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Larry King Live, CNN Gays in the Church?

Larry King Live, CNN Gays in the Church?

Aired June 15, 2006 - 21:00 ET Abridged from full transcript at cnn.com by Hans Zeiger

LARRY KING, HOST: Good evening. Like so much of the country, the Episcopal Church is in turmoil over gay rights. It first came to a head three years ago when openly gay Gene Robinson was confirmed as the church's ninth bishop of New Hampshire. His confirmation at an official Episcopal gathering in 2003 triggered a walk out by some conservatives and at the Episcopal General convention now going on in Columbus, Ohio, many church officials are saying that a split is inevitable.

...We're going to spend most of the time in the first segment with Reverend, with Bishop Robinson and Canon Anderson. Bishop Robinson, why do you want to be an official in a church that doesn't want you?

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: Because the Episcopal Church is an amazing institution, because it so much wants to be a vehicle for God's love in the world. We've struggled with lots of issues before and we have come to know of God's expansive love. We've changed our minds about people of color and women and their places in the church. And we are now in a family struggle to express God's love for all of God's children, include God's gay and lesbian children.

KING: Canon Anderson, is membership dwindling because of this?

REV. CANON DAVID C. ANDERSON, PRES/CEO AMERICAN ANGLICAN COUNCIL: Membership in the Episcopal Church has been dwindling since 1965, progressively at about the rate of 35,000, 36,000 a year and that has continued through the time since Gene Robinson has been a bishop.

KING: So it hasn't increased?

ANDERSON: Up to the latest figures in 2004. We believe that since 2004, the rate has increased but there aren't hard data yet to examine.

KING: Why did you want to be a bishop, Bishop Robinson?

ROBINSON: Actually, at first, I didn't want to be a bishop. God had to chase me for quite a long time before I would say yes. I knew this would be controversial and yet sometimes God asks us to do things that are hard. And in my prayer life, what I discovered was that God was promising to be faithful to me as God had always been faithful to me in my life and would stand by me during this very difficult time if I would just struggle and strive to listen to and for his voice.

KING: Bishop Robinson, were you ever married?

ROBINSON: Yes, I was very happily married and I have two wonderful daughters and two granddaughters.

KING: So you lived a lie?

ROBINSON: No. I wouldn't say I lived a lie. I had a wonderful relationship with the woman that I was married to. I had told her within a month of meeting her that I had struggled with this issue before. I had gotten to therapy to try to change. I had done all the things that gay and lesbian people try to do to fit in, to deny who they are and to change themselves, and I had prayed about it. And yet, this is not something that one does. This is something that one is. And that's what's so important for people to understand. God made me this way and declared me good. And that's, that's something that I have laid claim to.

KING: Canon Anderson, since we're told that God loves everyone, that would have to include gay people. What do you have against Bishop Robinson being a bishop in your church?

ANDERSON: Well, God certainly loves Gene Robinson. Gene Robinson is a child of God just as I am and others are. But the fact is that certain aspects of his life, in particular, his being an open homosexual, disqualify him for leadership in the Christian church, not just the Anglican Church, but in the Christian church, and it's that part that disqualifies him from leadership. God would love to see him transformed. God doesn't create a person homosexual. How they become homosexual or feel that inclination is unclear, but certainly people can be transformed back to a heterosexual life.

KING: If it's a choice, Canon Anderson, did you choose to be heterosexual and if so, how do you choose it?

ANDERSON: I think the heterosexualists, the standard default setting, if you will, and whether you start with scripture and God's account of how things were created or, in fact, if you start with Charles Darwin and evolution, you come to the same point, that men were meant for women and women were meant for men.

KING: So what, then, does someone like Bishop Robinson do if he has all of these feelings but he's a good Episcopal priest and he wants to be a bishop and he wants to lead a flock, what does he do? ANDERSON: He conforms his life to the scriptural standards and lives a chaste and celibate life honoring God and honoring God's commandments.

KING: Bishop Robinson, how would you respond?

ROBINSON: Well, I would say that none of us are able to conform our lives to scriptural standards. In the gospel of Luke, for instance, Jesus said if you want to be a follower of mine you must give up all your possessions. I don't see many of us doing that. We all fall short in one way or another. The miracle, the good news, is that we're not worthy, but we're made worthy by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That's the good news we have to give to the world and God has said to me and to all of God's children what God said to Jesus at his baptism, you are my beloved. In you, I am well pleased. The world is desperate to know a God like that.


KING: Bishop Robinson, at the conclave that you're at, are they going to vote on [the homosexual issue]?

ROBINSON: We will, in fact, be taking votes on various sorts of resolutions. But the real question before us right now, which is in our great Anglican and Episcopal tradition, is can we all stay at the table and talk about this while we disagree? Talk of unity is not necessarily talk of unanimity. And the great thing that the Episcopal Church has to offer the world is this great umbrella under which we disagree about lots of things and yet we find our unity when we go to the alter rail and receive the body and blood of Christ as humbly as we possibly can, find our unity there in Jesus Christ and then we go back to the pews and fight about all sorts of things, but we remain a community. We remain a communion and that's what God wants for us.

KING: Canon Anderson, what's the harm? Why is it harmful to the church to have Bishop Robinson have a flock?

ANDERSON: Well, he could have a flock, but it would need to be outside of the Anglican tradition and I think really outside of the historic Christian tradition. If he wants to make his own rules as it were, or come up with an alternate interpretation of scripture, that's his decision. But scripture has been very clear. The witness of the church for 2,000 years has been very clear and it's only recently that the Episcopal Church, if you will, has been, I might use the word, hijacked by those who have a different perspective, a different theology, and they are taking it in a different direction.

ANDREW SULLIVAN (conservative, homosexual journalist): Larry, may I say the scripture is clear and scripture says that I should be put to death. The very verse that says that shalt not lie with another man as one does with a woman, says that I should face the death penalty. That's clear. Is that the policy of Reverend Mohler and the other gentlemen? Why is that not taken seriously?

KING: Canon Anderson, is he right?

ANDERSON: Scripture has that as a penalty. The fact is --

SULLIVAN: Why do you not support it?

ANDERSON: Because grace, grace can stand in the way, but it doesn't mean you have to be put to death.

SULLIVAN: So you pick and choose? You pick and choose the parts of the Bible you agree with? Clearly.

KING: Let him finish.

ANDERSON: If you want to keep interrupting me, go ahead.

KING: Go ahead. He has a point, though, Canon Anderson. If it says you should be put to death and it's scriptures and you follow scripture, why don't you follow it?

ANDERSON: Well, the old testament law had consequences for the sin and we believe that in Jesus Christ, his death on the cross paid the penalty for sin. So you get a fresh start, but if you keep sinning over and over again, at some point the Lord is going to call into question your sincerity about the grace he's giving you.


KING: Reverend [Albert] Mohler [of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary], are you a sinner? Are you a sinner?

MOHLER: That's the power of the transformation. You bet I am, Larry, absolutely.

KING: Since you are, why rail out against homosexuals since you have your own sins?

MOHLER: Well, I don't believe I do rail out against homosexuals. I'm obligated to teach the whole council of God about everything that God declares to be sin. It is however, as Canon Anderson said earlier, when we're talking about qualifications for leadership in the church, God has revealed certain particular issues that are of great importance to him and thus for the church and we are obligated to those things. It's not a matter of talk about sinners or those who are not sinners. It's a matter of talking about sinners who are saved by grace, sinners who have repented of their sin and the message of the gospel is that all who repent of their sin and come by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. That's the (INAUDIBLE) each of us comes with our own story.

KING: Bishop Robinson?

ROBINSON: Yes, Larry, I think it's really important to understand that being certain about something does not necessarily -- even if you're certain about it for 2,000 years doesn't make it right. The church was pretty certain that scripture justified slavery and that only changed about 150 years ago. We were pretty certain for 2,000 years that women had no place in the leadership of the church. But we worship a God who is not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, but continues to reveal God's self to us. It's not God that's changing. It's our understanding. We're being led by the Holy Spirit to understand in a new way what God was intending. The question before us right now is, might God be intending something different in our welcome of gay and lesbian people that's not been true for the last 2,000 years? And would that not be God's will for us?


KING: Let's take some calls. Cleveland, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hello, this is Mike. I'm confused by this biblical conversation. It seems to me that, I wonder if we shouldn't be interpreting the scripture the way Jesus interpreted scripture. I mean he, he healed on the sabbath, he met with people who weren't clean in this society. When you look at what Peter and Paul did in welcoming the gentiles, what was their rubric or way of understanding whether the gentiles should come in? That was against the book as well. So I really don't get this way of interpreting the scripture that is so literal. It seems that it requires a double standard.

KING: All right, Canon Anderson, would you respond?

ANDERSON: Well, when we read scripture, for example, the Gospel of John, Jesus says that he's doing the work that his father has given him to do, and the words of his father are his words, so the fact, for example, that Jesus doesn't say a lot himself about homosexuality, nevertheless, Jesus is teaching us what is on the heart of his father and his father's thoughts are written in scripture already. So, you know, I think that as long as we stay to what is in print and has been taught by the church for 2,000 years, we're not inventing new interpretations, but others are.

SULLIVAN: Can I correct that? It's not that Jesus said little about homosexuality, he said nothing about homosexuality. The only thing he did say was that divorce was impossible and, of course, without a divorce, the Episcopalian church would not exist at all.

KING: Bishop Robinson, do you think Jesus would embrace you today?

ROBINSON: Absolutely. Let's be very clear and Canon Anderson knows this, in fact, Jesus violated his scriptures quite often. That's why he got into such trouble. He was always associating with those who had been pushed to the margins of his society, looked down upon as being sinful and unclean. He spent time with them. And he drove the religious authorities of his day crazy because he was not following scripture as he had learned it as a child, but, in fact, was reinterpreting it through the lens of God's love. And, we follow a person who was always reinterpreting scripture and letting people know that it's the spirit of what's going on in one's heart that is the real key and when he said love one another as I have loved you, it means that we need to be moving to the margins, doing justice work, working against racism. All kinds of things that Jesus would be doing in this day and time. I have no question in my mind that Jesus considers me beloved. Just as I am.


KING: Aiken, South Carolina, hello.

CALLER: My question is for, is his name Bishop Robinson.

KING: Yes.

CALLER: I would like to know, he's a practicing gay man and he's living with another gay man. If he was a heterosexual man living, let's say, out of wedlock with a woman, does he think he should be bishop then? He's not married, he's practicing his homosexuality.

KING: He can't marry, ma'am.

CALLER: That's right. He can't marry. And until, so that's not acceptable. If he wants to be a gay man, that's fine. I'm an Episcopalian but I do not think he should be in a leadership position.

KING: Want to comment, Bishop Robinson?

ROBINSON: You bet I do. Larry, you're right. I don't have the option of marrying my partner, but, you know, Jesus said that good fruit can't come from a bad tree. What we're saying is, look at our relationships. Look at the good that comes from them. If you look closely, you'll see God showing up in them. Look at what gay and lesbian people contribute to this culture. Contribute to their own children and to other people's children. Look at the fruits of what we're doing, and then decide in us, can you see the face of Christ? And if you can, then welcome us into the church as god would have us welcomed.


KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE. Joining us now from Columbus, Ohio from the convention center is Bishop Frank T. Griswold. He is the chief pastor of the Episcopal Church of the United States, president or chairman of numerous Episcopal Church boards and agencies. Thank you for joining us, Bishop Griswold. Where do you stand on the issue of gays in your church?

BISHOP FRANK GRISWOLD, CHIEF PASTOR, EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE U.S.: I think gay and lesbian people have a privileged place in our church and are integral to our life and our ministry. And this has been true for a very long time.

KING: Should they be bishops?

GRISWOLD: I think the important thing to be aware of is that the Episcopal Church has always been a church that has been able to contain diverse opinions on any number of topics, and I think that the whole question of the ordination of gay and lesbian people is one of those topics upon which we as a church have, again, a variety of opinions. I think it is inevitable...

KING: And what is yours?

GRISWOLD: Well, I think -- certainly I gave my consent to the ordination of the bishop of New Hampshire and presided his ordination, which I hardly would have done if I felt that it was intrinsically wrong. At the same time...

KING: What do you -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

GRISWOLD: ... I recognize -- yes, I recognize that many Episcopalian would disagree with that position.

KING: And what is going to happen at the convention in that regard?

GRISWOLD: Well, I think the important thing here, and I've just come from an evening in which I presided with Senator John Danforth as our principal speaker. He's of course an Episcopal priest, as you probably know.

KING: Yes.

GRISWOLD: And one of the points he made was, we're a church that's always been able to contain multiple points of view, and he said in this world where we're so polarized, politically and religiously, where language is so divisive, it's so important that a church such as ours manifest and witness to the fact that we can stay together and respect the fact that we have different points of view and be one in mission to a broken world. That is the point that I think is so important. The broken world needs our attention. And sexuality, as important as it may be, is not the dominating concern. Life and death issues, poverty, disease, all these things that really threaten human life are where we need to place our attention.

KING: We'll hold it right there, Bishop Griswold. We've got to take a break, and when we come back, lots more. The bishop will return.


KING: Back with our panel and back to Bishop Frank T. Griswold. Why, Bishop Griswold, can it be judged congregation by congregation?

GRISWOLD: I think congregations vary tremendously, and you will find that there are congregations in which gay and lesbian people feel much more at home than other congregations. I think, since I travel the United States, I can see all kinds of regional variations as well. And I think one of the important things to be aware of is that the gospel is always interpreted in particular contexts. Our social influences, our historical influences all have something to do with how we read the gospel and interpret it and apply it to our lives.

KING: Canon Anderson, it would appear that you're in disagreement with the chief pastor of your church. How do you reconcile that?

ANDERSON: Well, three years ago in August, we told Presiding Bishop Griswold that he was running the Titanic into the iceberg on the Gene Robinson confirmation. They said -- he said and others that we would all get over it. That's not been the case. People are voting with their feet. 35,000 a year, that's 700 a week literally, are saying no to Gene Robinson being a bishop, no to Frank Griswold's episcopacy, and they are moving on to other denominations, and moving into other Anglican entities but out of the Episcopal Church. That's pretty significant.

KING: Why do you stay, Canon Anderson?

ANDERSON: Well, I like a good fight.

KING: OK. Well said. How do you react to that, Bishop Griswold?

GRISWOLD: Well, I think I would say that we're a church of diverse opinions...

KING: Obviously.

GRISWOLD: ... and the overwhelming reality of the Episcopal Church is what I call the diverse center. People who have all kinds of opinions, but have an overriding sense of being churched together, not just to be cozy and familiar, but in order to serve Christ in the world. I think that larger sense of mission is what really galvanizes Episcopalians.

KING: Father Manning, would you describe this church as progressive?


KING: The Episcopal Church.

MANNING: Yes, very progressive. You know what I want to say, I really think that we need to be, as Christians, very, very sensitive to gay and lesbians, and make sure that this is not something that they are objects of prejudice and they are thrown off and that they suffer. That isn't what Jesus is about.

It does come down, though, to this basic understand that if you are gay, if you are a lesbian, praise the Lord, use your gifts, but be careful that you don't allow sexuality to move into that, because it moves against what is the natural experience.

KING: How can you not let it move in?

MANNING: Oh, but you can. You can friendship and love and care.


KING: Bishop Griswold, I know you have to leave us. Before you go.

GRISWOLD: Let me make a comment here. Jesus says I have many more things to tell you but you cannot bear them now. When the spirit of truth comes he will draw from what is mine or reveal it to you. Truth is unfolding. Isn't it interesting that we learn more about truth in medical areas, truth about the world around us, but we can't learn anything new about sexuality? Isn't that strange?

KING: Thank you, bishop. Thanks for being with us. Bishop Frank T. Griswold, Chief pastor of the Episcopal church of the United States and when we come back our remaining moments with our panel of six. Don't go away.


KING: We have another caller in Denver. Hello.

CALLER: Yes, I'm in a committed relationship of 24 years. I was raised Southern Baptist, my partner is Catholic. However, we're not welcomed in a church and I just wondered why or how we're not welcomed in a church of worship, when so many people like myself are not welcomed in a church and some are not welcomed in society, and look at suicide and how we're not welcomed in a church of God.

KING: I guess the question is, do you want to respond, Reverend Hudson. HUDSON: You would be very welcomed at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas.

KING: But they're in Denver.

HUDSON: You can watch us online. We broadcast our worship services online and you would be very welcomed in our church. It's made up of 3,500 people, predominantly gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

KING: Bishop Robinson, would they be welcomed in the Episcopal church in Denver?

ROBINSON: You bet they would. We have signs in every little town and every large city that says the Episcopal church welcomes you. There is no asterisk after that listing, the people who are exceptions. It means everyone is welcomed and we're a church that's struggling to make that kind of reality true for us and on behalf of God everywhere.

KING: Andrew Sullivan, why don't you become Episcopal? They seem more, welcoming to you than the Catholic church?

ROBINSON: Welcome, Andrew.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, Gene. Look, this is my home and this is my faith. And I love the mass. I love the mass. I love my faith, and I took a time-out because I couldn't really bear it anymore the way they were talking about us and scapegoating us and demonizing us. But I've come back because I can't be without it. This is who I am. I love it. And so many gay Catholics out there love it. I want to say to them don't let them take your faith away from you. Stay there. Stay in the pews and be at mass and at the lord's table because he loves you.

KING: Canon Anderson can't you sympathize with what Andrew just said?

ANDERSON: Well, many of us that are orthodox, conservative Episcopalians have experience a real sense of isolation within the Episcopal church, and we're hoping for a better day to come for our own situation. We anticipate that at some point, the global communion will remove the Anglican franchise from the Episcopal church and grant it to another entity. We don't see how the Episcopal church can really continue the way it is.


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