Nowhere in any of the Rio Grande material were the candidates to respond directly to the question of homosexuality in the church, though Vono's answers often do reflect a sense of how the issue has shaped the conflicts currently held by the wider Communion. And as anyone with an Internet connection can find out, his sympathies on any number of questions have already been made plain.
In 2008, though, Vono wrote an open reflection on Gene Robinson's letter to the House of Bishops after Robinson was "invited" to attend the Lambeth Marketplace rather than the real thing. (Recall that Robinson demurred, calling the invitation a "non-offer.")
In declining an invitation to the Lambeth Marketplace, Bishop Robinson would be able not only to take the moral high ground of personal integrity, but simultaneously allow for an unfettered clarity of focus around the Communion's global concerns rather than on the issue of his personal attendance....
Issues of human sexuality are only the tip of the iceberg. To continue fueling the debate as to whether Bishop Gene's presence is ultimately consequential seems imprudent at this moment in time. Might not the crucial pastoral and theological work that needs to be done at Lambeth toward repairing the divisions within the Communion be better enabled by his absence rather than by his presence? Might not the higher moral and spiritual ground be for Bishop Gene to decline attending Lambeth in any capacity, in a spirit of selfless humility, which would consequently highlight much more effectively the importance of those critical international issues he has now come to represent? After all is said and done, if Bishop Gene chooses not to attend he will still be a Bishop in our Church and the controversial debate over issues of sexuality will continue far beyond this Lambeth Conference. So, we should stand together in reassuring Bishop Gene that it's ok for him not to go. There will no doubt be other times and places more appropriate for him to say what he sincerely feels needs to be said on these issues.
Therefore, let us all encourage our brother in Christ not to go to the Lambeth Marketplace, but to take the more difficult yet higher spiritual road of standing back before the Church and the world. This is a time to mend, a time to be silent, a time to willingly empty ourselves in serving the common good, as all the Baptized are admonished to do.
Are Vono's notions about Robinson possibly an insight into some of his views on the episcopacy that transcend this particular moment? After all, this may ostensibly be about Gene Robinson, but what's really under discussion here is how it is that an issue comes to receive the attention it deserves before it can be effectively dealt with. Vono's point (and I suspect this point was made elsewhere in HoB meetings) is that non-presence can be felt as strongly as any form of presence - that a missing element like Robinson would necessarily create notice, with or without that element carping.
Meanwhile, there's the question of Robinson himself. At one point in recent St. Paul's history, the Vestry affirmed by resolution Robinson's presence and ministry and called upon convocation churches to go on record as
publicly endorsing or in good faith withholding endorsement not only for the election of Gene Robinson, but also for the related issues concerning gay and lesbian Episcopalians.
... and in late 2003 he wrote plainly enough that
Unlike some people in our Episcopal Church I do not share the view that the Church has left the historic faith and is maliciously fracturing the Anglican Communion over its decision to permit a duly elected man, who happens to have a homosexual orientation, to serve the People of God as Bishop.
Ah, but is the hubub we're seeing really even about sexuality? According to his position statement, it is but the tip of an iceberg. In what Vono wrote for Rio Grande's election packet, this statement gets unpacked.
Today the issues publicized by the press describe conflicts of inclusiveness which focus on issues of sexuality, whereas I believe that the real issue is much deeper and more complex. The real challenge is a global inter-cultural one of tolerance, which must arise out of a more profound understanding of the human condition and the Judeo-Christian ethic of love and respect for God- centered human dignity. These issues of difference and diversity are more than a philosophical matter, but are theological and spiritual, and the work of effective reconciliation on a diocesan level begins with the ministry of the episcopacy.
So what can we expect? How will "global inter-cultural tolerance" and "a more profound understanding of the human condition" shake out in Rio Grande? Well, he might
... encourage all people to seek and create a common vision for mission and both experience and exercise a radical hospitality toward others, while at the same time remaining faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church, grounded in our world wide Anglican heritage, thus drawing us into a dynamic and real day to day relationship with God and each other.
Perhaps given the slight tilt to the left in recent years in New Mexico, together with longstanding hard tilts to the right in west Texas, in and amongst the push-pull Vono may not be so very far away after all from Rio Grande's oft-stated desire for reasonableness, or at the very least, less activity at the extremes. The diocesan web site's history says it well:
Though the separations in recent years of the three parishes and one mission, as well as several clergy, have resulted in a diocese of more moderate polity, sharp and deep division remains. At the same time, the Diocese remains firmly committed to remaining in the Episcopal Church USA, and is striving for a new vision for the Diocese.
Now's the time, it would seem, for an awful lot of Vono's "remaining faithful." In other words, it's a bit of a long stretch ahead, with plenty of opportunity afforded for the new bishop to state and restate fidelity. But what will happen? As the new bishop-elect might remind us, there's no crystal ball to tell.
Christians anticipate the meaning of daily life and future differently from those who consult psychics or horoscopes. We trust in a personal God and proclaim to the world that the essential truth we need to know and the ways in which we need to live have already been given to us in the life, teachings and ministry of Jesus.
Stay tuned, then.