Church's Decision Called Commendable

October 1, 2003

The appointment of the Reverend V. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church is a historic moment for mainline Protestantism in America and for more liberal interpretations of Christianity, say Mary McClintock Fulkerson, a professor in the divinity school, and Kathy Rudy of women's studies.

" All denominations have been struggling with this issue for more than twenty years, and the courage displayed by the Episcopal leadership should be commended," says Rudy, author of the book Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of Christian Ethics. "This step is an important one for the continued inclusion of all God's people in the Church body."

Critics have publicly condemned the Episcopal Church for violating historical interpretations of the Bible by voting to appoint Robinson, but Rudy says the decision was in keeping with church tradition. "The moral teachings of the Episcopal Church are built equally on Scripture and tradition, rendering the denomination's ethical paradigm very flexible and able to respond to the needs and issues of current events. Thus, the denomination has been a worldwide leader in incorporating disenfranchised peoples of all sorts."

Fulkerson agrees, saying liberal interpretations and teachings of the Bible are no less valid than more conservative ones. "You can't even open the Bible and say anything about it without bringing to it a system of moral beliefs and history and culture that inform those words," says Fulkerson, who has written articles challenging theologies that make heterosexuality the norm for Christianity. "All sorts of 'stuff' gets imported into any reading of the Bible."

Just as understandings of sexuality have changed over time, so, too, has the Christian Church, says Fulkerson. An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, she chaired her church congregation's task force on human sexuality.

" To make heterosexuality a timeless normative ethical requirement is to ignore that all things human change--and should change," she says. "It is to ignore the ethical imperative to pay attention to whether something in the tradition is no longer timely, appropriate, or right. To absolutize this convention--preferring heterosexuality--is to commit idolatry. It is to make eternal something that is not eternal."