Bishop Gene Robinson's new book examines gay marriage, argues for its acceptance

In new book, Lexington native cites Bible in urging acceptance, legalization

ctruman@herald-leader.comSeptember 14, 2012 

  • What the critics say

    Here are excerpts from reviews about Bishop Gene Robinson's book, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage:

    "Beginning and ending his work with the statement that he believes in marriage, Robinson's points often seem highly focused on family values. 'At the end of the day,' he writes, 'this is a very conservative argument being made for gay marriage.' Nevertheless, his reasoning may not move conservative Christians (or conservatives of other faiths). Robinson approaches the topic with a view of separation of church and state ('In simple shorthand, the State marries and the Church blesses') that will not be shared by many of his opponents." — Kirkus Reviews

    "Robinson's mix of reasoned logic, personal experiences, church teachings and social science research may not convince the most ardent opponents, but it will provide proponents convenient, compact ways of addressing challenges. Each chapter stands independently, thus allowing readers to choose topics of most importance to them, but also leading to some repetition. Some answers also arrive more obliquely than others, answering both the main question and a related but unstated objection. The underlying tone is one of compassion and genuine hope for meaningful shift toward acceptance of same-sex unions." — Publishers Weekly

    "After considering 'Why gay marriage now?', Robinson fields direct and personable chapters on the standard elements of the gay-marriage debate: why straight people should care, why civil unions aren't a satisfactory alternative, what the Bible actually says about homosexuality, why Jesus would approve of gay marriage, how gay marriage would change the traditional definition of marriage, whether gay marriage 'undermines' marriage per se, whether disapproving churches will be oppressed by gay marriage, gay marriage's impact on children, and whether gay marriage is a matter of civil rights or of validating 'bad' behavior. Whole books exist on most of those topics, but Robinson does yeoman's work at arguing them all concisely and placing the love of God foremost in readers' minds as it is in his." — Ray Olson, Booklist Online

  • Excerpt

    from God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage by Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire:

    "Few of us would hold Paul's injunction against women appearing in church with their heads uncovered to have the same moral weight as Jesus's injunction to forgive our enemies. ... Few of us are willing to be bound by all the commands given to us in the biblical text; otherwise, we would give all we have to the poor to follow Christ, redistribute all the land every fifty years, refuse to charge any interest on our loans and investments, share our worldly possessions communally as did the early Church and refuse to support our nation's defense budget in according with Jesus's commandment not to resist evil.

    "We have come to understand certain things as acceptable in the biblical culture and time but not in our own — among others things, polygamy and slavery, which few Christians would promote despite their acceptability in biblical times.

    "As we approach the biblical texts about homosexuality, we must not conveniently change our stance to one of asserting that every word of Scripture is inerrantly true and universally binding on all people for all time."

  • Coming Sept. 29 in Life + Faith

    Bernadette Barton, a professor at Morehead State University, writes about the difficult lives of gays in the Bible Belt in her new book Pray the Gay Away (NYU Press, $27.95; publishes Oct. 1).

Gene Robinson, the gay Episcopal bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire, did not set out to be a lightning rod in the conflict between religion and the drive to legalize gay marriage.

That said, his book God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage (Alfred A. Knopf, $24), which will be released Tuesday, attacks the anti-gay undertone in many churches.

If you believe that the Bible condemns gays and you have no choice but to go along, Robinson, a Central Kentucky native, has some incendiary news for you: It's time to read your Bible again.

Robinson went to Bethany Christian Church in Jessamine County and graduated from Lafayette High School as valedictorian, following that with stints at the University of the South and General Theological Seminary. He went into the ministry, married Isabella McDaniel and had two daughters.

But Robinson was troubled about his sexuality. When their daughters were 8 and 4, he and his wife divorced. They remained friends, and as Robinson writes: "Not only did I love my wife, but I loved being married."

In God Believes in Love, he also writes openly about discovering the fullness of love in a gay relationship. He details meeting his husband, Mark Andrew.

"For the first time, I was able to express my love for someone through my body. ... I experienced a wholeness and integration between body and spirit I had only dreamed about. I remember thinking, 'So this is what all the fuss is about! No wonder people like — and hallow — this!'"

The two were joined in a civil union in 2008 and legally married in 2010.

Robinson was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 — the first openly gay bishop. His election was greeted with pitched criticism, even within his church, where a group of 38 bishops issued a protest statement, saying Robinson's "'chosen lifestyle' is incompatible with Scripture and the teaching of this church."

In his book, Robinson painstakingly deconstructs the biblical passages that seem to condemn gay sex. At best, he contends, the invocations against gay sex are products of a time in which all people were assumed to be born heterosexual. Making gayness seem like willful disobedience rather than an inborn orientation was not even considered within the cultural framework of the period.

Robinson also points out that Jesus never addressed homosexuality and in fact spent much of his time with those who were on the outskirts of society.

He also notes that many who consider themselves strict Bible constructionists have moved on from many of the mores set forth in the Bible: We wear clothing of varying fabrics; women don't cover their heads in church, and women are not considered property; we don't keep slaves.

Robinson's book also discusses the prurient interest in gay sexual practices as a source of moral condemnation: "My guess is that gay sex may be every bit as boring as straight sex! Conversely straight sex may be as kinky, naughty and wild as gay sex."

Public opinion has shifted somewhat since the 2003 firestorm that accompanied Robinson's election as bishop. 'Don't ask, don't tell' has been scrapped in the military, and President Barack Obama announced his support of gay marriage in May.

"The thing that's changing the discussion is that most people know someone gay," Robinson said in a recent telephone interview. "All the bad things that have been said about gay people don't seem to be true about the gay people they know. ... They know gay couples with children. They know gay couples who have been together for 10, 20, 30, 40 years."

Robinson argues that "civil unions" do little to invest gay couples with the rights and privileges of marriage, including the right to act as medical and financial guardians for an ailing partner and to be considered a true legal family.

The gradual evolution of social attitudes is often obvious only when looking back decades later. Robinson remembers his mother taking him out of Lexington's Woodland Park pool when a black child got in and taking him to a nearby segregated pool. That wouldn't happen today, Robinson argues, because people found it in themselves to say it was wrong.

He sees a similar gradual shift today.

"When negative things are said about gay people .... we need to find the courage to say, 'That doesn't wash anymore' and begin to change the atmosphere so that those kinds of negative statements are seen as the toxic things that they are," Robinson said.

It eventually might be unthinkable to discriminate against gays, Robinson said.

"I believe we are moving to full marriage equality for the nation, and we are now only arguing over timing," he said. "Court after court has seen this ban as unconstitutional."

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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