Citing the toll that worldwide publicity has taken on his “marriage” and on New Hampshire Episcopalians, Gene Robinson – the first openly homosexual man to become a bishop of the Episcopal Church – announced on Nov. 6 that he will begin a two-year process of resigning from his diocese.
Robinson, 63, received approval from the Episcopal Church's General Convention to become a bishop in 2003, after the faithful and clergy of the New Hampshire diocese selected him for the position. His appointment sparked outrage among traditional Anglicans, many of whom considered it an official affront to Biblical standards of sexual conduct on the part of the Episcopal Church.
“The fact is,” he wrote in a letter to Episcopalians in his diocese, “the last seven years have taken their toll on me, my family, and you.” Robinson has two children from his marriage to a woman during the 1970s and 80s. He entered into a civil union with his current partner, Mark Andrew, in 2008.
“Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as Bishop, have been a constant strain,” he continued, “not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark … and in some ways, (upon) you.”
The controversial bishop has become one of the global Anglican communion's most prominent American representatives, a fact he noted in the letter, stating that he “(gets) to talk to probably more unchurched people than any other Bishop in The Episcopal Church,” telling them “a different story” that rejects the idea of “a judgmental God.”
“This is evangelism for me, pure and simple,” he said, noting that he intends to continue publicizing his message, “both within and beyond the diocese.”
Robinson's most prominent revisions of Christian doctrine concerned sexual issues, and were not as radical across the board as some other Episcopal leaders such as John Shelby Spong. The retired Episcopal bishop publicly rejected the possibility of Jesus' being born of a virgin or rising from the dead. Robinson stated in 2008 that critics of his ministry were “arguing about a non-essential thing.”
Nevertheless, the de facto endorsement of the bishop's lifestyle, and his own insistence that some Biblical precepts are outdated or wrong, embarrassed many traditionalists, and caused some to wonder whether Anglicanism provides adequate authority for preserving Christian doctrines.
Some opponents formed the separate Anglican Church in North America in 2009. Other traditional Anglicans have opted to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, particularly through the provisions outlined in Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus.”
Two days after Robinson announced his plans to retire, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales announced that five Anglican bishops would be departing the Church of England, to seek full communion with the Catholic Church through the structures Pope Benedict XVI has established.
Robinson thanked the Episcopalians of New Hampshire for their support, and said he felt excitement for his successor: “He or she has no idea what a joy and what a privilege it will be to serve you.”
Globally, many Anglicans are also divided over the issue of women bishops, with traditionalists in the Church of England particularly concerned over their church's direction on this subject. In America, the openly lesbian woman Mary Glasspool recently became a bishop of the Episcopal Church's Los Angeles diocese.