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The First Openly Gay Divorced Bishop

V. Gene Robinson continues to break new ground in episcopal narcissism: [1]

Recently, my partner and husband of 25-plus years and I decided to get divorced. While the details of our situation will remain appropriately private, I am seeking to be as open and honest in the midst of this decision as I have been in other dramatic moments of my life—coming out in 1986, falling in love, and accepting the challenge of becoming Christendom’s first openly gay priest to be elected a Bishop in the historic succession of bishops stretching back to the apostles.

As my marriage to Mark ends, I believe him to be one of the kindest, most generous and loyal human beings on earth. There is no way I could ever repay the debt I owe him for his standing by me through the challenges of the last decade. I will be forever grateful to him, and as I tell couples in pre-marital counseling, “Marriage is forever, and your relationship will endure—whether positively or negatively—even if the marriage formally ends.”

Marriage is forever, said the twice-divorced bishop. What a sad joke.

Look, I take no pleasure in the man’s sorrows, and yes, it is true, even good Christians who mean well get divorced. That’s part of our broken human condition. I hope he can find some kind of peace and order in his life. But Robinson’s personal dramas — his coming out as gay, his confession of alcoholism, and now, at a ripe old age of 66, having his second divorce — show him to be someone rather less stable than what you’d look for in a bishop. With that guy, it’s always one damn thing after another.

UPDATE: Turmarion writes:

As to Robinson himself, whether one agrees or disagrees with his life choices, and no matter what one thinks about gay clergy, the tragedy is that he allowed his life choices to become a wrecking ball for the church he was ordained to serve. Gay or straight, it’s narcissistic and self-centered to put one’s own interests above those of the one’s religion. There may be an argument to be made for gay clergy, or fill-in-the-blank clergy. However, one should make that argument, not allow oneself to become a vehicle of divisiveness by promoting one’s own cause as the “first gay [or whatever] bishop.”

To me, if a cleric has integrity and really takes his/her dedication to the Church seriously, then if they’re in some irregular situation (gay, divorced, polygamous, whatever), they should say, “Look, I think the Church needs to find a way to allow for [fill-in-the-blank] in the clergy; but I see that by pushing this for myself I am giving rise to division in the Body of Christ; therefore I am stepping down, since the needs of the Church are greater than my own personal needs.” God forbid anyone should actually do that, though….

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77 Comments To "The First Openly Gay Divorced Bishop"

#1 Comment By elizabeth On May 4, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

“Which makes me wonder, what are bishops for anyway? When I was episcopalian, we were more than indifferent to our bishop. We regarded him as not just irrelevant in himself, but as magically infecting everything he touched with irrelevance.”

Perfect! My brief foray into Christianity, as an Episcopalian, was at a cathedral church. The bishop showed up twice in the two years I attended. Once was to confirm our class of “inquirers” who received all of six weeks of indoctrination, which included the revelation that the priest who taught the class happened to believe the resurrection happened, though others did not.

At his other appearance, the bishop gave a short, lovely sermon that ended with him looking at us intently and saying “remember.” I sat entranced, trying to figure out what we were supposed to remember.

#2 Comment By JonF On May 4, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

Re: what are bishops for anyway?

Per John Chrysostom, who was one himself, their skulls make good paving stones for the road to hell.

#3 Comment By charles cosimano On May 4, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

I will never be able to watch The Gay Divorcee again!

#4 Comment By elizabeth On May 4, 2014 @ 6:34 pm

George Waite: Methodists and Presbyterians do not claim apostolic succession.

#5 Comment By Roland de Chanson On May 4, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

Well, thank the Good Lord they are Episcopalians and artificial contraception is licit (it’s almost always valid.) So there’s not a houseful of kids to divvy up. Providence is indeed merciful. Or is it Allah is compassionate? I’ve forgotten which god or how many the Piskies worship.

And who is the Druze god? Because if he creates archtypes of which Amal Alamuddin is an instantiation, I’m converting to Druzidry. Golden Aphrodite (Frigga?) I honour thee and laud thee unto the ages of ages. Sothlice. (Love those sexy adverts on TAC.)

Koo koo ka choo, Vicky Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please, Vicky Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey. Hey, hey, hey.

I hope dat bishop is prayin’, and prayin’ hard. ‘Cause old St Paul ain’t gonna let’m in until he doth repenteth. An’ you can take dat to de bank.

(I’m not sure what dialect got into me there, but there must be some spot on God’s green earth where it’s done spoke. I just hope it’s not a rest area. I hate ticks.)

#6 Comment By William Dalton On May 4, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

“But even IF Robinson is a narcissist who’s tearing apart his church, or if, say, Martin Luther King was an adulterer, that has no bearing on the righteousness of his cause.”

It has a bearing upon evaluating their moral judgment, and deficiencies there do undercut the credibility of their causes, particularly when they seek a departure from accepted, historic standards of doctrine and practice. Would the teachings of Jesus Christ, which are more radical than most people give them credit for being, have credibility if He had not lived a life “without sin”?

#7 Comment By David J. White On May 4, 2014 @ 9:35 pm

The fact that they apparently didn’t vet their candidate very well isn’t too surprising – it was too big a moment to pass up.

Well, that pretty well describes what happened in the VP selection of both Geraldine Ferraro (see Madam President by Tom Brazaitis and Eleanor Clift) and Sarah Palin.

#8 Comment By Anglican On May 4, 2014 @ 9:53 pm

It has always been about Gene. He would trample a toddler to get to a TV camera.Besides being openly gay, he seems kinda of self centered. Our other openly gay bishop Mary Glasspool for what it is worth is more likable and keeps her nose to the grindstone.

#9 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 4, 2014 @ 9:59 pm

Not that I’m endorsing the idea, but many divorces end because one party falls in love with another person. He or she may still LIKE the spouse. Under those circumstances, it’s unlikely the sentiment is returned, but it does happen. Also, some couples just fall out of love and, thinking they might both be better fulfilled by taking separate paths, they split amicably.

What exactly does “falls in love with another person” (when already married) mean? It seems it may mean ‘I really got the hots for this other chick (or dude) and it just made our last 25 years together seem pale by comparison.’ If that’s about what it means, grow up. That latest infatuation is going to pale soon too. You pledged to each other for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, etc. etc. etc. If marriage is anything more than a license to screw, put your momentary hormonal infatuation aside and work on your marriage. (These days, you don’t need a license to screw anyway).

Ditto for “fall out of love” which sounds like ‘Gee, your not the shapely honey blonde who used to give me an instant erection every night,’ and “better fulfilled by taking separate paths” which seems to mean ‘marriage, schmarriage, that was then and this is now.’ You’re married, its a very special and lasting commitment. Deal with it.

So, I think Turmarion has it about right, and whatever Robinson’s “marriage” was about, it seems to have rather less substance that what a marriage ought to have. Twenty five years aren’t going to feel every day like your wedding.

#10 Comment By Fulton On May 4, 2014 @ 10:41 pm

It seems incredibly narcissistic to me to knowingly join a “club ” with certain well-known rules and then demand that they are changed to suit you, regardless of how the majority feels. I class Gene Robinson alongside men who become Catholic priests and then demand the right to marry – really!? Did you not know what you were signing up for?

I can respect somebody who reaches an unexpected crisis of conscience after the fact, but if he’d been a man of integrity he would have either refused the position or gone celibate and argued his case from there.

#11 Comment By surly On May 5, 2014 @ 12:24 am

@HeartRight for the win.

#12 Comment By Horseapples On May 5, 2014 @ 12:25 am

“…righteousness of his cause…”

If you say so. But Robinson’s ‘second divorce’ tends to buttress the widespread sense that SSM was never much more than a self-indulgent thumb in the eye to normal sensibilities.

#13 Comment By Quiddity On May 5, 2014 @ 4:20 am

I think Rod’s being unfair. Robinson is clearly out to break all traditions. Once he’s gone this far, he might as well continue without restraint.

What’s next? How about starting with communion. Coffee and bananas instead of wine and wafers.

#14 Comment By Bernie On May 5, 2014 @ 7:43 am

Fulton says, and he’s right on the mark:

“I can respect somebody who reaches an unexpected crisis of conscience after the fact, but if he’d been a man of integrity he would have either refused the position or gone celibate and argued his case from there.”

Gene Robinson has done his church irreparable harm. I pray he repents.

#15 Comment By dominic1955 On May 5, 2014 @ 10:17 am

Happy,

“Isn’t it long past time we all stopped trying to be so ironic? Which is to say, if we want to be taken seriously, doesn’t it stand to reason that we should take our opponents seriously? Doing unto others and whatnot? Someone famous suggested that, I think….”

You have a good point, but I think you may not quite get the internals of this sort of issue. This is one of those things that if you are into Episcopalian watching, you’ve probably had all the super-serious discussions over things like the Dennis Canon, scriptural authority/shellfish argument, etc. etc. etc. At some point you’ve got to lose the wrinkled brow and just laugh.

First Deacon,

“The fact that they apparently didn’t vet their candidate very well isn’t too surprising – it was too big a moment to pass up.”

Very well put.

Dimitri Cavalli,

“If Bishop Robinson wants to keep the details of the break-up/divorce private, then why did he write an op-ed for the Daily Beast discussing it? Is this a play for sympathy?”

Nope, its a play for more media attention, I honestly think the guy gets his sustenance from it.

#16 Comment By Elijah On May 5, 2014 @ 11:09 am

Preach it, Siarlys.

#17 Comment By William Dalton On May 5, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

Well said, Siarlys!

elizabeth: Everyone ordained in the Methodist and Episcopal churches has been ordained, with the laying on of hands, by someone who, going back in a line to the origins of the churches in the Anglican communion, was ordained by a Bishop in the Roman Catholic communion. Apostolic succession may not be as significant to us, but we still share it.

Bishop Robinson may count himself blessed that his same sex union did end as that of the Tisdales:

[2]

Some day we’ll be singing, “Here’s to you, Bishop Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know …”

#18 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 5, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

Homosexual divorce

I guess that’s start.

Try celibacy, as a devout heterosexual — I can tell you it — works.

#19 Comment By dominic1955 On May 5, 2014 @ 7:22 pm

William Dalton,

“Everyone ordained in the Methodist and Episcopal churches has been ordained, with the laying on of hands, by someone who, going back in a line to the origins of the churches in the Anglican communion, was ordained by a Bishop in the Roman Catholic communion. Apostolic succession may not be as significant to us, but we still share it.”

Ordination isn’t a magic touch, the very nature of a sacrament is matter, form, and intention. If any of these are lacking, it doesn’t matter who does what. The Anglican Church rejected the concept of a sacrificing priesthood and episcopate, instituting ministers of preaching the word and such instead through the very words of the Anglican Ordinal which made for a lack in form and intention.

Its sorta kinda like ordering fries at the drive in and expecting a salad-you have to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Sorry, no dice, and nothing can be retroactively reactivated by merely coming around to a more Patristic/Catholic understanding of Order or Sacraments.

#20 Comment By Turmarion On May 5, 2014 @ 9:32 pm

dominic1955, I may surprise you by saying I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said on this thread. I would put this nuance in, though: With the Anglicans/Episcopalians, at least, some priests (and, though I’m not sure, I think some bishops) have successfully sought ordination by Old Catholic or Orthodox bishops, the former of whom probably and the latter of whom definitely have valid orders. It is true that there could be arguably a defect of intent on theological grounds; but one could say that the orders of some Anglican clerics may be valid. That still wouldn’t affect intercommunion and such, of course.

As to Methodists, I’m not as familiar with the background that, but I think William Dalton has it wrong. I don’t know whether they use laying on of hands now or now. I know Wesley did, but he was a priest, never a bishop, so those ordinations would almost certainly have been invalid (there is some evidence for priests ordaining priests in the Middle Ages, but AFAIK, the Church has never definitively settled the legitimacy thereof). Of course, Wesley’s Anglican orders would be considered invalid, anyway, so there’d be a fail on two counts.

The thing is, I’m not aware that the Methodists have ever claimed Apostolic Succession in the first place, unlike their parent church, the Anglican Church.

#21 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 5, 2014 @ 11:20 pm

Turmarion, I believe you are wrong about Methodists. I served as local church historian of an AME Zion Church, and one thing I researched was that although AMEZ dates its founding to 1796, they retained a close connection to the “white” Methodist Episcopal Church for decades, until they could secure the ordination of three AMEZ bishops by ME bishops specifically to secure Apostolic Succession. Considering the origin of the African Methodist churches, that was a high price to pay for what obviously figures as a very critical condition.

I know that Roman Catholics sincerely maintain that the Anglicans broke the chain of Apostolic succession on one ground or another, but from a Methodist point of view (not binding on Catholics — and we don’t much care what Catholics think about it either) the founders of the Anglican episcopate had succession through their prior ordination in the RC church, whose bishops did have succession, no matter how much they may have deviated in their teaching from the True Faith, and the Methodists had succession from Anglican bishops before being kicked out (much against Wesley’s desire to remain a movement within the Anglican communion).

The Wesleyan Methodist Church dispensed with bishops altogether, after finding the ME bishops wishy-washy on slavery and other issues critical to evangelical Christianity in the 19th century.

Me, I don’t believe there ever was an unbroken chain of succession, nor do I believe that the church leadership of the 2nd, 3rd or 4th centuries had much in common with the church leadership of the first few decades. But hey, everyone can believe what they want, and we’ll all account to God for it on the other side, if he even cares about it at all.

Now what constitutes a marriage, that is a matter of some substance. Glad we have points of agreement across many other battle lines.

#22 Comment By dominic1955 On May 6, 2014 @ 10:26 am

“dominic1955, I may surprise you by saying I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said on this thread.”

No, not really. I know you know your stuff.

“I would put this nuance in, though: With the Anglicans/Episcopalians, at least, some priests (and, though I’m not sure, I think some bishops) have successfully sought ordination by Old Catholic or Orthodox bishops, the former of whom probably and the latter of whom definitely have valid orders.”

Very true, but outside of the basic scope of the issue brought up by Apostolicae curae. In regards to having valid orders injected into Anglicanism through the ministrations of Old Catholic/Orthodox bishops, that would be a case of folks who we consider to have gone into schism but who have always maintained the proper matter/form/intention in their priesthood and thus preserved the sacraments. With that having been taken care of, the subsequent Ordinals of the Anglican Church that had been sort of “re-Catholicized” since the heavily Protestant influenced Cranmerian/Bucerian ones of the 16th Century could possibly be used in a Catholic sense.

As far as I know, only one former Anglican priest/bishop has even been ordained conditionally on his conversion to Catholicism and it was for the reason mentioned above-he had a good argument that he was ordained by a bishop would was probably consecrated validly by Dutch Old Catholics. However, we tend not to take risks when it comes to the validity of something like Orders so I don’t think we’ll see many if any conditional ordinations of Anglican clerics.

“As to Methodists, I’m not as familiar with the background that, but I think William Dalton has it wrong. I don’t know whether they use laying on of hands now or now. I know Wesley did, but he was a priest, never a bishop, so those ordinations would almost certainly have been invalid (there is some evidence for priests ordaining priests in the Middle Ages, but AFAIK, the Church has never definitively settled the legitimacy thereof). Of course, Wesley’s Anglican orders would be considered invalid, anyway, so there’d be a fail on two counts.”

Exactly.

Wesley’s movement was, I would say, the first major “re-Catholicizing” movement within Anglicanism. If you read John and Charles Wesley, depending on the era of the writing, a lot of his (specifically John’s) stuff is pretty Catholic leaning though admittedly not all. Many of Charles’ hymns are also very sacramental and Catholic.

Now, some Methodists would argue they have Apostolic Succession in a similar mode to Anglicans but as you pointed out, at most, John Wesley was a priest and while there are some evidences that priests could ordain priests, we’ve never considered that a certainty. They claim an Alexandrian emergency practice mentioned by St. Jerome, but on reading the passage, it looks to me as if he is only reiterating basic Western theological opinion at the time-that a bishop is basically a priest-plus. He holds that only the bishop ordains and consecrates priests and bishops but the idea was that a priest had the priesthood, its fullness being had in the episcopal consecration which “activated” the powers already held but unable to be exercised.

Thus, we would deny Wesley’s interpretation of St. Jerome. What he described was a common practice-the Cathedral Chapter (all priests) would generally pick their bishop, but if he were of their number, they needed him consecrated by a bishop-they couldn’t do it themselves.

Some claim that John Wesley was secretly consecrated a bishop by a visiting Eastern Orthodox bishop. I find this extremely hard to believe because 1) the E. Orthodox have no understanding of freelance vagante bishops and 2) even if that was ignored, why an E. Orthodox bishop would want to consecrate a Protestant vicar to the Episcopate is beyond me. Strange things have happened, but this is really reaching.

“The thing is, I’m not aware that the Methodists have ever claimed Apostolic Succession in the first place, unlike their parent church, the Anglican Church.”

They sorta kinda do if you look at their Book of Discipline. However, regardless, we have a problem these days of the Methodist, Lutheran (some of their High Church groups also have claimed Apostolic Succession) Anglican and even Old Catholic groups “ordaining” women even as bishops. Thus, they will end up killing whatever valid orders they presumably or tendentiously (at best) may hold.

#23 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 6, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

Re: It is true that there could be arguably a defect of intent on theological grounds; but one could say that the orders of some Anglican clerics may be valid.

Since the mid-19th century Anglicans have (in large part) returned to a more ‘sacramental’ understanding of the priesthood. As far as I know, the argument in Apostolicae Curae wasn’t that modern-day Anglicans lack the appropriate understanding of the priesthood, but that the 16th century Church of England lacked it, and so the chain of succession was irreparably broken sometime in the 16th-17th century.

There was a time a few years ago when I would have argued the Anglican case with Dominic, but I no longer really care to. I don’t know how much I even believe in apostolic succession anymore- the notion increasingly has some serious problems with it, and given the number of mediocre and (worse) downright sociopathic priests over the last century, in the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches alike, I have to wonder what apostolic succession is even worth. I think God can choose to make whoever he wants into a vehicle of grace, apostolic succession or not. So, in short, I don’t have strong feelings anymore whether Rome or Constantinople considers Anglican priests to be glorified laymen or not. No doubt God will sort this all out someday, but till then believe what you want, and we can agree to disagree.

#24 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 6, 2014 @ 8:36 pm

What Hector said is good enough for me. Only in my most ornery oppositionalist moods would I find it worthwhile to say more, and I’m trying to curb those on the grounds that if doctrine isn’t important to me, I shouldn’t waste time fighting over it. All I have to worry about is occasionally getting to a church where I am welcome at the communion table.

Regarding Wesley as a re-Catholicizing influence, Wesleyan teaching leaned toward the Arminian, and it is certainly true that Calvinists denounced Arminians for being little better than Papists.

Where I see a difference is that you can embrace a good deal of the Humanist tradition of the Roman church (yes, Humanism was invented by Roman Catholics, not by secular agnostics), without embracing the authority of the Holy See. Free grace for all, but, John Wycliffe was right. (It may be no coincidence that Wycliffe and Wesley were both English).

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 6, 2014 @ 8:37 pm

But we seem to be off topic here. Does whether Anglican bishops have a valid claim to Apostolic succession dispose of the question, can an openly gay man serve as a bishop?

#26 Comment By dominic1955 On May 6, 2014 @ 11:35 pm

“But we seem to be off topic here. Does whether Anglican bishops have a valid claim to Apostolic succession dispose of the question, can an openly gay man serve as a bishop?”

It does, because do you see the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church consecrating men who left their wives to run off with some dude as bishops? Nope.

In our thinking, that (and the fact they try to ordain women) tells you something about the way they view order these days. Sure, we end up with some evil people in ecclesiastical office, but we never choose them knowing full well what they think and do.

#27 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 7, 2014 @ 10:00 am

What if an Orthodox bishop in black divorces his wife and civilly marries a male lover? I realize that is QUITE hypothetical, but I’m simply trying to re-establish that there is a disconnect between the two issues.

He would no doubt be defrocked, but he would have had no less apostolic succession.

Likewise, there are a plethora of bishops and priests who, in dominic’s view, have no claim to apostolic succession, who are faithfully celibate or faithfully married to one woman.