During the weeks following the Episcopal Church General Convention early in August of 2003, I was preoccupied with the very public and lively debate of the Church’s consent to the election of Reverend Gene Robinson to be Bishop of New Hampshire. Much of what I had read and seen on television was from those opposed to an openly gay man serving as a Bishop in the Church. There had been little said or written in support of Robinson, despite his election as Bishop by the Diocese of New Hampshire. I found myself with many unresolved questions and I needed a long walk or run to clear my mind.
A walk was just what Roscoe, our dog, thought I was in need of. He floated in the room and sat beside me with a look that said, we must go for a walk and enjoy the sunset! How could I refuse? As Roscoe and I headed out the door on that warm sticky mid-August evening, the twilight was a beautiful sienna color, created by the setting sun and gathering storm clouds. However, by the time we reached the end of the driveway drizzle began falling. The rain was not that heavy and I thought that a walk sure beat paying bills and the other mundane tasks that I had left in the house. Plus, the light created by the setting sun was very unusual.
Several minutes into our walk I suddenly noticed that there’s no one else out, walking or driving. We were alone, just Roscoe and me with my questions. I thought why in the world would this man choose to subject himself to a firestorm of public attention and subject the Church to this divisive action that could ultimately cause schism? What effect will this have on my church and our budgets? Will people leave the Church? Will friends leave St. James? Will Cindy, my wife, still have a job at the diocesan office? These were the questions running through my head as Roscoe and I walked in the rain.
Gradually I sensed that Roscoe and I were not alone in the rain, which had picked up a bit. I began to imagine a conversation with Gene Robinson. I envisioned him walking with us. I imagined his demeanor to be calm, open and honest. I could almost hear him explain that he had great fear on many levels, but that God provides courage to live with those fears. I could almost hear him explain that he couldn’t live in the church and keep that part of him under a basket or in the closet. I’m sure that these words of Jesus from The Sermon on the Mount were important to him:
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (The New
In mulling over my imagined walk with Robinson, I realize there are many in the world, lay and clergy, who live with a part of their identity hidden. Bishop Robinson’s actions may allow some of them to shine their light, if they choose. With God’s grace the divisions of the Church will be healed and everyone’s light will shine as one.
Well that was an eventful walk, indeed. And, just for the record, I only talk to imaginary people occasionally—that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
However, I know my perspective changes when I put a face to things and situations I fear and don’t understand. We all know gay people. Those I know are not threatening. They are our friends and members of our community. It’s hard for me to truly fear anyone whom I’ve come to know. I felt I came to know Bishop Robinson on my walk that evening.
I feel strongly that God’s hand, through Jesus, was working through the Episcopal Church leadership at the 2003 General Convention. The Jesus I know and understand never let the opinions of others stand in the way of accepting and recognizing those who are faithful. This is made clear for me in the story of the Canaanite woman and Caroline Westerhoff’s essay from her book Calling. In a chapter titled “Danger” (41-44) Caroline explains how Jesus was pressured by the disciples to send the pushy Canaanite woman away. After all, this is not only a woman—a second class citizen of the day—hounding the entourage, she is also a Gentile, to boot. Jesus would have been on firm ground with his disciples had he dismissed the woman and sent her away. He did not. Because of her persistence, Jesus finally recognizes and accepts the Canaanite woman’s faith and heals her sick daughter. I am sure Jesus hears the persistent voice of our gay friends and accepts and recognizes their faith.
Roscoe and I rounded the corner, heading home—the rain still falling. What I heard, or imagined, answered a few of my questions. However, the hard part, for me, is living with the answers and implications. If Gene Robinson can live his faith and commitment, and let his “light shine” in the face of controversy, then I should be able to put aside my self-centered fears and live by faith also. Hopefully, my church, and the Church as a whole, will come to understand the gay bishop and the broader homosexuality issues that we are dealing with, and everyone’s light will shine as one. However, there are risks and danger.
Caroline Westerhoff sums up the risks and dangers in terms of the Canaanite woman:
It is a dangerous thing to meet the Canaanite woman. It is a dangerous thing to look her squarely in the eye. It is a dangerous thing to heed to her voice, to give credence to her demands. We run the risk of being uncomfortable, of being inconvenienced—of sometimes looking silly. We run the risk of changing our direction. We run the risk of being converted. We run the risk of being God’s holy people. (Calling 44)
The risks I faced in this situation are small compared to Bishop Robinson’s.
Westerhoff, Caroline A. Calling: A Song for the Baptized.
Westerhoff, Caroline A. Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality.
Copyright © 2007 Mark Holmberg. All rights reserved.