LGBT as church leaders

A solitary rainbow streamer whipped across the vaulted ceiling of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Capitol Hill as a rainbow-clad banner proclaiming "Integrity" led the way for Bishop Gene Robinson to the altar.

The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson, who has played a central part in the tensions over the issue of the ordination of gays in the U.S. Episcopal Church, spoke Monday at St. Mark’s, delivering the Eucharist, or communion, and providing a brief sermon on St. Aelred, the patron saint of integrity.

He was invited by local Episcopalians, who hoped the first openly gay bishop could shed valuable light on a controversy that has split many American Episcopal churches.

Robinson also spoke at City Hall Monday night and led a worship service with the Right Reverend Greg Rickel, bishop of the Diocese of Olympia, at St. Andrew’s last night.

His lecture at City Hall was titled, "Civil Rights in the 21st Century: why religion matters," and touched on the necessity for civil unions to be recognized as marriages regardless of churches blessing such unions.

Rob Wall, Paul T. Walls Professor of Scripture and Wesleyan Studies at SPU, said that Robinson’s visit to Seattle likely won’t produce much dialogue, because people are mainly set in their theological stance over the issue of homosexuality.

"Much like the recent election, it was set early on who was going to vote for who, and there are fewer undecided now," he said.

The debate over homosexuality in the church appeared far back in history; Robinson said that St. Aelred was, like many of the congregants in the room, confused with his orientation, resorting to submerging himself in cold water to get rid of his urges and entering the monastic life to seek refuge from his feelings.

Aelred made the declaration, contrary to belief at the time, that Christians would not necessarily do best to love just everyone.

"Particular love is key to loving the whole world," Robinson said. "When you love someone in particular, regardless of sexual orientation, you learn to love the whole world."

Robinson said lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people were the modern day examples of the invalid referenced in Acts 3, when a man was not allowed to enter the temple because he was crippled from birth.

"We know what it’s like for Jesus to reach out to us and say ‘you are worthy,’" he said. "Jesus loves you, and you’re his favorite."

Regardless of Robinson’s celebrity, seemingly few SPU students were aware of his visit. No students attended the St. Mark’s service, while only a handful went to the City Hall lecture.

Junior Jason Clapp said more exposure for gays in office will be better for the church. He said that publicity should be generated about Robinson and was not worried about his celebrity status.

"People are very ignorant about this issue, and ignorance is bliss," he said. "When more people are exposed to this, it can’t hurt."

Clapp said sexual orientation should have no bearing on leadership responsibilities, and being gay shouldn’t ruin anyone’s credibility for ministry.

"We need to put this issue in the spotlight," he said.

Wall said questions on whether or not gays are saved or should be members of the church are largely irrelevant, because people have made up their minds about the issue already.

"I don’t think gay believers belong in the episcopacy," he said. "I think they belong in congregations and in lay ministry, but not in leadership."

Wall defended the university’s stance on sexuality two years ago when the Equality Ride, a group of LGBT Christian students, came to campus to raise awareness about discrimination, and said he does not support the ordination of gays to the status of bishop because it deals with episcopacy, or presiding over a large and diverse group of believers.

"Robinson personifies the issue not just in the Anglican tradition but for the whole church," he said. "He personifies the question of whether an LGBT Christian can be elevated into leadership over a diocese, called by God to lead and guide the communion of saints."

In the church, some people are ready to take leadership from gay leadership, while some need more time, professor of sociology Kevin Neuhouser said.

"He was chosen, so it shows a lot of people who are ready to follow a gay leader who exhibits signs of leadership," he said. "It’s an important step for the church because there are people who haven’t made up their minds on the ordination of gays, and they will give him a chance to prove himself."

Neuhouser said that if more gay clergy were ordained, Robinson would not be the only face of the issue, and would not make the issue as convoluted by his celebrity status. The church should wrestle with this issue, he said, and learn to be consistent to Jesus’ teachings.

"We’ve been trying for two thousand years to figure out our calling to be Christ in the world," Neuhouser said. "We learned to reject slavery, and the same sort of thing is happening in the area of gender, be it involvement of women or gays."

Senior Breanna Menzies said that she is not supportive of Bishop Robinson because he detracts too heavily from what leaders in the church are supposed to live like.

"The nature of his office should cause him to live above reproach," she said. "It sounds like he’s stirring up the issue more than performing the job of leading others in faith."

Menzies said she did not support Robinson’s lifestyle as a bishop and a practicing gay who lives with a partner.

"The issue needs to be addressed in a way that helps to build up the larger community of the church, not just his branch of the tree," she said.

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Title: LGBT as church leaders | Author: Andy Scott | Section: News | Published Date: 2008-12-10 | Internal ID: 5841