- (Photo: Reuters)
The head of the Episcopal Diocese, where the first openly gay bishop once served, has expressed "sadness" at the news of the former bishop's pending divorce.
Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld of the Diocese of New Hampshire sent an email out to over 190 church officials in the diocese regarding the news of Gene Robinson's divorcing Mark Andrew, his partner of 25 years.
In the email, provided to The Christian Post by the Diocese, Hirschfeld forwarded Robinson's divorce announcement with comments of his own included.
"It is with sadness and faith in God's abundant grace that I pass on the following message from our brother-in-Christ, Bishop Gene Robinson," wrote Hirschfeld. "I ask that you please keep both Gene and Mark close in your prayers as they seek God's deep peace and healing. We love them both dearly, and our gratitude for their ministries is profound."
Born in 1947, Robinson had originally married a woman, and the couple had two daughters. The marriage ended in 1985.
About two years later, Robinson began dating Andrew and for nearly two decades the couple lived together in New Hampshire.
In 2003, Robinson gained controversy by becoming the first openly gay bishop in The Episcopal Church. His ordination sparked a backlash when large numbers of conservative Episcopalians left the denomination in protest.
Multiple Anglican groups were created and churches voted to leave, viewing the ordination as the last straw for a denomination dominated by theologically liberal leadership. This resulted in numerous years-long legal battles over ownership of church properties.
Jeff Walton, director of the theologically conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy's Anglican Program, was critical of Robinson's ecclesiastical legacy.
"Despite his insistence that the Episcopal Church would grow through the affirmation of gay and lesbian relationships, Robinson's Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire experienced an 18 percent decline in membership during his time as bishop," said Walton to CP.
"For all the attention given to marriage in the Episcopal Church, the denomination is facing a precipitous decline in couples entering into holy matrimony. In the past decade, marriages have declined an astounding 45 percent."
Last weekend, Robinson announced that he was going to divorce Andrew after about 25 years of being in a relationship. He first made his announcement via email to the New Hampshire Diocese he served as bishop for nine years.
"As you can imagine, this is a difficult time for us – not a decision entered into lightly or without much counseling. I'm sure that you will understand the private nature of this change in our lives and our commitment to keeping those details appropriately private," wrote Robinson.
"Our life and ministry among you continues to be something that both of us count as an honor and blessing. We ask for your prayers, that the love and care for each other that has characterized our relationship for a quarter century will continue in the difficult days ahead."
After retiring from his position as bishop, Robinson moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the liberal advocacy group the Center for American Progress.
CP reached out to CAP for an interview with Robinson, however a spokesperson told CP that Robinson did not wish to comment on the matter. CAP did direct CP to a Daily Beast column by Robinson about the divorce that was published online on Sunday.
"Most importantly, I need to hold on to the belief that God will have the last word, and that word is hope," wrote Robinson.
"And sometimes life brings pain and seemingly impossible choices. So, for me, all is not well right now; but I believe – no, actually I know – in the end, it will be."