“Justice is Orthodox Theology.”
That was the theme of a conference of progressive Episcopalians who met in Atlanta November 7-9, 2004. The keynote speaker was the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay priest whose consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire has sparked intense controversy throughout the worldwide Anglican communion. There are many who believe the Episcopal Church in America has departed from “orthodox” Christianity. This conference was a response to that charge. The sponsors of the conference included Claiming the Blessing, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Integrity, Every Voice Network, The Witness Magazine, Anglican Malaria Project, and Oasis California.
Bishop Robinson addressed the controversy head-on in his keynote address, emphasizing the work of reconciliation to which all of us are called as Christians. “To be Christian is to do the work of Christ, reconciling the world,” he said (2 Corinthians 5:19). The first step in reconciliation is telling the truth. To those in the Anglican communion who oppose the participation of LGBT believers in the church, we must stand firm in our truth. But while activism is an important part of telling the truth, Robinson called us to move beyond activism (which is about winning) to reconciliation (which is about the restoration of relationships). Dialogue is more important than debate.
“How we treat one another in the struggle is what determines whether or not reconciliation will take place. We are called to honor the other, even when the other is our enemy.” He cited Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama as spiritual leaders who all refused to return hatred for hatred.
The resistance to his ordination, he stated, “is not about homosexuality; it’s about the end of patriarchy.” Many in the church have called for him to step down from his office as Bishop, to help avoid schism in the Episcopal Church. But Robinson maintains that unity is not worth sacrificing our integrity for. “Our only hope of unity is finding Christ in the other.” Honoring the other, he said, means having infinite respect for the other, no matter how serious our disagreements.
Bishop Robinson talked about the vitriolic hate mail he has received in his first fifteen months as bishop, hate mail from around the world. But, he said, through it all, “I have never felt God so close.” At times, he said, “praying seems redundant.” In his own prayer life, he said, “I don’t really use many words in prayer anymore. I’ve just about gotten over telling God what God needs to know. I simply let God love me.” He also expressed gratitude for God’s grace: “I continue to thank God for this remarkable gift of being gay. How could I possibly regret it?”
A licensed professional counselor in private practice in metro Atlanta, Darrell Grizzle is the author of I Never Meant to Start a Murder Cult and Other Stories.