Why is sexuality such a big issue?
First of all, I think it shouldn't be such a big issue. For all
kinds of complicated reasons, it has been raised to a level higher
than it deserves. We should be talking about the gospel, feeding
the poor, caring for the HIV-infected, solving the ecological
Of course, it's not just homosexuality: sexuality's an issue
that's been talked about much too little; so that gives it a
I also think it's safe to say that there has been a widening
gulf forming for some number of years. I would date it at least
from the ordination of women in the '70s. In an odd sort of way,
certainly for the American Church, this was a division looking for
I'm not sure it's a good analogy, but I think George W. Bush had
it in his mind to invade Iraq anyway, and 9/11 gave him a wonderful
excuse. In some way, I think my election and consecration gave this
growing rift an issue around which to rally.
I thought you were going to say that your consecration was
the Church's 9/11.
[Laughs] No, no, I don't want to go quite that far. I
don't believe it was a terrorist act against the Anglican
But conservatives say it's not about sexuality: it's a
Well, I would believe that if the person saying it were keeping
kosher, if they weren't wearing two kinds of cloth on their bodies
at the same time, or not planting two kinds of seed in the same
field . . . because those kinds of proscriptions are in Leviticus,
and yet somehow they don't have eternal binding authority the way
these two verses have been pulled out.
A piece of scripture which I have only noticed in the past year,
which I know I must have read a thousand times, is in John's Gospel
where Jesus says to his disciples: "There is much more I would
teach you, but you cannot bear it right now; and so I will send the
Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth."
If you look back over the last 2000 years, the Church has
changed its mind about what scripture means, the most notable
example being that, out of Jesus's own mouth come the words that
remarriage after divorce is adultery, and yet the Church has
changed its mind.
So I see this as one of the many ways in which the Holy Spirit
has led us to new, deeper, and I would say better
But how does the Church change its mind? How does it
square inspiration with democracy?
I think it happens over time. And the first person, or the first
few people, who articulate a new understanding never meet with
particularly positive reactions. It takes time for any kind of
consensus to build.
You go back to Acts, and you have Gamaliel talking about the
disciples' teaching in the marketplace, saying: "You know, we ought
to give this some time. If it's not of God, it will go away. And if
it is of God, do we want to be opposing it?" I think we're in the
middle of that now. All of us want it to be over, but the fact of
the matter is that it's going to take us some time to settle
But didn't Rowan Williams say to you that the proper way
of doing this was to pose the question, take soundings, and
convince people before doing the deed?
What I said to Rowan in that meeting was "Yes, wouldn't that be
wonderful? It sounds so orderly, and neat and tidy, when in fact it
rarely happens that way." We find someone taking action and then we
think our way backwards to it.
I pointed out to him that in our own country we had 11 women who
were uncanonically ordained to the priesthood before we had
sanctioned the ordination of women. I wonder how many years it
would have taken us (rather than the two years it took us to the
next General Convention to approve that) to ordain women had we
gone about that in an orderly process. We might still not be
If the Anglican Communion means anything, surely it
should operate as an international body rather than as a group of
We've never been an international body. We've had international
relationships. It should be an interconnected group of
relationships that work for the good of all sides.
I believe in the Anglican Communion, and I believe in those
relationships, because how else are we going to hear in the
so-called First World the ramifications of our actions around
racism and colonialism and all that? We need our brothers and
sisters to reflect back to us the results of our actions.
But if you're in a relationship and you say to someone,
I hear your objection but I'm going to do my own thing anyway, how
does that build a relationship?
I think it's true that you listen to people that you care about,
but at the end of the day, one has to follow the discernment of
And I know in my own relationship with my partner, and there's
no one in the world that I care more about, I listen to what he has
to say to me, and sometimes I have to choose not to do what he has
urged me to do. In any good relationship, one is free to follow or
not follow. And then you deal with the change in the relationship
as a result of that.
Can I ask about your election in New Hampshire? How many
people were involved in the choice?
There are about 15,000 Episcopalians in the diocese. The
diocesan convention includes all of the clergy, and from two to
four lay persons from each parish - about 300 people.
And your election was confirmed by a majority in the
House of Bishops?
And the House of Deputies, which is clergy and laity. And I
think it's important to note that that consent was not by a narrow
margin. Two-thirds of the bishops, two-thirds of the clergy, and
two-thirds of the laity voted to consent to my election.
In contrast, the election of Barbara Harris, as the first woman
bishop, received only one more consent than was needed from the
House of Bishops, and that only at the last minute.
So how did it feel when you first had an inkling that
you would not be invited to the Lambeth Conference?
Until very recently I thought that my inclusion in some way was
going to be possible. So it was only on the Friday night of our
House of Bishops meeting that the three bishops who had been
negotiating with Rowan's representatives shared with me what the
proposal for my participation was, and it was so minimal, and
controlled, and not substantive that I decline that minimal
You've said that you wouldn't go to Canterbury in a
diminished capacity, and yet you are still going to attend.
One main reason. It is not a surprise to me that people from
many of the provinces of the Anglican Communion are opposed on this
issue, because what has changed things in the American Church are
the huge numbers of gay and lesbian people of faith, who have come
out, and are making their witness in the parishes and dioceses.
But in most of the Anglican Communion, it is simply unsafe to be
open about one's sexuality, and so many of the people coming to
Lambeth will never have had the experience of sitting in the same
room as an unashamedly Christian, unashamedly gay person, and to
hear about the journey in which they have put their sexuality and
their spirituality together.
And so I want to make myself available to anyone who wants to
talk to me. I have no intention or desire to be an embarrassment to
the Archbishop or to the Conference, or to do anything disruptive:
I wouldn't want to take part in anything like that.
You're going to be in the Conference Marketplace. Will
you have a stall?
A booth, a kissing booth? [Laughs] I believe the
suggestion was that you can pay $5 and have a kiss from Bishop
Robinson or $10 not to.
If Rowan Williams came up to you at Lambeth and said:
"We've changed our minds. Will you come and speak to us?" what
would you say to the bishops?
I would want them to know how amazingly orthodox I am. I think
both the conservatives and the liberals would be shocked by
Because one of the things I've learned - and I've learned this
from the most conservative people in our House of Bishops - is that
they perceive that the fuller inclusion of gay and lesbian people
in the Church is the precursor, the sort of camel's nose under the
tent, to the deconstruction of other essentials, whether that be
the divinity of Christ, or the Trinity, or the resurrection. That
could not be further from the truth about me.
I would probably want them to know a bit of my story, not
because my story is important, but because it is not unlike the
story of so many people who have come to know themselves as gay or
Lastly, I would want them to know that I want to be in a Church
with people who disagree with me about this. I want us to continue
to hold on to one another while we figure out this issue, because I
don't believe this issue is essential.
One of the great gifts of Anglicanism for the world, certainly
for Christianity, is this big-umbrella approach that allows for
such a wide diversity of styles while acknowledging the authority
of scripture. That is one of our great traditions, and we ought to
be proud of it and encourage it, not discourage it.
You talk about convincing people of your orthodoxy, but
there's that part of your book where you say that the inerrancy of
the Bible is not part of your creed.
I would want to know where in the Anglican tradition there is
the contention that scriptures are inerrant. I would question that
as our orthodox view of scripture. I think that's very new.
I'm most often asked these things by people who are themselves
divorced and remarried, and very unrepentant about it. This whole
thing about remarriage after divorce: I would want to know whether
they were defying the words of Jesus, and if so, why? And if that's
inerrant, how did the Church come to change its mind?
Some of the opponents of gays and lesbians are said to
be gay themselves.
It's one thing to be closeted, to have made different decisions.
I would never out anyone like that. But it's especially painful to
some of us who know that our opponents themselves are gay and are
using that secret place to harm the rest of us. That's especially
Putting those aside, what about gay priests who are
quietly getting on with their ministry?
The degree of openness with which one lives one's life is a very
personal choice. I don't think there's any right or wrong about
that. The question for any gay or lesbian person is: "Is the price
that I'm paying for being quiet exceeding the benefit?" When the
negative consequences of that secrecy begin to outweigh its
rewards, then that's a dilemma.
But it's not just a personal consideration. It's a
I would say back to you, then: What is the cost to the Church of
secrecy? And I think this especially true here in the Church of
England. What does it say to the Church when a vicar gets into a
pulpit and calls the congregation to a life of integrity, when it
is so obvious to the congregation that the vicar is himself not
able to grasp at that straw of integrity? There's cost to the
people themselves, and there's a a cost to the Church.
I've met, what, probably 300 gay, partnered clergy here in the
Church of England, and I could tell you stories that would make you
weep about what life is like for them, and the fear with which they
live: the difficulty in having their bishop come to dinner at their
home, with their partner, have a lovely time, and the bishop be
fully affirming of them - and to have the bishop say: "You know, if
this ever becomes public, I'm your worst nightmare. I will see to
it that you are punished." Now that does something not just to the
bishop and to the couple; that does something to the Church.
What about gay bishops? Have you had people talking to
you quietly about their sexuality?
And what have you said to them?
Most of the people who have shared with me that they are indeed
gay. These bishops are my age and older. Like me, they grew up in a
[difficult] time - when I came out, I thought my life as an
ordained person was at an end - they made their choices, and I
honour those choices. I would be the last person in the world to
out them. They come to me as a pastor.
But the thought of having two or three openly gay
bishops must be attractive.
It would be a wonderful thing. It's a pretty lonely place to be,
and I probably never feel lonelier than at meetings of my own House
of Bishops. Not because I don't have support, because the support
there is extraordinary; but, perhaps more than at any other time, I
feel that I'm the only one carrying this particular load in this
particular way. I just long for the day when the next two or three
It's not unlike being the first person of colour, or the first
woman - it's why Barbara Harris is such a mentor and a hero to me.
It would be nice to have a brother or sister to share this
Has that become less likely in the past year or
I think it's become less likely in the near term. I believe that
the commitments made at the last General Convention and by the
Bishops since then make the election of, and consent to, an openly
gay or lesbian person as bishop highly unlikely. I do believe that
the 2009 General Convention will revisit that decision.
In your book you mention the mantra "Love them anyway."
What practical steps have to be taken to love people in the
Mostly what I have tried to do is not vilify or demonise my
enemies. I don't believe I have ever spoken ill of them in public,
and have never characterised them as anything but faithfully trying
to do the will of God as they perceive it.
I keep reminding myself that my worst enemies are children of
God. Jesus didn't say we wouldn't have enemies; he said love
Have you had any encouraging contact from people who
disagree with you?
Certainly, I have a wonderful relationship with those who
disagree with me in my own diocese, people who think it was not
right to elect me, or it was not the right time, or whatever. And
yet we really have a quite wonderful working relationship, and I
would even say, warm and affectionate. We just disagree about this
Do you have any parishes in your diocese which have
elected to go over to a conservative province?
No, there are none at this point.
There was one early on, the Church of the Redeemer, in
Rochester, New Hampshire, and they were being coached by a person
who is now a bishop in one of the breakaway Churches. He was at the
table, telling them what to do.
It was very clear that they wanted a break. They made a request
of me for alternative oversight by another bishop. I gave them 20
very conservative bishops that I would be willing to come in. They
didn't want any of those: they wanted the Bishop of Albany.
Eventually, I called
the Bishop of Albany and asked him, would he be willing to come in
and serve as their pastor? He said that he would, under my
authority. When I offered them the person they had asked for, they
rejected that, because they didn't want him if I had approved him.
So it seemed that what they wanted was a fight, not an
Ultimately, at that
final negotiation that we had, they slammed their church keys down
on the table and walked out. There were about 25 of them, and that
left about ten in the parish. We kept that parish for about a year,
and after about a year they asked me to close them, and they're all
worshipping in neighbouring parishes now. That is the only parish
that flirted with going in some other direction.
Rowan Williams? Could he have handled these past few years
It would be arrogant
of me to judge the Archbishop of Canterbury and his actions. I have
a hard enough time keeping track of my own
I would like him
to have insisted that everyone stay at the table.
If there were
one thing that I could change about what he has done: two or three
years ago [in Dromantine, in Ireland] when there were a number of
Primates - I believe there were 16 - who refused to take communion
from Rowan because our Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, was there,
just as a part of the service, he should have sent them
I think to absent
oneself from the communion table because of the presence of other
perceived sinners is blasphemy against the sacrament. And I think
if the Archbishop of Canterbury had named that for what it was, and
had called it not just inappropriate but sacrilege, we would be in
a better place.
We can't choose our
own brothers and sisters; we can't choose our brothers and sisters
in Christ. We might not get along, but we cannot declare one
another not members of the family any more. I think that's a very
unfaithful thing to do.
How has all this
changed you, if at all?
God has not been so
palpably close in my whole life than he has been in the last five
years. I would say the only other time when God seemed this close
was at the time when I was coming out.
And I've done a
lot of thinking about the Hebrews once they were released from
You know, they thought the Promised Land was just on the other side
of the Red Sea. And when they got there, it was the desert; and it
was 40 years of desert.
I think the reason
that God had them wander round the desert for 40 years was to teach
them their dependence on God. And what I can say about my coming
out, and risking not having a life in the Church, and what I can
say about the last five years, is that it has taught me about my
dependence on God, and that's always a good thing.
confronting my own alcoholism, and finally saying what every
alcoholic must say: "I'm powerless over this disease, and without
God it's going to kill me."
And so I have just
been made so aware of God's presence and of my dependence on God,
for my own being and for the vitality of my ministry.
It sounds incredibly
trite, but I'm trying to point to God in all this. If it winds up
that I'm just pointing to myself, then it would have been better if
I had not done it at all. When I talk to the media, they're trying
to get me to say something that will make news, and I'm wanting to
tell them about this amazing God who loves all of God's
How often does
the issue of your sexuality come up in your normal
Oh, almost never. I
keep saying to people: if you want to see what the Church is like
after we've finished obsessing about sex, come to New Hampshire.
We're so over it. Really, we are getting on with the gospel, and
this occupies almost none of it. It's what keeps me
So, 90 per cent of my
time is just doing what a bishop does, and loving it. I just love
this ministry. I feel like the most blessed person I
In the Eye
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