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Virtual Trickery Backfires

By Ethan Flad

David Virtue’s hateful "house of cards" may have finally come tumbling down. The notorious online source of an aggressive anti-women, anti-homosexual agenda, Virtue’s vitriol sank to a desperate new low on Monday, August 4th.

At the 8:30am press briefing, Virtue walked up to the microphone and asked bishop spokespersons Wendell Gibbs (Michigan) and Ed Little (Northern Indiana), "Do you know that Gene Robinson’s website is linked by one click to 5,000 pornographic websites?" No, responded both bishops. Virtue followed up, "Well, now that you do know this, will this change your vote on his election?" Gibbs replied, "I would doubt the veracity of such information at this moment. It seems like a last-minute ploy." Virtue walked back to his seat shaking his head.

A last-minute ploy indeed: the phrase "dirty tricks" seems more to the point. Over the next several hours, as another, larger bomb was launched at Gene Robinson’s election, Virtue’s campaign to bring down the bishop-elect began to unravel.

"The links were up last night when I looked at that time. I think that the Presiding Bishop must have spanked Gene Robinson and had him remove them overnight." Excuse me: the PB "spanked" him?

A review of "Robinson’s website" — the page that describes him on the Diocese of New Hampshire’s site — reveals no links of any sort such as were suggested by Virtue. Finding none, I asked Virtue just where this link was. He responded, "The website is www.outright.org, and apparently the links have just been taken down this morning." Hmmn. "The links were up last night when I looked at that time. I think that the Presiding Bishop must have spanked Gene Robinson and had him remove them overnight." Excuse me: the PB "spanked" him?

At least Virtue’s comments revealed that it was some other organization, and not the diocesan site. So the next step was a review of www.outright.org. No link was found there. The site — which many readers of this article will probably have looked at by now — says that the organization’s mission is "to create safe, positive, and affirming environments for young gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and questioning people ages 22 and under. OutRight aspires to a youth-driven philosophy in which youth needs and beliefs form decision, and a collaboration of youth and adults provides support, education, advocacy, and social activities." It sounds positive. But there was no evidence of the organization’s relationship to Gene Robinson.

Research through the day uncovered that Robinson was involved several years ago in launching an OutRight chapter in Concord, N.H., but according to a statement from the organization this afternoon, he has not been involved with their work in two years. Characterizing this as "Gene Robinson’s website" is an obvious Virtue lie. Yet another falsehood was made in the "one-click to porn" allegation. In a World Wide Web where everything is separated by six degrees of separation, it turns out that a link to porn was found deeply embedded in outright.org; ironically enough, it took six clicks from their home page to get to that link.

In the early afternoon, the news broke of allegations of sexual misconduct against Robinson by a man named David Lewis, who lives in Manchester, Vt. In an email to bishops of the Episcopal Church, Lewis claims, "Well, as outstanding as Gene Robinson may have been thus far as a priest, my personal experience of him is that he does not maintain appropriate boundaries with men." He continues, "When I first encountered Gene at a Province I convocation a couple of years ago he put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation. NO GAY MAN HAS EVER BEHAVED TOWARDS ME THIS WAY."

In mid-afternoon, David Anderson of the conservative American Anglican Council responded to the media feeding frenzy, holding an impromptu press conference in the middle of the 2nd floor News Room. Surrounded by about 50 media representatives, Anderson indicated, "I’ve been hearing these allegations for several days." He later clarified that he was referring to the website porn issue, saying, "I only learned about the [David Lewis] email this morning." Several reporters asked exactly when Anderson had heard about it, and as he tried to avoid answering, Virtue sought to butt in and change the line of questioning. While he attempted to redirect the attention of the reporters to the porn sites, a visibly frustrated media were more interested in the process, and kept repeating, "When did you know?! How long have you known about this? Why didn’t you tell church leaders when you knew?" Later in the day, on CNBC, Anderson said he’d first seen the porn link on Saturday.

This is not the first time that dirty tricks have been used at the last minute in our church. But according to many progressives, there is an ironic change in tactics that has taken place over the past thirty years by those who resist a more inclusive church.

This is not the first time that dirty tricks have been used at the last minute in our church. But according to many progressives, there is an ironic change in tactics that has taken place over the past thirty years by those who resist a more inclusive church. Back in 1976, women’s activists like Marge Christie and Sally Bucklee report, the mood on the floor of the House of Deputies was "nasty, dirty; some of the statements were ugly."

They were told women weren’t capable of being clergy.

Now, conversely, at a time when church leaders like George Werner praise the "demeanor, constraint and discipline" in the House of Deputies, the overall situation might be worse than it was back in that mean-spirited era. Two years ago, David Dixon, husband of Bishop Jane Dixon, was accused of assault by the junior warden of the parish in Accokeek, Md. on the day the infamous legal hearing was to take place. Last year, according to Anglican Communion sources, Archbishop Rowan Williams was demonized by the group "Reform" at the time of his appointment. Both of these efforts were organized by media-savvy right-wing activists. Sound familiar?

With internet-based activists like David Virtue on the prowl, it appears that no one is safe from the instantaneous ability to distribute unfounded rumors, not even in the church. We pray that the House of Bishops will see past these dirty tricks, and move on to truly "engage God’s mission" despite the spiteful resistance of fringe hate activists.

 

Ethan Flad is editor of The Witness magazine. His reports from General Convention are appearing regularly in Issues, the daily paper of The Consultation, and the Every Voice News, a daily publication of the Every Voice Network. This article appears in the August 5 edition of EVN.