It was a happy day when Bishop V. Gene Robinson
celebrated his civil union with his partner, Mark Andrew,
but it would have been happier if the Episcopal Church stood
The Reverend V. Gene Robinson said that he
“always wanted to be a June bride.” And this weekend he got
hitched. Well, not quite.
In a private ceremony that took place five
years to the day from when he was elected as the ninth bishop
of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church, U.S.A.,
Robinson and his partner of 20 years, Mark Andrew, said
“I do” in a civil union. And
just as the news of the Church’s first openly gay, noncelibate
priest to be consecrated as bishop reverberated throughout
the worldwide Anglican Communion half a decade ago, so too
did the news of his civil union.
But for those of us who gathered this weekend
at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord, N.H., we came to
do what the celebrant (an officiant, to you non-churchgoing
folk) asked of us: “to witness the joining of Gene and
Mark in civil union and to do all in our power to support
them in their commitment.”
More than 120 of us were furtively lodged in
suggested nearby hotels, where Robinson reserved blocks of
rooms we accessed by using the secret code: “Bishop Robinson
sent me.” After the service we piled in our cars and drove
14 miles to the historic Canterbury
for the reception. Security and media were present but the
day went off without a glitch. But when Robinson returns from
his honeymoon bliss, two pressing questions await him:
The tumultuous events surrounding the election
and consecration of Robinson is the prism through which we
see the Episcopal Church’s longtime struggle and history with
its LGBTQ community.
Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of archbishops
and bishops united in Anglican brotherhood, has functioned
as the Church’s only white and only male club of heterosexual
power brokers. The Conference has ignored, without moral compunction,
its LGBTQ parishioners, and until recently the Anglican Communion’s
Global South - comprised mostly of Third World countries in
Africa, South America, and Asia.
And Robinson said so in the Concord
Monitor in November 2007: “I think [that] for a long time
white men have ruled the world. With the emergence of people
of color, the emergence of the women's movement, with the
emergence of gay and lesbian folk standing up...I think it's
a threat to the way things have always been with white men
being in charge.”
Robinson will not be seated at Lambeth next
month, and all efforts to include him, even in a limited capacity,
have failed because the more conservative wing of clerics
gathering next month uphold the 1998 Lambeth Conference's
controversial resolution stating homosexuality is contrary
to the Church’s teaching of Scripture.
But is it?
In the 1970s the argument for authority of
Scripture came up with the ordination of women - and so too
the threat of schism. But in 1989 the church consecrated its
first female bishop - Barbara C. Harris. And conservatives
were not only theologically outraged but also racially challenged
because Harris is African-American.
And in 2006 gasps of both exhilaration and
exasperation reverberated throughout the Anglican Communion
when it was announced that Katharine Jefferts Schori would
be the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A.
So I ask, what date in the worldwide Anglican
Communion’s calendar would be permissible for Robinson’s civil
blogger reading the headline in Religion & Ethics
that stated: “Gay bishop, partner plan civil union,” asked
an equally important question: “If he is a bishop why should
he have a civil union? Shouldn't he have a church wedding?”
Robinson's marginalization, however,
is not only evident by his absence at this year’s Lambeth
Conference. His marginalization is also evident in this
country's “separate and unequal” covenantal arrangements for
LGBTQ Americans and also in his church’s refusal to marry
Andrew and him in a religious rite of blessing.
So why does Robinson bother to be a June bride?
In Robinson’s new book, In
the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God,
he answers the question.
“Our civil union will no doubt be reported
by the press. I can't stop that. But I can rejoice that somewhere
in Idaho or Ontario
or Sussex there's a gay boy or a lesbian girl who
will read about it and know that they too can aspire to a
healthy, whole life with a person of the same sex - and that
they don't have to give up their faith along the way. It might
occur to them that they too can put their sexuality and their
spirituality together in a way that makes for happiness and
spiritual depth. Like me, they may have always dreamt of being
a June bride. But unlike me, they will know it is possible.”
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe is
a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. A native
of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College
and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and
served as a pastor at an African-American church before coming
to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow.
Reverend Monroe is the author of the soon-to-be-released Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not-So-Everyday Moments. Click on the above link to order now at pre-release pricing. As an
African American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector
of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Click here to contact the Rev. Monroe.