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Vote Expected to Approve First Gay Episcopal Bishop

Aired August 5, 2003 - 19:01   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: First, a vote by Episcopalian leaders appears to be minutes away. It could happen any moment now.
Bishops meeting in Minneapolis are expected to confirm the Reverend Gene Robinson as the church's first openly gay bishop.

Today's final vote follows weeks of heated debate and two 11th hour allegations, among them that Robinson inappropriately touched a man. But earlier today, church investigators absolved him of the scandalous charges, paving the way for his election.

Right now, the story is still developing, as we said. The vote could take place at any moment.

CNN's Jeff Flock joins us from Minneapolis with the latest -- Jeff.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Anderson. We could get the results very, very soon.

I want to show you the scene right outside the meeting room. We're not able to get cameras inside. But you can see already a lot of activity. Some of the bishops have already cast their ballots. They passed the ballots out just a short time ago, paper ballots. They will either assent to bishop-elect Robinson or vote against him. Again, done on paper. And they're doing that as we speak.

They're going to get about an hour's worth of time, we are told, to do that. Of course, if everybody gets their vote in sooner perhaps we could get the results somewhat sooner.

But Anderson, it's been a long day and a long ride for bishop- elect Robinson.

COOPER: Yes. It certainly has, Jeff. It was dramatic, even before these two 11th hour allegations that really popped up yesterday.

Whatever became of them? Basically you had one man sent in an e- mail saying that Canon Robinson had, in his words, inappropriately touched him. Whatever happened with that allegation?

FLOCK: Well, yes, two allegations. One, you had this Web site thing. Essentially, he was connected to an organization that had a Web site that if you clicked on the Web site and on a link to another Web site to a link from that one to another Web site, eventually you got a pornographic Web site. Today, the report said essentially he hasn't been associated with that organization for a long time, never associated with the Web site. That one doesn't stand.

The second allegation, the one you mentioned, that there was this inappropriate touch from this parishioner from Vermont. That man was interviewed, turned out that this took place at a public event, where he asked Reverend Robinson a question. And Robinson in answering him put his arm around him, put his arm on his shoulder, on his forearm at one point. That was pretty much it.

Arguably, perhaps it made him uncomfortable but certainly, arguably, maybe wouldn't have made someone else uncomfortable.

So essentially what they said today is that those allegations do not stand and do not stand in the way of this man being confirmed as a bishop. And the debate today was actually reasonably quiet on both sides, maybe just a short bite of that today from John Bruno, who is the bishop of Los Angeles.


BISHOP JOHN BRUNO, DIOCESE OF LOS ANGELES: New Hampshire did not set out to elect a gay bishop but to elect the most qualified, capable individual, who the people spoke after knowing.


FLOCK: So there you have it. Debate concluded, voting now under way. We should have this, Anderson, I think by the end of your broadcast there. So we'll bring it back to you when we do.

COOPER: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Flock, for that.

And now, if Canon Robinson becomes a bishop there are concerns among some church leaders that the worldwide Anglican Church could split apart.

Here to discuss what impact this election might have on the church and what impact of any these now discredited allegations might have on Canon Robinson, we're joined by Reverend Susan Russell in Minneapolis. She heads the gay and lesbian group claiming the blessing.

Reverend, thanks for being with us again tonight. First, are you optimistic Canon Robinson will become a bishop?

REV. SUSAN RUSSELL, CLAIMING THE BLESSING: Absolutely. I've been confident all along that the Holy Spirit had already spoken through the people of New Hampshire, and it was just up to the general convention to say amen.

The tone and timber of the debate in the house of bishops was extraordinary, respectful. And the voting is taking place even as we speak and I'm confident that Gene's election is going to be consented to and he's going to be a fabulous new bishop for the diocese of New Hampshire.

COOPER: You know, I know yesterday we spoke and you said you were happy with the way these allegations that popped up yesterday were being handled by the church, that it was an open process. And you were, you know, said good things about the church because of that.

Now have you - I mean, are you angry at all that these allegations - you know, you read this one man's allegation and basically, it was that Reverend Robinson, you know, put his hand on his arm, put his hand on his back in full public view while having a conversation?

RUSSELL: Right. You know, I wouldn't quantify my feelings as angry. I'm mostly just gratified by the fact that I'm part of a church that takes even allegations which turned out to be so groundless, seriously enough.

It was really hard for us to grind this process to a halt and treat it with the seriousness we needed to. But I believe, as I said earlier, that I thought what would happen, the process has worked. Clearly, there was no grounds of any kind of impropriety in these allegations. What the motivation for them is, I wouldn't speculate on.

COOPER: That may come out in the next couple days.

RUSSELL: It may well.

COOPER: Let me just ask you this. I mean, there are those that say this very well could split not only the Episcopal Church, the larger Anglican Church. The archbishop of Canterbury is going to have to make some sort of a statement regarding this. Nigerian Anglicans have talked about splitting away if, in fact, the church moves in this direction.

Can the church survive as it is now?

RUSSELL: Absolutely. I mean, I believe some of these same rumors and threats were carried out. Barbara Harris. the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion, said on the floor in the House of Bishops so eloquently a few minutes ago, the same threats and rumors surrounded her consecration and election, and they proved to be groundless.

Yes, there's a lot fear but I happen to believe the love of God can overcome that and what we really need to do is hang together, as we have in this convention through this difficult time and find way through this.

COOPER: Reverend Russell as you know, I mean, what critics will say is, "Look, women in the church was different back in the '70s, you know, you could look in scripture and find reasons to justify it. They say look at the scripture now. The scripture does not condone homosexuality; therefore, the church seems to be going down the road -- wrong road."

This according to some critics.

RUSSELL: Of course. And we hold a lot of truths to be in contention within the Anglican Communion. I believe there's room enough in this church for different interpretations of scripture.

My own reading of it tells me that God is less concerned about our sexual orientation than God is with our theological orientation. Those are the conversations we should be having about faithful Christians. Those are the conversation we've been having in Minneapolis. And as a result, Gene Robinson, I believe is going to be consented to and is going to be a great bishop for the diocese of New Hampshire.

COOPER: If he is made a bishop this evening, what happens next? I mean, where does he go? Does he go back to New Hampshire? Does he immediately start? What is the process?

RUSSELL: He'll go back to New Hampshire as the confirmed bishop- elect. He will continue to exercise the wonderful pastoral ministry he's exercised in his 28 years in his diocese. And I understand his consecration is scheduled for early November, and I certainly plan to be there.

COOPER: OK. As you know, Rev. Russell, we are just awaiting a final word on this vote. Could happen any moment now.

We are joined by Reverend Kendall Harmon, a canon theologian with the diocese of South Carolina.

Reverend Harmon, appreciate you joining us, as well. I know you have some great concerns about the future of the church if, in fact, Canon Robinson is confirmed as a bishop. What do you believe will happen to the church? Will it split apart?

REV. KENDALL HARMON, CANON THEOLOGIAN FOR DIOCESE OF S.C.: Well, I think, I mean, this is a foundational issue for the church. It has to do with the proper use of the gift of human sexuality and what the church has always said as there's only two states. There's singleness and then there's the relationship between a man and woman who are married to each other.

And it's just like putting milk into a car, it doesn't work. And you have to have the right context for the exercise of the gift and the right context for the gift of human sexuality is the relationship between a man and woman in marriage, and only that. And any other use of the gift is improper.

That's the biblical teaching. That's the church's historical teaching and it's what promotes health and joy and life in and among all people in the world.

COOPER: Reverend Harmon, some of the people do not agree with you would say they look to Jesus's teachings. He just really did not speak about homosexuality in the Bible. Therefore, there is room for interpretation? HARMON: Sure. I mean, this whole debate is about biblical interpretation. But it's a misnomer to say that since Jesus didn't say anything explicitly, therefore the biblical teaching can be so easily laid aside.

Jesus very clearly upheld the Old Testament and many of the parts in the Old Testament that Jesus upholds in his teachings are exactly those. The quote from Genesis and upholds the church's universal understanding that marriage is where it's at in terms of exercising the gift of human sexuality...

COOPER: Reverend Harmon...

HARMON: ... arguments from silence don't work.

COOPER: ... with that in mind, does the church split apart if Canon Gene Robinson becomes a bishop? Will you split away? The Nigerian Anglicans, will they split away?

HARMON: I can't -- I think splitting is the wrong metaphor. You have to ask the question who is leaving who and who is leaving what.

And what you've got here is a church that's about to leave the apostolic faith and in the judgment of the majority of world Anglicans, they're going to leave the community.

COOPER: All right.

HARMON: So when you disagree about a bedrock truth, it is something that rips the fabric of a community apart. That's always been the case. It's the case in the church as well.

COOPER: Reverend Kendall Harmon, we appreciate you coming in, as well. We are continuing to monitor this vote. We will bring it to you as soon as we get the results. Thanks very much.


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