It is painful to be treated as less than human, says Gene Robinson

by
22 August 2007

by Bill Bowder

Practising all the time: Bishop Gene Robinson speaking at a public hearing on civil partnerships in April

Practising all the time: Bishop Gene Robinson speaking at a public hearing on civil partnerships in April

THE Anglican Communion’s only openly gay bishop, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, will use a BBC broadcast next week to undermine the Communion’s carefully crafted compromise that distinguishes between homosexual orientation and practice. The Bishop says that the distinction is dishonest.

He will also accuse his African critics of being like old-style US racists in their attack on lesbians and gays.

 Bishop Robinson was interviewed for The Choice, to be broadcast next Tuesday on Radio 4 at 9 a.m. He takes issue with “people who would say its OK to be gay as long as you don’t practise it. First, I would question the honesty of their statement that it is OK to be gay in their eyes, because their other actions do not indicate that to me.

“Second of all, very few people are called to celibacy, certainly not a whole category of people.”

Being a practising homosexual was what he did all the time. “It’s about every moment of the day. This has nothing to do with a genital sexual relationship.”

He says that it was painful for him to have people from Africa feeling that homosexuals were “bestial”.

“We in the US treated people who came out of Africa as less than human. We used scripture to justify this slavery and continued bondage.” But the US had repented of its past behaviour.

“It is very, very painful to have those people in Africa in some sense using the same thinking against gay and lesbian people and against me.”

As for his chief critic, the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, Bishop Robinson says: “I believe that Peter Akinola . . . believes he is following his call to God as best he can. I just wish he could believe that I am following my call as best I can.

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“I love the Anglican Church, and I value the Communion, and I will do everything short of standing down to benefit the Communion, but I will not reject God’s call to me.”

When asked if he should have stepped aside for the sake of the unity of the Communion, as did the then Canon Jeffrey John after he had accepted the call to be Bishop of Reading, Bishop Robinson says that God had constantly called him to offer himself as bishop, and had never once gone back on that call. He had resisted because he knew it would be controversial, but God had nagged at him to act.

“I took it to God in prayer daily, sometimes hourly; as best as I could discern, this was God’s voice talking to me. Never once did I hear God saying ‘Don’t do this’. If I had, I believe with my whole heart I would have made that decision.”

He rejects the claim that God’s call to him was convenient. “There has not been a lot that has been convenient since my election — certainly not the death threats.”

He denies that choosing a date three or four weeks before the next Lambeth Conference for his civil-partnership ceremony with Mark, his partner of 18 years, was provocative. The date will be the fifth anniversary of his election, and a three-day weekend. “My critics would find any date impermissible.”

“There continues to be concern for my safety in the diocese. There are some crazy people in the world, and all it takes is one.” But church life in New Hampshire diocese was remarkably normal: “I’m just the bishop,” he said.

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