The first openly gay bishop in The Episcopal Church announced on Saturday that he will retire in 2013, partly because of the ongoing controversy surrounding his election.
Addressing the Diocese of New Hampshire at its annual convention, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson spoke honestly in saying that the last seven years have "taken their toll on me, my family, and you."
"Death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding your election of me as Bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark, who has faithfully stood with me every minute of the last seven years, and in some ways, you," he said. "While I believe that these attitudes, mostly outside the Diocese, have not distracted me from my service to you, I would be less than honest if I didn't say that they have certainly added a burden and certain anxiety to my episcopate."
Robinson – who has lived with his partner, Mark Andrew, for more than 20 years – was consecrated in 2003 as bishop of New Hampshire, becoming the first partnered homosexual to serve as bishop in the Anglican Communion. His election caused uproar, with conservatives in the global church body calling the U.S. church to repent and get back in line with traditional Anglicanism and Scripture.
The following year, Anglican bishops worldwide agreed to a moratorium on the consecration of bishops living in same-sex relationships but tension has remained high in the 70 million-member body. And conservative Anglican leaders have declared the body broken.
In a recent video message encouraging gay and lesbian youths who are bullied, Robinson called himself an out and proud gay man and "living proof" that it gets better. He asserted, "God loves you the way you are. God doesn't want you to change and God doesn't want you to be cured or healed because there's nothing to be healed from."
His message drew some opposition, particularly for accusing other church bodies – including Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists) – of being "flat out wrong" for saying the homosexual lifestyle is not acceptable to God.
The Diocese of New Hampshire will begin the process to find a successor in December. Though more than two years remain before his resignation, Robinson said he wants to allow for a smooth and appropriate transition.
"While I know that I have not been God's perfect servant during this time, I will leave in early 2013 knowing that I have given this ministry my best efforts," he told the diocese. "You are, and will continue to be, the reason I have not only survived, but thrived, during this tumultuous time in the wider Church.
"New Hampshire is always the place I remain, simply, 'the Bishop.' This is the one place on earth where I am not 'the gay Bishop.' I believe that you elected me because you believed me to be the right person to lead you at this time. The world has sometimes questioned that, but I hope you never did.
"New Hampshire has made a name for itself in the last few years, and although unwittingly, we have been on the national and international stage. It has given us the opportunity to proclaim God's love for all of God's children in profound ways."
Earlier this year, The Episcopal Church consecrated its second openly gay bishop despite calls by the wider Anglican Communion to practice "gracious restraint." The Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool became bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles in May. As a consequence, The Episcopal Church was suspended from participating in ecumenical dialogues and stripped of any decision-making powers on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order – a body that examines issues of doctrine and authority.