Episcopal bishops prepare for vote on Robinson

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(Host) Gene Robinson, the openly gay clergyman seeking to become an Episcopal bishop, has been cleared of the misconduct allegations that delayed a vote on his confirmation.

Vermont’s Episcopal bishop has supported the election of gay clergyman Gene Robinson to head the diocese of New Hampshire. But as the debate intensified in Minneapolis, Bishop Thomas Ely turned his attention to the more traditional role of pastoring the man who accused Robinson of inappropriate behavior.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) While awaiting a vote on the election of of Gene Robinson as the first gay Episcopal bishop, Vermont Bishop Thomas Ely was providing spiritual counseling to the Vermont parishioner who made the allegations.

(Ely) “I’m providing pastoral support to a parishioner from Vermont who’s raised some concern about Canon Robinson. As bishop of that person it’s my responsibility to make sure he’s cared for in this process.”

(Zind) The parishioner who raised this issue is David Lewis a lay leader at the Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester. In an e-mail to Ely and other bishops, Lewis says Robinson touched him inappropriately at a church gathering. Lewis has refused to comment publicly about the allegations. A friend said Tuesday that Lewis did not intend for his e-mail to be made public. Jennifer Richardson is editor of the church newsletter and has known Lewis for some time.

(Richardson) “I’ve always observed him to be very thoughtful and well spoken. He does a terrific service.”

(Zind) Richardson says there are traditional aspects to the Manchester Church that are not present in many other Episcopal Churches – like the use of the 1928 Eucharist in some services. She says that doesn’t mean the church is more conservative than others.

Writing in a recent Zion newsletter, the church pastor, Reverend John Mitchell, expressed concern about how electing a gay bishop and approving rites for gay couples might divide the Episcopalians. Mitchell says:

“…The major family unit is based on the union of man and woman. This honorable and long held ideal has been under assault for some time by the forces of change in both the Church and society.”

Mitchell urges a slower approach to the consideration of gay issues. In a June letter, Bishop Ely told Vermont Episcopalians that he supports Robinson’s election. Last year, the Zion Church was singled out as one of the 10 fastest growing Episcopal Churches in the country.

Another allegation regarding the New Hampshire Bishop-elect surfaced separately Monday. Representatives of a conservative Anglican group revealed that a Web site for a Concord organization called Outright had a link to a pornographic Web site. Bishop-elect Robinson was a cofounder of the group.

Outright says it removed the link as soon as it was discovered. The group is not connected with Outright Vermont in Burlington, although both groups work on behalf of gay and lesbian youth. Outright Vermont Executive Director B.J. Rogers says the allegations are politically motivated.

(Rogers) “This is sadly a predictable attempt to derail the movement that’s taking place.”

(Zind) Even before this week’s allegations surfaced, Robinson’s election was a controversial issue that conservative members said threatened to split the church.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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