There I was, agnostic Jewish me, eager as a teen music fan to meet an Episcopal bishop at Town Hall Seattle on Monday night, to shake his hand and thank him for his courage.
Then Hurricane Sandy intervened. The bishop’s flight was canceled, so I went home and read his new book, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage.
Which is how come I can now tell you that if you can read this book and not fall in love with Bishop Gene Robinson, head of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, then there is something seriously amiss with the state of your soul, let alone your heart and your mind.
Robinson was married – to a woman – for 15 years. Now he’s married again – to a man. This second marriage has lasted 25 years, and has led to multiple death threats against him, forcing him at times to wear a bullet-proof vest in public. It’s also created an absurd rift within the Episcopal church. And it’s brought out the big guns in his support. There are only two blurbs on the back of this beautifully lucid book, but both are from Nobel Peace Laureates: one from a guy called Obama, and the other from a guy called Tutu.
Robinson directly addresses ten FAQs on marriage equality, among them: “Why should you care about gay marriage if you’re straight?”
His answer, and mine: “It’s the civil rights issue of our time.” Why did white activists put themselves in the line of fire in the 1960s? They weren’t black; they could always have claimed that it wasn’t “their” battle. Except of course it was. As Emma Lazarus put it – she of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free” – “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
Besides, if you think gay rights don’t affect your straight life, you’re living in as alternative a universe as Mitt Romney. As Robinson points out, “Orthodox Jews, conservative Muslims, and fundamentalist Christians are just as likely to raise a gay son or daughter as any other mother or father.”
Think about that: Wherever you are as you read this, and no matter what you think about same-sex marriage, chances are that at least one person close to you – someone you know and love and wish everything good for — is gay. So what do you wish for that person if you call the love they feel for someone else an abomination? The only abomination involved here is in calling love an abomination.
Still think “This isn’t my fight” because you’re not gay? Robinson has this to say:
No it isn’t. Unless you care about the kind of society we have. Unless you want the society of which you are a part to be a just one. Unless you believe that a free society, not to mention a godly religion, should fight injustice wherever it is found… Unless you care about our children. Unless fairness matters to you. Unless violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people concerns you. Unless ‘liberty and justice for all’ is something you believe applies to all citizens.
Are you in love with him yet?
Ah, yes, I’ve been in love with Gene Robinson for quite a while. Thanks for drawing attention to this important book, Lesley. I haven’t read this latest, but his “In the Eye of the Storm” was terrific.
Great post- well articulated and now looking forward to reading the book.
Leslie, great post! Gene Robinson is in the watershed documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So,” that exposes the fallacy of conservative Christian views on gay and lesbians and discloses the biblical, historical, and psycological evidence in favor of gay equality. I’ve loved him ever since I saw it! Another voice in this fight is Mel White, who just did a re-write of a past book now called Holy Terror. I have a chapter in my book called Gay Rights, Not Wrongs, that addresses all this. Thanks for sharing this. I’ll have to read Gene’s book.
Dear Lesley, You have a command over theology and you have read all religions. You know what evil homosexuality is.. and how displeasing it is to our Creator. Then why are you propogating and supporting this evil act.. May Allah guide all of us
Abdullah, with so much evil in the world, how sad that you can call love evil. May I suggest that you read Gene Robinson’s book — ASAP.
Bishop John Shelby Spong (another awesome personality) has this to say about Gene Robinson:
“The Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson is not our only gay bishop; he is our only honest gay bishop.”
Totally with you re Spong. And with Spong re Robinson.
and the God, Lord and Allah tala himself said that relationship between a man and a woman has a purpose to create human life, in gay thing this is neglected. God himself destroyed the People of Lot because they practiced gay. God love human beings and He alone know what is best for His creation so He said dont practice this…
Thanks for this great post – I always learn something 🙂 I’m quite the fan of what the Bishop has to say on responsible relationships in general – his branch of Christianity tends to preach a sort of commitment and honest relationship model that I think we should have more of. I’m intrigued often by this question. As someone who believes in civil liberties on principle – who despises bigotry of any sort to the core of my being – I don’t think this is an issue that will ever be fully ‘resolved’ in the Church – for the simple reason that I think both ‘sides’ of the debate can issue edicts based on Scripture – or at the very least, cite theological movements based on scriptural hermeneutics.
However I’m not so willing to let a State decide on the matter either – the reason is because it is a power structure driven by economic forces – I don’t think the State very much cares whether or not this is a personal choice (gay marriage – not actually ‘being’ gay), in the same way as I imagine that many pro-choice decisions were carried forward not because of any notion of reproductive rights, rather it made economic sense.
The idea of destruction in the name of “love” is an interesting one – of course, if we subscribe to the notion of a Higher Being (and a Loving Being at that), then I don’t see it a problem if this Being would choose to destroy a civilisation of it was in the ‘greater’ interest or served a higher purpose for Creation. But these are philosophical questions, I imagine. The question at first glance appears not to be of ‘human’ love (i.e. the love two people can feel for one another) but a notion of ‘Divine’ Love – who decides on what that means is not up to me, certainly, but I imagine that the highest idea of love that we can conceive of as human beings is limited by our own fallibility – this is why philosophy and religion matters so much to me – these take into consideration that very question and propose alternative models (which for the most part are similar say across the Abrahamic traditions) for attaining human flourishing.
But we are in a sense dealing fundamentally with issues of human nature – and what society’s role should be in harmonising it to become conducive to living together.
Whereas in the case of people who find themselves liking members of the same sex – that’s fine by one standard but many world philosophical, religious and syncretic systems seem to disagree on principle (not whether it’s wrong in principle but people tend to be rebuked if they act on these feelings). The argument of ‘consent’ doesn’t always hold up because various philosophical systems will argue that you can actively choose to engage in self-destructive behaviour which isn’t ‘harming’ anyone else, yet are frowned upon. In today’s world, similar examples might be…. Serving alcohol at a dinner party, serving your guests fattening food, smoking in the presence of non-smokers, smoking at all etc – these are essentially varying degrees of the same thing.
(To be fair to you) Of course on the other hand, we are still ‘free’ to do those things – we haven’t actively legislated on the issue of fatty foods or serving alcohol at a dinner party…(again, this isn’t a corollary example and is sort of mixing moral content so doesn’t translate accurately – nonetheless I have heard it given before and is still worthwhile thinking about – the same way one might encourage a woman who is in love with her abusive lover to leave him, to seek something far more dignified, even if it means the chance of being ‘alone’ for the rest of her life, I would say on principle, is a higher good than her having to be engaged in something self-destructive, even if that means it not good for her on the whole)….
….Though when it comes to schoolchildren being served fatty foods (though, and I’m praying it’s not true, apparently Congress has legislated that pizza is technically a ‘vegetable’) for example, we legislate; or when it comes to smoking in public places, we now have very strict laws in the UK against that – in time, people seem to be trying to constrain things that fifty years ago were seen as a matter of freedom and free choice – which is interesting – in terms of civil liberties one might consider this to be regressive, but most people I imagine would find this to be ‘progress’ of some sort or other).
A corollary argument perhaps that is put forward (though by no means are these things equal)…, and I’m only saying this from a perspective of a religious system (I don’t necessarily agree – just putting the arguments out) that if your child was say a thief or robber, say, or socially dysfunctional – the powers that be will take the liberty of trying and possibly incarcerating this child (if not the parents) – who has somehow thought it acceptable to engage in this sort of behaviour, to try and a) make them repay the damage they have done and b) to try to rehabilitate that child (not just for their own good, but for societal goods too).
But before it got to that stage, wouldn’t a responsible parent do all that they could to dissuade their child from behaving this way? Threats on the child’s liberty, moral instruction, boot camp in extreme cases – despite the fact that the child is a minor?
… Or if your child happens to be obese, society today can even apprehend the parents who might not see anything wrong in overfeeding the child (whether or not you agree is a different matter or the child might be cut off from his favourite foods, or sent away to ‘fat camp’- isn’t that limiting the child’s self-expression? – my point is that our societies have taken stands on various issues).
Now if you are a responsible parent who happens to believe that it is your duty to dissuade your child from engaging in homosexual conduct – you would try every and any recourse you had available. Now why is this sort of treatment ‘cruel’, but not say, sending your child into boot camp, or a psychiatric ward for their kleptomania or their facility to be violent? In all cases, your child has somehow learned that what they are doing is fine. On that level, they are equal. I’m trying to figure out why one is considered repressive by an ‘objective’ standard and the other isn’t?
If you look at the Qur’an, say (and of course you will know this as I gather from that brilliant TEDx talk – one of my favourites in fact) – I can’t speak of the Bible with any authority – though I can’t really for the Qur’an either) – the point is that before the ‘destruction’ was allowed to occur – these people were sent a “warner” or an “apostle” or “their brother” (Hud, Salih, Nuh, Lut from various chapters) to rebuke their people, warn them of their transgressions, offer them God’s Mercy if they turned back to Him… before the command was given for them to be ‘destroyed’- in that prism (and I don’t like the idea of anthropomorphising God, though speaking of a God of Love might suggest indeed that we are made in His Image, rather than us having made God in ours – nonetheless) – I can understand why something so final might be taken in the best interests of humanity.
If we are religious we believe that we have a responsibility toward God; but just as much, God has taken a responsibility over us – that his Command exists because it helps us fulfill the purpose for which we’re created – God’s command in this sense is still active, even if the conduits for it are human agents (in the form of prophets, holy men, scholars)… That’s not saying that I condone stoning homosexuals, or whether I as a mere mortal have any right over someone else’s life and can make that decision for anyone (or would even dare to).
Self-expression being a part of self-actualisation isn’t necessarily the view that most world philosophies assume is a valid premiss – that is a fairly recent development as I understand it. In fact religions will uphold the notion that in order to realise yourself truly, and be truly happy, you need to live by a particular moral code (and that it is a duty of a parent to teach that standard to his or her child); much the same way that in Western society today – you cannot raise your child to be a thief – that is considered a form of abuse. So if you have allowed your child to believe that homosexual conduct is fine – some philosophical/religious systems would equally consider that a form of abuse. Why one over the other? I could understand then why a religious person might believe a God (in our example a parent-figure) would choose to ‘destroy’ or condemn “love” in the name of Love.
The point of a secular world is to apply the same objective standard over all walks of life, all belief systems etc., is applying a sort of rationality about what it sees as subjective morality, whereas those belonging to various religions might argue that these are fundamentally objective principles. Maybe that’s just something we have to put up with in a ‘secular’ world.
Goodness, I didn’t realise I have gone on, and on! (again – I apologise sincerely that I force you to read these, and I promise they’re honest, attempts at exposition and being fair to both sides of the argument).
But on the whole – those people who have hated or oppressed the Jews, the blacks, the women, Muslims, will no-doubt be from the same ilk who are against marriage equality, and certainly we ought to take a stand against them. But my idea would be to educate, not legislate, in general.
Imraan — Suffice to say that same-sex love is not a “lifestyle choice,” but a natural part of human sexuality. Trying to enforce heterosexuality is what is unnatural. Laws permitting same-sex marriage are in fact not deciding the issue at all. It’s laws that prevent it that have decided the issue in the past, and are now, rightly, being overturned (including here in Washington state, I hope, where marriage equality is on tomorrow’s ballot). And yes, this really is a matter of equality, affecting matters not only of sexuality but also of citizenship, taxation, inheritance, Social Security, and legal and health-care decisions. The bigotry of the opposition is too often rationalized as religious — with, as Bishop Robinson shows, no justification. So as regards religion, here is a thought worth remembering from Christopher Hitchens, a man with whom I had multiple disagreements but who got it absolutely right on this: the best guarantee of religious freedom is secular government.
Of course, neither did I mean to imply, if I did, that it is a matter of choice; nor did I mean to say that I would enforce heterosexuality as a ‘norm’ – what I was perhaps inarticulately suggesting was that the ‘destruction’ the reader above referred to, given a certain hermeneutic, is understandable if certain premises are accepted. As a heterosexual male, I have a ‘choice’ in whether I act on my heterosexuality involving another person – the choice is still there, regardless of orientation. But I could make a ‘lifestyle choice’ to remain celibate, or maintain fidelity in my marriage. Now whether it’s socially or legally acceptable for me to act on those desires, as opposed to if I was homosexual, I understand is an important question.
Certainly, under any conception of a ‘state’-based government (though I’m actually an anarchist of sorts as I find the idea of states abhorrent in principle for other reasons) there should be equality for all – I just fear that states might consider enforcing this for cynical reasons. My invoking certain religious examples, or by suggesting that the argument from religion was that indeed, that sexual morality is something that has been defined and interpreted differently across a wide range of contexts. Today we could abhor the idea of marrying a 13-year old to a 20 year old man, we didn’t in the past. What were the precipitating factors in the change – I don’t think it was just society.
The young lady in question is still as physically mature as her counterpart might have been 100 years ago, and I don’t think her mental maturity would be much different (she might ‘know’ more today). (I don’t condone this position but these are the sorts of questions I’m interested in).
For example, if we abhorred historically that a young lady shouldn’t be married off, or be permitted to marry of her own volition until a certain age, we don’t do away with the institution of marriage in and of itself. I can see why those in favour of a strict definition of heterosexual marriage today would feel that the institutions which they hold sacred are now being undermined. Of course, heterosexual people today do far more to undermine marriage anyway – but say, adultery is still frowned upon, or having an open marriage is still a subject of taboo or social disdain; in a secular society, we still seem to hold the notion of ‘Love’ between two people as sacred, even though I think secularism is supposed to drive out any notion of sacredness.
You see, my point is that our society is supposed to be one where we are liberated under the law – we are enforcing equality or freedom in some ways by legislating against their opposites, or legislating ‘for’ them, a sort of ‘muscular liberalism’ if you like. Today, most advocates of equal marriage would, I imagine, legislate that marriage is between two people – no third person ought to be involved – why? I can’t point to exactly an underlying factor for all of these things – but I don’t think the conception of positive rights under the law (i.e. that you’re free to do something) isn’t a standard we apply across the board – there are many things we cannot simply do to ourselves or others. I find that a paradox of the secular world, which I was trying to point out.
Many (not all certainly) of the same people today who are ‘pro-gay-rights’ (I don’t really like labels but we’ll work with that) would abhor polygamy even if it was consented to by all parties – there are ‘reasons’ (however weak or strong) we prohibit such institutions today in our ‘secular governments’ – where I think that if we are to be fair and equal, we should permit. I can understand people (though I don’t think I agree as we don’t have the sociological evidence for it) that by allowing for marriage-equality – we are changing something fundamental in the fabric of the society (whether that’s the reproductive imperative, the regard for Scripture). For example, if polygamy was legalised tomorrow (I don’t think much would be said against a polyamorous society – such households exist but I don’t think they’re ‘that’ commonplace because they aren’t recognised by law – would there not be a tremendous rise in polygamous households – how would that affect the children’s understanding of marriage, their relationship to ‘all’ of their parents, their siblings etc., etc. – but in general, we don’t seem to make these arguments for sociological reasons – we would tend to invoke this notion of ‘love’ – but, if more people were inclined to believe in Freud – our notions of free-associations would be desperately challenged.
Final example of a question I like to ask (I don’t have answers) – Why for the last say, 1900 years was Scripture interpreted widely in one sense, and now is forming the basis for arguments ‘for’ marriage equality. The Scripture certainly hasn’t changed (that much) – Scripture has been interpreted or used in so many ways historically and has led to much abuse and tragedy in the world. Some (not me) might argue that we are using Scripture as a means of infidelity toward its essence (I can understand that certainly).
I indeed also agree with Hitchens – I don’t particularly care for most of his views, but he was definitely spot on in that regard.
Good luck for tomorrow! – I’ve been having this eerie feeling that I should savour the sky dearly – I fear that if a certain Republican candidate wins we may be on the precipice of having mushroom clouds lining our horizons…)
Scott Siraj al Haq Kugle is a credible authority on this topic from the Islamic perspective. He has already written a book on it and here is an essay from him which appeared in Omid Safi edited book.
Thank you — will check it out.
This was a fascinating read, AA! Found it thoroughly insightful.
I’m a big Scott Kugle fan (though I’m not a homosexual). Do check out his book ‘Homosexuality in Islam’, it is a more detailed scholarly work.
The most fascinating thing about his thesis is his deconstruction of the Lut story. I believe he has done it well for the whole of Judeo-Christian-Islam perspective, if only they’re willing to listen.
I can’t wait for it to arrive from Amazon. Thank you for this post.