The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson is the most dangerous bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion. But witnessing this man of quiet dignity and humble beginnings join in civil union with his partner, Mark Andrew, you must ask yourself: why?
Robinson, as I have watched him through the years, is indeed dangerous. And what makes him dangerous is his openness about his life.
As the ninth bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church, Robinson is also the church's first openly gay, noncelibate priest. And the firestorm that his openness ignited has a church on the brink of schism.
But sitting in St. Paul Episcopal Church in Concord, N.H., with more than 120 family and friends, I saw a man who for years with indefatigable zeal testified before legislative committees for legal civil unions in New Hampshire can now do so with his partner of 20 years.
So after the civil union procession had assembled at the back of the church, I witnessed along with Robinson's and Andrew's family and friends the solemnizing of their civil union.
"Welcome to all of you who have come to support Gene and Mark in their joining together in civil union....You have stood by them and supported them in these last few years when on this very day and in this very place, five years ago, their life together changed forever, with Gene's election as Bishop. They are grateful beyond words to you, an welcome you as you witness their commitment to one another and their legal joining in civil union," the Justice of the Peace stated.
And, yes, just five years ago on June 7 at St. Paul's an historic moment in the Anglican Communion happened but so too began Robinson's nightmare of biblical proportions.
"I plan to be a good bishop, not a gay bishop. I'm so much more than my sexual orientation," Robinson told the Associated Press in August 2003.
But the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of archbishops and bishops united in Anglican brotherhood of the Church's white and male club of heterosexual power brokers, only sees Robinson's sexual orientation.
And they uphold the 1998 Lambeth Conference controversial resolution that states that homosexuality is contrary to the teaching of Scripture, a resolution that was craftily brokered by a minority of conservative clerics in the Episcopal Church, USA, as their firewall to excluded Robinson.
Next month the Lambeth Conference will convene again but Robinson will not be among his brethren.
A fellow bishop queried Robinson on the appropriateness of scheduling his civil union just weeks before the Lambeth. But knowing that no date in the worldwide Anglican Communion's calendar would be appropriate nor rescheduling his civil union after Lambert would include him in it, even in a limited capacity, this is what Robinson told the Church of England Newspaper:
Now I am being accused of intentionally poking a finger in Lambeth's eye by scheduling the service in June. But if we'd waited until after Lambeth to announce our intentions, I'd be just as severely criticised for having been disingenuous and secretive about the civil union to assure an invitation to Lambeth. There is no time when our civil union will be acceptable to many in the Anglican Communion. But I will not be irresponsible to the partner and love of my life just to avoid giving offence.
The Lambeth Conference has always been club about who's in and who's out.
But is the Episcopal Church's impeding schism really about the theological rift that ensued after the consecration of Robinson? Or is the brouhaha really about a church embattled with itself in how to be financially solvent and theologically relevant in today's national and global competitive religious marketplace?
While the US has, at best, approximately 2.2 Episcopalians today, the center of Anglican gravity is neither here nor in Britain, but in Africa. There are approximately three million in Kenya and nine million in Uganda. But those two countries combined do not come close to the 20 million in Nigeria, making Peter Akinola, the archbishop there, one of the most influential men in the Anglican Communion. And where Lambeth could once summarily dismiss the voices of bishops from Third World countries, it can no longer do so because their numbers are overwhelmingly important to the life of the Anglican Communion.
Just as no date in the worldwide Anglican Communion's calendar would be appropriate for Robinson's civil union nor rescheduling it after Lambeth would include him nor would having a private service.
Questioned over the months about the openness of is civil union this is what Robinson stated in his new book, In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God:
But why not just make it a "private" service - a solution offered by some in the Anglican Communion? But "private blessing" is an oxymoron. Although our service will be by invitation only, and out of sight of the press, our understanding of marriage is that the couple make their vows public, in the presence of the gathered community, seeking the community's prayers and assistance in being faithful to those vows.
To relegate the blessing of a marriage to a private, secretive venue is to violate its very nature. When I was growing up I could never have imagined same-sex couples being "out," never mind being married or partners in a civil union.
Robinson is a lone voice among bishops. Both his consecration and civil union is the prism through which we witness Robinson's openness that challenges the church's theological underpinnings upon which homophobia and heterosexism have rested and the ecclesiastical power to which they are clamped.
When we got to the "Prayers of the People" in the service the Celebrant stated:
I ask your prayers for Gene and Mark: for their life together, that they may be filled with God's blessing and grow in love for each other in faithfulness throughout their life together. Pray for Gene and Mark.
This petition invites us all to pray for Gene and Mark.