East Valley Episcopalians voiced sharply different reactions Wednesday to the historic confirmation of an openly gay clergyman, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, as the new bishop for the Diocese of New Hampshire.
“It’s a mockery of the institution of marriage,” said Roland Ptak, a longtime lay leader at St. Barnabas on Desert Episcopal Church in Scottsdale.
Since the decision Tuesday by Episcopal delegates to the General Convention in Minneapolis, Ptak said he's had a dozen phone conversations — “all, of course, expressing regrets and quite frankly wondering where they are going to be” if their denomination no longer bars gays from leadership roles.
“I am not sure our good Lord would have turned the water into wine at a same-sex marriage,” Ptak said, referring to Christ’s first public miracle at the marriage feast of Cana, where it is said he solved a wine shortage by turning the water in jugs to wine.
The rector of Church of the Epiphany in Tempe, the Rev. Ron Poston, called the decision a “big surprise” that has set off concern about a possible split of the American church.
He cheered the decision, noting that at his church, “gay people have always been welcomed, and there have certainly been gay bishops and there are gay priests who are closeted.”
While opponents to gays having roles in the church readily point to certain biblical verses, “most of the people aren’t aware that it has an awful lot to do with pagan temple practices and that sort of thing,” Poston said. Early Jews put high importance in marriages producing children, and that is reflected in Scripture. “If it can’t bear fruit, as it were, how could it be from God?” was the line of reason for condemnation of gays, he surmised.
The Rev. Steve Weston, rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mesa, welcomed the decision.
“It is rather breathtaking — it is almost like the Berlin Wall coming down,” he said of the 2.3 million-member denomination's action. “In the confusion of it, we who are members of a rather small denomination, in our decency and order, have made a statement that has really riveted the religious community.”
Nancy Leach-Goodwin, a member of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish in Tempe, had just returned from an extended visit to New Hampshire. “Everybody in New Hampshire loves Gene Robinson,” she said. “Being a good Episcopalian, I believe in the Bible, but I also believe that God is the judge. (The convention’s action) is OK with me, and I’m not leaving the church.”
Phoenix businessman Gary duBrock, who lives in Chandler, said the action to accept Robinson was consistent with what he has found in his church.
“I think the Episcopal Church has always been very open to all different walks of life,” he said. “It is clearly an issue some on the conservative side of the church are opposed to, but I see it as just another form of acceptance by the Episcopal Church.”
While describing himself as a “Republican, white-collar, downtown business person and very conservative fiscally,” he said some religious issues transcend that. “Faith issues are something that is very, very personal to people.”
The Rev. Keith Andrews, rector of St. James Church in Tempe, found the Minneapolis action sobering.
“The emotional experience of many will be jubilation and the emotional experience of many is going to be devastation,” he said. “This is going to have far-reaching implications of what the church looks like. It is going to affect families, pastors, churches and it is going to have a profound impact."
Much of it cannot yet be anticipated, he said. “It is kind of bigger than church stuff. It is going to change the landscape of the church.”
Weston said the convention’s actions “honor a segment of our society that we have prejudiced for a long period of time. I think we are really face to face with the truth that sets us free here.”
Because Episcopalians have been able to stay together despite spending the past 30 years in theological battles over the ordination of women and other issues, “I think we have been seasoned, or we have gained some experience as a result of some of the conflicts we have already been through,” Weston said.
The Diocese of Arizona has about 20,000 Episcopalians in 65 congregations.
As for his parish, Weston said he didn't expect members would leave in protest.
“I think there is dismay, and there may be some anger, but there is also a searching for the theological basis for this. If we do truly believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, then we will be able to understand and eventually appreciate the importance of this decision,” he said.