Daily Nonpareil, Aug. 6, 2003
BRIEN T. BOYCE , Staff Writer
“There is dissension within the Episcopal church,” Bill Burke said. “Our congregation is just as divided as the national church.”
The Rev. Gene Robinson, who has served as assistant to the bishop of New Hampshire, was confirmed as the Episcopal church’s first openly gay bishop Tuesday evening.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said the bishops at the church’s General Convention in Minneapolis voted 62-45 to confirm Robinson’s election.
Allegations of inappropriate conduct initially postponed the vote until an investigation was conducted.
Burke, a parishioner at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, said there is no set doctrine he’s aware of that applies to gay clergy members.
“It’s still a matter of debate,” he said.
For some local ministers the fact that a debate exists is a moot point.
“I would be against the situation in New Hampshire. I can’t scripturally justify it,” said the Rev. Jon Benson, senior pastor of St. John Lutheran Church.
“Unfortunately, there’s another gospel that’s being presented, and it’s not the gospel of Christ,” said the Rev. Curtis Brown of Crossroads Christian Center.
“I really feel that God says we’re supposed to love the sinner but hate the sin,” he said. “The homosexual lifestyle is unacceptable to God, as is fornication and other lifestyles. I think we’re more into pleasing men than pleasing God.”
In June, Robinson’s diocese in New Hampshire selected him as bishop, and the Episcopal Committee on Consent of Bishops approved his candidacy Saturday.
Parishioner David Lewis sent an e-mail to Bishop Thomas Ely of Vermont Sunday night, accusing Robinson of touching him inappropriately several years ago during a church convocation.
The issue of an openly gay individual serving in such a high-profile position has members of the 2.3-million member Episcopal church in the United States at odds with each other.
Burke claims the middle ground on the issue.
“I partly don’t think its a good idea,” he said, “but am I going to leave the church over it at this time? I don’t think so.”
Robinson, 56, a divorced father with two daughters, has been with partner Mark Andrew for 13 years.
There is no middle ground for Brown and Benson.
“The Episcopal minister should take out ‘reverend’ from the front of his name,” Brown said about Robinson. “He shouldn’t even be in the ministry, much less consider being a bishop in the Episcopalian church.”
Brown added the matter is a “situation of compromise within the body of Christ, and specifically, within the leadership.”
Benson said details such as a person’s sexual orientation do matter when operating in his career field.
“The office of pastors and bishops is not a private matter,” he said. “We can’t split our private and public lives.”
Brown said Robinson’s appointment will open the floodgates to cause more problems within the church body.
“If they (Episcopal church) allow this, they’ll allow major compromise to come in,” he said. “I would encourage anyone to get as far away from them as possible.
“We’re not just talking about a lay person … here’s a man, claiming to be a godly man, that God is with him. Jehovah God is not with him with what he is trying to bring upon this nation.”
Benson’s view is not shared throughout the denomination. The Evangelical Lutheran Church Association allows homosexual clergy to be ordained as ministers if they are celibate.
Benson said he is against the movement within the association to allow Lutheran churches to become more liberal.
Benson was asked what he would do if he found out one of his pastoral staff was gay.
“The problem lies with how it comes out,” he said.
If the matter were brought up in a confessional situation, Benson would ask for their resignation. If it came out in a more public manner, such as a staff meeting, he could recommend termination.
Should the person refuse to submit their resignation, Benson would take the matter to the synod bishop. Under sexual conduct, ELCA regulations state sex outside of marriage, regardless of the person’s orientation, is grounds for removal from their position.
The ELCA does not recognize gay marriages, nor do they generally bless same-sex unions. A church in Minnesota, however, is trying to set its own precedent so it can hire a lesbian who is in a committed relationship.
When discussing the issue of homosexuality, Brown and Benson agree their stance is taken as being homophobic, yet it is the lifestyle and not the person they have a problem with.
“Love does not equal tolerance, and grace does not equal permissiveness,” Benson said. “And it’s disappointing, but the moment anyone says anything against the homosexual, you’re labeled as homophobic or condemning them. That is not the case in my situation and the vast number of people who are against this cause.”
“We got to love this guy, and we do need to love him deeply; but we don’t need to accept the deceitfulness of it,” Brown said. “It’s not a matter of God not loving the homosexual or the prostitute living in a sinful lifestyle.
“But is it OK for a man to get married and to have an adulterous lifestyle? Absolutely not. The Bible says to love the sinner but hate the sin.”
Benson said conservatives and liberals in the church are missing the overall point.
“The question I struggle with is not what either side wants, but what does God want? What is God’s will in all of this in relationship to one another? That is what we’re ultimately striving for as a church, I hope.”
“What’s happening with the church today is when compromise sets in, we become too concerned with being politically correct or offending people,” Brown said. “But the word of God will offend people at times.”
While the ramifications from Robinson’s indoctrination as a bishop may not be felt through the Episcopal church in Council Bluffs – Burke’s church is the only one – the outcome will be examined by other denominations.
Especially, Benson said, by the Evangelical Lutheran Church Association.
“I think this will be a test case,” he said. “If the Episcopal church quickly starts splitting, that’s going to create more difficulty for the cause of the ELCA.”
But if the Episcopal church continues on with minimal discord, Benson added, that could throw gasoline on the ELCA’s quest toward a more liberal stance – and cause more lines drawn in the sand.