First it was Barack Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright. Now it’s Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson. Obama’s association with radical fringe religious leaders has provoked major controversy even before taking office. Bishop Robinson, the nation’s first openly practicing gay Episcopalian bishop, who has a partner by civil union, gave the invocation for Obama’s “We Are One” pre-inaugural concert Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial. The divisive bishop was added to inaugural events in response to criticism of Pastor Rick Warren giving Tuesday’s inaugural prayer. Warren supported Proposition 8 last year, California’s Protect Marriage amendment, which enraged some gay activists. Robinson opposed the amendment, and has said about Pastor Warren, “It's just that on the issue of gay and lesbian relations, the stuff he has said is appalling."
Robinson assured inauguration organizers that he would not use explicit Christian terminology in the invocation. Instead of trying to bring people together in his message, he used the opportunity to push his own agenda. His invocation was a broad endorsement of progressive Democrat priorities, going so far as saying, “Bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people….Help him [Obama] remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.”
Robinson comes from a controversial background. He married a woman in 1972 and they had two children. In 1973, he was ordained as a priest in the Episcopalian church, which permits its clergy to marry. In 1977, he worked with a committee in the diocese of New Hampshire studying sexuality, and co-authored a manual on the subject. He underwent therapy to address confusion over his sexual preference. He and his wife separated in 1986 and soon thereafter obtained a divorce. In 1989, he began a relationship with his current husband. As bishop of the New Hampshire diocese, his priorities have been advocating for AIDS and anti-racism education. He led a retreat for gay Catholic clergy. A couple of years after becoming a bishop, he checked into a treatment center for alcoholism, admitting to an addiction.
Robinson’s ordination in 2003, the first of its kind in a major Christian denomination, was approved by the New Hampshire diocese, composed of both clergy and parishioners, and then national Episcopalian leadership. In protest, 19 Episcopalian bishops signed a statement warning of a split within the church over the ordination, citing biblical teachings against homosexuality. Only a small minority of Episcopalians, overly represented in its leadership, approved of the ordination; the vast majority of Episcopalians opposed it. Allegations arose after Robinson’s confirmation that he had sexually harassed a male parishioner and had indirect ties to a bisexual website, but both allegations were dismissed by Episcopalian leadership.
The split affected both the Episcopalian church in the U.S. and the 70+ million member wide Anglican Communion. Most of the conservative half left in the “Anglican Realignment,” choosing to affiliate only with other conservative Episcopalian churches and Anglican churches outside the U.S. and Canada. One such group calling itself the Convocation of Anglicans in North America has aligned with the Nigerian Anglican church. The Episcopalian leadership will not reveal how many churches in the U.S. and Canada have left, most likely because the number is embarrassingly high.
The schism has continued to deepen. The vast majority of the world’s Anglicans live in the southern hemisphere, and disagree with this radical change. Robinson was not invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference led by the leader of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who was afraid of joining the U.S. and Canada in the minority. Considering less than 2% of Brits attend church, the authority of the Church of England is dwindling. Conservative bishops held their own worldwide conference last year, the Global Anglican Future Conference, which had more attendees than the official Lambeth Conference. They issued a statement explaining the reason for the split-off conference which said in part, “Underlying these actions is a long history of marginalising, avoiding and at last rejecting the plain teaching of the Bible.” At a press conference last year, the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan called for Robinson’s resignation.
Obama should not have selected the man responsible for dividing the Anglican church to give a religious invocation at the supposedly unifying “We Are One” concert. This sent a clear message that traditional Biblical views on homosexuality are to be denounced, and there would be no equal representation or acceptance of different viewpoints. Pastor Warren’s Tuesday invocation did not include a condemnation of gay clergy. Obama’s “oneness” means only tolerance of “one” viewpoint.