by The Rev. Canon Dr. Richard T. Nolan, Retired Honorary Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford; Retired Priest-In-Residence, Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church, Lake Worth, Florida June 7, 2003
Today's election of The Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire is historic well beyond his diocese. Canon Robinson is a divorced father now partnered in a same-sex bond. His selection at a diocesan convention of clergy and laity has occurred within days of the celebration of a same-sex liturgical union, authorized by the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster.
"Preservers" will be disappointed in these developments, even angry. They strive to maintain their understanding of the Bible, as well as most traditional beliefs. Nonetheless, many preservers set aside Jesus' teaching on divorce and Paul's statements on the place of women in the church. The extent to which preservers will agree to differ with this election remains to be seen.
"Pioneers" will be pleased. They are open to breaking new ground based on their comprehension of the Bible, as well as a rethinking of some beliefs. Their proposals for change are based on new insights from contemporary scientific and theological studies. Additionally, they uphold the Anglican principle of experiencing unity in corporate acts of worship, not through agreement on all matters.
Most preservers and pioneers care deeply about their religious beliefs and practices. Both are necessary to the evolution of the Church. Without preservers, the past could easily be trivialized; without pioneers, new knowledge could be ignored.
Human sexuality, including homosexuality, is a passionate topic among many religious people. The New Westminster blessing of a male relationship has already evoked emotions globally. The Episcopal Church in the United States, an autonomous province of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is no exception in these matters. No doubt, some preservers will try to invalidate Canon Robinson's election during this summer's required national ratification process. And, pioneers will make every effort to see that New Hampshire's decision is honored.
If all goes as expected, some Episcopalians will leave the Church; new members will be welcomed. This occurs whenever there is significant change. Some bishops will probably refuse to acknowledge the full legitimacy of Robinson's coming ordination. Most will embrace him as a good and faithful servant and colleague. In any case, when he is consecrated a bishop in several months, a powerful implication will be affirmed. All women and men are called to Christian ministry, including the episcopate, on the basis of their personal qualities and vocational competence, period. Their marital/partner status and sexual orientation alone are not decisive issues. This is indeed historic, and Jesus Christ, the bachelor, would be pleased!