In God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage, Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson addresses 10 questions frequently asked by those struggling to understand if same-sex marriage is just and right. Robinson was the first openly gay person elected to the episcopate (in 2003). He has been in a committed relationship with a man for 23 years (to whom he has been legally married for two years).
Windy City Times: Which of the 10 questions your book addresses did you find the most challenging?
Gene Robinson: The most persistent question, and perhaps the first and most basic one, is, "Does the prospect of same-gender marriage change the definition of marriage?" … It only changes the list of those who can avail themselves of that institution.
In many ways, conservative religious people should be for it [same-gender marriage], rather than against it. We've been accused for years of being promiscuous and shallow relationships, so here we have the opportunity for deep, long-lasting, life-long commitments, and why would religious people oppose that?
WCT: Which of the 10 questions did you find the most difficult to write about?
Gene Robinson: The one that has had the least airtime, and the one I loved writingbut was also somewhat new territorywas the question, "What would Jesus do?" That's the typical evangelical question, and while Jesus says nothing about same-gender relationships, as far as we know, there is much in the scriptural account of Jesus' life that would certainly point us in the direction of Jesus being supportive of LGBT people and their relationships.
WCT: If Jesus were alive today, whom do you think he'd see as his family, given that he had reached out and gathered intentional family around him?
Gene Robinson: He was quite clear that biological families are not what's important. Indeed, he himself seemed to gather around him a family of choice. … And, of course, marriage is exactly that. We choose the person to love and commit ourselves to. And so, in one sense, every family is a family of choice. The question is, Is that only limited to a partner of the opposite sex? Of course, I argue, no, that's not the case.
WCT: What was your primary intent for writing this book?
Gene Robinson: On the one hand, I'm hoping the book will move this group of people who I would describe as the "moveable middle," who feel somewhat kindly toward LGBT people but they certainly can't go all the way to marriage. And so, hopefully, this sort of gets them over the hump to become advocates.
In large measure, the book was meant to give a script, if you will, to those who want to become a larger advocate for gay marriage, but don't quite know what the words are to describe why they are supportive.
WCT: What would you want your grandchildren to understand and practice in relating to LGBT folks?
Gene Robinson: My hope for my own grandchildren and for others growing up is that this will cease to be the divisive issue that it has been, and, indeed, the LGBT community will be valued and appreciated and celebrated for the particular gifts that we bring to the culture and to our religious institutions….
WCT: What has been the hardest struggle for you in the Church since you became bishop?
Gene Robinson: I think the thing that has been the hardest is to hold onto the notion that how I go about being a bishop, and how I go about living my life, will be the greatest example of why the Church needs to change its attitudes about LGBT people. … At the end of the day, it's whether or not I was a good bishop that will convince people of the rightness of this.
WCT: And what has been the greatest reward for you?
Gene Robinson: I've met a lot of wonderful people. … It's just been an astounding privilege and honor to represent our community to the rest of the worldand particularly to the religious world.
WCT: What do you see as the lasting impact on the Episcopal Church of your tenure as bishop?
Gene Robinson: I'd like to think that my own election and subsequent service to the Church has helped change people's minds about this groupthat we have, since the beginning of time, discriminated against and now are beginning to re-think that.
One of the things that I'm proudest ofand certainly I think the other mainline denominations: Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterianshas been watching the Episcopal Church very closely to see if we would come apart over this, be fatally wounded by addressing this issue. And now I think it's pretty clear that it is not the end of Episcopalians. And other denominations are beginning to follow suit. I think there is the sense in which our progress on this issue has a kind of forward momentum that seems almost unstoppable. That's a huge difference from nine or 10 years ago.
WCT: You have announced you're going to retire as bishop next year. What do you plan to do?
Gene Robinson: I'm going to be spending half my time in Washington, D.C., as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. It's John Podesta's think tank. … To my knowledge, this is the first liberal think tank that has wanted to bring a religious perspective to the issues that face us as a nation. I will be writing on the moral imperatives around immigration reform, health care reform, poverty and, of course, LGBT issues.
WCT: And the other half [of your time]?
Gene Robinson: One of my hopes is that I will get to have more contact with the conservative organizations and groups and make the case for LGBT equality, both in the culture and in religious institutions.
God Believes in Love, by Gene Robinson, retails for $24.
Bishop Robinson will discuss his book at St. Paul's United Church of Christ, 2335 N. Orchard St., on Wed., Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m. (Women & Children First is co-hosting the event.)
He will also present "Justice and Compassion in an Age of Demonization" Thursday, Oct. 4, at Elmhurst College.
"Justice" will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, 190 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst.