Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Civil Discourse (Part 1)

by the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson (New Hampshire)

Editor's Note: As we noted a few days ago, Bishop Gene Robinson gave an impressive lecture at NOVA University. We later learned that his lecture was part of In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, a book scheduled for publication in April 2008 from Church Publishing. You can place advance orders here. We are grateful to CPI for giving us permission to publish this chapter from Bishop Robinson's forthcoming book; we will publish it in sections over the coming days, as a gift to our readers and the wider church.

In this chapter from his forthcoming book, Bishop Robinson talks about the Scriptures, how the Holy Spirit has guided Christians in the past two millennia, the civil rights of gay and lesbian Christians, and the need for mainstream Christians to "take back the Bible" from the extremists.

Civil Discourse

Sometimes—who knows why—the world just seems to be ready for a movement or a cause. In our day, it’s full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. But swirling around this movement is a galaxy of questions. Why are we here in this particular moment, struggling with this particular issue? Why does religion play a central role in this debate—and is that role appropriate in public discourse? Who are the loudest, strongest voices coming from the religious community, and why are they so strident, unrelenting, and passionate? What does the Bible really say about homosexuality, what does it not say, and why does it matter in a secular state? What is the rightful role of religion in public discourse? How does this debate about the civil rights of LGBT people relate to the other “isms” of our culture, and what is the broader context for discussion of human rights for all citizens? How do we move forward in the never-ending search for the common good?

What the answers are depends on who you are. Look at me. Let’s just note for the record that I am male. I will never know what it’s like to live my life as a female, and if a lesbian were writing this, her perspective would be entirely different. I am a white man. The experience of being gay in a community of color is different than mine, too, especially since gay people of color experience a double discrimination that I can only imagine. I grew up in a family that was poor, uneducated, and deeply religious, in a rural, largely segregated region of Kentucky, where we were tobacco tenant farmers, living without running water and central heat, but unaware of how poor we were. All of that colors who I was, who I came to be, and how I understand my own story. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine a world in which we’d be talking openly about homosexuality, much less having an international debate in which I’d sometimes, reluctantly, find myself at the center.

I am a Christian. The fact that I am tempted to add “but not that kind of Christian” speaks to the powerful role the conservative Religious Right has come to play in this debate. While I believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, I don’t believe he is the sole revelation of God’s self to the world. I respect and revere all those who have come to know God through other faith journeys. I can only speak out of my own context as a Christian, and I trust others to make the connections and translations into the understandings of their own faith communities. After all, the challenge before us as citizens of democracies is to define our rights and responsibilities to one another no matter what our beliefs are.

Why are we here in this particular moment in the history of this country and in the struggle for human rights? In the 1970s, most North Americans, like most Britons or Australians, would have told you – honestly – that they didn’t know any gay or lesbian people. If pushed, they might admit that there was weird Uncle Harry, a lifelong bachelor who everyone knew was a bit different, or those two spinster ladies who’d lived together down the street for as long as anyone could remember. But did they know any out, proud, and self-affirming gay and lesbian people? Probably not.

Fast-forward to today. Is there anyone left who doesn’t know a family member, co-worker, or neighbor who is gay? The reason, of course, is that the intervening decades have seen the unprecedented efforts of gay and lesbian people to make themselves known – as gay and lesbian – to their families, co-workers, and friends. Progress, of course, has proceeded at differing rates based on geography and culture. Metropolitan areas, to which many gay and lesbian people have gravitated because of both anonymity and generally more liberal attitudes, were the vanguard of these public admissions of sexual orientation, and these more secular, less religious, settings have provided more open and accepting environments for coming out. But the real shift in the culture has been the quiet, mostly private admissions by sons and daughters, cousins and aunts and uncles, in families from Birmingham to Boise, from Liverpool to Chipping Norton, from Winnipeg to Sydney: “Yes, I too am gay.”

It was the countless dramas, played out one at a time, of gay and lesbian people, courageously sharing who they really were at the core of their being with those they loved or worked with, that has literally changed the world and brought us to this moment.

That’s the way change always happens. You have a world view that seems to work pretty well at interpreting reality—then bam! Something happens that doesn’t fit into that view – something that your old world view can’t even explain. You’re thrown into chaos and confusion, and nothing seems certain anymore. And then, little by little, your old world view is reshaped to accommodate this new truth.

That’s the way it happens for families of gay and lesbian people. Parents believe the traditional view that homosexuals are immoral, sick, disordered, and misguided – until a beloved child comes and says, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay.” The parents are plunged, on the one hand, into the chaos of knowing their beloved children are not immoral, sick, disordered, or misguided, and on the other hand, knowing that what’s been said about gay people by the Church and the world. Over time, they come to understand that their children are exactly the same people they’ve always been, only happier and healthier. The old world view about homosexuality is overhauled into a new understanding that allows parents to continue loving their children. They may not be out there beating the drum for marriage equality (although many of them are), and they may not be bragging to all their friends about their son’s new boyfriend (though some of them may), but something deep and important has changed, some significant piece of ground has shifted, and the world isn’t the same as it was. That is happening all over the world at any given moment.

Sneak Preview of Part 2
There’s not a single nation, culture, or religion that isn’t dealing with the issue of homosexuality. Even those religions that are absolutely clear and unswerving in their condemnation of homosexuality are being challenged by their gay and lesbian members to take another look at that condemnation. Some estimate, for example, that between 40 and 60 percent of Roman Catholic priests are gay. [Stuart, Elizabeth, Chosen: Gay Catholic Priests Tell Their Stories] The Southern Baptist Convention, to which local autonomy is almost sacred, has expelled congregations for offering blessings to same-sex couples or for calling a gay minister. Conservative Jews have admitted gay and lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered rabbinical students to their seminaries. Evangelical Christians have been rocked by revelations that some of their leaders have had secret affairs with people of the same sex.

Note: This text appears in In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, by Gene Robinson, © 2008 Church Publishing Incorporated. Used by permission of the publisher. Bishop Robinson’s book will be available in April 2008. Order now from Church Publishing.

Part Two of Bishop Robinson's "Civil Discourse" will be published in the next day or two.

Addendum (01/10/08): Continue to Part 2 of Bishop Robinson's essay here.


Blogger David Walker said...

After you dropped a hint yesterday as to what you were working on, I eagerly awaited this. It does not disappoint. I'm so glad that you got to "break the story" and look forward to the subsequent installments.

This is the documentation of these very important times.

1/08/2008 7:11 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thank you, David. I'm really glad to hear that. But just wait. It gets even better in the next sections.

Yes, I was just "bustin' my buttons" to get all the i's dotted and t's crossed so we could post this. I am truly grateful that Church Publishing gave us permission. This is a story that really needs to get out there!

1/08/2008 7:24 PM  
Anonymous Josh Indiana said...

I'm glad that Gene is writing a book and that you are previewing it. The man has taken an incredible amount of abuse, and it's good that he gets to tell his own truths his own way. I look forward to the next installment AND the full-length version.

1/09/2008 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rt Rev Gene Robinson admits he has an advantage being a white man but omits to mention the other advantage he enjoys being a Priest and that too of being a Bishop. What is more, he has imposed upon the community his Episcopalian office of a Bishop which can be understood only if he was born in a slum elsewhere. He has abused the blessings the Lord has showered upon His people, and by publishing that he has not honored the Lord.

1/10/2008 8:21 AM  
Anonymous JCF said...

What is more, he has imposed upon the community his Episcopalian office of a Bishop which can be understood only if he was born in a slum elsewhere.

Say wha???

He has abused the blessings the Lord has showered upon His people

How so?

and by publishing that he has not honored the Lord.

EVERYTHING I've seen and heard about +GR's ministry has honored the Lord!

Come out of your "closet", Anonymous, and speak to the REAL Bp. Gene Robinson, and not the boogeyman you have in your head.

1/26/2008 11:55 PM  

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