Last night, I went to hear Bishop V. Gene Robinson speak at the Emory Law School. If you don't already know, Robinson is the gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire whose ordination has been a catalyst for schism within the Anglican Communion. For better or worse - and I believe worse - Robinson is a history-changer. He's not a "celebrity" like Britney Spears, but he will be remembered in the history books, possibly for centuries, while Britney won't even merit a footnote.
Despite arriving half an hour early, I found no seats available in the auditorium. But caught up in a last minute scrum, I somehow ended up in the front row - a great place for a view, but not so great if you're not going to applaud (I didn't) or give him three standing ovations (I didn't give him even one). Awkward, indeed. At least I didn't hurl tomatoes, or invective.
And it was draining. When it was all over, I felt like I do after a long, tense, enervating movie.
Robinson spoke for maybe 45 minutes, then had a short colloquy with a fawning Harvard professor, then took several questions from the audience. It's not surprising that Robinson likens his situation to that of the campaigners for black civil rights or equal rights for women. He accuses himself of racism and misogyny, which I guess is designed to provide a foundation for accusing those who oppose him of heterosexism (he said he avoids the term homophobia). Victimhood is a strangely comforting position to be in for many, Robinson apparently included.
I won't attempt a detailed recap of his talk or the questions. In some ways, the non-sex-related comments he made were the most illuminating. They certainly explain how he can arrive at the conclusion that it's just fine with God if you are a practicing homosexual. Here are some statements I found "interesting:"
- "I do not believe that Jesus is the sole revelation of God to man." Other faith communities are also OK to God.
- Homosexual behavior is "not immoral, sick, disordered, misguided."
- "You can't find too many definite proclamations in Scripture," so people an use the Bible to say anything. We have a "flawed understanding" of such Biblical words as "abomination."
- "I believe the Scriptures to be the Word of God, but not the words of God."
- Jesus is God's highest revelation. The Bible isn't. [But how do we know anything about Jesus apart from the Bible?]
- Jesus said, "I will send the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth." The truth the Spirit is leading us to now is that gays and women deserve "full inclusion."
- Regarding divorce and remarriage: "In spite of the explicit injunction against it from the mouth of Jesus Himself," the Holy Spirit has led us to accept divorced people who remarry. [Thus the Spirit can contradict Jesus.]
- Straight Christians focus on homosexuals so they won't need to deal with their own sexual issues. [He doesn't know the straight Christians I know!]
- "It is time that Christians and Jews actually read the holy Scriptures." [The old canard. Besides myself, I know plenty of Christians who have read the Bible several times through and arrive at conclusions very different from Robinson's.]
- "I helped start a group for 12-21 year old [gay] teens."
- "People who oppose me are only believing what they were taught." [None of his opponents has carefully studied the matter?]
- His advice to gay Catholic priests is that the ordination of women is a good first step on the way toward the full inclusion of homosexuals.
- "There are as many sexualities as there are human beings."
- "God is omni-vulnerable."
There was more, of course, but the above gives you a good flavor of the evening. One thing I listened carefully for, and didn't hear, is any suggestion that whether we're gay or straight, we're called to be continent (i.e., celibate) until marriage or something roughly equivalent. Robinson himself is in a committed relationship and has a "spouse," but at no time did he suggest that spousal fidelity should be normative. He'd lose a lot of gay supporters if he were to advocate such a position, and I still wouldn't agree with him, but I think his position would be much easier to defend. As it is, it comes across more like, "People should be free to do what they want to do, as long as it's loving (and not child abuse or other things I don't think are OK)." That position is intellectual mush, no matter how palatable you make it.
And Bishop Robinson does know how to make heresy palatable. He is witty and winsome. He presents a persona that's hard to dislike, and some of his humor is top-notch. His captor the devil is a liar, and though the Bible doesn't say it, I expect he knows some good jokes, too.