Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Gene Robinson’s Offer and Challenge to Rick Warren: Beliefnet’s Interview

On Monday, I visited with Gene Robinson at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the day after his historic prayer opening the inaugural ceremonies.
We’ll have video later but I wanted to quickly get up some of the highlights of what I found a fascinating interview (conducted with our partners at The Wall Street Journal):
What a difference five years makes:
Robinson said he was huddled together privately with his daughter and partner, Mark, and his daughter reminded him that the last time the three of them were secluded in a hotel room was five years ago when the Episcopal general assembly was considering his consecration. Charges came forward that he was involved in sexual misconduct and linked to a pornographic website. He knew they were false but didn’t know whether he could disprove them in time.

“People were saying unspeakable things about me and my detractors, of course, were relishing that moment. Ella [his daughter] reflected last night what a difference five years makes… Here we were [Sunday] sequestered away again but now awaiting to speak before the new First Family, a million people gathered on the mall in Washington, at the invitation of the President of the United States. So it’s at least one indication of how far we’ve come in five years.”

Though it’s hard to know for sure, he said he suspects this will prove to be a truly significant moment in the history of gay nad lesbian rights.

“But I have to say the hope and change was so exuberantly in the air yesterday I think almost everyone there from the most exalted to the most humble thought they were present thought we present for the beginning something that we could know was a turning point. And for gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered people, we had that sense as well…
[Obama] has indicated in virtually every possible way that he would be the gay friendliest president we’ve ever seen…”

He says the true importance is the combination of Obama and the willingness of more and more gays to come out of the closet.
“We have a president who knows and respects us a citizens of the country and children of God and we have this moment in our culture in which so many of us have come out…”
On Praying About the Threats to Obama’s Life
Robinson said Obama’s family seemed particularly appreciative that he prayed for Obama’s physical safety, and that he shares a bond with Obama over this issue of personal endangerment and conquering fear.

“I prayed long and hard about whether to mention that. But it occurred to me that it’s on everyone mind, no one wants to really say it out lout but if you can’t voice your fears and your hopes in a prayers to God then you might as well close up and go home. So I decided to include it. ….
He’s sitting there behind a bullet proof glass partition, everyone knows he’s taking an incredible risk in doing this.”

Earlier in the campaign, Robinson said, he and Obama had talked about the death threats to both of them

“We talked about what it’s like to have death threats, how to choose to live your life anyway and if you give in to that fear then the other side wins. It’s a bond with him that I feel and he was just incredibly gracious with me.”

The death threats, Robinson said, have deepened his faith in God.

Fear is a terrible thing and it does terrible things to people. I think the most often used phrase in both Old and New Testaments is, “be not afraid,” “fear not.”…
I think one of the hallmarks of one who actually believes the gospel is that for the most part they’re not fearful… When the death threats started coming for me, my partner Mark and I had to decide whether we’re going to give into this, change our lives, put curtains on all the windows, or would that represent a victory to the other side.
When I was strapping on my bullet proof vest for my own consecration…they [my family] were concerned and worried. But the joy that comes from being Christian is knowing that death isn’t the worst thing. Not living your life – now that’s something t be afraid of. But as Christians we don’t have to fear death because we know that not even death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, as Paul says.
In an odd sort of way, coming to that calm place –I’d say being brought there by God; it’s not something any of us can accomplish on our own, it comes as a gift from God — has deepened my faith.”
I know there are people out there would like to see me dead…. This is going to move forward because GOD is going t have god’s way.

Why Robinson decided to not pray an explicitly Christian prayer.

“It’s such an amazing responsibility. I decided pretty early on that it would not be an overlty Christian prayer. I went back and read the inaugural invocations and I was simply horrified about how aggressively Christian they were. All I could think of was If I were a Jew, a Christian, a Hindu I would feel so excluded. I would be screaming at the TTV set – hey what about me!
So I decided I would not make it overtly Christian. I actually took an idea from the 12 step work I did as a recovering alcoholic…. The God of my understanding. It made me remember that there are as many understandings of God as there are people…
No one faith has God in a box. Whatever God is he’s more than any of us can articulate.
So rather than praying to God using the name of the Trinity or Jesus or whatever, I prayed to the God of many understandings…What I really wanted was a prayer that all people of faith could pray with me.
I think it was absolutely in tune with everything that Jesus said about pulling in the marginalized and caring for the poor and the most vulnerable in our midst.
I have gotten more angry emails and letters from “good Chrisitan people” about how horrible that was that I made that decision. Some indicated I was neglecting an opportunity to save all of the unchurched from eternal damnation….That was not the right kind of prayer for that occasion.
Jesus was very attuned to walking the walk. Don’t show me with your words show me with your actions. If people of this nation lived their lives according to what I layed out in the prayer, God would be very happy. Above all else God is hospitable and open and inclusive of all of gods children. That’s what I wanted to do with this prayer. “

On Rick Warren’s comment that he loves both straights and gays:

“Lots of people who say terrible things about us as homosexual people and our relationships claim toy love us . All I can say back is, gosh it doesn’t seem that that’s true or doesn’t seem very different than if you said you didn’t love us. It’s not unlike when people say there’s nothing wrong with being gay as long as you don’t act on it. That doesn’t feel very good or helpful or supportive or kind to the one on the receiving end of that. Doesn’t feel much different from just being slammed.
It’s very difficult to separate your love for me from your opinions about the deep loves in my life, the things that make me tick as a gay man, If you don’t honor this person and this relationship that’s been a part of my life for 21 years, this partner who has stood by over the last 5 and half years of unbearable stress and publicity and so on…. if you can’t see anything good in that, I’m not sure your love is all that worthwhile.”

On Saddleback not allowing gays to be members (and taking that notice off their website):
“I can’t wait to sit down and talk with Rick Warren. I would do so any time day or night. Because I would love to ask him what were the reasons that material was taken off the website. I’d like to think it was because he had newly and freshly aware of how hurtful that is and how it doesn’t reflect our reality of gay and lesbian people.
On those who say gays should try suppress their homosexual inclinations:

I’ve been the reparative therapy route. I did that. My own experience is it doesn’t work. I think what it does it that it teaches gay and lesbian people to become so self loathing that they are willing to not act in a natural way, and deprive themselves of the kind of love and support that makes life worthwhile, that makes sense of our own lives and being. I can’t be supportive of that.
It only underscores the way the church has gotten this wrong. God doesn’t ever get it wrong but the church often does. I would remind him [Rick Warren] that the church got it wrong about its use of the scripture to support slavery for 18 or 19 centuries and the support the denigration and subjugation of women. I think the church has gotten it wrong about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. In time we will look back on this the way we now look back in horror at our support of slavery and the denigration of women. This debate will go on for a while. I think even the likes of Rick Warren and his congregation will come to see that gay people are a gift from God to the world and to the church.”

An olive branch to Rick Warren:

“I was delighted and honored by his comments and now that the full slate is out there I can be very much more welcoming of the invitation of Rick Warren. At the time, it was the only invitation out there and we didn’t know yet how was going to be on the program.
A message to Rick Warren? Let’s sit down. I think what would happen, which might frighten him, is that we have so much more in common than that which separates us. I would want to tell him about my relationship with my partner, about how just as in marriage–and by the way I was married so I’m in a position to compare these two – the church believes in marriage because it believes that kind of love between two people, that selfless, self-giving love, is a place where God can show up. And I would like to tell him where God has shown up in my relationship with my partner. Scripture says, “by your fruits you will know them” and the fruits of the spirit are appearing in gay and lesbian relationships, then couldn’t he acknowledge those fruits of the spirit and begin to rejoice with us over those relationships?”

Comments read comments(18)
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Bernie Schillo

posted January 20, 2009 at 9:39 am

So this man isn’t going to say a “Christian” prayer. Why should that come as a surprise?

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posted January 20, 2009 at 9:47 am

I find it amazing that this Christian minister equates Jesus Christ to “whatever”. I also find it amazing that this man thinks only of the marginalized. In every interview there seems to be an element of victimization. Yes, Christ associated and taught to those on the fringe of society. But He did not accept them because they were on the fringe. He expected that they would learn His lesson and realize that He is the path to salvation…the ONLY path.
Isn’t that the essence of being a Christian?

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posted January 20, 2009 at 10:13 am

So very lost. The harm that he has caused the Episcopal denomination, now the fastest declining, is stupefying. So many lies from this man
“All I could think of was If I were a Jew, a Christian, a Hindu I would feel so excluded. I would be screaming at the tv set – hey what about me!”
Probably, the same reaction I have when I hear a Hindu or Muslim praying…I quietly and respectively disagree. No shouting at the TV. What a ridiculous notion.
“I’ve been the reparative therapy route. I did that. My own experience is it doesn’t work. I think what it does it that it teaches gay and lesbian people to become so self loathing that they are willing to not act in a natural way, and deprive themselves of the kind of love and support that makes life worthwhile, that makes sense of our own lives and being.”
Exodus International, which has recently doubled in size, boasts a “cure” rate of 30-50%. No where near 100% but much higher than substance abuse programs which are in the single digits.
“The church got it wrong about slavery for 18-19 centuries.”
Slavery only raised its head for a couple centuries in the past two millenium and it was the church (Wilberforce and the abolitionists) that put it down.

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

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Your Name

posted January 20, 2009 at 10:20 am

Thanx to the above 3 posters for the ‘blessings’, since I know I am blessed when people curse me and revile me and say all manner of evil against me falsely and do it in Christ’s name.
And the lies about Exodus’s “success” rate only adds to the insanity being spouted about God’s gay and lesbian children. Shame on all 3 of you. You speak of “lusts”; Robinson’s life, inaugural prayer and testimony are all about love. Sorry you can’t tell the difference.

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Your Name

posted January 20, 2009 at 10:45 am

I’m a Lutheran, a commissioned lay minister in my congregation, and a lesbian. I was happy to see Bishop Robinson included in the Inaugural celebrations (and irritated when his pre-Obama-concert prayer was “disappeared” by HBO). I also — and I say this as someone who’s been called to say prayers in groups that include persons of other faiths and nonbelievers — understand the desire to be as inclusive as possible in a context that seeks to bring all citizens together. But if it were me saying the prayer — I would have, somehow, acknowledged my own Christian faith even as I sought to gather up all the prayers of all the citizenry in my own…not because I need it or that God needs it, but because of people like the first three respondents to this post, who will use any opportunity to dismiss and disrespect the faith of their sisters and brothers in Christ who happen to be gay or lesbian. As a female Canadian politician, many years ago, noted in her own struggles to be taken seriously by the male-dominated political system, “Sometimes you have to work twice as hard to be thought half as good as a man. Fortunately, this is not difficult.” While I know that those of us in the Christian G/L faith community will never be accepted by some of our coreligionists…we also don’t need to give our detractors extra ammunition in questioning our Christian faith.

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posted January 20, 2009 at 10:56 am

If I would propose a radical modification of an organization, it would be incumbent for me to show that that modification won’t bring the demise of the organization.
Mr. Robinson has been an unmitigated disaster for his tiny diocese (attendance down 17%, 6% in the last year alone, and disaster for the denomination, now the fastest declining.
For a church to buy into the “gay is OK” line is to commit ecclesiastical suicide. Look and continental Europe, look at Canada. Yet the lemmings now running the Episcopal denomination press forward over the cliffs. ELCA, Methodists and Presbyterians do you really want to follow them?

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non-metaphysical stephen

posted January 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm

May God anoint Bishop Robinson and make him fruitful in all that he does, and may he be an instrument of hope to all the LGBT people who love Jesus but who are told by their churches that they are abominations.
Let us not reject those whom God has declared clean. Amen.

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posted January 20, 2009 at 2:48 pm

While I know we all tresspass and God’s grace is overwhelming I pray that I will never forget to call sin SIN. If I lust, if I have unforgiveness, if I lie, if I trade natural affections for unnatural, PLEASE Holy Spirit keep me malleable enough to ask forgiveness and draw me close enough to you that I determine to press and overcome with Your Strength and repent. Take not Thy Spirit from me.

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posted January 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I hope Pastor Warren stays out of this. He is NOT the “anti-gay” Pastor. He simply support Prop 8 during the last election cycle by emailing his congregation and some other associated Pastors expressing his views (as he should). There are so many more important issues to deal with as evangelical Christians.

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posted January 20, 2009 at 4:42 pm

We make moral decisions in TEC not because they may help the attendance numbers, but because they are the right thing to do.
+Robinson speaks eloquently about doing the right thing, which is why, eventually, his diocese will “turn around”.
Look: if you are tired of intolerance and judgementalism, you may find a home in the Episcopal Church.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 1:55 am

This was such a beautiful article, thank you so much.
God bless Gene Robinson and bless those poor, sad people above who have read his kind, loving, open-hearted words and still struggle to find reasons to hate. God bless them the most, they need Gods love the most.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 4:30 am

I am sad to see that people criticize me and other posters because we question Robinson’s faith. Speaking for myself, I not questioning his faith based on his homosexuality, I question his faith based on the idea that, as a Christian, one is supposed to accept that we are all sinners and that the only way to salvation is through Christ’s sacrifice.
This is not “hate speech” and I not see how it can be constued as such.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 8:08 am

Gene Robinson is a truly sad and needy sinner. Jesus, who came as the light of the world and brings freedom and life to those who are captive and dead in their sins, has become a marginal, ineffective player within his misguided ministry. I am not gay, but have spent much of my life under the oppression of the indwelling sin of lust. Praise God that I am set free. This freedom is available to all sinners. You too can be free! Allow the light of the Gospel to illuminate your dark world.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Gene Robinson is clearly a better christian than Rick Warren. He is loving and considerate, avoids being judgmental, and respects the faiths of others.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 6:00 pm

I just wish more people would actually educate themselves on the issues that are brought forth in the Bible. While Leviticus says that homosexuality is wrong it also says not to eat pork or shellfish. I noticed at an early age that the Christians surrounding me simply would pick and chose what to follow. While Paul, Saul of Tarsus also wrote against homosexuality his opinion is not the opinion of Jesus. In fact, he was a persecuter of Christians before miraculously finding the light (or possibly the ability to take away anything factual about the religion by almost single handedly changing the rules).
I’ll be interested in the Christian point of view on homosexuality when I find a Christian that lives up to the rest of their holy book. For some reason they pick homosexuality to zero in on. Then again, we see how huge critics of homosexuality like Larry Craig end up :D

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