The first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church expressed regret yesterday over the divisions his elevation has caused among Christians, particularly in developing countries, where, he said, it was viewed as "one more unilateral action on the part of Americans."
But New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson said he is "not sorry for having followed what I perceived to be God's calling to this ministry" and has no intention of stepping down. He also said he is "very encouraged" that the worldwide Anglican Communion is considering only a moratorium, rather than a permanent ban, on the ordination of more gay bishops.
In a day of back-to-back interviews with the television, radio and print media, including The Washington Post, Robinson made his first public comments on Monday's report by a special commission on how to bridge the deep rifts over homosexuality in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion and its U.S. affiliate, the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church.
The commission called for U.S. bishops to "express regret" for failing to heed the opposition of fellow Anglicans before they took two major steps last year, consecrating Robinson and voting to recognize blessings of same-sex couples. Like Robinson, most U.S. church leaders so far have responded by voicing sorrow over the consequences of their actions, without conceding any theological error.
"I have absolutely no hesitation in expressing my regret for the difficulty, disruption and pain this has caused in parts of the Anglican Communion," Robinson said. "And I can do that wholeheartedly and genuinely, because I do not believe it means that I have to go back on the decision I made."
Robinson, 57, who is divorced and has lived with a male partner for more than 15 years, said the firestorm over his consecration has been similar to but more intense than the reaction to the consecration of the first female bishop, the Rev. Barbara Harris of Massachusetts, in 1989. One reason, he suggested, is the Internet.
"People read about Barbara's consecration, or they heard about it a week later, or whatever," he said. "Whereas my consecration [had] an immediacy and what may have seemed an in-your-face quality . . . that wasn't true when Barbara was elected."
Another reason, Robinson said, is resentment in many countries of U.S. foreign policy.
"I've had people say to me that in developing countries, people don't see any difference between you and George Bush, and this is being experienced as yet one more unilateral action on the part of Americans, and we're sick of it and we're not going to take it anymore," he said. "I'm not saying there aren't theological issues, scriptural issues and so on, but I do think that . . . may have something to do with the vociferousness of the debate."
Although the commission's report calls for a moratorium on "public rites" for same-sex unions, Robinson made a distinction between such rites and less formal blessings by priests. He said he will continue to allow priests in the New Hampshire diocese to bless any couples they choose.
The other moratorium recommended by the commission, on the consecration of more bishops who are living in same-sex unions, "made me feel very sad," Robinson said.
But, he added, "I am at least encouraged, and very encouraged, by the fact they did not say this will always be wrong, that no gay or lesbian person should ever be elected a bishop. They called for a moratorium, and a moratorium is a period of time in which something is suspended but gets reinstated."