Openly gay New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson has spent the last five years seeking reconciliation with those who saw his election as immoral, unbiblical or, as one Nigerian archbishop put it, a “satanic attack on God’s church.”
Yet the choice of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration left Robinson deeply disappointed after Warren campaigned for Proposition 8, a California constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.
Robinson talked about seeking reconciliation with those who, like Warren, take a more conservative view against homosexuality. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You endorsed Barack Obama before the New Hampshire primary. Does his choice of Rick Warren make you second-guess your support for his campaign?
A: No, not at all. I have just total confidence in Barack Obama and I think he will be the greatest friend to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community we’ve ever seen. This is about the religious person you put in front of the world to pray for the nation and for the new president.
Q: So let’s cut to the chase. What’s wrong with Rick Warren offering the invocation at the inauguration?
A: I actually have a lot of respect for Rick Warren; amongst evangelicals, he’s taken a hit for his compassionate response to AIDS, his commitment to alleviating poverty. He’s done some good things. The difficult thing is that he’s said, and continues to affirm, some horrendous things about homosexuality — comparing it to incest, bestiality, that kind of thing. This is not a choice that really represents everyone. This choice was just really, really unfortunate.
Q: You’ve talked a lot about reconciliation, and bringing disparate sides together, in your own divided Episcopal Church. Are you not willing to do the same with Rick Warren?
A: No, I absolutely am. I would sit down with Rick Warren this morning if I had the opportunity. I would love to engage him. In some ways he’s a very brave person, but he’s woefully wrong about the issue of homosexuality. He needs to be confronted about the lies he told about gay people to the people of California.
Q: So this is really about the forum of the inauguration, not necessarily Rick Warren per se.
A: That’s right. It’s about this particular venue and the role that he has in praying for all of America, and I’m just not sure he’d pray to God the same way I would.
Q: You told The New York Times that “the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.” What God do you think he’s praying to?
A: I think he is praying to a God, at least around this issue, that calls upon God’s homosexual children to deny who they are, to deprive themselves of love and intimacy that is permitted every other one of God’s children. He’s praying to a God who calls on me, as a gay man, to change, to submit myself to the power of Jesus so I can be healed of this `infirmity’ of mine.
Q: And how is that different from the God that you pray to?
A: The God I know says to me, just like we hear God saying at Jesus’
baptism, that you are my beloved, and in you I am well pleased. That’s a very, very different God. Imagine the difference between a parent who loves you for you who are, and one that says I’ll only love you if you change.
Q: If Warren hadn’t endorsed Proposition 8, would this be such a big issue?
A: It’s a little bit difficult to separate the two. It would have been better had he been silent on Prop 8, but his stated attitudes on this, and his views on gay and lesbian people, are a matter of record that predate Prop 8. The reason this has hit the LGBT community so hard is that the wounds are still awfully raw for us following the vote on Prop 8.
Q: Obama and Warren have both said that Warren got heat for inviting Obama to his church. So, isn’t it appropriate for Obama to return the gesture?
A: Again, it’s the specific thing and the specific event that he’s been invited to do. This particular choice (of Warren) is not about having everyone at the table for a discussion or some sort of general forum. Every choice related to who does what at the inauguration is highly symbolic, and I think the transition team failed to ask the question of what, symbolically, this might say to some of our citizens.
Q: Are you coming down for the inauguration?
A: I am. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service
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