make sacred commitments that honored God.
“The canon law only require that bishops are a ‘wholesome example,’ ” said Candler, who voted for Robinson. “Every generation has to decide what a wholesome example is.”
After the vote, Robinson said that if his confirmation in the House of Bishops was denied, he would not seek consecration as a bishop outside the laws of the Episcopal Church.
Since the diocese of New Hampshire thrust him into the spotlight in June by electing him their bishop, Robinson said his life had felt “like a movie.” People from around the world have called him either the hope or the destroyer of the Episcopal Church. He has received death threats and travels with a bodyguard.
But now it seems he’s on the verge of a happy ending, he said.
“This movie is beginning to feel like a mega-hit,” he said.
Robinson said the meaning of his confirmation would draw in people who had felt shunned by traditional churches.
“It says that the Episcopal Church is wide open and no one is unwelcome here,” Robinson said.
Robinson said that enabling gay and lesbian clergy to be open would enhance their ministry — and the Episcopal Church.
“How can you teach someone about integrity when you’re not open and honest about yourself?” he said.