Thursday, July 17, 2008

And here's to you, Bishop Robinson

Anybody else out there remember “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft --- 1967? Wow. Where the heck did I see that the first time? Somewhere in Iowa City, I suppose.

Anyhow, this is the week the Lambeth Conference began in Canterbury --- an event seemingly irrelevant to much of Christendom, but of intense interest to many Anglicans --- estimated to number somewhere in the neighborhood of 77 million of the baptized worldwide, including members of The Episcopal Church in the United States. All of us more or less acknowledge the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams at the moment, as a spiritual leader and the Church of England (which he heads) as our point of denominational origin. The whole shooting match is called the Anglican Communion, although in parts of it lately more shooting than communing has been taking place.

Now the Archbishop has no real power, but he does control the invite list to Lambeth --- a gathering held every 10 years to which all the world’s 800-plus Anglican (and Episcopal) bishops --- including Iowa’s Alan Scarfe (a good guy) --- traditionally are invited. It’s just a get-together --- the bishops have no collective power; but they do enjoy putting on their purple shirts and heading off to London for tea with the queen, bless their hearts. (The point of the exercise actually is very worthy: To unite, inspire and teach the bishops so that they might more effectively move forward the work of the catholic --- universal, including Roman, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox and all the rest --- church.)

The Episcopal Church has been viewed by some as a problem child in the communion for quite some time. Our bishops are elected, not appointed, and they preside, but don’t rule. We pioneered in the ordination of women as priests --- and to add insult to injury for those bishops (including a few Episcopalians) who believe men should always wear the skirts in the church --- elected a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori, as presiding bishop (head of the national church) last time around.

Just before doing that, the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected V. Gene Robinson as its bishop. Bishop Robinson is queer, has been partnered with a guy named Mark Andrew for more than 20 years and makes no secret of it. In other words, he’s an honest man --- a fairly rare commodity. That photo up there, by the way, is of Bishop Robinson.

Well! That along with sensible treatment of all those unworthy women certainly got some ecclesiastical undies all bunched up at various points around the globe.

It’s not so much that Bishop Robinson is gay, or committed to a same-sex partner, that causes the problem. Lord knows there are queer clergy and more than a few queer bishops, where there are bishops, not to mention communicants, in all the expressions of Christ’s church out there. Christ doesn’t mind, it seems, but boy some who call themselves Christians do.

Especially when you talk about it. Shhhhh!

Honesty has always been a challenge in the institutional church --- along with that troublesome urge to burn heretics literally or figuratively at one stake or another.

So with all the screeching and hollering going on, the Archbishop decided he’d just head off trouble (and avoid threatened boycotts) by not inviting Bishop Robinson to Lambeth.

That turned out to be rather pointless. It made a number of Americans and other socially liberal Anglicans madder than old wet hens. And those who had threatened to boycott (maybe a fourth of the bishops, mainly from Africa) are boycotting anyway --- just don’t want to associate with those damned Americans, they say.

And then Bishop Robinson goes to London anyway --- not to crash Lambeth and not to preside or officiate (the Archbishop has forbidden that), but to preach where invited (also discouraged by the Archbishop) and otherwise meet and greet.

And he’s been getting remarkably good press; better, perhaps, than that accorded the congregated purple-shirts elsewhere.

And he’s said some interesting things, appreciated at least by those of us who like him profess to be both queer and Christian.

Preaching at St. Mary’s Church, Putney, “My homosexuality is not my sin --- but I am just as frail and self-absorbed as the next person. I am not unworthy --- I am made good by Jesus Christ."

And, "Right here, in St Mary's church, Putney, I am going to divulge the homosexual agenda. It is Jesus!"

What a guy! So …

Coo, coo, ca-choo, Bishop Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Bishop Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey... hey, hey, hey … hey, hey, hey)

And apologies, of course, to Simon and Garfunkel. If you'd like to follow goings on at the Anglican circus, Bishop Robinson's blog, "Canterbury Tales from the Fringe," is here. And Simon Sarmiento's "Thinking Anglicans," which does a top-notch job of locating and referencing stories about Anglicanland is here.

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