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Gene Robinson
Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin
Gene Robinson

Robed victim?

Religion | Questions linger over ‘plentiful’ death threats against retired gay bishop

Newly retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, The Episcopal Church’s first openly homosexual bishop, often refers to his own courage in the face of danger. At his 2003 consecration as bishop of New Hampshire, he talked about wearing a bullet-proof vest. When he announced his retirement in 2010, he said death threats “have been a constant strain” and factored into his retiring seven years before the church’s mandatory retirement age. In a January interview, he told National Public Radio, “The death threats were plentiful, almost daily, for a couple of years.”

But New Hampshire State Police have no record of any death threats against Robinson. The Concord Police Department, where Robinson worked for seven years, said it has reports on five threats: two in 2004, one in 2005, and two in 2009. 

In public appearances, Robinson tells the vivid story of a man arrested in Vermont with a shotgun, ammunition, and a photo of Robinson on which he had scrawled, “Save the church, kill the bishop.” Stephanie Dasaro, a spokesperson for the Vermont State Police, told WORLD a “cursory search of our database” indicated “Bishop Robinson does not seem to appear in our records.” The Concord Police Department did confirm that one of its five reports was a referral from Vermont, but would not release additional information. 

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Ann Hall, archivist for the Diocese of New Hampshire, said there was “no special security” at the Diocesan House, the Concord headquarters of the diocese: “I don’t think there were any indications that the office was in danger.” Robinson, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), did not respond to requests for an interview made through CAP and through the Diocese. 

Five death threats are five more than most people face in a lifetime, and few would blame Robinson for erring on the side of safety and taking all threats seriously. But death threats—especially in the internet age—are a reality for public figures: While president, George W. Bush received about 3,000 death threats a year, and President Barack Obama receives as many as 10,000 a year. Security experts, though, say publicizing threats attracts attention and encourages copycats. 

Michael Brown said his book on the history of homosexual activism, A Queer Thing Happened to America, made him the target of death threats. “There are lots of wacky people on both sides,” he said. “If you stand up and speak out on controversial topics, you just have to know that this unfortunately now goes with the territory. But if Robinson is suggesting that those of us with thoughtful, biblical objections to homosexuality are the source of these threats, that’s just wrong.” Brown said he isn’t surprised that Robinson attempts to portray himself as a victim and conservative Christians as victimizers. “That’s been a common strategy of pro-homosexual activists for decades.”

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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