Duke to host first openly gay bishop

An Episcopalian leader who has come to symbolize the debate over the role of gays in the church will be at Duke Monday and Tuesday for a variety of events with students, faculty, staff and the Durham community.

Rev. Gene Robinson, Episcopalian bishop of New Hampshire, has been the subject of a firestorm of controversy since being elected as the nation's first openly gay bishop in 2003.

Janie Long, director of the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life-which organized Robinson's visit-said she hoped his appearance would help to open a campus conversation on faith and identity.

"This is something that I deal with with students quite frequently," she said. "And because I very much want students from all kinds of faith backgrounds-it's not students that are Christians, it's really all faith backgrounds-it's a chance for those students to be exposed to someone who I think is really an excellent role model in terms of balancing different parts of identity."

At the University, Robinson will participate in a forum in the Chapel and speak with Divinity School students and members of the LGBT community.

"I think Bishop Robinson is one of the most significant people in the church right now, not only in the American church, but in the larger Anglican Communion," said Craig Kocher, associate dean of the Chapel and director of Religious Life. "I think it's a large opportunity for Christians especially, but people beyond the church who have a real interest and concern for American culture, to come and listen to what he has to say."

Long assembled a planning committee for the visit that included Kocher, Dean of the Chapel Sam Wells, Divinity School faculty, the Episcopal Center at Duke and members of Sacred Worth, the Divinity School's LGBT student group.

Robinson will speak Monday afternoon on the topic of preparing leaders for ministry. Later that evening, in the flagship event of his visit, Robinson, Wells and Long will participate in a conversation in the Chapel called "Being Swept to the Center by God."

Tuesday, Robinson will meet with faculty and staff to discuss how to answer questions related to LGBT identity and faith. That night, the LGBT Center will host a dinner and conversation-"Being Faithful to Who We Are"-open to undergraduate and graduate students.

Long said she expects many of the events to fill up quickly.

The bishop was previously married and has two children, but divorced in the 1980s. He has lived with his partner since 1988, and the two were legally joined in a private civil union in June.

Robinson's election has created and widened rifts both within the worldwide Anglican Communion and in the Episcopal Church, the communion's American arm. Other member churches, particularly in Africa, have threatened to cut ties with the Episcopal Church in part because of Robinson's installment.

The Church is among the most tolerant mainline religious bodies both within the Anglican Communion and the United States with regards to homosexuality and women's ordination, among other issues.

"What I hope it will be is a lot of people who come to the Chapel to listen to someone share their story," Kocher said of Robinson's visit. "It's like inviting someone to your home and giving them the chance to have a real meaningful conversation, rather than the bullet-point, talking-point conversations that take place in the media."


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