Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Alcoholism and the Bishop

I should have my head examined. When I started this blog, I really had the intention of steering clear of THE issue as long as possible. And, it seems I haven't even lasted the first week.

So, the spark for this comment is Bishop Gene Robinson's letter to the Diocese of New Hampshire, admitting his alcoholism and his admission into a rehab facility (see For conservatives, this situation seems so emblematic, yet it seems so uncharitable to comment on it. Not that that has stopped people, but it almost stopped me. Almost.

I'm not interested in making mean-spirited comments about Bishop Robinson. A man in recovery from an addiciton doesn't deserve that, especially when he is currently working through withdrawl and the gut-wrenching early days of recovery. That would be kicking a man when he's down. And that is hardly charitable. Not to mention presumptuous.

Addictions happen. And they tend to happen because they are escapes from the painful realities of one's life. I'm sure Bishop Robinson has had his share of these in his life. The problem with addictions is that they take over and they become more important than everything in one's life, including one's connection to God. I won't claim to know Bishop Robinson's spiritual state, but I do note that it is perfectly possible to maintain faith and be helpless against addiction. If this is true in Bishop Robinson's case, he will have the resources to recover, given hard work at rehab and with a spiritual advisor.

Yet, what prompted me to write about this topic is that it struck me earlier today that the state of the Anglican Communion is oddly parallel to the spiritual state of an addict-- not that the whole Communion needs to go into rehab and cut out the communion wine. I really think that the defensiveness that both sides in the Anglican Communion has morphed into idealogies as a means to protect themselves against the (presumed) attacks of their theological and ecclesialogical opponents. It is this committement to ideologies on the extreme edges of the two 'sides' of this debate' which risks blocking our communal connection to God. When we use those ideologies as an excuse to be uncharitble to a fallen enemy (as in the case of Bishop Robinson) or to rage against stronger opponents, we have forgotten charity and, if we have forgotten charity, we have forgotten God. Our desire to defend God becomes the means by which we separate from him.

I have a firm postion on the same-sex issue and I've been arguing it for more than five years on various bulletin boards. I don't think we can find biblical support for it nor can we dismiss the biblical testimony. Nor can we justify hatred either. I fear that, through the very course of this debate, we have fallen into that hatred. And both sides are implicated by that.

My solution? I have no idea. Short of prayer and trying to live a Christian life, even amid controvery and debate, I can't see what else we do.

Meanwhile, I pray for the man, Gene Robinson, as he stays in rehab, facing the demons of alcoholism. May God remain with him and bring him healing. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen



Cheryle said...

After a long absence from Episcopal Voices, I made a visit tonight and learned of your blog. I've always respected your thoughts - even though we disagree on many things - and enjoy reading your posts.

As you mentioned in the blog, alcoholism can be a response to stress (and I think it's fair to assume that Bp. Robinson has had more than his fair share of that!); however I know a large number of alcoholics within the Episcopal Church - both clergy and lay - and would assert that "social drinking" can also be a trigger.

For those who have substance addiction problems, there is often a tendency to more than just one addiction - whether is be tobacco, alcohol, prescription (or illegal) drugs.

The ability to overcome any or all of these addictions lies with taking that first step that is well known even to those of us who have never participated in a program: I am powerless over my addiction.

With faith in God and the support of his partner, his family, his diocese, and all Christians, I feel assured that Bp. Robinson will overcome this all-too-common dependency.


Phil S. said...

Thanks for the comment, Cheryle, and good to hear from you. It has been a long time, hasn't it?

I think fundamentally you're right here. Addictions can and do happen to anyone, so Bishop Robinson's problems in this area are hardly as shocking as some have wanted to make it out to be. He isn't even the first bishop to deal with this issue, as I understand, since a bishop in, I think, Virginia had come out with a similar problem in the 80s or 90s.

Regardless of one's ecclesial politics, I think we all must join in prayer to support Bishop Robinson as he recovers.