Bishop Robinson

Bishop Gene Robinson speaking at MLP Dinner (Image courtesy of More Light Presbyterians)

You can hear about the vengeful and rather unmerciful God talked about on hundreds of radio stations across America, according to Bishop Gene Robinson who spoke at this year’s More Light Presbyterian Dinner during the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly last week. That’s the side of God that Rabbi Michael Lerner so vividly describes as “the Right Hand of God.” But if you try to talk about the all-loving, all-merciful, overly-expansive side of God, especially one that accepts GLBTQ people… the “Left Hand of God,” well then you’re going to be in big trouble! The openly-gay Episcopal Bishop Robinson, over whom the Anglican Church has been “in chaos” for the last number of years, quipped that we should not be surprised when preaching the gospel gets you into trouble since Jesus made it very clear in his words, actions, and in his death, that trouble would follow when you truly followed his example. Read more to watch Bishop Robinson’s talk at the MLP dinner plus a little arm-chair Monday morning quarterbacking from me (the Jew in the pew married to a Presbyterian who, together, have caused our own bit of a stir in the PCUSA over the last 20 years or so).

A little history: My husband Derrick was elected to be a commissioner to the 210th General Assembly many years ago. Commissioners are elected by local “presbyteries” which are geographic groups of churches, his being San Jose California which stretches from Monterey to Menlo Park. He was elected by somewhat of a fluke when the person who was widely expected to win had a heart attack the night before the meeting, with the rules saying you had to be present to accept the nomination and win. Soon after Derrick was chosen he began getting phone calls from some members of the Presbytery demanding that he meet with them in private. Long story short, they were demanding that he step down from the position because he was gay, and at that time, being gay and ordained in the Presbyterian Church was not accepted. Last year that finally changed for GLBTQ people. Despite many phone calls, letters, and pretty awful behavior from Derrick’s opponents at presbytery meetings, Derrick stood fast and was the commissioner that year. Though his position does not compare to being named a Bishop in the Episcopal Church by any stretch of the imagination, the way Derrick was treated, and the claims that because of him the church was being destroyed, are pretty similar. Derrick and Bishop Robinson are among the many people who caused “chaos” and “confusion” in the church.

Certainty is hard to overcome. Bishop Robinson rightly says that confusion is a great step on the road to new thinking.

At this year’s General Assembly one of the big issues was deciding whether Presbyterian ministers could perform marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples. By a very small margin the commissioners voted no. But, paying attention to the content of the debates leading up to voting, and, most importantly the “advisory” votes by the young delegates (youths elected by their Presbyteries and seminary students), it is clear that it is only a matter of time before this issue finds its way into the “how did we ever think that way” pile of dust. Young people, as Derrick and I have found when we speak at places like Santa Clara University, are ready for marriage equality both in the state and in the church. The votes by the youth, which don’t count as commissioner’s votes do, but which show the direction in which the church is headed, were overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality.

This shift in thinking was enabled, in large part, by people being willing to speak out, come out, cause chaos and confusion. Being outspoken can get you into lots of trouble, but it is one of the keys to change. Thank you Bishop Robinson for being out, causing confusion and chaos, and encouraging us all to do the same.

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