It is with deep sadness that I write to the people and clergy of the diocese. No doubt most of you have heard that the Diocese of New Hampshire has elected a person who is an openly professed, practicing homosexual to become their bishop. Of course, Episcopal elections that occur within 120 days of a General Convention must be ratified by a majority vote of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.
I do not know the Bishop-elect, the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, and therefore have no feelings about him personally. What I do know is public knowledge; that he was married with two children, divorced, and subsequently entered an openly homosexual relationship with another man. If his election is ratified by the General Convention, it means that the Episcopal Church is clearly approving the kind of relationship of which Gene Robinson is a part. Such approval would have a significant impact on the Convention’s consideration of the blessing of same sex unions which is a major issue already on the agenda.
It is my hope that the General Convention will not ratify this election and I will join with those who oppose it, not because of the individual or the process but because it represents a radical departure from the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures, the doctrine and tradition of the Episcopal Church, the resolution of the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, countless resolutions of the General Convention and the expressed will of the Anglican Primates at their recent meeting in Brazil. The approval of this election will have serious consequences in our relationship with the rest of the Anglican Communion as well as in our own National Church.
Certainly all Christians are called to stand up for justice and civil rights, for non-discrimination against any persons or people; to love and care for all people as children of God. But Christians are not called to uphold or even tolerate all behavior. The approval and blessing of sexual intimacy, heterosexual or homosexual, outside of traditional marriage of one man and one woman is not a question of justice or civil rights. It is a question of morality. And morality cannot be decided by a majority vote of any group or body, including the General Convention.
In all fairness, I must acknowledge that many of those who want to change the teaching of the church on human sexuality are people of faith. In an effort to recognize this and prevent a disastrous decision at the General Convention, the House of Bishops of the Fourth Province, following the lead of the Theology Committee of the National House of Bishops, unanimously approved affirmations which say essentially that there is no consensus on this issue and we should not try to resolve it by legislation. These affirmations, which will be sent to the General Convention as a resolution, were endorsed by the Fourth Province Synod which consists of the Lay and Clergy Deputies to General Convention and the Bishops of the twenty dioceses of the province. Originally crafted by bishops on both sides of the issue, I believe they are a way forward without dividing the church, defeating our evangelistic efforts and fracturing our relationship with the rest of the Anglican Communion.
After having said all that, and there is obviously much more that could be said, I am still saddened by this turn of events, but I am not discouraged or dismayed. God is faithful and our ultimate trust is in God, not in the institutional church. The church is not infallible—she can and has made mistakes. But the church is indefectible—that is, her purpose will not ultimately be thwarted. God will prevail. That means that God will win in the end and our job is to be faithful in the meantime. I am calling the faithful to be faithful; to stand firm in the faith of our mothers and fathers, the authority of the Holy Scriptures and the historic teaching and tradition once delivered to us by the saints. We have a goodly heritage in this diocese and an unlimited potential. Let us not grow weary. Let us continue our works of mercy and evangelism. Let us press on toward the heavenly prize by working and praying harder, by giving more liberally of ourselves and our resources and remembering, “that neither death nor life nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
The Right Rev. Bertram Nelson Herlong
Bishop of Tennessee