Bishop Robinson addresses methods of propriety in promoting LGBT rights

December 2, 2010
By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter
There is a right and wrong way for people of faith to advocate in the secular realm, openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson said recently at public forum on the future of religion and LGBT equality.

Examples abound of the wrong way to be religious in politics, he explained, for instance, saying “I’ve got the truth, and it’s the truth for everybody.  You’ve got to do it this way.”

The “appropriate way,” Robinson said, is to advocate your values because of your beliefs.  “Then go into the public square and argue them on the basis of the Constitution and mutually agreed upon governmental factors,” he explained. “You can’t argue in the public square what God wants, but what motivates me.  That’s the line I draw.”

Robinson’s remarks about the proper role of religion in public life came on Saturday, Oct. 30, a week before announcing his resignation from heading the 15,000-member New Hampshire diocese. In 2003, his election as the first out bishop in the Episcopal Church infuriated traditionalists. Many considered his consecration an affront to Holy Scripture and Christian tradition.  The rub for them is Robinson’s same-sex relationship.

In explaining the resignation, Robinson said “death threats, and the now-worldwide controversy surrounding” the “selection of me as bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved husband, Mark,” according to a transcript of closing remarks to the New Hampshire diocese convention on Nov. 6 .

And yet in deciding to step down some years before mandatory retirement, Robinson said he was resigning – not retiring.  Still a bishop, “There is no question that I will continue to be active in trying to achieve full and equal rights for gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people,” he told the Los Angeles Times.  “I am also very interested in how religion intersects with public policy.”

Meanwhile, back in Boston, the Rev. Irene Monroe, an African American writer and theologian, joined Bishop Robinson at the forum, along with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders  legal director Gary Buseck, who moderated the hour-long discussion, held inside the Episcopal cathedral, located in city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

The night before the panel discussion, Robinson received GLAD’s Spirit of Justice award and keynoted the organization’s annual fundraising dinner.

The event drew nearly 1,000 people to the Westin Copley Place Hotel, raising a record-breaking $575,000.

While, “the Church plays a remarkable role in secular society, the bishop said, “we can lay most of the resistance to our full equality at the foot of religious people.”

Agreeing, Rev. Monroe singled out the black Church for how “it endangers the African American queer community and our movement.”

Citing significantly high rates of homelessness among LGBT youth of color, high suicide rates, pervasive bullying, religious conflict over coming out, and the “face of HIV among our black heterosexual sisters,” Monroe said, “It’s more than an spiritual crisis. It’s a public health crisis,” adding, “What role does the Church play in perpetuating unsafe sexual behavior?”

During a question and answer follow-up, Robinson and Monroe were asked about encouraging progressive people of faith to become more active in the political realm and to help them get past the idea that politics and faith somehow should not mix.

The power of “corporate worship” and “collective moral outrage” during the 1950’s to 1960’s Civil Rights Movement points to the effectiveness of “the social Gospel active in the lives of scared black folks, moving them from the pews to picket lines,” said Rev. Monroe.

“Anyone who says that a religious person should not be involved in the political sphere has simply not read Scripture,” Bishop Robinson said.  In the Bible, “There is a constant call to the people of God to critique [secular] culture,” he added. “Nothing is mentioned more in Scripture than care for the poor. So I vote to elect candidates and support parties that seem to be most responsive to the needs of the poor.”

Even those who are not religious have a stake in the role faith plays in public life, the bishop said.  “You may not like the role religion plays, but if you ignore its role, then that naiveté is gong to cost us.”

A good example, Robinson noted, is California’s Proposition 8 campaign.  “A case can be made that the outcome might have been different if the effort had not written off progressive religious voices.”

And, “I am here to say that more and more each day, religious Christians, Jews, and Muslims – faith allies – can be convinced to stand up for us.”

Often “religion often gets it wrong,” Robinson said, referring to slavery and women.  But “God doesn’t” so “there is no reason to get discouraged,” despite temporary set backs, “because we know how this [struggle for full LGBT equality] will end.  We have a role to play in the ever upwardly spiraling trail on the way to full citizenship.”

Or, Robinson said, “As I like to say:  God wins.”

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