Toronto Gets A New Bishop

The Diocese of Toronto, in the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC), has a new Suffragan Bishop in the person of Kevin Robertson. Following his election in September, Robertson said this, from the chancel steps of St. Paul’s, Bloor Street:

I’m very overwhelmed, I didn’t really expect to be standing here on the steps, but I’m deeply, deeply honored. I realize this is an historic day in the life of our church...The peace and unity of the church is really important to me and I will work to continue that peace and unity as a bishop.

The Bishop-Elect continued, “I absolutely see myself as a bishop for the whole church, including people who have a very different view of things than I do. I’m their bishop, too.”

Pause for a moment and let that sink in. A bishop, from the Anglican Church of Canada, no less, pledging himself to work for the peace and unity of the church and more than that, saying that he believes himself to be a bishop of the whole Church. Not just a fragment or a part of it but the whole thing, across the board. Robertson is going to be a bishop for the entire Mystical Body of Christ; apostolic unity personified and living in the Diocese of Toronto, remarkable. At last, a man who takes his ordination to be a bishop in the Church of God, in the Church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, seriously. We can imagine the breakthrough in ecumenical relations.

Embraced by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow for his defense of Sacred Tradition, Robertson of Toronto is hailed as a true successor of the Apostles, a veritable icon of ecclesial unity. Presented with a chalice and patten by Pope Francis, doubtless with the Pontiff’s well known sense of affectionate if ironic humor, the Torontonian Suffragan is proclaimed a “fellow bishop in the one Church of Christ.” With that, the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), revivifies under the aegis of Robertson, and a new era of ecclesial dialogue and rapprochement begins.

It’s quite a vision, nothing less than the episcopal fulfillment of Christ’s high priestly prayer, ut unum sint, may they be one, but there’s a catch. You see, Robertson is ACoC’s first ever openly partnered gay bishop, who lives with his spousal partner Mohan. They have two children, like many other married couples, but unlike other married couples they’re both men. This means that Robertson, despite his stated good intentions, cannot be a bishop for the whole Church. In fact, he can’t even be a bishop for all of his church, to say nothing of the Anglican Communion or the great churches, East and West. Here’s what the bishops of three of ACoC’s indigenous dioceses, led by National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald, had to say following their denomination’s decision to allow gay marriage this summer:

We do not agree with the decision and believe that it puts our communities in a difficult place in regards to our relation and community with the Anglican Church of Canada,” said the bishops in a joint statement, “It is our understanding that, while homosexual persons have always had a place in our societies, same-sex marriage, itself, has not. We find in both our reading of Creation and Scripture the unique relationship of Man and Woman. The difference between the two, coming together in the miracle of a unique spiritual communion, is essential to the way we understand marriage – but not only marriage, it is the way we understand the Land, the way we understand Creation. 

There you have it. For these bishops, the complementarity of the sexes as revealed in Scripture is part of the order of Creation itself. For them, marriage can only be between a man and a woman, but not just for them, the same holds true of the Anglican Communion itself. This teaches, still, that:

The Holy Scriptures and Christian tradition teach that human sexuality is intended by God to find its rightful and full expression between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage, established by God in creation, and affirmed by our Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Matrimony is, by intention and divine purpose, to be a life-long, monogamous and unconditional commitment between a woman and a man. (Lambeth Resolution 1:10, 1998)

Here, Anglicanism is simply reiterating the mind of the Church as it has always been; the consistent teaching held everywhere and by all, in Canterbury no less than Jerusalem, Rome and Constantinople, that marriage is something that takes place between a man and a woman. 

In this the Anglican Communion is catholic, it upholds the belief of the whole Church. At least it says it does, and so does Kevin Robertson, who promised at his episcopal ordination “to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and interpreting the Gospel,” and “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” (Canadian Alternative Book of Services) But that, with the best will in the world, is precisely what Robertson is not doing. 

Far from being a guardian of the faith, unity and discipline of the Church, at one with the apostles, Robertson is its opposite. In direct opposition to the nature of the episcopal office he was ordained and consecrated into, he attacks the Church’s faith, fragments its unity and breaks its discipline. He does so because he’s married to a man and that, says the Church with Christ-given apostolic authority, is at best impossible. 

Robertson disagrees, which makes him a living contradiction, a successor to the Apostles who is an anti-apostle; a man who cannot be a bishop for the whole Church because he is against the Church and has therefore placed himself out of communion with it. 

This is disastrous. In the first place, it serves to divide the Anglican Church of Canada, where Robertson’s episcopacy will not be universally recognized. It will also add to the current disunity of the Anglican Communion, the majority of which believes, with the rest of the Church, that marriage only takes place between men and women. The same holds true for ecumenical relations with Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, both of which will view Toronto’s new bishop as yet another sign of Anglicanism’s inability or unwillingness to to work towards anything like church unity. 

More seriously, perhaps, ACoC’s decision to elect its first ever openly partnered gay bishop deconstructs the office of the episcopate, which is a sign and guarantor of unity, mystically in Christ and visibly in the life of His Body on earth. St. Ignatius of Antioch, within living memory of the Apostles, writes:

Since therefore I have, in the persons before mentioned, beheld the whole multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. Do ye all then, imitating the same divine conduct, pay respect to one another, and let no one look upon his neighbour after the flesh, but do ye continually love each other in Jesus Christ. Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be ye united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality. (Letter to the Magnesians, Ch. 6)

This harmony, in which the heavenly hierarchy is reflected in the earthly, with the bishop acting in the person of Christ, is shattered in the person of Robertson. As opposed to being a center of unity, he is a center of disunity, instead of taking “in a resplendent and visible manner… the place of Christ Himself” and acting “in eius persona,” in his person, (Lumen Gentium: 23, 26), he merely takes the place of the dominant secular culture of the West and attempts to impose it on the Church.

He has powerful allies, such as the US and Canadian governments, the US Supreme Court, the vast majority of the media and our schools. All these and more are at best indifferent to Christianity and the Church, at worst they hate and despise it. Will they deploy their considerable power to mock, vilify and persecute Christianity, using rainbow identity politics as an anvil on which to beat the Church? It would be strange if they didn’t.

In the face of this the Church can do two things. It can stand with Ignatius of Antioch, who was killed by the Roman state under the Emperor Trajan; it can stand with all the saints and martyrs, and ultimately with Christ and the Apostles themselves. In sum, the Church can be the Church and in doing so present the world with the Gospel of salvation. That’s one choice and, in union with Christ, it leads inevitably to the Cross, but so too to the Resurrection. 

Or, on the other hand, the Church can embrace the culture that hates it. Some would argue that that represents a pact with the Devil. Perhaps Toronto’s signed it.

Fr. Michael Heidt is Editor of Forward in Christ and a mission priest in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

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