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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?”