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The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson (born May 29 1947) is the ninth bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.[1] Robinson was elected bishop in 2003 and entered office on March 7, 2004. Prior to becoming bishop, he served as assistant to the retiring New Hampshire bishop.

Robinson is best known for being the first openly gay, noncelibate priest to be ordained a bishop in a major Christian denomination believing in the historic episcopate. His homosexual feelings were privately acknowledged in the 1970s, when he studied in seminary, was ordained, married, and started a family. He went public with his sexual identity and divorced in the 1980s. When delegates to the Episcopal convention were voting on the ratification of his election, he was a controversial figure. His election was ratified 62 to 45. After his election, theologically conservative parishes have aligned themselves with bishops outside the Episcopal Church in the U.S., a movement called the Anglican realignment. His story has appeared in print and film.

Personal life

Robinson was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, which has since been consolidated with its principal city, Lexington.[2] His parents were poor tenant farmers who worked in the tobacco fields as tobacco sharecroppers. The family used an outhouse, drew water from a cistern, and did laundry in a cast-iron tub over an open flame. Their house did not have running water until Robinson was ten years old.[2]

When Robinson was born, he was so seriously ill that the doctor was certain he would not survive. He was temporarily paralyzed from birth and his head was misshapen. So likely was Robinson's death that the physician asked Robinson's father — Charles — for a name for the baby's birth and death certificates. Robinson's parents were young — his mother Imogene was twenty — and they were hoping for a girl.[2] They named the baby "Vicki Gene Robinson" for Charles' father Victor and the baby's mother Imogene.[3]

For a long time, Robinson's parents believed the boy would die soon. Much later in life, Robinson's father would tell him he couldn't take any joy in the boy's development because he always thought each step was going to be the last thing.[2] Robinson's parents were and still are members of a small Disciples of Christ congregation. Robinson describes his childhood as very religious.[2] Robinson had perfect Sunday School attendance for thirteen years.[2] Robinson chose The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee in 1965 because they offered him a full scholarship.[2] Robinson intended to study towards a medical degree but decided to major in American Studies. During his college days, Robinson began to seriously consider the ordained ministry and said it almost immediately felt right.[2]

During high school and then college, Robinson had been exploring philosophical and theological questions and has said, "The Episcopal Church got a hold on me." He graduated from Sewanee with a B.A. in American Studies in 1969 and attended seminary that fall.[2] Robinson studied for a Master of Divinity degree from the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in New York City. While doing an intern year as a chaplain at the University of Vermont, he met his future wife, Isabella "Boo" McDaniel, and began dating.

Robinson says that about "a month into their relationship, [he] explained his background and his fears about his sexuality." They continued dating, and as Robinson puts it "about a month before the marriage, [he] became frightened that ... this thing would raise its ugly head some day, and cause her and me great pain." Robinson and Boo discussed it and decided to go ahead with the marriage in 1972.[2]

Robinson received his degree in 1973, and was ordained a deacon on 9 June 1973 at the cathedral in the diocese of Newark, New Jersey. He served as curate at Christ Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey and was ordained a priest six months later. He and his wife remained at the Ridgewood parish for two years until 1 June 1975.

Robinson and his wife moved to New Hampshire, where Boo had grown up, in the summer of 1975. Their goal was to start a business and ministry: in the winter it was called "The Sign of the Dove Retreat Center" and in the summer it became "Pony Farm." Boo still runs "Pony Farm" as a horse camp for children.[2] In 1977, Robinson began working with a committee in the diocese of New Hampshire to study human sexuality and co-authored a small manual on the subject.[2]

Robinson does not regret his marriage and said,

That is inextricably tied up with having children. And since I cannot imagine my life without Jamee and Ella, it's just a completely irrelevant question for me. And I don't regret having been married to Boo, either, even if there had not been children. It's just a part of my journey, and why would I possibly regret that?[2]

Robinson and Boo's first daughter — Jamee — was born in 1977, followed by a second daughter — Ella — in 1981.[2]

Robinson came out to his and Boo's friends and he sold out his part of the business to Boo. They remain friends.[2] In November 1987, Robinson met his current partner — Mark Andrew — while on vacation in St. Croix. Andrew was on vacation and worked in Washington, D.C. at the national office of the Peace Corps. On 2 July 1988, Robinson and Andrew moved into a new house and had it blessed by Bishop Douglas Theuner, an event which they considered to be the formal recognition of their life together.[2] Andrew currently works in the New Hampshire state government. He was legally joined to Robinson in June, 2008, in a private civil union ceremony, followed by a religious ceremony, both in St Paul's Church, Concord.[4][5] Earlier, Robinson had said, "I always wanted to be a June bride."[6][7]

Robinson became Canon to the Ordinary in 1988, the executive assistant to the then bishop of New Hampshire, Douglas Theuner. Robinson remained in this job for the next seventeen years until he was elected bishop.[2] Robinson and his daughters are very close. Ella actively helped her father with public relations at the General Convention in 2003. Just a week before the General Convention, Robinson had been with his daughter Jamee and held his four-hour-old first granddaughter.[2] He now has two granddaughters.[1][8]

Election as bishop

Diocese of New Hampshire

File:Gene Robinson.jpg

Bishop Robinson in 2006, during the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church

Robinson was elected bishop by the New Hampshire diocese on June 7 2003 at St. Paul's Church in Concord, New Hampshire. Thirty-nine clergy votes and 83 lay votes were the threshold necessary to elect a bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire at that time. The clergy voted 58 votes for Robinson and the laity voted 96 for Robinson on the second ballot.[2]

House of Deputies

The Episcopal Church requires in its Canon 16 that the election procedure and the candidate who is elected be subjected to review and must be consented to by the national church. No objections were raised to the procedure of the election. If diocesan election occurred within 120 days (3 months) of a General Convention, canon law requires consent by the House of Deputies and then the House of Bishops at the General Convention itself.[2]

Consent to the election of Robinson was given in August at the 2003 General Convention. The General Convention of 2003 became the center for debate over Robinson's election, as conservatives and liberals within the Church argued over whether Robinson should be allowed to become bishop. Some conservative elements threatened a schism within both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion should Robinson be elected.

Before the House of Deputies can vote on a resolution, a legislative committee must examine the piece of legislation first. The Committee on the Consecration of Bishops held a two-hour hearing on Robinson's election and supporters and opponents were allowed to speak. One of the speakers was Robinson's daughter, Ella, who read a letter from his ex-wife Boo in strong support of Robinson. The House of Deputies, which consists of laypersons and priests, voted in the affirmative: the laity voted 63 in favor, 32 opposed, and 13 divided; the clergy voted 65 in favor, 31 opposed, and 12 divided.[2]

Allegations of impropriety

Robinson won the first two of three votes required for his election to be ratified, but allegations suddenly arose on August 4, 2003 to the effect that he had "inappropriately touched" an adult male Vermont parishioner on two occasions at a New England area conference, and also had connections with, which at the time carried a link to, a resource site for bisexual people that included links to pornography sites. The final vote was postponed to address these last-minute charges.

David W. Virtue, a critic of gay ordination, brought up the pornography allegation, claiming that: "Gene Robinson's website is linked by one click to 5,000 pornographic websites."[9] When no such link was found on the Diocese of New Hampshire web page profiling the bishop-elect, Virtue stated that the link was on the website of an organization Robinson supported. Robinson was already known to be associated with Outright, a secular organization for the support of young homosexual people. Fred Barnes, a Fox News commentator, repeated the allegations on the website of The Weekly Standard.[10] On the day the allegations arose, the website issued a press release[11] stating that it had removed the offending link, that it had been unaware of the pornographic links on, and that Robinson had no involvement with that particular chapter of Outright.

The male parishioner of Manchester, Vermont — a neighboring diocese to Robinson's — who had alleged the "touching," was then reported to have said, during the investigating committee's telephone call with him, that the acts in question were two separate occasions of what felt to him like intentionally seductive arm-squeezing and back-stroking, although in a public setting. The man acknowledged that others might have regarded the two incidents as "natural," yet the incidents were disturbing to him nonetheless.[2] The investigating committee's report also stated that man regretted having used the word "harassment" in his e-mail, and that man declined an invitation to bring formal charges.[2] No journalist ever contacted the man for confirmation of any details of the investigating committee's report.

House of Bishops

After a two day investigation, neither allegation proved of merit.[2] The House of Bishops voted for Robinson in the affirmative, with 62 in favor, 43 opposed, and 2 abstaining.[2]

Ordination as bishop

The Elections and Transitions Committee arranged for the Whittemore Center to be used for the consecration, a large hockey rink on the campus of the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The numbers expected were about 3 000 people, 300 press, a 200 strong choir, and 48 bishops. The security was strong: just as Barbara Harris had to wear a bullet-proof vest at her consecration, Robinson was showing his bullet-proof vest to Harris herself. Robinson's parents, sister, daughter and their families and his ex-wife Boo were all at the consecration. Robinson was consecrated on November 2, 2003 in the presence of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and six co-consecrating bishops: 48 bishops in all.[2]


Robinson's appointment prompted a group of 19 bishops, led by Bishop Robert Duncan of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, to make a statement warning the church of a possible schism between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, stated that "[it] will inevitably have a significant impact on the Anglican Communion throughout the world and it is too early to say what the result of that will be." He added: "[I]t is my hope that the church in America and the rest of the Anglican Communion will have the opportunity to consider this development before significant and irrevocable decisions are made in response."[12] Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated that he did not see what "all the fuss" was about, saying the election would not roil the Church of the Province of Southern Africa.

Other senior bishops of the church, like Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria and head of the Global South, have made Robinson a figurehead in their dispute with the Episcopal Church.[citation needed] Some disaffected Episcopalians have disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church and formed the Convocation of Anglicans in North America with the support of the Nigerian church.

Due to the controversy surrounding his consecration, Bishop Robinson has not been invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.[13] A group of conservative bishops (including Akinola and Duncan) who opposed Robinson's consecration gathered in Jerusalem one month prior to Lambeth 2008, at the Global Anglican Future Conference, an event which is perceived by some as schismatic.[14][15]

The Primate of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, on July 22 at a public press conference during the 2008 Lambeth Conference called for Robinson to resign, and for all those who had participated in his consecration to confess their sin to the conference.[16]

Jeffrey John's precedent

The election in New Hampshire — like all elections of bishops in the Episcopal Church — was done by a synodical election process, unlike many other parts of the Anglican Communion where bishops are appointed.[2] This detail would be misunderstood when the international commentary following Robinson's election suggested he should voluntarily step down or be asked to do so.[2] The Jeffrey John case in the Church of England is the best example to contrast the election of bishops with the appointment of bishops.[2] Jeffrey John is an openly gay priest living in a long-standing celibate relationship (he self-identifies as celibate) and was appointed as a bishop.[2] One person, the Bishop of Oxford, had the authority to make John the new Suffragan Bishop of Reading.[2] The Archbishop of Canterbury, however, allegedly persuaded him to not proceed with the appointment.[2] This precedent would be used by the wider Anglican Communion to pressure Robinson.[2] Robinson said that "there was not a single bishop involved in the choosing of me to be Bishop of New Hampshire."[2]

Treatment for alcoholism

On February 14 2006, Robinson was treated at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, after arriving at the facility on February 1 2006.[2] Robinson wrote to his community in an email, explaining that he voluntarily sought the help he needed: "I am writing to you from an alcohol treatment center where, with the encouragement and support of my partner, daughters and colleagues, I checked myself in to deal with my increasing dependence on alcohol." He added that he had been dealing with alcoholism for years "as a failure of will or discipline on my part, rather than a disease over which my particular body simply has no control, except to stop drinking altogether."[2]

Diocesan officials were surprised by the news and asserted that they did not notice his alcoholism affect his ministry in any way. The Episcopal Church, through its General Convention, has long recognized alcoholism as a treatable human disease, not a failure of character or will. The members of the Standing Committee issued a statement fully supporting "our bishop and his family as he confronts the effects of alcohol on his life, and we commend him for his courageous example to us all, as we pray daily for him and for his ministry among us."[17] He returned to work on March 8 2006.[18]

Cultural references

Robinson was featured prominently in a documentary film entitled For the Bible Tells Me So, which screened at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.[19]

See also

Template:Anglican Portal

  • Gay bishops
  • Homosexuality and Anglicanism
  • Homosexuality and Christianity


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Diocese of New Hampshire:The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson:Bishop of New Hampshire", Diocese of New Hampshire. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 Adams, Elizabeth (2006), Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson, Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull Press, ISBN 1933368225 
  3. Timmins, AnnMarie. "Years of rejection, now understanding: Bishop-elect has accepted his homosexuality" (newspaper), Concord Monitor, 19 July 2003. Retrieved on 2007-09-28. 
  4. Associated Press. "Gay N.H. Bishop and Partner Joined in Civil Union", New York Times, 2008-06-08. 
  5. "Bishop Robinson, Mark Andrew joined in Civil Union", Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, 2008-06-07. Retrieved on 2008-06-10. 
  6. "Gay Episcopal Bishop Prepares for June Wedding", EDGE Miami, 4 December 2007. 
  7. "Gay bishop plans civil union with partner of 18 years", Reuters, 2007-05-10. Retrieved on 2007-05-11. 
  8. "New Hampshire's Bishop Gene Robinson", NPR (Fresh Air from WHYY), 9 December 2004. 
  9. Flad, Ethan. "Virtual Trickery Backfires", The Witness, 5 August 2003. Retrieved on 2007-10-26. 
  10. Barnes, Fred. "The Gay Bishop's Links:Episcopalian bishop-elect Gene Robinson has some curious affiliations", The Daily Standard, 4 August 2003. 
  11. Outright website, <> 
  12. Archbishop - difficult days ahead. Archbishop of Canterbury news release (6 August 2003). Archived from the original on 2006-06-25.
  13. Landau, Christopher. "US Church 'unfairly criticised'" (web site), British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved on 2008-01-15. ""But Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori says she thinks he might yet be invited."" 
  14. RICHARD VARA (2008-01-11). Carey says Anglican Communion is in crisis. Houston Chronicle.
  16. You must specify title = and url = when using {{cite web}}..
  17. Bibber, Paula. "Letters from the Bishop and the Standing Committee", Diocese of New Hampshire news release, 14 February 2006. 
  18. Robinson, V. Gene. "Bishop's Return", Diocese of New Hampshire news release, 8 March 2006. 
  19. For the Bible Tells Me So. Retrieved on 2007-09-28.

Further reading

  • Hein, David; Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr. (2004). The Episcopalians. New York: Church Publishing. ISBN 0898694973. 
  • Robinson, Gene (2008). In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God. Seabury Books. ISBN 1596270888. 

External links