Gay bishop, whose appointment split the church years ago, visits Falls Church

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Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson stood before dozens of captivated listeners Saturday in a worship space at Falls Church to share his personal story as a member of the Episcopal Church. first openly gay bishop. It was the first time Robinson had visited the 300-year-old church after its dedication led to the Church of Falls institution splitting in two.

Robinson’s ordination to the bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 prompted more conservative members to break away from the Episcopal Church, with a wide range of followers who did not approve of having an openly gay man in the role founding their own church, The Falls Church Anglican, leaving behind a small liberal group.

The split sparked a lengthy legal debate over church ownership that ended in 2014 when the Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court’s ruling that secular property belonged to the Episcopal Church.

While each side has charted its own course since Robinson was appointed coadjutor bishop in 2003, Robinson himself has had time to reflect on how he became widely known as the “gay bishop” who brought “ Satan in the church,” as one Kenyan leader put it. many years ago of his election.

Bishop Gene Robinson delivered a moving speech at the interment service for Matthew Shepard at the National Cathedral in Washington on Oct. 26. (Video: Reuters)

On Saturday, Reverend Burl Salmon of The Falls Church, 51, who is openly gay, introduced Robinson.

“Your presence among us on this day is history,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Robinson, 75, began by telling attendees that he had been praying for them since the split, explaining that divisions within congregations had never been his intention.

He described his life as a boy from a sharecropping family that used an outhouse, to a young man who found the Episcopal Church at Southern University in Sewanee, Tennessee. Higher education was where he found a faith he says still clings to his bones.

While living in New York, Robinson asked a therapist if it was possible to be turned heterosexual because he wanted a family and loved children. He then married a woman and had two children, but the marriage dissolved over a decade later.

Bishop Robinson on the Bible’s reference to homosexuality

“She freed me to lead a life with men and I freed her to lead a life with men,” he joked.

Almost two years later, he met her now deceased ex-husband on a beach in Sainte-Croix, a partnership that would last for decades.

Robinson said he had the courage to be an openly gay man after reading “Embracing the Exile: Healing Journeys of Gay Christians” by John E. Fortunato, a book from which he read passages at the beginning and end. end of his speech.

The day Robinson found out he had been made a bishop, he received his first death threat the moment he returned home and continued to receive death threats for two years, he said. Police would remain present at his New Hampshire home until he left in 2013, he said as he tore and turned crimson.

At the height of the frenzy that surrounded him, Robinson said reporters often asked him what he thought was the reason for so many churches splitting.

“I didn’t force Falls Church or any other church to do what they did,” he said. “I did what I did.”

Victoria Turner, 27, a student at Montgomery College, was among dozens of people who showed up to hear Robinson speak. Turner, who identifies as gay, had heard of Robinson over the years, and her election surprised her when she found out, she said.

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“Up to that point, I had known a lot of Christian and gay-identifying people,” she said. “I knew these things could be in conjunction with each other. It was surprising that it could create such a schism.

The Episcopal Church The response to Robinson made her wonder if she should call herself a Christian, she said. But a gay priest in her hometown of Minneapolis explained to her that the bigotry of some does not determine what is true for the majority, she said.

Hearing Robinson speak reminded her that she needed to work to find ways to make more people feel welcome in faith-based spaces, she said.

“There’s nothing wrong with me that could keep me from going to heaven,” she said. “You are still loved and you are still a child of God.”

Robinson isn’t as prominent among the faithful as he was nearly 20 years ago, although many know who he is, Salmon said in an interview. Most church members are no longer the same members who made the choice to separate in 2006, he said.

For the small number of original members, Robinson’s return offered a sense of closure to those who still carry the pain of the split many years later.

“A lot has happened in the world,” Salmon said, citing her own marriage in Mississippi to her husband. “The world has changed, the church has changed, but I think it’s because of Gene.”

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