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Globe Editorial

Robinson: A human, not just a symbol

V. Gene Robinson performed his job as New Hampshire’s Episcopal bishop quietly and steadily. V. Gene Robinson performed his job as New Hampshire’s Episcopal bishop quietly and steadily. (Associated Press)
November 14, 2010

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V. Gene Robinson’s announcement last week that he will step down as New Hampshire’s Episcopal bishop may have shocked his congregants and made waves around the world, but his reasoning is hardly surprising: After seven years of strain caused by the controversy surrounding his elevation as the first openly gay Anglican bishop — and a steady stream of death threats aimed at him and his partner — the bishop is ready to open a new, less public chapter of life. It was only seven years ago that Robinson stood during his consecration ceremony surrounded by bodyguards, wearing a bulletproof vest. While many were hailing Robinson as a civil-rights trailblazer, those safety measures stood as a reminder of the everyday sacrifices required of such pioneers.

They were also symbols of the Episcopal Church’s rocky road ahead. Robinson’s appointment precipitated a rift between liberal and conservative Anglicans, which almost caused a schism within the 476-year-old Communion. That’s not how Robinson wanted it. Despite his groundbreaking role, the bishop didn’t carry a firebrand’s mantle. Instead, he performed his job quietly and steadily, proving by example that he wasn’t the radical some believed him to be, but a caring, competent man of the cloth who just happened to be gay.

Although historians will paint Robinson as a lightning rod for the cause of gay rights and a catalyst for change, his announcement should remind us of a simple fact: Robinson may be a symbol, but he is also a human being. Over the years, he has dealt with many struggles publicly, from divorcing and coming out in the 1980s to a more recent addiction to alcohol. But that’s what makes Robinson an effective spiritual leader. Instead of covering up his troubles, he has shared and grappled with them. His retirement has been no different. It is unfortunate that the stresses of the job have caused him and his family great strain, and Robinson deserves a graceful exit off the public stage. His presence will be missed.