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Gay Bishop Says Confirmation Shouldn't Split Church

The Episcopal Church's (search) first openly gay bishop told Fox News Wednesday that he hoped the church would be strengthened by his confirmation, not split in two.

Saying he wanted to offer his gifts of service to the church, Rev. V. Gene Robinson (search) said he had faith in his fellow Episcopalians to talk through their differences over his election.

"I really hope and pray every day that no one will leave over this," Robinson told Fox News in an interview. "I believe that we can find our unity in Jesus Christ and work these things out."

Some Anglican bishops both in the United States and overseas have said Robinson's confirmation would force them to consider breaking away from the American church.  Worldwide reaction on Wednesday suggested such a movement might be gaining steam.

Immediately after Robinson's confirmation Tuesday night, more than a dozen conservative bishops walked to the podium of the House of Bishops, surrounding Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan (search), who read a statement saying he and the others felt "grief too deep for words."

"This body willfully confirming the election of a person sexually active outside of holy matrimony has departed from the historic faith and order of the Church of Jesus Christ," Duncan said. "This body has divided itself from millions of Anglican Christians around the world."

Duncan called on the bishops of the Anglican Communion (search) and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams "to intervene in the pastoral emergency that has overtaken us."

"May God have mercy on his church," Duncan said. Eighteen other bishops signed his statement.

On Wednesday, Archbishop Peter Akinola, who heads the 17.5 million-member Anglican Church in Nigeria, condemned Robinson's election as "a Satanic attack on God's church."

Akinola previously severed relations with the Anglican diocese of New Westminster in Canada because it sanctioned the blessing of gay relationships.

Robinson told Fox News Wednesday morning: "I don't want those people to leave. I've done everything I can to reach out to them ... letting them know I want them to be a part of my church."

He said the opposition from some convention delegates, who left the meeting in tears, was "the only thing that makes this not a completely joyous day for me."

After a delay caused by an allegation that he inappropriately touched another man and was affiliated with a Web site that had a link to pornography, the Episcopal General Convention proceeded with the vote to approve Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire (search). Robinson was cleared of the allegations.

Robinson, a 56-year-old divorced father of two, has been living with his male partner for 13 years and has been serving as an assistant to the current New Hampshire bishop, who is retiring. Parishioners there said they chose Robinson simply because he was the best candidate.

Robinson will be consecrated in November.

In the interview with Fox News, Robinson likened the current rift within the church over his election to one that still exists over having women serve in all orders of religious ministries — a move that is still not accepted by Anglicans everywhere in the world. The Episcopal Church installs women in leadership positions.

"We still did not split over that issue," Robinson said.

When asked if his confirmation brings the Episcopal Church one step closer to recognizing same-sex marriages, Robinson stressed that the church is not trying to recognize those types of marriages, but may recognize same-sex unions of some sort.

"We're not talking about same-sex marriages in the church," Robinson said. "What we are talking about are blessing relationships between people of the same gender."

In what could be considered a striking statement, Robinson said that, as historically taught in the church, "marriage is between a man and a woman."

Asked whether his confirmation meant the church was endorsing the homosexual lifestyle, Robinson said, "I think this is the first very big step in the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in our church."

"Just as Jesus reached out to people on the fringes and brought them in," he said, "that's what the Episcopal Church is doing with this vote."

Robinson founded the Concord, N.H., branch of the group Outright, which serves as an outreach group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and sexually questioning people 22 years old and younger.

In Wednesday's interview, he told Fox News that outreach groups were very helpful for youths who have questions and doubts about their sexuality.

"It's a very dangerous thing for young people to come out and talk openly about their relationships and their affections," Robinson said. Referring to Outright, he said: "We were trying to create a safe place for them to talk about that."

Some Episcopal parishes already allow homosexual clergy to serve, and gays who did not reveal their sexual orientation have served as bishops. But Robinson is the first clergyman in the Anglican Communion worldwide to live openly as a gay man before he was elected.

As Robinson's confirmation continued to fuel talk of a schism in the church, the American Anglican Council (search), which represents conservative Episcopalians, planned a meeting in October to decide its next move.

Overseas, the leader of the Anglican Church of West Malaysia, Bishop Lim Cheng Ean, issued a statement affirming its opposition to homosexuality despite Robinson's confirmation.

He said Asia's bishops might consider cutting their ties with the U.S. church because of Robinson's appointment. But the head of Australia's Anglican Church, Primate Peter Carnley, considered a liberal, said he didn't think it would be "a communion-breaking issue."

The Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion.

A full schism in the church over Robinson's confirmation would trigger, among other things, bitter fights over parish assets and undercut the global influence of the U.S. church.

The church has been debating the role of gays for decades. In 1998, the Lambeth Conference (search) — a once-a-decade gathering of the world's Anglican bishops — overwhelmingly voted to declare homosexuality to be "incompatible with Scripture" and said homosexuals should not be ordained as priests.

Robinson founded the Concord, N.H., branch of the group Outright, which serves as an outreach group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and sexually questioning people 22 years old and younger.

He told Fox News that outreach groups were very helpful for youths who have questions and doubts about their sexuality.

"It's a very dangerous thing for young people to come out and talk openly about their relationships and their affections," Robinson said, and, referring to Outright. "We were trying to create a safe place for them to talk about that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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