As a minister of the Gospel, it is my honor and pleasure to exercise my obligation to preach and do my best to live out the Gospel of Christ. Jesus was crucified and rose again so that all of those whom God chose to hear His voice could be free from the shackles of bondage. Those shackles are placed by those who seek to contravene and contradict the Gospel of Grace and Love by trying (often successfully) to impose upon others, and often upon even themselves, assorted rules and laws that they read into the Bible. They falsely call these rules and laws “Christian values,” in order to confirm their own preconceived prejudices.
I was very disappointed in Bishop Gene Robinson’s pre-inaugural prayer. He did not preach Christ crucified for our sakes; he did not preach the freedom that Christ gives us; he did not preach our liberty in Jesus; he did not preach that Christianity was inconsistent with discrimination and oppression against Gay people. Instead, he viewed all religions as being equivalent in preaching the love and freedom that Christ promises and delivers to all who live in Him.
He tried to make nice with those who preach messages that are often hateful and even demonic. He didn’t recognize that the Lord’s teachings are offensive to the natural mind, and that no amount of coddling the haters will win them over to the Gospel of Grace (unmerited favor of God to us) and love; no amount of coddling Christian homophobes is going to discourage them from demeaning and advocating discrimination against Gay people; no amount of coddling false prophets will make them regret the untold numbers of suicides, assaults, and even murders of Gay people that they’ve caused. He never once called to account those professing Christian clergy and their followers for opposing the very Person and Gospel whom they erroneously contend that they represent.
I was quite disturbed by Bishop Gene Robinson’s pre-inaugural prayer on a number of counts. It’s taken me a while to discern most of what really prompted my disappointment, beyond the fact that he never once mentioned Jesus, whom he claims to represent. By trying to appeal to “all gods” and “all people,” he both undermined and contradicted the Gospel message.
Robinson was effusive in his gratitude for being in the presence of President Obama and other well known politicians. He took pride in being able to sit near Obama during the inauguration ceremonies, as well as he and his partner being able to pray with Obama, and being in such close proximity to the inauguration. He even seemed in awe of homophobic clergy like TD Jakes! Indeed, he even seems to fall all over himself in describing his association with clergy who undoubtedly view him as a “sinner,” who rail against Gay people from their pulpits and other venues, and who actively urge others to discriminate against them.
To get a flavor of that to which I’m referring, here are Gene Robinson’s words describing his experience during the inauguration:
“I met some wonderful people. Sat next to the new Securities and Commodities appointee, who later introduced me to the new Treasury Secretary and his wife. Oprah was there (sitting BEHIND us, I might add!). Most of the cabinet. Other denominational leaders.
“Then, we were bussed to the Capitol.
“Mark and I split up, because I had been invited to sit on the Presidential Platform. Through several security checkpoints in the bowels of the Capitol.
“Al and Tipper Gore left their entourage specifically to greet me – a real honor, given the magnificent contributions he’s making to our common good. Then, we walked down the series of hallways/steps that the new president would walk down in a few minutes.
“I entered into the light of day and the Presidential Platform, just behind Newt Gingrich and Rick Warren. I told Pastor Warren that I would be praying for him. Again, he was most gracious.
“Coming out onto the platform was overwhelming. Not only would I be mere feet away from Barack Obama when he took the oath of office, but the view from the platform of the millions of people on the Mall was awe inspiring.
“It was a solid mass of humanity for as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Washington Monument, and then all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, where this weekend’s journey had begun for us. The air was electric, the joy palpable, and the momentousness of the occasion solemn.
“I was seated in the sixth row behind the president, beside Federico Pena (who was delightful), directly behind Gov. Warren Dean (chairman of the Democratic National Committee). General Colin Powell was also in the next row in front of me we greeted each other with the secret Episcopal handshake.”
[See Pink News,”Comment: Gay bishop’s eyewitness account of Obama’s inauguration” January 21, 2009] While Bishop Robinson has said that we must hold Obama’s “feet to the fire,” he betrays those words in his pre-inaugural prayer. He tries to lower expectations as to when full and equal civil rights must be obtained by LGBT people, the only citizens of the U.S. who are currently and legally viewed as second-class citizens. He counsels patience with that second-class status being codified by law, as is the case with DOMA and DADT.
The prayer of Bishop Robinson could have been a turning point in the consciousness of many Gay and Straight people who understandably confuse Christianity with the false gospel of legalism, perfectionism, exclusion, demonization, and oppression of LGBT people. Many sensitive and intelligent people are understandably turned off from Christianity because they have rarely heard and seen the “real thing.” Bishop Robinson could have corrected this terrible misunderstanding, but in deference to his desire to be a people-pleaser, to not risk offending others’ sensibilities, he chose to water down his prayer. Not only didn’t he mention the name of Jesus, he failed to reference what Jesus’ Gospel specifically says about Gay people (Matthew 19).
He forfeited his opportunity to focus on the lack of full and equal civil and sacramental rights for Gay people. Instead, he spoke in rather general terms about a need for “justice” for all people in all countries. This is a laudable goal, but it’s an abstraction with which many could well be bored. Worse, many can easily affirm that goal but then get on with “business as usual,” which includes dehumanizing talk and actions directed against LGBT Americans.
His prayer fell far short of what might have been, and what should have been, in terms of communicating God’s love through Jesus for all of His LGBT children. Of course, social justice for everyone is the goal of every Christian worthy of the name, but since LGBT people are singularly oppressed, it was incumbent upon the Bishop to address and concentrate on that particular issue. It was incumbent upon him to invoke Jesus’ name in specifically calling for their liberation from the yokes of bondage that ignorant haters, perversely often in the name of God, have placed upon them. It was incumbent upon him to denounce the heterosexist oppression that has taken hold of many people’s psyches, as well as the many institutions, including “religious,” familial, political, military, and judicial institutions within the U.S.
He forfeited his major opportunity to help facilitate a transformation of consciousness in the minds of many professing Christians as well as many secular people of good will. He could have challenged the belief systems of those who honestly think that limiting the civil rights of Gay people is the appropriate thing to do. When Robinson foolishly indulged his desire to be all things to all people within the historical context of a Black President’s inauguration, the unique opportunity that was afforded him was lost.
Prior to Gene Robinson’s prayer, I wrote the following email to my friend Don Charles, who blogs at “Christ, The Gay Martyr,” expressing my feelings in this matter, as to what I had hoped Bishop Robinson would say in his prayer:
“I think he [Bishop Robinson] will take this opportunity to talk about the need for equality for all of God’s children, and how [most of the institutional] Church” has gotten it wrong before and it’s making the same mistake now. He should (and I hope he does) explicate the Gospel of Jesus and let everyone who hears him hear what Jesus says about the marginalized, the poor, the “outsiders” with whom He dealt. If I were to give that prayer, I would also add that every time Jesus dealt with the religious and political leaders it turned out badly for Him as it did for all other leaders of the fledgling Church. It does Jesus, the Church, and Christianity itself a grave injustice to in any way cozy up to the power elite, those who discriminate and seek to disenfranchise any of God’s children. Once the Church aligns itself with the power elite, it no longer is the “Church” and fails to in any way represent Jesus. The early Church was horribly persecuted by the power elite, and that’s the way it’s meant to be. To have a “peaceful” “Church,” to have a self-satisfied, smug bunch of people who call themselves “Christians,” is not what Jesus had in mind, and is not what Jesus’ Church has ever been. To the degree we don’t stand up for the outsiders, it’s to that degree we cease to be a “Church” or “Christians,” and become actors playing a part that the culture defines for us as being appropriate for Christians to play.”
Robinson also forfeited the opportunity to insist that equal rights can’t and must not be won incrementally, and that social justice must be facilitated immediately, without any more excuses or discussions as to why this “problem” needs further study. He should have pointed out that the “problem” will cease to exist if professing Christian clergy, and politicians, especially the President of the United States, set the tone for and prosecute the implementation of full and equal civil rights for all Gay people. He seems to have been star-struck, and he cut Obama unnecessary slack in the urgent need to forcefully put equal rights for Gay people at the top his Presidential agenda. Yes, that’s exactly where Gay people’s equality belongs, alongside and equal to the free-falling economy that we currently endure.
Regarding the part of Robinson’s prayer where he asks God to “give us anger” at injustice, I recently wrote the following email to Don, as one response to his email to me encouraging me to write this post on my perceptions of Robinson’s prayer:
“Christians are [already] angry at injustice and do their best to fight it and never remain silent. God implants that anger against injustice, and it’s not something that is an add-on that God gives . . . [it] emanates from within those whom He chose to be His agents of Grace in this world. By asking God to “give us anger,” [Robinson] is not talking to Christians, and he’s made it clear that he is speaking to everyone; unfortunately, [many are] incapable of that anger, as not everyone is a Christian, [or even an atheist who possesses good will]. By trying to be a people-pleaser and seeking to [give] Obama ‘time’ to do the right thing regarding social justice, saying ‘… our new president is a human being, not a messiah,’ he [gives] Obama an out when Gay rights are on the table. Robinson [is likely to] be Obama’s first apologist, and his rhetoric of holding Obama’s “feet to the fire” hardly rings true to me, especially when he was forgiving Obama for inviting a hatemonger like [Rick] Warren. [Obama only invited] Robinson as an afterthought after much revulsion was expressed at the choosing of Warren. And then Robinson’s prayer segment at the pre-inaugural ceremony was blocked from telecast by the inauguration committee and/or HBO … [that’s what comes of] his trying to be all things to all people…”
I know these words seem harsh, but the fact is that Christians are not to be people-pleasers (For example, see Isaiah 2:22; Galatians 1:10)! James writes to Christians: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
More importantly, by not talking about the love of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ, Bishop Robinson violated the injunction of Jesus Himself: “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)
In my opinion, Bishop Robinson in his pre-inaugural prayer failed to heed James’ counsel and Jesus’ injunction! I would have expected far more of Robinson, a Gay clergyman who has suffered and continues to suffer much abuse from the usurpers of Jesus’ Gospel. It was highly disturbing to see him to cozy up to this corrupt world, a world whose system and values are antithetical to the system and values of Christ and His Church. The Church is comprised of the “called-out ones!” In my opinion, Bishop Robinson’s behavior in the context of the inauguration was not that of a “called-out” messenger of God.
The timetable for social justice is not to be based on what is politically doable. It must be based on what is spiritually correct! The Bishop invoked a generalized version of the latter while seeming to be more than willing to capitulate to the former. That lapse and/or choice on Robinson’s part helped make his prayer anemic. Worse, it also left a vacuum that the imparting of Jesus’ transformation of people’s consciousness could have filled.
Robinson’s pre-inaugural prayer didn’t leave room, or even give permission to his hearers, to allow Jesus to fill that vacuum!
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. He also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.