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COLUMBUS, OH: Robinson no longer in spotlight

COLUMBUS, OH: Robinson no longer in spotlight
Video at convention tells others' stories

The Concord Monitor staff
June 14. 2006

When the nation's Episcopalians met three years ago, New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson was the face of homosexuality in the church. Not this time. First, Robinson is hardly getting any press attention at this year's convention in Columbus, Ohio.

Second, several other gays, lesbians and their straight supporters have lent their voices to the fight in new video showing the lives of gay Episcopalians that debuted last night. Robinson appears in the video, but only briefly, and his is not the most powerful story.

More prominent is the household of two men in California who are raising a son and daughter. (One of the men said his mother always told him he'd meet someone nice at church. He did, but it was another man.) There is also the story of a woman who admitted she opposed gays adopting children until she saw a gay couple's children baptized at church. The woman nearly cried as she explained how spiritually moved she felt after participating in that baptism service.

"The whole church embraced it," the woman said.

The 40-minute production, called Voices of Witness, is intended to tell Anglican church leaders in America and the world that being gay and Christian is not mutually exclusive. The video, which is being distributed for free at the church's general convention and will soon be available for free online, was made for about $12,000 in donations by a church justice group called Claiming the Blessing.

The Rev. Susan Russell and Louise Brooks, partners from California who are both active in the Episcopal Church, said they produced the video, but not because of the fallout that followed Robinson's election three years ago. Since then, church leaders from American and elsewhere have asked the church to apologize, even repent, and promise not to ordain openly gay bishops again.

Russell and Brooks's frustration with the church goes back 30 years, they said, ever since the church's worldwide leaders pledged themselves to listen to the experiences of homosexuals and assure them they are loved by God. They first made that pledge in 1978 at a international church gathering.

They have reaffirmed that promise twice in the past 30 years, Russell said, but have never lived up to it. With this video, Russell, Brooks and the people in it hope to make the church's worldwide leaders finally hear their stories of being gay and dedicated Episcopalians.

Jane Tully, the wife of a Episcopal priest from New York, said she knew no gay people in her parish when her son came out to them. Since, she has realized how many clergy members know and respect gay people, and she has worked to bring their stories into the church's struggle with homosexuality.

Tully thinks the church is going through the same struggles families do when they first learn a loved one is gay. With prayerful conversation and shared experiences, she believes the church can stick together and include its gay members.

Robinson appears near the start of the video, talking in church. He tells a group that it's time to stop talking about being gay and start talking about God. He appears again only briefly. Still, Robinson was the hero last night during the screening, which was held at a Columbus church, not the conference headquarters. His election in New Hampshire, followed by his confirmation by the national church, has brought renewed energy to the fight for gay equality within the church.

"Gene has accelerated the discussion," said the Rev. Ed Bacon, the rector of All Saints parish in Pasadena, Calif. "We could not have invented a better public strategy than what the Holy Spirit came up with. Gene embodies the Word."

As popular as he remains among many Episcopalians, who surrounded him after the screening, Robinson is not getting requests for press interviews like he did three years ago when his election was the center of the church conference.

Episcopal leaders are spending much of this conference telling the church's world leaders how they intend to retain their "bonds of affection" that link them while supporting a bishop who is gay, and therefore an offense to many of the church's world leaders.

Robinson is content to be out of the limelight, he said last night. But he's begun to accept that he will never be just the bishop - as opposed to the gay bishop - as he once hoped. He sees now that he has two roles.

"I think I was naïve and or ignorant," Robinson said. "I think I underestimated the historic nature of what was happening."That finally occurred to him when his secretary was told to keep everything Robinson writes because others will want to study it one day.

"While I am the bishop of New Hampshire, that is the priority,"Robinson said. "But there is this other ministry too," he said.


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