The first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church received two standing ovations during his address to a standing-room only crowd in the Geneva Room on Tuesday. As part of the President’s Forum Lecture Series, the 9th bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church V. Gene Robinson discussed the impact that various religious communities have had on the LGBT movement.
“Religion is the greatest impediment to equality for the LGBT movement. The non-religious ignore the matter at their own peril,” remarked Robinson, who spoke about why religion plays such a prominent role in this effort – more so than in any other civil rights movement. It is only through acceptance from the religious communities that the LGBT movement will be able to reach its goal of equality, he said.
Although Robinson spoke from a Christian perspective, he encouraged all members of the audience to consider his words from their own frame of reference – whether they identify as Jewish, Muslim, spiritual or non-religious. “Every nation, culture and religion is facing this,” said Robinson. “Children are coming out to their parents in living rooms across the country.”
In a country where nearly one half of today’s homeless youth are on the streets after being disowned by their families for identifying as gay, lesbian or transgender, Robinson looks to the source of this conflict to repair damage and progress toward equality. “Churches, synagogues and mosques are responsible for gay youth thinking they are ‘abominations.’ And they are the ones who are responsible for undoing it.”
One of the ways that religious institutions can come to an understanding and begin to make progress is to put religious scripture under scrutiny; Robinson believes scripture needs to be interpreted. “We’re not all that Biblically literate in this country,” said Robinson. “I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but I do not believe it is the words of God.”
For instance, Robinson cited that sexual orientation is a relatively new concept, and the culture and time in which the Bible was written needs to be taken into consideration to understand the text properly.
“Sexual orientation was completely unknown in the time of the Bible. What did these words mean to them?” Robinson asked. “You can’t take a modern notion and plug it back into an ancient text and not do violence to that text.”
Perhaps more importantly, Robinson does not believe that God concluded his teaching where the Bible ends – and he refuses to believe that the Bible contains all there is to be known about God. God did not simply instill all of his knowledge to men over a few centuries and then leave. There is much still to learn, and this matter of equality and acceptance is one such notion. “I believe in a living God; one that continues to seek out relationships and continues to teach us,” explained Robinson.
In a world of what Robinson terms “heterosexism,” much exists that says it is better to be straight than gay -as evidenced by policies like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Marriage Protection Act. However, Robinson challenged each person to face adversity with grace. “No matter how bad people are to me, it does not change my responsibility to treat them like children of God. How I treat them will speak louder than anything I say,” said Robinson. “Speak about what is true for you. Speak from a place of quiet peacefulness; you don’t know what they’ll do with that information when they reflect on it as they climb into bed that night.”
Robinson said that while we are making strides toward tolerance, this is not the whole journey. We must move from tolerance to acceptance, affirmation and celebration. “We’re on a march upward to a better, more just place, and not one single person can do it all – but everyone is needed,” said Robinson. “We will change people’s minds when they see how loved we are by God. We’ll throw the whole world into chaos.”
President Mark D. Gearan, host of the forum, said Robinson is worthy of “our focus, praise and admiration. His ordination has sparked debate, and he has opened up new frontiers and has acted as a voice for the LGBT community and beyond.”
“It is an amazing thing to be alive right now,” said Robinson. “We are in the midst of a great civil rights movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people; and it is an astounding thing to be a part of.”