MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Over the weekend, the first openly gay bishop in the Worldwide Anglican Communion shocked the church faithful in New Hampshire when he announced he will retire. Gene Robinson said the controversy following his consecration as Episcopal bishop in 2003 has been a constant strain.
Bishop Robinson joins us from Concord to talk about his decision. Welcome back to the program.
Reverend GENE ROBINSON (Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire): Thanks, Melissa. I'm so glad to be here.
BLOCK: You did mention death threats that you've received in that speech. I know you wore a bulletproof vest when you were consecrated seven years ago. Are those threats ongoing still?
Rev. ROBINSON: It continues to be a pressure but, you know, this was only one of the reasons that led to my decision. The real reason is that by the time I retire, I'll be approaching my 66th birthday. I will have been a bishop here for nine years. But I did want to say to the folks gathered that this has been a particular extra burden that I have borne and continue to bear. And, you know, that just takes its toll on you, and I think even more so on those you love and certainly on my husband, Mark.
BLOCK: This is Mark Andrew, whom you joined back in 2008 in civil union there in New Hampshire, right?
Rev. ROBINSON: That's right. And then in marriage this year, when marriage equality became the law here in New Hampshire.
BLOCK: Can you talk just a bit about the kinds of threats that you mentioned and the pressure that that's put on you?
Rev. ROBINSON: What I want to say about that is there is nothing like a death threat to get your attention and to make you think about God. And it seems to me that one of the real benefits of believing in the Resurrection is that you understand that death is not the worst thing. Not living your life, that's the worst thing.
And so in the face of death threats, it actually strengthened my faith and strengthened my relationship with the living God, who has seemed so close to me during all of this. And has helped me understand that life is a gift and we are meant to be good stewards of that gift, and to use it for its best possible potential.
BLOCK: You may remember, Bishop Robinson, when you and I spoke back in 2003 after you were consecrated, you told me - I can't wait for the gay part to be over. I don't want to be the gay bishop. I want to be a good bishop.
I wonder if that ever happened. I mean, the first words in my intro mentioned that you were the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.
Rev. ROBINSON: You know, it hasn't happened. And for the first couple of years, I really struggled with that. And then I decided that that was selfish of me. I have been given this amazing opportunity to minister to and advocate for gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
And what I decided was to make my peace with being The Gay Bishop, and to use that opportunity and be the best steward I possibly can of the opportunities that have come my way to speak to and for gay and lesbian people throughout this ministry.
So I've made my peace with that. I don't get to write the headlines, I can't control that. And so I just want to use it to do the most good that I can.
BLOCK: After you were consecrated as bishop, there were a number of conservative churches in this country that left the Episcopal Church, joined with conservative Anglican churches overseas. Do you feel responsible for this division within the Episcopal Church that you've loved for so long?
Rev. ROBINSON: First, let me remind you of the proportions of this. While reading the headlines, you might think this has been something like a 50/50 split in the Episcopal Church, even those who have left only claimed to have about 100,000 followers, leaving over two million Episcopalians. So it's a small group that left.
I mourn their leaving. I am so sad about that. But, at the end of the day, you can't make someone stay who intends to go. And they made that decision. I didn't make that decision. And so, no, I don't feel responsible for it.
What I do feel responsible for is in discerning God's call to me as best I can. And then with every ounce of energy that I have to follow that call. And they have to do the same. And if they believe God has called them to leave the Episcopal Church, then God bless them and I hope they're very, very happy.
But they didn't have to leave and they are welcome back anytime they want to come.
BLOCK: Bishop Robinson, your retirement as bishop of New Hampshire isn't effective until January of 2013. What do you see coming for yourself next? What's your next role after you leave?
Rev. ROBINSON: I don't know what I'll do in 2013. I know that it will involve telling the good news of God's love for all of God's children, no matter what I choose to do.
I'm also interested in the intersection of religion and public policy. I think there is a way for religious voices to have a role in the public debates and issues that face us, without violating the separation of church and state. And I hope to work in that area.
And I hope to have a little bit of time for myself and for my husband. So I would like to see him and my grandchildren a little more.
BLOCK: Well, Bishop Robinson, thank you for talking with us.
Rev. ROBINSON: You're very welcome, Melissa. Nice to talk to you.
BLOCK: That's Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire who announced his retirement over the weekend.