comments powered by Disqus
Episcopal Church Bishop Launches Pro-Same-Sex Marriage Campaign Jeff Walton February 16, 2012
Calling upon homosexual and transgender persons to advocate for same-sex marriage in conversations with friends, co-workers and family members, Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire appeared recently in the nation’s capital to promote a campaign centered on having such conversations.
“If you get down to arguing over individual verses of scripture, you have already lost,” Robinson advised on the sharing of personal stories. “You really need to go with the personal.”
Robinson spoke February 13 at a Washington, D.C. screening of “Love Free or Die,” a documentary about his role as the first openly partnered homosexual bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Sponsored by the Episcopal Church’s unofficial gay caucus, Integrity USA, the screening was hosted by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, headed by former Clinton aide John Podesta.
Robinson said the campaign, dubbed “Love Free or Die: Friends and Family Plan,” asks homosexual persons to go to people who make “tolerant sounds” but “when they go into the voting booth, they cast a ballot against us.”
“We’re hoping that this movie will motivate you sometime in the next few months – preferably before the next election – to call up that person,” Robinson explained. The New Hampshire bishop was joined in a panel discussion by the film’s director, Macky Alston, who described the goal of the campaign as “changing conflicted Christians.”
“Though I’d like to say that we could go around people’s religion and leave that back home, it doesn’t seem like that’s how it works,” explained Alston, the son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers. “We have to go right on through and help folks understand how to be better people of faith, better Christians, by loving their queer neighbors.”
Robinson called homosexual persons to return to their places of worship, but he admitted it was not easy.
“Saying to an LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender] person ‘hey, why don’t you go back to church and give that a try’ is like telling an abused spouse to go back to her husband,” Robinson compared. “There are really good reasons that these two worlds have been divided one from another.”
Nonetheless, the Episcopal Church bishop recounted, the homosexual persons he spoke with “haven’t left their spiritual needs and yearnings behind.”
Much of “Love Free or Die” centers upon Robinson at major church events. Beginning with the 2008 Lambeth Conference in England, of which Robinson was the only Episcopal Church bishop not invited to participate, the film concludes with the Episcopal Church’s 2009 General Convention in Anaheim, California in which a moratorium on the consecration of additional partnered homosexual bishops was rescinded.
“A lot of religious people have had their eye on the Episcopal Church, frankly to see if it was going to fall apart,” Robinson observed about the church’s tumultuous past decade, in which its membership dropped below two million and saw hundreds of parishes depart. “The Episcopal Church in a pretty significant way risked its life for us, and it was not at all clear how we were going to come out of that.”
The Episcopal Church official reported that he was recently at a meeting of homosexual activists from the United Methodist, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian churches who relayed that they had been “waiting with baited breath to see if you were going to survive this, and we’re going to come along behind you.”
Statistics provided by the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire to the denomination show that it lost 13.4 percent of membership from 2000-2010 and 19.7 percent of average Sunday attendance in the same period. Robinson’s day-to-day work as bishop of the diocese is mostly unseen in the film.
“I don’t think this is a story about the Episcopal Church,” Robinson assessed. “This is about the rather miraculous notion that an old, complex and somewhat lethargic institution can actually move.”
“The conservatives in our church who are fighting this movement – they call themselves traditionalists but they are trying to take us to a place that has never been our tradition, which is rigid, narrow, not understanding and so on,” Robinson declared. “It is against everything that I understand Jesus to have been about.”
Asked in closing about the religious liberty language framing the current debate over government contraception coverage mandates, Robinson claimed it was “an important time to re-assert and champion separation of church and state.”
“What we usually mean when we have that discussion is that we’re afraid the state is going to infringe upon religious liberty,” Robinson said. “What we see surrounding the marriage debate is the church trying to force its views on the secular state, the civil authority, and you can’t have it both ways. The protection has to either go both ways or neither way.”
The Institute on Religion & Democracy
1023 15th Street NW, Suite 601, Washington, DC 20005-2601
P: (202) 682-4131 F: (202) 682-4136