Robert Hart on the Real Robinson Affair
Last August the Episcopal Church’s General Convention approved the election of V. Gene Robinson to be the bishop of New Hampshire. Many protests have been made, meetings held, resolutions passed, and stands taken by conservative Episcopalians and other Anglicans because of this man’s open and unrepentant life of homosexual sin. In protesting his elevation to the episcopate on these grounds alone, many conservatives have only advanced the agenda of his supporters, and have shown that their understanding of the issue is little better than that of the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church.
I saw this at a meeting held by and for Episcopalians who were trying to deal with the practical effects of this latest crisis. These well-meaning and very sincere people were concerned only about his homosexuality. It is for them the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the point of no return. What I heard that night has been said over and over again: “We cannot allow the consecration of an openly ‘gay’ man to the office of bishop.”
One man told of how he asked his “priest” where she stood on the subject of homosexuality. What a shame that he did not ask her why she vested in men’s clothing every Sunday and that he was not of a mind to ask where she stood on the subject of marital infidelity. In objecting only to Robinson’s open homosexuality, the conservatives are aiding the homosexualist cause.
A Small Part of Chastity
Homosexuality is only one small part of a much larger subject, namely, the Christian teaching on chastity and holy matrimony, the entirety of which is directly relevant to Robinson’s life and to what he therefore represents. He was allowed to remain in his public ministry as a priest even though he had divorced his wife and abandoned his children.
The conservative Episcopalians are upset that an openly “gay” man is now a bishop in their church. They ought to have been furious that he was not defrocked simply for leaving his family. The error and scandal of his remaining in ministerial office after this was made worse, but not changed in substance, by his immoral relationship with a new lover. The fact that this new lover is also a man makes his sin into something perverse and unnatural, but the immorality is established before we get to the fact that this adulterous relationship is also homosexual.
It is not a man’s sinfulness that is at issue here—for we are all “miserable offenders,” as the Book of Common Prayer puts it—but his treating his sin as something good, something to be celebrated rather than repented of. We are all sinners, but we ought to pray that if ever we confuse good and evil, others will tell us and discipline us until we repent—as the Episcopal Church, including its now outraged conservatives, so conspicuously failed to do for Gene Robinson.
Yes, the conservatives have played into the “gay agenda.” The homosexualists are attempting to sell the idea that their status is a matter of their civil rights. In this instance they seek to make it an issue of equality, demanding an equal right to be ordained. They mean, in this way, to give their “lifestyle” yet more public legitimacy and gain for it wider acceptance. It helps their cause if their opponents react against them out of prejudice instead of principle based upon eternal truth, evenly applied to all offenses against chastity.
On what basis do the conservative Episcopalians concentrate their energy and efforts on the one point of Robinson’s homosexuality? Did this man not leave his family? Was he not allowed to remain a priest in active ministry? Where was the objection to these facts, where was the outcry then? Why no outcry about the bishops in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) who have divorced and remarried, which, by the old canon laws of the Anglican Communion (and the teaching of Christ, I might add) is adultery?
In 1936 the king of England had to abdicate his throne in order to marry the woman he loved because she was a divorced woman. The monarch holds the title, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and therefore must be a member in good standing. By the laws of the Church of England, a marriage to a divorced woman whose husband still lived was adultery. The king could not marry her and remain king, for he would be excommunicated from the church. The Anglicans of that time understood that marriage is to be taken seriously, and that no exceptions to the moral law can be made, not even for the monarch himself.
The conservative Episcopalians of today do not measure up when compared to the English Anglicans of 1936. They have for too long a time accepted the status quo of a church in which marriage is not regarded as a lifelong covenant and a sacrament. They have not demanded that a proper regard for matrimony, and for the teaching of Christian chastity, be demonstrated in the lives of their bishops and priests. With the acceptance of divorce, and with it of remarriage, they have also set aside responsibility to one’s children as of small importance, for how can a man’s duty as a father be affirmed when he is allowed to leave his family with no consequences?
The Way Home
The way home for the conservative Episcopalians is to place Robinson’s homosexuality in its proper context, as a part rather than the sum of his life of sin. If they wish to be credible in their opposition to homosexuality, they must reject all deviations from the path of sexual purity and teach chastity of life for all persons. They must affirm marriage as a covenant and as a sacrament in which the words “as long as you both shall live” retain their full meaning.
They must oppose Robinson’s “ministry” not only because he is a practicing homosexual, but also because he is unfaithful to his wife. They must oppose the continued public ministry of all clergy who are notorious for living immoral lives. They must demand the resignation of all divorced and remarried (read adulterous) bishops who have “put away the wife of their youth.”
If this were the context of their objection to Robinson, one that is clearly and consistently based upon principle, they would have a true and prophetic message with which to oppose homosexualism. That movement would still have its supporters and apologists, but they would have to face the opposition of the great Tradition going back to Christ and the apostles, not simply an objection that they can rationally dismiss as “homophobia.”
After all, what the homosexualists have been able to do is to base their arguments upon a foundation already laid for them. That foundation has included relaxation of the moral laws about sexual behavior. It has also included the confusion of sex roles ever since women were first “ordained” in the Episcopal Church. The conservatives have accepted these things, but hope now to credibly and effectively oppose the homosexualist cause. This cannot be done.
Of course, what should have happened long ago is this: Mr. Robinson ought to have been defrocked, and if unrepentant still, excommunicated. Why? Because he is an openly “gay” man? No, because he is an unrepentant and notorious sinner. The discipline should have been the same had he left his family to live with another woman.
For Mr. Robinson’s own soul’s sake, charity demanded no less. Otherwise, how can the very serious business of sin and potential damnation be given its due? Do we believe in the value of a man’s soul, or only of his self-esteem, worldly pleasure, and “civil rights”? Do we care about the message that a man’s life conveys to other sinners, as if they have no need of repentance? Is the loss of a few souls who follow the unrepentant sinner into the fires of hell acceptable, just so long as he is not a homosexual?
The life of Mr. Robinson was a scandal before the fact of his “orientation” was known, and it was a scandal before he was elected bishop. That it gets attention only now does not give much credibility to the conservative Episcopalians, and neither does their acceptance of straight yet immoral bishops for the last few years. There is a wide gulf between being true to the teaching of Christ about living a holy and pure life, in thought, word, and deed, and standing as the Pharisee who prayed thus with himself, “I thank thee, God, I am not as other men.” That wide gulf may be fastened in eternity.
Robert Hart is rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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