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Beleaguered bishops

Religion | ECUSA's first openly gay bishop checks into alcoholism treatment center

Issue: "Nuke nightmare," Feb. 25, 2006

When bishops in the troubled Episcopal Church (ECUSA) make news these days, it's usually over their differences in the theological conflict that is propelling the 2.3-million-member denomination toward schism. But bishops make news for other reasons, too.

This month, for example, the church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, 58, of the Diocese of New Hampshire-the man at the center of the conflict-checked himself into an alcoholism treatment center for 28 days. He told his diocesan leaders he had been struggling with the problem for years. They commended him for his "courageous example" and said they "fully" supported him in his recovery efforts. He was due back on the job March 1. The head of the search committee that selected him to be bishop said alcohol did not turn up in background checks.

Leading ECUSA conservatives at odds with him theologically expressed sympathy and said they were praying for him.

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In Philadelphia, the governing committee of the five-county Diocese of Pennsylvania last month unanimously called on Bishop Charles Bennison to resign or retire. The committee alleged fiscal mismanagement and said "trust" also was an issue: The diocese is deep in the red, the bishop has dipped into nearly $10 million of reserves to pay program expenses, and he has severely punished conservative churches that bucked his leadership on theological grounds. The ultra-liberal bishop flatly refused to step down and suggested the diocese needed him more than ever.

Under ECUSA law, a bishop can be removed only for criminal or gross immoral conduct. This month, clergy leaders in the diocese persuaded the bishop and the governing committee to pursue mediation under the auspices of an ECUSA headquarters office in New York.

Revisions revised

U.S. Air Force chaplains need not worry any longer about being told they can't pray in Jesus' name or discuss their faith with others in uniform. Those practices were in question under proposed new chaplaincy guidelines. The guidelines were drawn up following protests and pressure from liberal groups opposed to evangelical visibility at the Air Force Academy. However, vague wording allowed for contradictory interpretations and religious discrimination.

Religious freedom advocates took up the cause. The Air Force then revised the guidelines. Released this month, they "respect the rights of chaplains to adhere to the tenets" of their faith. They say chaplains can't be ordered to lead public prayer in a way that is "inconsistent with their faiths." They permit "voluntary discussions of religion" among all USAF personnel as long as they're "personal, not official," and don't appear to be coercive.

Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the revisions "a step backwards." But Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said the new rules are "appropriate and constitutional."

Bulletin Board

Two of the most respected historians among evangelical scholars are changing jobs. Mark Noll, who teaches at Wheaton College, will replace Notre Dame's towering George Marsden, who is retiring at the end of the school year. Both men have written widely acclaimed award-winning books on evangelicalism's role in American history.

The School of Law at Liberty University opened its doors 18 months ago and already has won provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association. Its first class will graduate in 2007; graduates will have equal standing with those of other ABA-accredited schools.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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