Gene Robinson takes the victory lap at Falls Episcopal Church

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Jesus Christ was crucified because he was feared to be a political revolutionary, a controversial bishop from the openly gay Episcopal Church preached during a worship service at a former large traditionalist parish outside Washington, D.C.

“Jesus was not crucified because he preached ‘love your neighbor as yourself’, he was crucified by the Romans because he was a threat to their political structure,” the bishop preached at the Gene Robinson Episcopal Church retreat at Falls Church Episcopal (TFCE) in Falls Church, Virginia on Sunday, October 30. “He could have easily led a revolution against the government.”

The former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire made a strong case for the centrality of political action in the life of the Church, reciting a litany of policies favored by the political left as the proper application of biblical justice. He also underlined his gratitude for an invitation to speak in a parish that had clearly opposed his election and consecration.

“Words fail me when I try to describe to you what an honor it is to be here,” exclaimed Robinson. “When I received this invitation from [TFCE Rector] Magnifying glass [Salmon] I could hardly believe my ears and all day yesterday. When I was here, I kept pinching myself, “You’re actually at Falls Church in Virginia, oh my God.”

“There is no greater figure identified with the struggle for justice for queer people of faith than Bishop Robinson, and his election and consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 was the deciding factor for some Episcopalians, unhappy with the expanded inclusion of this tradition, break with the Church and affiliate with bodies outside the Anglican Communion. Falls Church was one such parish,” Salmon wrote. to parishioners before Robinson’s visit.

The majority of members of The Falls Church left the historic property in 2012 following a court ruling granting ownership of the disputed buildings and parish financial accounts to the Episcopal Church. These Episcopalian elders argued that the election and consecration of a bishop in a same-sex partnership was a presentational issue for a deeper disagreement over the authority of Scripture and the identity of Jesus as the only-begotten Son of God. . The Falls Church Anglican completed a new campus in 2019 and is a parish of the Church of England in North America.

“Raging Tides of Injustice”

Robinson processed Sunday morning before rows of empty pews at a sanctuary built to accommodate 800 people for what was once one of the Episcopal Church’s busiest parishes.

Noting the morning reading of Isaiah chapter 1, Robinson dismissed sexual “perversion” as a primary objection of the Old Testament prophet against the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, insisting instead that it was of a lack of hospitality.

“Someone must have worked very hard to define it as having something to do with sexual perversion, because in the text of Isaiah and reconfirmed in the book of Ezekiel are these words: ‘it was guilt of your sister Sodom: it was guilt, she and her daughters had pride, overeating, and prosperous wealth, but did not help the poor and needy. I suppose that describes many of us, then welcome to the world of the sodomites,” Robinson interpreted. “God found it worthy of destruction. That is why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.

Robinson pivoted to focus on Isaiah’s words to seek justice and correct oppression.

“Justice, you see, is systemic work,” Robinson preached. “There are a lot of raging streams of injustice.”

“Well, we’ve crossed the line, haven’t we?” We brought politics into the church. I don’t know a single clergyman who hasn’t been criticized for bringing politics into the church, but here’s the truth: Justice work is politics. How we treat each other, our fellow citizens, is a matter of politics and it is part of being Christlike,” Robinson said. “Either we fight injustice or we collaborate with it.”

Robinson also spoke at a forum on the morning of Saturday, October 29, recounting his experience as the first openly married gay man elected bishop of the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. A Washington Post The reporter dutifully covered Saturday’s forum but struggled to find a newsworthy angle as ‘Bishop Gene Robinson stood in front of dozens’ recounting events that have passed since nearly two decades.

Robinson and her husband divorced in 2014. The denomination has grown from a peak of 3.6 million adherents in the mid-1960s to 1.5 million today, with attendance dropping to 458,179 in 2020. In Robinson’s only diocese in New Hampshire, he witnessed nearly a 20 percent drop in membership during his nine-year tenure—outpacing the church’s national decline.

Robinson served as a Senior Fellow at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress after his retirement. During his Sunday morning sermon, he supported his own small parish, St. Thomas Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, which has a chapel named in his honor, as a model of biblical justice.

“On Saturdays, we welcome the buses full of migrants who are sent to us by the governor of Texas [Greg Abbott] hoping to shame us into changing immigration laws.

Robinson claimed that “the racism that haunts our whole society” and that “democracy is so much at stake and so under threat.” He urged to “disavow what can only be described as white Christian nationalism” and to “fight your [Virginia] Governor [Glenn Youngkin]attempts to reduce protections for transgender children.

Cash crisis

It was still unclear what more TFCE could do to distance itself from those who chose to leave the Episcopal Church. The congregation hosted the first openly gay priest ordination service by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 2012 and in 2014 the blessing of a same-sex union. In 2020, the congregation welcomed its first priest in same-sex marriage to serve as associate rector, and in 2021 called its first rector in same-sex marriage. All current TFCE clergy identify as gay, and Salmon has sought to form an LGBTQ community called Queer Faithful. Progress flags (a variant of the Pride flag) have been placed on parish signage alongside the Black Lives Matter logo. Salmon is chairman of the Clergy Advocacy Board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Financial difficulties have worsened at TFCE over the past year. The church has reduced two staff positions, including the parish administrator, to part-time while reducing its outreach budget and diocesan contribution.

“We just reduced donations,” Salmon told the congregation on July 24. “The markets have been tough.”

As a parish, TFCE previously pledged approximately 8% of “plate and pledge” revenue to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The longtime music director announced her resignation shortly after that position was cut.

“The fundamental core of our imbalance is that we are spending over $900,000 on staff and administration, compared to a total donation of about $600,000,” TFCE Treasurer James Weatherly told parishioners during worship. of July.

“Our pledge income is well below budget,” Salmon wrote to the congregation in a July 28 email newsletter. “The parish needs to make adjustments in spending.”

The parish has operated in the red for the past decade, approving a deficit of $280,000 for the 2022 budget. This recurring deficit is offset by the Dayspring Fund, money that was in church accounts. of The Falls at the time of the parish split and which was awarded by legal action to the Episcopal Diocese at the end of the litigation. Much of these funds had been raised through a suspended capital campaign in 2003 for the construction of a planned Education and Family Ministries wing for the Southgate property across East Fairfax Street from the church.

These Southgate properties have since been converted into commercial space in cooperation with a property developer. Since taking over the Falls Church downtown campus, the Episcopal congregation has grown from about 165 attendees in 2013 to an average Sunday attendance of 354 in 2020. The average attendance for the pre-divided congregation was nearly 1,700 with an annual budget of about $5 million. (Falls Church Anglican has an operating budget of $7.45 million)

“There is something greater at work in the cosmos,” Salmon wrote to parishioners. “As a person of faith who has seen his immense power, I have come to understand that the thing at work is the Holy Spirit, living and unpredictable and capable of the impossible.”

“God makes all things new, and the Holy Spirit has been at work in The Falls Church to build a community defined by radical welcome,” Salmon continued. “Praise the Holy Spirit, who has finally brought the Bishop and the Church of The Falls together. God is indeed doing a new thing!


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