Friday, December 12, 2008

My Interview with Bishop Gene Robinson

Last month I had the chance to interview Bishop Gene Robinson for the Dartmouth Free Press, the campus biweekly liberal newspaper. +Gene was gracious enough to sit down with me twice, once at his office in Concord and once on campus after a special stewardship visit to St. Thomas Episcopal Church. You can read the whole interview at the DFP's website, although I have posted two excerpts below. Topics covered included social justice, athiesm, greed, faith and politics, Barack Obama, the Diocese of New Hampshire, the bishop's personal coming out story, homosexuality and the Bible, the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, and the anniversary of Matthew Shepherd's death.

I should note how remarkable it is to spend time with +Gene. Though he is a controversial international figure, you would never know it to be in his presence, be it one-on-one or in a parish setting. Following his stewardship sermon at a St. Thomas on Sunday morning, we all gathered in the Parish Hall to hear about his trips to Lambeth and Scotland. He began the discussion by taking off his shoes, climbing up on a chair, and showing off the rainbow socks our senior warden had made for him. He's just plain fun, an amazing speaker and a good leader. One-on-one, things are no different. His is a very warm and inviting personality, and you're just chilling with Gene the diocesan bishop. I think that's very special, and good. You have to very purposefully remind yourself of the momentous place he holds in Christian history. Here then are two excerpted questions to whet your appetite for the whole thing:

DFP: Many students at Dartmouth, including most Christians I have spoken with, struggle in a secular atmosphere where many student activities and even classroom experiences can be disrespectful of their faith. What words of encouragement would you give them?

GR: I am an advocate of the separation of church and state, and I believe that anyone’s faith ought to be able to withstand a critique from the culture or from academia or from wherever. I actually think there are many, many ways in which the culture should be critical of us because the history of the church is littered with awful distortions of the faith – the Crusades, the Inquisition, intolerance in general. I also believe that anyone espousing God’s values is going to be misunderstood and criticized by secular culture because from its inception, Christianity was a counter-cultural movement. Unfortunately, when Constantine was converted to Christianity, whether for religious or political reasons (we don’t know for sure), in a sense we crawled into bed with the power, or the powers, that we were meant to be critical of. So I don’t believe the church lives up to its counter-cultural nature or its counter-cultural mission as much as it should, but when it does it will undoubtedly be criticized.

I’ll give you an example. Shouldn’t the church be critiquing the recent economic meltdown in terms of the values that were bought into by most everyone around the world? Greed, get rich quick, make a lot of money no matter what, executive level compensation, etc etc. You know, the church has something to say about all those things, or should have something to say about all those things. It’s very easy to blame Wall Street for greed, but we were the ones who had our 401k money in the stock market, demanding a greater and greater profit or else we would move to a different mutual fund. So we’re all complicit. What I wonder is whether the church will have the courage to question the culture in that way.

DFP: How did you explain issues of sexuality to a four-year-old?

GR:(smiles) Well, I started with the eight-year old. I asked her if she knew what a gay or lesbian person was, and our housekeeper at the time was a lesbian, so she very quickly said, “Yes, most girls like boys, and most boys like girls, but some girls like girls and some boys like boys.” Which when you think about is about as good a definition as you can get! (laughs)

And so I said to her that I had discovered that I was one of those boys that liked boys, and that her mom and I would be getting divorced, etc. etc., and we read a children’s book which was published in Denmark. You couldn’t get anything like that published in the United States back then, which shows how much times have changed. Literally, I had to get this book from Denmark, and it was about two men and their happy life with their daughter, and the daughter’s mom. And we read that book together, and that night after we put Jamie to bed, she called from her room into mine, “Daddy I hope you find a Bill (or whatever the guy in the book’s name was) some day!” …

So then the 8 year-old and I told the 4 year-old. And it just didn’t seem all that weird to them. In some ways I think telling children at that age is easier than telling a teenager, who is not in anyway trying to stick out of the crowd or be strange, and so they never had a problem with it. Their mom got remarried very soon… I met [my partner] Mark soon after [my ex-wife] Boo was remarried, and we dated for about a year and a half before he moved up here, so they saw each of us with partners and… anything that made their mom or dad that happy, they were happy with.


James said...

Your a rotten fellow for getting to spend time with Bishop Robinson!

Great interview and great writeup about it.

Nathan Empsall said...

He's my bishop, whaddaya want from me!!!

Remember that this is on top of the September meeting with he and ++Katharine, and he'll be up for an ordination and again for the real visitation early next year. I also plan on stopping by his office in the spring to seek his wisdom on the discernment process. I can't believe how lucky I am sometimes. :)

FranIAm said...

That is great! How exciting for you. I enjoyed reading it all.