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Gay bishop taking message to Nova Southeastern

BY ANI MARTINEZ, armartinez@miamiherald.com

RobinsonFour years after the appointment of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, tensions continue to mount within the Episcopal Church.

While some Episcopal dioceses are discussing breaking away from the church, the controversial bishop is traveling around the world to spread a peaceful and inclusive message.

His next stop -- South Florida, where a number of Episcopal leaders have shown their support of Bishop Gene Robinson.

Robinson, of New Hampshire, will speak at Nova Southeastern University Tuesday. Robinson's visit at NSU will conclude the law school's 2007 Goodwin Symposium on sexuality, morality and the law. He will focus on how morality affects gay and lesbian legal rights.

''He's not only a bishop who struggled in the church, he's a person with an internal struggle,'' said Anthony Niedwiecki, professor of current constitutional issues at NSU, who organized the event. ``One of the things he will talk about is how a church can actually reconcile with gay, lesbian and bisexual issues.''

The decision to consecrate Robinson as the ninth bishop of New Hampshire created havoc within the Episcopal dioceses of Fort Worth, Texas; Pittsburgh; and San Joaquin, Calif.

Bishop Jack Leo Iker, of Fort Worth, has spearheaded the crusade against Robinson. At the annual Diocesan Convention earlier this month, several amendments were passed to break away from the church and join another Episcopalian province.

The diocese is scheduled to hear the final reading of constitutional changes Dec. 2.

''We disapprove of him being divorced, of him living with someone he is not married to and of him having a relationship with another man,'' said Suzanne Gill, a spokeswoman for the Episcopal diocese in Fort Worth. ``We expect the constitution to change so we can address the problem.''

''We know that not everybody agreed with the step to break away,'' Gill added. ``We have some folks that feel that they want to stay in the Episcopal church. We respect that.''

Most dioceses want to find the gray area in this issue by continuing the conversation.

''They are asking the dioceses not to consecrate more gay bishops and not to accept gay unions. They are also asking the church to suppress gays,'' said Bishop Leo Frade, of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida. ``They are threatening to break away, but the majority of the Episcopalian population doesn't believe this could be decided right now.''

''Some of the Bishops saying they will leave are my friends so I don't want them to leave,'' Frade added. ``We want to continue talking about it.''

The literal translation of rejecting the gay community in scripture is threatening the church's unity, Frade said. The world Anglican Communion, represented in the United States by the Episcopal Church, is asking Episcopalian leaders to abandon its support of gays.

But the leaders are standing by their original decision.

''There was a time in the church when the church believed in slaves and believed that women were not created equal,'' Frade said. ``The struggle of the church has always been about people who are literalists. We must be able to reason.''

Robinson declined to be interviewed.

The South Florida Episcopalian community has supported the gay bishop.

''We aren't going anywhere,'' said Rev. Wilifred Allen-Faiella, the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove. ``We are part of the Episcopal church and we support Bishop Robinson.''

Allen-Faiella said they are accepting of Robinson because ``there is room for everyone at the table.''

''I'm personally very sorry that churches would choose to leave,'' she said. ``No parishes or churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, which includes Monroe, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, want to break away from the church. Not one.''


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