Sunday, November 26, 2006

Gene Robinson on understanding what his opponents fear

Part II of Bishop Gene Robinson's talk at the Center for American Progress...

So people are going to resist anxiety. People are going to resiste change. Change *always* involves anxiety, so why do we act as though that shouldn't be the case? Any time you're working to bring about change, you should not ask *are* people going to be upset, but when and where and how/ It's just simply going to happen. And somehow we keep acting as if that's a surprise.

I mean, I tell my clergy, if they aren't in trouble, then they're not preaching the Gospel. And that's a ditch I'm willing to die in for them. If I get complaints about clergy because they're preaching the hard stuff, I will go to the ends of the earth to support them in that. And if they're not in trouble, my guess is that they're preaching "Jesus, meek and mild" and not the Jesus we find in the Gospels.

...In this culture, and in this discussion about the common good and so on, I would say that we are these days much more apt to engage in debate than in dialog. The culture now is such that, politically--ugh--it has taken over. But I think just in normal discourse as well--when I listen to you, all I'm listening for are your weak points, so that I can come back at your weak points and win this discussion we're having. I'm not listening for your strongest points. I'm not trying to understand where you are, what your experience has been, what makes you think the way you do...I'm just looking for the place that I can pick you apart. So I'm listening for the *worst* that you have to say.

Wheras in dialog, it seems to me, I'm listening for the best that you have to say, and looking for some kind of common ground that would permit us to move forward together. I suppose it's just another version of "walking in someone else's moccasins", that's been so overused. But I just think that this "listening for the best" in the opposing arguments is a good thing.

So I have a suggestion for you, which is that you have a conference here, and that you invite two people on opposing sides of an issue, and get them to prepare the speech for the other side. Let each one of them speak, but let them speak as their opponent would speak. Kind of force them into thinking through what makes their opponents think the way they do.

Because the thing that keeps *me* as sympathetic as I'm able to be with my opponents, is to try to understand what makes them my opponents. First of all, those that oppose anyone gay or lesbian being ordained, much less a bishop, I remind myself that they're only believing what we've taught them for 3000 years. I mean, why should the last 10 or 20 years change their minds when they've got 3000 years of teaching behind that. Behind them, not behind me. So, why would that surprise me that they're holding onto that for dear life. That's one thing.

Second thing, it can be condescending, and maybe it is, but I'm just assuming they're coming from a place of fear. There is something about my election as bishop that scares them to death. And the closer I'm able to A) figure out what that is or--God forbid--ask them what that is--as best I'm able to determine what that is, it helps me be sympathetic to them in a way that allows me to stay in contact with them.

And to honor their integrity, because frankly, that will speak far louder than any words I will ever say. In a public setting, I *love* to get the tough question. I was speaking at Keane State College in Keane New Hampshire, and in the question and answer time, a young man stood up with a bible in his hand, open, of course, ready to read to me as I hadn't already that stuff, and ask this really tough question. And people in that audience afterwards, and to this day, remember that moment. Not because they remember what I said, but because of the way that I tried to treat him with the same kind of respect and human dignity as I expected from him. So I think that this "staying sympathetic" to what makes people fearful is just really, really important.

Lastly, I would say, I want to put this in a larger context. I think that the common good, the seeking of equal rights for all, the inclusion of every human being in our life, is about something really, *really* big, and makes it no wonder that we're experiencing the kind of resistance that we are. I think that we are experiencing the very early beginnings of the end of patriarchy. I think that's what people are unglued about.

For a very very long time, straight white western males have made most of the decisions for most of the world, and we're beginning to see the end of it. Finally, finally, finally, people of color are being brought to the table, finally women are being brought to the table, and now gay and lesbian people are being brought to the table. And *all* the voices of *all* the people are beginning to be at the table where those decisions get made. Is it any wonder that this patriarchal institution that we have, which has existed since the beginning of time, practically, is there any reason to wonder *why* there'd be so much resistance to that? I don't think so. I mean, we are trying to change something really, really big. And I can promise you, we will not see the end of it.

I mean, we may have ended slavery in the 19th century, and we may have had the civil rights movement in the 60s, but we *certainly* are not seeing the end of racism. And we may have had the women's liberation movement in the 70s, but does *anybody* think that sexism is over? And gay and lesbian people are still struggling for some of their *basic* rights, never mind a positive attitude in the culture. We're not going to *see* the end of it, but it's pretty darn exciting to see the *beginning* of the end of it. Because I think that's where we're going.

And until we get some straight white western males who "get it", and are also speaking out about this, we're not going to get too terribly far. The straight white western males who don't want to see this happen, are trying to keep us all divided. So that people of color, and women, and gay and lesbian people, and a whole host of others are fighting with one another over whose pain is greatest--who's had the rawest deal. And as long as they keep us divided, we're not going to be terribly effective in making these changes. Because if we were all united, we'd be the majority.

So I think it's a very exciting time. I can't *think* of any better time to be alive. And I also think that we ought to take *great* hope from that. The one criticism that I would have of the equal rights movement right now--and I think it's typical of the culture--is our lack of patience. We are in a *very* long journey here. And how dare we lose hope? We just don't have that luxury.

One of my favorite places in the whole world is the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. If you've not been there, go! But it's at the old Lorrain Hotel where Martin Luther King was shot, in the warehouse district of Memphis, which was the only motel he could stay at during that time. And at the entrance to that hotel is this enormous black monolith, which, when you get close to it, you realize is carved in bas relief. There is a never-ending, upwardly spiraling, line of African Americans. And every one of them is standing on someone else's shoulders. And I think that's how we have to view this struggle. We are on a journey, we're standing on the shoulders of some very courageous people who've gone before us, and if we do nothing else, we provide the shoulders on which our successors will stand. And that spiral is moving inexorably upward, toward the kind of vision that not only we have for the common good, but that I think God has.
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