An Editorial From the Concord, New Hamphire Monitor
Technically speaking, Gene Robinson is the spiritual leader only to New Hampshire Episcopalians, a relatively small population in a relatively small state. But since his consecration in 2003, he has stood as a worldwide challenge to discrimination, to violence rooted in bigotry, to go-slow liberalism that dares not rock the boat.
Robinson emerged as one of the bravest leaders of our time, but he didn't do it on his own. His New Hampshire flock, those who voted for his ascension to bishop, took an enormous risk - for themselves and for their global church. We are all the better for it.
Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, announced this weekend that he will retire in 2013. His tenure has been so relentlessly tumultuous that it is not hard to believe he's already thinking of retirement. Seven years on, the battles that his tenure sparked are nowhere near resolved. Yet he stands as a role model for those within and without the church who would put their very lives on the line for what they believe.
For Robinson, death threats were present from the beginning. When he was consecrated in Durham back in 2003, undercover police officers were part of the entourage. And it wasn't just his personal safety at risk. When Robinson became a bishop, it cracked a fault-line in his church wide open. Would all Anglicans embrace openly gay priests and bishops - or even female priests and bishops? The question was no longer hypothetical. The Americans who gave Robinson their blessing were at odds with more conservative branches of the church elsewhere in the world - and even here at home. Some U.S. congregations left the Episcopal Church and aligned themselves with bishops in Africa. The Anglican Church in North America was created as a conservative rival to the Episcopal Church.
To the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the Anglicans worldwide, Robinson presented a challenge to his ability to hold his church together. In 2008, he specifically did not invite Robinson to a once-a-decade meeting of the world's Anglican bishops. Robinson flew to England anyway, speaking at local churches while the other bishops convened. The next year, when Mary Glasspool - also openly gay - was elected bishop in California, Williams urged Episcopalian bishops not to seat her for the sake of unity.
If Robinson became a symbol of gay rights, he was also an advocate, using the stage that his position afforded him to push not just Episcopalians but all of us to treat each other with dignity and equal justice. In 2007, he was featured in a documentary about religion and homosexuality called For the Bible Tells Me So. In 2009, President-Elect Obama invited him to deliver a prayer at the Lincoln Memorial as part of his pre-inauguration ceremonies
Equal rights for gay men and lesbians remain tenuous around the globe, certainly, and in our country as well. The military's Don't Ask Don't Tell rule remains in place as squeamish politicians delay doing the right thing. Iowa voters last week ousted three judges who had ruled in favor of gay marriage. Here in New Hampshire, the gay marriage law is imperiled by newly elected politicians eager to reverse it. For progress to continue, brave leaders are needed. Robinson has shown the way.
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