MINNEAPOLIS — Overcoming last-minute allegations of misconduct, the first openly gay bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church -- and perhaps of any Christian denomination -- was confirmed here Tuesday.
The vote by the nation's Episcopal bishops to confirm the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson as the next bishop of New Hampshire set the stage for a new and pivotal struggle within the 2.3-million-member church over homosexuality and its place in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced man with two adult children, has lived with his partner, Mark Andrew, for 13 years. He was elected bishop earlier this summer by the priests and lay leaders of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Under Episcopal Church rules, the election of bishops by local dioceses must be approved by a majority of the nation's dioceses.
Robinson's confirmation -- approved on a 62-43 vote with two abstentions, with 54 needed for approval -- sent a shockwave through the Anglican Communion. Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, who voted for the confirmation, told reporters that he believed Robinson's election marked the first time that an openly gay man had been elected bishop of any church in 2,000 years of Christianity.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Episcopal bishop -- In some editions of Wednesday's Section A, the last name of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson, the gay bishop confirmed by the Episcopal Church, was misspelled as Robertson in a photo caption.
Immediately after the vote, 19 conservative bishops approached the podium and pleaded publicly for Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the world's Anglican primates to intervene in what the bishops called a "pastoral emergency."
"This body, in willfully confirming the election of a person sexually active outside of holy matrimony, has departed from the historic faith and order of the church of Jesus Christ. This body has denied the plain teaching of Scripture and the moral consensus of the church throughout the ages. This church has divided itself from millions of Anglican Christians around the world," they said in a statement that was read by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh.
But gay rights advocates hailed the vote.
"This is another historic moment for the church, just like when we last gathered in Minneapolis in 1976 and took that historic step forward on behalf of the fuller inclusion of women into the ministry of the church," said the Rev. Susan Russell, executive director of Claiming the Blessing, a gay and lesbian group based in Pasadena.
"We have now taken a similar step on behalf of gay and lesbian people," she said.
In London, Archbishop Williams said in a statement that "difficult days lie ahead." He said the U.S. church's decision "will inevitably have a significant impact on the Anglican Communion throughout the world." But he said it is too early to say what that might be.
Williams' press spokesman, who was present at the convention here, said Williams would be open to a meeting of the standing committee of the world's Anglican primates to review the matter.
The Episcopal Church is one of 38 self-governing national churches within the Anglican Communion, which claims 77 million members. The Anglican churches share common doctrines and practices and recognize the archbishop of Canterbury as their spiritual leader, but do not have a centralized hierarchy in the manner of the Roman Catholic Church.
Conservatives in the U.S. church as well as archbishops of Anglican churches in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America have warned of a "major realignment" of the church that could result in the creation of a parallel Anglican denomination in the United States.
Griswold said he would be in touch with Williams and other primates. Griswold left open the question of whether he would support the call by conservatives for a meeting of the world's primates. But he noted that only the archbishop of Canterbury could call an official meeting.
"It is my own conviction that different points of view can be held in tension within the church without issues around sexuality becoming church-dividing," he told reporters. "This is not a time for either triumph or desolation. Our community has the particular task of reaching out to those who are unsettled by this decision," he said.
Robinson's victory came less than four hours after the church reported that a man who had accused Robinson of inappropriate touching had declined to sign a formal church complaint against him.
David Lewis of Manchester, Vt., made the accusation in e-mails that he sent to numerous bishops Sunday night. The accusations forced a day's delay in a confirmation vote by bishops while the church opened a preliminary investigation.
On Tuesday, Bishop Gordon Scruton of western Massachusetts, who led the investigation, told a hushed House of Bishops he could find no reason to further delay their vote after speaking with Lewis and Robinson.
He said that Lewis, a married man who in years past had unsuccessfully sought to become an Episcopal priest, told him that during two conversations with Robinson in 1999 at a public church gathering that Robinson had made him uncomfortable by touching him.