Q&A: The election of a gay Episcopal bishop

Jane Lampman is the religion and ethics correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. She was interviewed about the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as an Episcopal bishop by csmonitor.com's Tom Regan.

What is the significance of this vote?

I think this is a groundbreaking step for mainstream churches which have been involved in this debate about homosexuality for years. It's a break with the traditional concept of homosexuality being incompatible with scripture, and of homosexual relationships as immoral. What this suggests is that they will start holding homosexuals to the same standards as heterosexuals, such as monogamous, life-long relationships.

The problem for many is that the church hasn't resolved this theologically, they've done it with this one vote. That's why about one-third of Episcopalians are not in favor. Conservatives wanted to resolve this in their theology before they took this vote.

Can the Episcopal church retain its solidarity, considering how many conservatives were opposed to Robinson's election?

There will likely be some kind of split. But the question is will it be a split or a splinter. It will depend on whether moderates can hold the center and on how large a group might break off. But it seems clear that there will be some splitting off and some withholding of funds from the national church. Also it could turn out that there is a significant break in the Anglican communion.

How will this vote affect relations between Episcopalians and other denominations, such as Roman Catholics?

It will certainly be a blow to the ecumenical efforts with Catholics, which were already in trouble because of the ordination of women. And the Episcopalians have a special relationship with Lutherans. The Lutherans are in the midst of their own discussion of this issue, which will be resolved in 2005. They are having the theological discussion that the conservatives think the Episcopalians should have had first.

There are a number of churches that will be watching to see how serious the split is in the church. How they weather this situation will have an impact on how other mainline Protestant churches resolve it.

How will Americans in general respond to this vote?

There's been an increasing acceptance on the part of Americans of gay and lesbian rights. Kind of a live and let live attitude. The question is how much of that growing acceptance of homosexuals will become approval of committed gay and lesbian relationships. That's what I think Americans haven't decided. And that's what's being decided in this whole question of gay marriage, gay union, and such. You see their ambivalance in the polls towards what's happening.

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