Religion and Spirituality

gay bishop, Obama’s inauguration, gay bishop at Obama’s inauguration
PA, Gareth Fuller/AP
U.S. bishop V. Gene Robinson greets an
unidentified person during the Lambeth
Conference in Canterbury, England,
Thursday, July 31, 2008. (AP)

Is Gay Bishop’s Inaugural Role A Voice of Balance?

January 13, 2009 11:27 AM
by Anne Szustek
Was Obama’s tapping of Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire, to mollify gays over evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s role?

Robinson “Humbled” by Invitation

Openly gay Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson was asked to deliver an invocation during a ceremony set to take place Jan. 18, the Sunday before the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. The event, part of the “We Are One” concert, the first scheduled activity during Inauguration Week, is to be held at the Lincoln Memorial, the site of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

Robinson told Reuters during a telephone interview, “I’m just overwhelmed and so humbled by this invitation.”

Rev. Rick Warren, the pastor of the southern California mega-church Saddleback Church, was asked to deliver the invocation during Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20. During the 2008 presidential campaign Warren presided over a discussion of religion with Obama and his Republican opponent, John McCain. Warren is known for work against disease, including AIDS, as well as poverty; however given Warren’s outspoken disapproval of homosexuality, his being asked by the Obama team drew rebuke from several gay and Democratic campaigners— including Robinson.

“I was very forthcoming in my feeling that [Warren] was a very troublesome choice not because Rick Warren’s voice shouldn’t be at the table but that this particular venue where he was being invited was not a roundtable discussion of a lot of different opinions,” Robinson told Episcopal News Service, and also voiced concern that Warren will be “the prayer voice at the most-watched inaugural in history.”

Robinson does not believe his invitation to speak at the Lincoln Memorial, which came some two weeks ago, was meant to serve as a balance to Warren but rather because the bishop endorsed Obama in May. The Episcopal bishop plans to give a nondenominational prayer during the ceremony, unlike Warren, who has said his service will definitely be Christian. The text of Robinson’s planned invocation is available from The Boston Globe.

But Robinson has become something of a controversial symbol within his own 77 million-member denomination; his ordination has been at the crux of a long-standing battle within the Anglican Communion and its American branch, the Episcopal Church.

Related Topic: Growing rift in Anglican Communion over role of gays; Warren chosen as invocator

Robinson, who entered a civil union with his long-time partner Mark Andrews, became a sticking point during this year’s Lambeth Conference, a decennial conference of bishops from the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the American branch. This year’s conference was boycotted by 230 traditionalist bishops, many of whom were from the developing world, over Robinson’s ordination and the growing role of gays in the church’s clergy.

The liberal shift has also alienated some American Episcopalian parishes to the point of disaffiliating their parishes from the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion in favor of joining African branches of the church, who generally maintain conservative views on gays.
Out of the 110 Episcopalian dioceses in the United States, four have split from the American province of the Anglican Communion. Previous to their disaffiliation, fewer than 100 out of 7,100 parishes had agreed to leave, according to the Episcopal Church.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said in August, during his closing statement at Lambeth, “If the North American churches don’t accept the need for moratoria … we are not further forward. That means as a communion, we continue to be in grave peril.”

Williams’ statements were meant to stop the church from further schism. The role of gays was a main topic of a meeting of 160-odd Episcopal bishops in New Orleans in September 2007. In a move to assuage conservative dioceses, the clergy pledged to “exercise restraint” and not instate more gay bishops or formulate a liturgy for same-sex matrimony.

The Canadian Anglican Church and the U.S. Episcopal Church have quietly accepted church blessings of same-sex couples for some time. And Katharine Jefferts Schiori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, has called homosexuality a “gift.”

This is in contrast to Warren’s stance on homosexuals, especially concerning the question of marriage in light of the recent success of Proposition 8 in California.

Opponents of Warren’s inclusion have called the California pastor’s description of Proposition 8 and his broader definition of marriage misleading, and proof enough that he should not lead the invocation.

Eliciting criticism from within his own party and charges of opportunism from opponents, President-elect Barack Obama has been put on the defensive about his choice of Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church to offer the invocation at his inauguration in January.

Echoing a number of gay rights groups across the country, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom expressed frustration that Obama would chose a pastor who had held such a prominent position in the campaign to pass Proposition 8 in November.

“Rick Warren is not someone who has been a champion of gay rights, and the president-elect could not be naive to that, yet he felt that the other attributes outweighed that,” Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Reference: US Episcopal Church; Anglican Communion


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