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Episcopal Church Votes On Gay Bishop

Aired August 3, 2003 - 17:00   ET


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN ANCHOR: We're actually going to now check in with Susan Candiotti. She is in Minneapolis, Minnesota; she has been following the general convention going on there, the Episcopal General Convention. The deputies to the delegates have been speaking somewhat passionately for the past half hour.
Susan, the vote, won't it be taking place soon?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN: In just about five minutes from now, Sean.

Just a few moments ago, there was a resolution to try to extend the debate for another fifteen minutes, but that was defeated, and so in just about five minutes from now, finally, this vote will come up -- one very important, especially to Rev. Gene Robinson, who is attempting to be elevated to Bishop.

And if he is, it would be historic, because that would make him the first openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church, which, of course, is part of the Anglican faith worldwide.

And there has been concern voiced by both sides during this very compelling debate as to what would happen if the deity was elevated to bishop.

You'll recall that he was elected by his own diocese in New Hampshire, but it is required to have ratification of both houses in the Episcopal Church. This is called the House of Deputies, and then tomorrow - if it passes here -- we're going on to the House of Bishops before his consecration to bishop can actually take place.

And, again, concern over whether he is elevated, as to whether this will cause a split or a great division in this church: some people say that could happen, and others say don't be afraid, it's time to make this move now.

We should not be concerned with the fact that, in fact, Rev. Gene Robinson has been involved for the past 15 years, very openly, in a relationship with another man.

They say you should consider his religious qualifications, and not that. And so it has been very interesting to listen to, and very soon we will learn the outcome, because they vote electronically, and so we'll learn the results practically instantaneously, Sean.

CALLEBS: OK, Susan Candiotti in Minneapolis. And, as she mentioned earlier, the discussions have all been very polite, very respectful, and we are now going to check back in with some more of the debate going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...allow that dream to become the reality of this wonderful community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Microphone six.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I move to the present, I move the previous question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that seconded? It has been moved and seconded.

Are we able to - we are not able to do it because we have a 45- minute special order and that will - has about four minutes plus to go.

Microphone number five.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sharon Lewis (ph), southwest Florida. This morning, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. weeping.

Weeping for our whole church. I saw before me the faces of several young people who are confused about their sexual identity and came to our church for help.

Young people who are staying abstinent based on thousands of years of church tradition and the reading of scripture as they sort through a confusing time in their lives.

I saw the faces of thousands of adults who have come though our healing ministries and been set free of addictions on forgiveness, the wounds of spirit of sexual abuse and homosexuality. And their faces were all pained.

How can they continue to receive help from a denomination who turns her back on tradition and scripture for who she chooses for leadership?

I saw the faces of thousands of our interdenominational friends who will not be able to receive the help nor labor with us. Why? Because they can't be in communion with a church who has broken communion with her own members. They can't be in communion with a church who consents to one living in a homosexual relationship against his own ordination vows.

See with me their faces as I try to explain it's all right for a bishop to break tradition, scripture, and vows but not for you and not for me.

Please, for the sake of the whole church, vote no on this consent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Microphone eight. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Deputy Hesslegrave (ph), Diocese of Oregon.

A couple of years ago, I went to see a movie called "Trembling Before God." It's a movie about conservative -- excuse me -- orthodox Jewish gay believers who are trying to reconcile living faithfully with their sexual orientation.

A gay orthodox Jewish rabbi who is interviewed in that documentary said that he was able to make peace with his orientation and his faith when he realized that within the Torah, God changes God's mind on several occasions.

The other day, the presiding bishop reminded us of our Lord's words in John's gospel where Jesus told his disciples that there was truth that they were not ready for and that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth. I believe that is happening in our time. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Microphone five.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gable Housen (ph), lay deputy from Quincy.

What we are deciding today is a deeply painful issue and yet we are leaders in our church who must vote yes or no. As you vote today, ask yourself two questions: how sure am I that I am right? And what if I am wrong.

How sure am I that I am right? The Bible is not confused or ambiguous in telling us that homosexual behavior is wrong. It is our hearts that are telling us otherwise. How sure are we that we are right?

We live amidst uncertainty, but yet we must vote today. We hold the future of the church and the destiny of the souls of the people of God in balance. Should we trust our hearts or should we trust the word of God?

And what if my heart is mistaken on this? If it is truly God's will that we call people to repent of the gay behavior and we instead tell them God blesses your behavior, the tragedy will be incalculable. Jesus says if anyone causes one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

We are considering moving away from our own Anglican communion, which has told us with great alarm that we are on the wrong track. How sure are we that we are right, and what if we are wrong? Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The time for debate and the special order has expired.

Therefore, we are ready to put the question to the House, but this is our first vote by orders and therefore I would like to call the Assistant Secretary for Voting to come to the podium and explain the procedures. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you Mr. President, thank you Madam Secretary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You may speak, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chair of each deputation should find before her or him a form that reads House of Deputies Vote by Orders. Would the chairs please locate those sheets?

They are two pages joined together. Please do not separate them. Are there chairs who need House of Deputies Vote by Orders forms? Would the chairs please write ballot number one and beneath that consent to the election of the Gene Robinson, C-O45 (ph).

And below that the name of the diocese.

CANDIOTTI: This is Susan Candiotti here at the convention. As delegates -- deputies as they are called -- are receiving instructions as to how to vote, there are 109 diocese in the United States, part of the U.S. Episcopal church, and each of these people has a number of delegates, around eight or so, who will be voting each as individual blocks.

But in a very complicated set of circumstances, which I won't get into, there does have to be more than a majority actually in order for each diocese to count as a yes vote.

And all of this will be done electronically, a little handheld machine. They'll be pressing the numbers on it that are appropriate to press, and then we should be learning very shortly what that vote is. However, it's taking some time, of course you go through the instructions during the process.

So we can't tell you precisely when that will take place. Now, in order for Rev. Gene Robinson to move on to the next stage, he has to win by a simple majority in the House of Deputies. If he does, the matter would move on to the House of Bishops.

You've been hearing parts of this debate that have been going on for about 45 minutes. There were two attempts to actually extend the debate by a half an hour but both attempts to do so failed. And you have to keep in mind that the discussion has been underway for several months and here at this convention for the past several days. And so let's listen for a moment again as to where we stand now.

CALLEBS: Well, Susan, you have spent some time with the Rev. Robinson, had an interview with him and he appears very focused with this, he understands this could be divisive. How is he holding up throughout this process? Is he there today watching this?

CANDIOTTI: Yes, he is, as a matter of fact, and he has an opportunity to vote. He is, after all, one of the delegates here. Part of the New Hampshire diocese.

And he said that he is -- he told me that he has had no second thoughts about this that he comes into this vote as he put it in his words very, very hopeful. He wouldn't say optimistic, only very, very hopeful.

His supporters believe that he will carry the day. However, nothing is for certain. Certainly there have been very critical opponents of this, people who feel this is very much against scripture, goes against the grain, don't know what they would tell their parishioners about this, the fact that Rev. Gene Robinson is openly gay and has been involved in a relationship with another man for many, many years.

Many people are very troubled about this. And others say look, this is a man who is a very religious man who has -- meets all the qualifications for bishop. After all, he was ordained as a priest.

And they also make the point that he was chosen after a sixteen- month long process in his own home diocese. The diocese of New Hampshire. They chose him and they feel as though those who favor him say if they want him, this is the man who should be elected.

However, others say yes but he would be a bishop for the entire church and there is also a lot of concern and there has been some, there have been some critics from outside the United States part of the Anglican communion as it's called, primarily from very conservative countries including some in South America, some in Africa, and the West Indies who have said this is the wrong thing to do.

On the other hand, people here say they should keep their views to themselves, others welcome those outside views.

And so it's been very interesting to watch the process. Certainly a painful one for many of the people here and hard to tell exactly how it will come out -- Sean.

CALLEBS: Susan, obviously, the Rev. Robinson is a very thoughtful, thought-provoking individual. Has anyone asked him his thoughts on the argument that this whole process could really divide the church? His thoughts on that?

CANDIOTTI: Well, yes, indeed, and he said I certainly hope that that doesn't happen, because of what happens here, he said. And if indeed he is elevated to bishop he said he will do everything within his power to try to bring people together.

Certainly that's not his intention here, he says. And he also makes the point repeatedly that -- he said, look, I am not the first gay bishop, he says. He says I am simply the -- I would be the first openly gay bishop.

And so it's -- you know -- it is a debate that clearly has divided a lot of people here yet they all say look we all are part of the same faith and let's try to stick together no matter what happens.

They -- many compare this to a great debate that happened back in the 1970s over the issue of whether women should be ordained in the Episcopal faith. And that did eventually go through.

And so this is in many ways comparable to that.

CALLEBS: What about the argument that some conservatives if this - if the Reverend Robinson is ordained could split off and develop perhaps take their thoughts one way and liberals if it goes the other way could split off and divide the church that way? Have you heard any discussion of that while you've been in Minnesota the past several days?

CANDIOTTI: Yes, certainly, some people say that is a possibility though they hope that that won't happen. They do point to something somewhat similar to that happening in Canada, very recently, as a matter of fact. In one of the provinces there where there was a proved a right of blessing for same sex couples and some people in that particular diocese were unhappy with that turn of events walked away from that particular parish and diocese and chose instead to join another one or follow the -- another bishop located in a different province.

And, so, there is great concern that there will be a loss of membership among some people as well as a loss of finances in the U.S. Episcopal Church.

CALLEBS: Interesting. Susan...

CANDIOTTI: Can you -- can you tell exactly what is happening now because we're chatting I'm afraid I've fallen a bit behind?

CALLEBS: Well, apparently, they are still discussing exactly which way to move if they are going to have the vote. We have no indication at this time that they are beginning to vote, as you mentioned there are some 800 deputies there right now.

Hang on; I'm trying to get a feel...

CANDIOTTI: Let's see what he's saying.

CALLEBS: OK, great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ballot number one. Clergy will print their names and vote yes or no and lay people will print their names and vote yes or no.

CALLEBS: Susan, we can tell you when you were keeping your voice down, they were holding a prayer at that time. Now, apparently just going through some of the procedures, how the votes will be cast, information you've chronicled very well over the past hour for us.

And, once again, we are bringing you live pictures from Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is the Episcopal's General Convention.

For the past, oh, hour and ten minutes or so, they have been hearing from various deputies of the delegation as they have been making their feelings known as to whether the Rev. Gene Robinson should be elected the first openly gay bishop for the church.

There have been a number of speakers both for and against this. Also it has become so impassioned that they brought up a motion a short while ago to extend this debate to go on much further but that was voted down so right now, apparently, I believe, this is one of the secretaries who is walking through explaining exactly how the voting procedure will go.

But, certainly, Susan as I understand it once they do decide to vote it should be a process that should not take very long.

CANDIOTTI: That's right, because it's done electronically I -- there was a during the time that we were speaking a short time ago the delegates were praying. They asked for a moment of prayer and that's what was going on. And now I believe that they have started the process but I'm afraid it's difficult to tell as we've been carrying on our conversation.

CALLEBS: Doing two jobs at one time is never easy, Susan, is it? Trying to monitor that and keep us informed here as well.

But as you mentioned we should know very soon as the Episcopal's General Convention has been going on there. This is something that is certainly been building.

You mentioned earlier that it really hasn't caused the tension that some people may have suspected. The -- all these people coming together from across the country, their various views, whether they feel strongly for or against but this is something that has been going on in a very respectful fashion.

CANDIOTTI: That's right and there have been all kinds of meetings going on during the course of this, there have been open hearings where debate has taken place.

And, in fact, some of the delegations have asked for private meeting with Rev. Gene Robinson because they had additional questions and some people talked about that today, that helped them make up their minds one way or another.

Now let's see, I think they're talking about -- is it still instructions now? Still going over instructions so the vote hasn't begun yet. Once it does take place there will be reaction of course afterwards, there will be a formal news conference that will be held by officials within the church and of course Rev. Gene Robinson will have something to say one way or another.

It's certainly a critical moment in the history of this church, it would be an historic one if indeed he were elected and elevated not as bishop but as the first openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal faith.

There are about 73 members of the Anglican community worldwide and certainly everyone is watching the outcome here this day.

CALLEBS: It's interesting, too, because we've heard some members of the church say regardless of how this goes, the Episcopals are going to be able -- maybe some won't speak to each other for some time to come -- but they are going to be able to get through this. And as I read through some of the information we have in front of us. Cannon David Anderson the Council President, is quoted as saying he believes that this could have a tremendous impact and he says the act of approving Robinson as the first openly gay bishop could, and I'm quoting him here, "has the same effect as the Titanic striking an iceberg."

So when you hear comments like that, certainly it appears that it's going to be more than feathers being ruffled. That this could be a split that haunts this church for some time.

CANDIOTTI: Indeed, he has said that this might have a shattering effect if indeed Rev. Gene Robinson were elevated to bishop. But other people really aren't so sure and those who support his candidacy if you will, have said that -- look, we went through a similar situation over and through other controversies included as I mentioned over the ordination of women including the first woman in the Episcopal faith who became a bishop.

And they said there was a rocky road, people get angry, some people did leave the faith. But some argue here that some may leave but because of our actions here this day others might take their place and decide to join the church.

So of course there are two ways of looking at everything and that's what part of this convention has been all about. And certainly, Sean, it's not the other -- the only controversial issue that has been coming up here. They also will be taking up a matter over the next few days as to whether they should be a what they call a right of blessing for same sex couples.

Of course there is no marriage ceremony for same sex couples in the Episcopal faith and so some are asking at least for a blessing. That will be debated although very few people think that that will be decided during this particular year but might take a few more years to decide one way or another.

CALLEBS: Well, Susan, it's also interesting because we saw so many the deputies of the delegation speaking and it seemed to cut such a broad cross section. There were young people, there were old people, African-American, white, old, young. Really it seemed like it was a very broad voice that was being heard there today.

CANDIOTTI: It is and what's interesting about the voting block of each delegation is that indeed it is made up both of clergy as well as lay people and so that does afford an opportunity to get a good cross section of people throughout the United States that all belong to the U.S. Episcopal church in order to get, you know, more variety of views than otherwise you might expect.

CALLEBS: Well they certainly seem to have hit that on the...

CANDIOTTI: It is somewhat different -- exactly -- of course it is somewhat different in the -- a little bit different anyway in the House of Bishops. Here you would have more than 800 deputies as it were and there it is only 100 people. You might somewhat compare it if I may to the House of Representatives versus the U.S. Senate to some degree.

CALLEBS: Makes sense. Also, to bring you up to date once again for people watching, we are waiting for the vote from the Episcopal's General Convention going on in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There has been a number of delegates who have been speaking for the past, oh, hour and twenty minutes or so.

All of the debate is over -- they are now going through all of the information. They have to spell out before this vote takes place. Looking back, the Rev. Robinson was actually, I believe, first elected or chosen in New Hampshire back in June.

So this -- he's been under the spotlight for more than two months now and he seems quite at peace with himself and I'm sure he is just waiting for these next several minutes to find out how this goes but even once this is over he has to convince all the bishops tomorrow.

CANDIOTTI: That's right, and in fact, he has been under a spotlight for even longer than that because before he was elevated to bishop in his own diocese of New Hampshire, he had to go through -- there was a search committee and that went on for almost a year and a half.

So this has been a very long road for him, Sean.

CALLEBS: And right now, again, we are simply waiting for the vote. We have been told time and again that this is something that shouldn't take terribly long once it does begin but as we have seen so many times before whether it is a vote in Washington, D.C., or a vote of a local school board, there is always all that information that must be spelled out in detail and in depth before.

Do you think folks thought that it was going to go on like this? Is it a time when people are on pins and needles and waiting for this to happen, or is this just something that they have accepted as coming and they know the entire world is watching what is going on in Minneapolis right now?

CANDIOTTI: I'm sorry, but the last part of it was how Minneapolis has been reacting to this?

CALLEBS: Well, no, just how the members of the church who are up there meeting this week -- what it's been like for them. They knew they would get this kind of media scrutiny, they knew this would happen. You know, this is the big hour for them. And one way or the other they're going to put it behind them in the next 24 hours or so, but what has it been like for the church this past week with all of the attention focused on it.

CANDIOTTI: Indeed, I have the sense since arriving here earlier in the week and have been here for a few days now that I'm not so sure that they really knew how much attention there would be.

Certainly they knew there would be some to a degree. But I know when we arrived they were -- their eyes were opening wide as they saw the growing number of reporters registering. Members of the media to come here and to cover this event.

And of course the numbers have reached more or less a crescendo here on this day; this is the largest day by far for the number of people who have been watching. And so they understand that the focus on them and that everyone will be watching, and that it could have an impact on membership not only in the United States but it could have an impact on the future of the Episcopal Church throughout the worldwide Anglican community.

Because every few years there is a convention of the worldwide Anglican communion as it is called where they could address this issue if indeed Rev. Robinson is consecrated as a bishop because there are a number of countries who disagree with that if it takes place and might want to in effect eliminate or give the boot, as it were, to the U.S. Episcopal church exclude them from the union.

That is something, of course, that members of this church and the United States, the Episcopal faith, hope does not happen and they suspect that they will be able to overcome it but it might be a tough road ahead. We'll have to see.

CALLEBS: Well Susan while we continue to watch these procedures going on, tell us about your discussion with the Rev. Robinson. What did you come away thinking after spending some time with this individual? Anything that really struck you or perhaps -- oh, I'm sorry now we're going to listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a requirement that if the vote passed or failed to pass by two-thirds majority, the secretary read the nay and divided votes before announcing the result of the ballot.

And for that reason, we will take a - the committee on credentials will take time to be sure that the result that is announced to you is a certified one. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is Rule 42 of the Rules of Order, found on page 205 of the Rules of Order of the House of Deputies.

CALLEBS: OK, Susan we just had some information that is very pertinent. Let me bring you up to date on what's going on.

The -- for the past several minutes they have been talking about how the vote will be taking place. They are going to hold an electronic vote, as you mentioned, but they are also going to vote by paper and what we are hearing is they will not release the results of this vote as to whether the Rev. Robinson should be ordained as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church until both those votes match up, both the electronic and the paper votes.

So that certainly changes the situation there quite dramatically in terms of getting that information out. We're hearing now that they - we may not even know today what that final vote could be. Did you hear anything like that leading up to it or is this perhaps a change at the 11th hour? CANDIOTTI: No -- that may very well have been the case and since we were talking couldn't quite hear the discussion that lead up to it but certainly they have all kinds of options as part of their regulations and the way that this set up and options to follow. And clearly they've chosen this one.

From what I understand they have voted already on paper and now the electronic vote is taking place and as you said it may take some time to certify that vote. Understandably they want to make sure that the two calculations match up. And so, you know, obviously at this point we don't know when we'll hear the results Sean.

CALLEBS: Exactly. Do you -- are you hearing from members there that they really believe this could be a watershed time for the church?

CANDIOTTI: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. This could be a moment of great history for this church if he is consecrated as bishop. Although one of the points that Rev. Gene Robinson made was that even if he is not chosen, although he believes the time is right, in his view this notion of a man like him who has been living in his view very strong faith and yet is living in an openly gay relationship. He thinks that -- the movement, in his words, is unstoppable, that at some point and some time this will be acceptable, in his opinion. And he'll take it from there.

But my sense throughout, that you were asking me earlier, about how he's holding up, I asked him if he though he would have any butterflies in his stomach, this day or tomorrow, if it reaches that point. And he said, no.

For quite some time, he described having a great sense of calm, that it took a lot of years for him to make the decision, first of all, to get involved in this relationship, to tell his wife that he was gay and to become a priest and to -- all the things that have happened in his life.

And he said, by the time I then made the decision to ask to be consecrated as a bishop, that was yet another step in my life. And so, this is just one more step along the way.

He says that he's prayed about it, and in his view this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

And I guess he'll get his answer soon as to whether others agree, at least in this body, in the house of deputies.

CALLEBS: OK. Susan Candiotti in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the Episcopal Church's General Convention where right now they are voting on the Reverend Gene Robinson, whether he should be elected the first openly gay bishop for the church.

Susan, you've been doing a great job monitoring what's going on there, and keeping us informed.

We are going to break away now. We will update, of course, if any significant information comes out.

Stay with us, everybody. CNN LIVE SUNDAY continues in just a moment.


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