Gay rights advocates and progressive episcopalians celebrated last Tuesday, when a vote by the US’s Episcopal General convention made Reverend Gene Robinson the first openly gay bishop. But conservatives within the church are much less willing to accept the bishop-elect’s sexual preference. Both Robinson’s supporters and opponents acknowledge that his appointment could cause major rifts in the church, among both national and international branches. Robinson’s supporters, however, maintain that he’s not a political tool for the Episcopalian gay rights movement, nor is he a mere pawn in the church’s latest recruiting ploy. He’s just a well-loved and trusted Reverend who’s good enough at his job that he was found deserving of promotion.
The Revered is so well-loved enough that what looks like a vicious last-minute attempt at a smear campaign seems to have bounced off of him like oil on Teflon. When Robinson’s opponents realized that their protestations of “ But he’s GAY!!” weren’t having the desired effect, they drummed up an Internet porn charge and a lay minister’s claim that he had been “touched innappropriately” by the Reverend at a church function several years earlier. The timing of the charges — disseminated suddenly to reporters just before the vote — was suspicious, to say the least. As a church spokesman told the Concord Monitor, the eleventh-hour complaint against Robinson was the first the church had heard of the issue, and in fact, was the the only complaint the Episcopal church had heard about Robinson in his nearly 30 years of service.
But then there was the issue of the Web site. The accusation was the Robinson was connected to a site that linked to porn. The Weekly Standard’s editor Fred Barnes, is scandalized at the mere fact that Robinson “has made no secret of his connection” with Outright, a suppport group for GLBTQ teens. Of course, for Barnes, it’s not really the porn or the site that’s at stake here: “Conservatives, traditionalists, and their allies note the Bible is explicit in identifying gay sexual relations as sinful and insist the church should stand against worldly trends.” For his part, Robinson acknowledges that he was indeed integral in the group’s founding, but both he and the Web site confirm that he had nothing to do with the design of its Web site. As for the porn, well, at one point, if you were really looking for it, you could find a link to a link to a link that links you to a link that asks you to pay to see some porn. The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s editors explain:
“At an Outright Web site that Robinson had nothing to do with, you find links to nine Outright groups in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. One or more of them once had a link to bisexual.org, a support site for bisexual people. At bisexual.org, in the bottom left corner, is a link to ‘3 pillows.’
If you click that link, you get a bisexual.org splash screen telling you that ‘Three Pillows is the net’s premiere site for bisexual erotica.’ If you click the link in this window, you get a Three Pillows warning page: ‘Warning — Adult Content Ahead! You must be over 18 to proceed. Three Pillows contains adult erotica of a bisexual nature.’
If you click the ‘Enter’ link, you get a fairly explicit page with the naughtiest bits blanked out. To actually see the explicit stuff, you must become a member and pay for the privilege.
That’s, what, seven clicks and a Visa card from the Outright page that Robinson had nothing to do with? As one online wag said, you can get from the conservative Weekly Standard to porn in just two clicks: to Salon, then to porn. Frankly, porn is much closer than seven clicks to Startribune.com as well. Everything on the Web is a few clicks away from porn; that’s the Web.”
But six-degrees-of-online-porn fun aside, the church really does have to deal with the political repercussions of its 62-45 vote to elect an openly gay bishop. Regardless of his merit, Robinson’s critics still see him as undeserving of the position and criticize the Convention’s decision. After the results of the vote came in, over a dozen conservative bishops followed Pittsburgh bishop Rober Duncan to the podium, warning that the US convention had “departed from the historic faith and order of the Church of Jesus Christ” and “divided itself from millions of Anglican Christians around the world.”
Duncan’s criticism is true, in part — ministers, bishops, and parishoners wordlwide from Australia to Asia are furious and upset with Robinson’s appointment, since they believe that homosexuality goes against scripture. John Dayal, vice president of All India Catholics Union, said that “the election of a gay bishop is a blatant aggravation of societal norms.” And prominent church leaders in Asia may discuss cutting ties with the US church because of the Convention’s decision. American conservatives may discuss breaking away as well.
But Robinson, and his supporters, have faith that the convention’s vote won’t severely fracture the church. According to Salon, NPR’s Phyllis Tickle calls Robinson’s election a “progressive revelation“:
“[Tickle] made a compelling case that the gay-bishop issue was to some degree a stand-in for the much broader and far more important battle between literal interpretations of every word of the bible vs what she called ‘progressive revelation.’ She described progressive revelation as the concept that the truth shall be revealed as humanity is ready to receive it.”
Well, wordly trend and ready or not, the Episcopal church has set a precedent, as Cullen gleefully notes:
“…[L]arger U.S. denominations have been struggling with the same question for years, particularly the Methodists and Presbyterians… They all keep chickening out, and it’s always a lot easier once somebody else has taken the plunge. Of course it will be a lifetime or two for my Catholics to get it, but I’ll be happy if they just let the women out of the doghouse before I die.
Suddenly the past month, it’s feeling like we can really achieve equality in our lifetime. (Maybe).”