Bishop Robinson Retires: A Faithful, Courageous Ministry

The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopalian Church, will hand the pastoral staff to his successor in a ceremony at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord on January 5. More Light Presbyterians congratulates Bishop Robinson for his faithful, courageous ministry on behalf of LGBT people.

Bishop Robinson delivered the keynote address at MLP’s National Celebration Dinner at the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The address, one of the highlights of 2012, is available in this post along with a key excerpt from the speech. MLP also sponsored the Pittsburgh film premiere of Love Free or Die, the Sundance award-winning film about Bishop Gene Robinson directed by Macky Alston.

From the Associated Press:

He was publicly shunned by church elders, targeted with death threats and says he struggled to strike a balance between being the “good bishop” and the “gay bishop.” In the end, he says, they became one and the same.

He is a self-described “off-the-end-of-the-scale extrovert” who bounds across stages and television studios, whether promoting causes or his new book, “God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage.”

Robinson said it pained him deeply to be excluded in 2008 from a gathering of Anglican bishops and clergy that occurs every 10 years in England, known as the Lambeth Conference. He said it was the first time since 1867 that a bishop had not been invited.

He traveled to England despite the snub to make his presence known and minister to anyone who wanted his counsel.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve done — to go and bear up under that quite intentional exclusion,” Robinson said. “It took me a long time to get over it.”

A month before the conference, he entered into a civil union with his long-time partner Mark Andrew. Robinson chuckles that columnists in religious publications speculated he did it to thumb his nose at the conference.

Robinson said it was a coincidence, one he and Andrew didn’t realize until after the date was set, and said the timing of the ceremony was driven by far more somber reasons.

“The point was to put in place the protections a civil union would provide if someone made good on these death threats … before I put myself in harm’s way,” Robinson said. “I wanted Mark to be as protected as he could be.”

Their civil union automatically converted to a marriage when New Hampshire legalized gay marriage in 2010.

Bishop Robinson has worked tirelessly right up to retirement and recently published a new book on same gender marriage, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. The book is available from Knopf Doubleday. You can watch an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart about the book and changing Christian attitudes about same gender marriages.

Watch Bishop Robinson at the 220th General Assembly

Bishop Robinson’s  keynote address on June 30 at MLP’s National Celebration Dinner at the 220th General Assembly.

Excerpt:

“Jesus says this really astounding thing: ‘There is much that I would teach you. But you cannot bear it right now. So I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth’ (John 16:12-13). Don’t for a minute think that God is done with you, and those who come after you. Does anyone doubt that we were led by the Holy Spirit to turn our backs on defending slavery using Scripture? Is it not the Holy Spirit that is leading us to a fuller understanding of the gifts, integrities and experiences of women? And I would say that the Holy Spirit is leading us to recognize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We should see this as a sign of a living God. We don’t worship a God who stopped revealing God’s self at the end of the first century when the canon of scripture was closed.

One of the things that impressed me about the Civil Rights Movement is that people risked their lives for something they knew they would not live to see the end of. And they did it anyway. We need to play whatever role we have and hold on to others and stand on shoulders and be the shoulders that others will stand on. It is going to take a while.

How do you keep going in this work?

Remember that we know how this is going to end. This is going to end with the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the church, synagogue, mosque, and in the culture. Let me tell you a little secret. The conservatives know it too. There is no stopping it. Now we are only arguing over how soon.

When you sing, We Shall Overcome, sing it like it is a fact, not a hope. We shall overcome. Is that not the message of the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures that we know how this is going to end? We know that we are going to be in heaven with one another and with our enemies. They will be surprised to see us there. And it will be just fine because God will make it just fine.

God said to Jesus at his baptism and Jesus says to you and me, ‘You are my beloved, in you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11). Dare to claim that for yourself. Ultimately isn’t that the meaning of baptism is to know from God’s own self that we are beloved and God takes joy in us.

You and I have been told that we have this thing about us that makes us unworthy to come any closer. And we know what its like to hear someone say to us stand up and walk in the name of Jesus of Nazareth; feel your legs (John 5:8). Feel them tingle, stand up and walk. And we have discovered what it is like to walk, run, leap and dance right to the center of our churches where we suspected all along that we belonged. You and I are called upon to live lives of such joy, such love, such compassion and such hospitality that we will be the more light that the church needs. Indeed, if we live our lives that way, there will be no denying that the light of Christ is in us.”