Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bishop Gene Robinson on wedge issues as distractions

This is the third part of my transcription of Bishop Gene Robinson's talk at the Center for American Progress, when the host started to ask him some questions.
Part 1
Part 2

Wendy: In terms of the common good, one of the tensions, I think, with the common good, is I think exemplified in the General Convention. There was a nonbinding resolution that called on the church to exercise restraint by not consecrating future gay bishops. And something you said too, during the summer made me wonder about this. In an interview, you asked what was the most important thing the General Convention could do this summer, and you said that the United Nations Millennium Devel0pment Goals, which is something I really appreciated having worked some with the U.N. And you said, "I think God would have us be about taking care of the poor and marginalized in the world, and would actually be quite sad to see us obsessing over sex."

And so I wonder--one of the tensions, I think within the common good is that people sometimes tell people to wait on their individual rights or their group rights for "the common good". And I wonder how you handle that tension within discussions around the common good, and that sense of timing. And also I wonder if you could speak some to the issue of the right using sexuality issues as a tactic, as a wedge tactic to divide the coalition that you concluded on, that could possibly be put together.

Gene: In the last election, I think it was Barbara Boxer who said that she thought the debate on gay marriage was a "weapon of mass distraction". And I think that these sexuality issue debates that we are having is a massive effort to distract us from our mission. As a country--I mean, God forbid we should talk about Iraq, or the 45 million people who don't have healthcare, or, the list goes on and on and on. Better to talk about gay marriage, abortion, etc.

And I think the church is just as guilty of that, although I don't think the church is as conscious of what it's doing. I think in the political realm that's an absolutely intentional strategy. But I think that the church, while not planning to do so, has fallen into it. It's easier for us to fight about this issue than do the mission of the church.

The follow-up to the Mark story--Jesus comes back from the Syro-Phonecian woman thing, and it's the first time he starts talking about the cross, and how painful...whatever is in his mind about salvation and life with God and such, he starts saying, "You're going to have to pay a price for it." And you know what the disciples do? Twice--as soon as he says "This is going to be *really* hard, and you're going to have to pay a really big price", they start talking about who's going to sit on his left and his right in the Kingdom. And another discussion is "who's going to be the greatest?" And I read that to mean talking about the institution. Who's going to be one-up, who's going to have the best title, who's going to get "Right Reverend" in front of their name, you know? Who gets to wear the best vestments? (Points to himself and mouths "Me!" ;) )

We settled that! And I think in response to having to do the hard work of the Gospel, we retreat into something that's more familiar, safer, and is a wonderful distraction. So I think at the end of the day, the sexuality stuff is a distraction.

First of all, I think it's a distraction for straight people, from talking about their own sexuality. God forbid that we should *actually* talk about the state of marriage--the institution of marriage in the culture. And rather than talk about the fact that half of all marriages end in divorce, and what is *actually* tearing families apart (and there are all kinds of things tearing families apart) *I* have an idea--let's talk about gay marriage, and focus on that!

And, I think for the church, it is far earlier to talk about an openly gay bishop than it is to talk about what Jesus talked about, virtually more than *anything* else in the world, which is the plight of the poor. And so the reason I think that our embrace and our commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals is so important, is that it finally refocuses us on the mission of the church, instead of all this other stuff.

But, you know, I was pretty unglued by the decision our church made. My 0wn personal opinion is, I think we had a failure of nerve. I think that the kind of courage we had in 2003 was just simply not there. I also think we wanted to demonstrate in some way our commitment to the wider Anglican Communion, and our wanting to be in relationship with them. Obviously the sad part of that is that we were willing to do that on the backs of gay and lesbian people.

But, what I said to gay and lesbian people in our church was, I see this as pushing the pause button. We didn't push stop, and we didn't push reverse--we just pushed pause. There's no question in my mind where we're going. We just couldn't find the courage to go there this time.

So, the Millennium Development Goals are just so important, and you know what? If we start caring for the world's poor, alleviating the most extreme poverty. If we start supporting efforts to empower women and children. If we do the work that it will take to ease the suffering that's caused by malaria and HIV-AIDS and so on, if we're doing those things, we're going to be just fine. And if the institution changes, why should we be fearful of that? And why should a denomination, the Anglican Church, that got its *start* because of controversy and conflict, be afraid of change?

Click here for the whole video.

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