Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Gene Robinson Rejects Bible

Bishop Gene Robinson, recently added to the list of inaugural prayer-sayers, has promised that he will neither bring nor read from the Bible when he addresses Sunday’s crowds at the Lincoln Memorial. His choice is as regrettable as his inclusion is worthy of celebration.
Commenting on his choice to leave his Bible at home, Bishop Robinson said, “While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans. I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.” How sad. And for so many reasons.
Does this man not appreciate that something can be “especially Christian” without being exclusively or hurtfully Christian? If he does not, and he seems not to, then his praiseworthy intention to honor all those in attendance, is no better than his most bitter theological and political enemies on the right. Like them, he sees things as all or nothing. And while nothing is the less immediately damaging option, the long-term results are at least as dangerous.
Why cede the use of scripture to those who only use it to stoke the spirits of those with whom they already agree? In fact, doing so is a very bad idea. It sets the stage for a public culture in which only two religious options exist.


One would use religion as the leading edge of a campaign to convert all Americans to one view, because “God wills it”. And the other would consign religion to window dressing at personal moments and life-cycle events. Gone would be the greatness of religious visionaries ranging from Dr. King to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who reminded us that faith was an important vehicle for creating a more inclusive and humane world as much as it was there to make us feel better.
Why not develop an ethic of public prayer and Bible reading that allows each of us to be who we most deeply are, without raining down shame and disapproval of those who are different? Isn’t that a fundamental (no pun intended) spiritual belief, especially for people like Robinson, who fought so long for all of who they are to be publically recognized and honored?
His fear that many Americans do not hold the Bible to be sacred is not the issue. On that basis, why does Robinson take the podium as a Bishop? We are not all Christian, let alone Episcopalian, either. To be fair to his own principles, he would need to decline the invitation altogether, or speak as one private citizen, rooted in no tradition at all. Were that the case however, he would not have been invited to begin with.
In fact, Bishop Robinson seems to hold a view of inclusivity that is as aggressively homogenizing as Rick Warren’s theology. And while his speaking at the inauguration is certainly worthy of celebration, that view is certainly not.

  • Rob

    Rabbi, I appreciate your comments, although I do have a different take on the issue. Bishop Robinson represents a constituency, that like another group that naming would not be appropriate here, a relatively small constituency that has unusual political power, the Episcopalians. His namby-pambytude regarding theology simply represents the beliefs of his flock. It is entirely appropriate for him to take the podium professing belief in nothing in particular except his own elevation to bishop, wearing his nice hat.

  • eastcoastlady

    Rabbi Brad,
    I don’t get you. Your article titles appear to be getting increasingly inflammatory and incendiary, just attention-grabbers that often have little to do with your article, or end up being misleading.
    It’s clear that the Bishop does not “reject the Bible” – he’s just choosing not to bring it to this particular event. I suspect my rabbi can preach or give a sermon without the Torah in front of him. I also appreciate the Bishop’s attempts at inclusiveness. It would seem that you can find fault if he were to make his speech “Christian”, versus trying to be more wide-reaching.
    I would respectfully request that you re-think your approach to giving titles to your posts. Your thoughts are interesting enough, whether or not I or anyone else agrees with them, to have to resort to what I see as a cheap attention-getting device, hardly worthy of you.

  • Pavvel

    I’m with eastcoastlady on this one, Rabbi Brad.
    But on the issue at hand, much as I’d like to, I really can’t agree with you. Public events (as opposed to events that are simply open to the public) really should be non-sectarian affairs. How can any non-Christian not feel excluded at an event that in theory is as much his or her event as anyone else’s if a prayer proclaims a theology or a sovereignty that is not his or hers?
    My fundamentalist Christian relatives would be happy to pray at the inauguration. But the only valid way of praying, in their view, is to pray to Jesus as God, to proclaim the salvific power of the death burial and resurrection of Jesus, make a few requests as a sort of afterthought, and then end in Jesus’ name. It is prayer that works for them. I don’t begrudge it them. Anything different is wasted breath to them. But their prayer life has no business in the public events of our nation because it specifically excludes people of different religious orientations.
    While those relative’s approach to prayer may be an extreme case, it is merely a matter of scale. Public events should not include implied or explicit exclusion of portions of the public. We’ll see what Bishop Robinson actually says. But limiting particular religious content is the right choice.

  • Jeremy

    If the prayer is for the world, and is not a particularly “Christian” prayer, then who is the prayer to? The world cannot fix itself, and how can there be a “universal prayer”?

  • Henrietta22

    It is sad that people will pull a persons intentions apart to meet their opinions, but it happens all the time. Bishop Robinson spoke his truth and that is that the Bible is not a sacred text to many in our nation. He is speaking of justice, and other things that equate for all men and women, and you don’t have those words in blue that was an important part of what he said to the press, Rabbi Hischfield. Let’s listen to what “he” has to say at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.

  • Pavvel

    If, when you say, “The world cannot fix itself,” you are referring to the world of human affairs, you are absolutely right. It can’t fix itself. That is the job of people.
    If there injustice in the world, WE have to bring justice. If there is hate, WE have to train the next generation to build their life without hate. If there is pollution, WE have to clean it up and construct cleaner habits and technology. If there is poverty, WE have to find ways to bring everyone to greater financial well-being. If there is child abuse, WE have to rescue the abused and break the cycle of violence. If there is illiteracy, WE have to build educational systems that achieve their proper aims. IT’S ON US! Not God.
    A prayer or a life of prayer may be a touchstone for getting to the point where we can fulfill more of these God-given human responsibilities. But prayer will never, in itself, do the work.
    And, if we are hoping of a public prayer that it play even some small role in getting people ready to do their human duties, then the primary necessity is for the prayer not to turn off the very people it should be turning on to their role in fixing the world.
    If one conceives of prayer differently, though, as neither a request for a magical fix nor a foundation for a life of meaningful action, I am hard pressed to understand its place in a public event like the inauguration.

  • NightLad

    I think it shows the strength of his religious convictions to use this moment of international attention, not to push his one faith as being supreme, but rather to push the idea that we are all people and all worthy of inclusion. Isn’t that the ultimate message of his faith, anyway? How clever that he can spread that transcending, binding truth without mentioning Christ or, more pointedly, overtly prosthelyzing the audience.
    I think he is far wiser than he is given credit for. If he were str8, Christian thinkers would probably be crowing about how smart he is.

  • Your Name

    I fear that the word God is being lost God help us all

  • JAB

    Everybody wants to pray for everybody else. One guy is writing a blog about what Rick Warren should pray, and now you are writing about what you think Gene Robinson should do. They were the ones asked. Let them do it.

  • robroy

    St. Paul’s words are scary in that they so accurately describe Mr. Robinson and “his constituency”:
    “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

  • Rob the Rev

    In response to robroy January 15, 2009 10:37 PM comments:
    Regarding the Epistle writer Paul’s statement that you quote: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
    I would expect, of course, that any dogmatic person, like Paul of Tarsus, would seek to head off any opposition or competing beliefs with ridicule and condemnation. Paul sets up his own “orthodoxy” and then establishes himself as the judge of other’s beliefs based on his “orthodoxy.” Sounds like circular reasoning to me.

  • Not a scholar

    I’m by no means a Biblical scholar, but I know enough about the Bible to know that Christianity is not an inclusive thing. It is open for all, but you are either in or not.
    The minister’s desire to make people feel “included” seems to work against the essence of what Christianity teaches (not religion). Loving others does not mean accepting their beliefs, it means loving them in spite of their beliefs and working to help them see the truth. For those that aren’t Christians the truth may be different, but as an Anglican minister he is a Christian and has that same charge.
    My sense is that Reverence Robinson is more inclined to push his agenda than he is God’s agenda. The Christian thing to do if he was asked to give a prayer that honored all “religions” (AKA – gods) would be to gracefully decline or offering to pray as what he says he is – a Christian.
    I wonder what Christ would have said if someone asked him to pray a politically correct prayer? Actually, I don’t wonder!

  • Pavvel

    Response to “Not a scholar”:
    No historical Jesus would have understood the concept of political correctness as it was nearly 2000 years in the future.
    What the Christian gospels do present, though, is a Jesus who is more accepting and inclusive than those who took opposing positions were presented in those same gospels as being. That gap is pretty certainly an exaggeration. But to the extent the gospels say anything about Jesus, they show him to have been pretty darn inclusive for living against a backdrop of a ruthless empire that killed dissidents en masse, an empire that had a state religion that was not his.
    So Jesus wouldn’t have prayed a politically correct prayer. So what? That doesn’t mean people of our age shouldn’t.
    And as for what Christianity teaches, that has constantly been changing and evolving since it began, just as every religion does and has done. The fact that your sacred text can be interpreted to mean that it’s all about either/or, you’re in or you’re out, you’re saved or you’re damned is meaningless. Those same texts can be and have been interpreted to say that God accepts ALL into his arms, even if they don’t believe in Him.
    So the important thing is to work for interpretations of whatever we hold dear that will help us build the world that will be the best not just for us but for all.
    If that means praying a politically correct prayer, then so be it.

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