This evening I have been to the Gene Robinson lecture organised by the Centre LGS at the uni. The title of “The Lamberth Conference: A View for the Fringe” was quite vague for an academic lecture. Yet I think this helped as this was in part academic lecture, but it went beyond this in terms of how the Bishop talked about his faith.
Obviously it would take me far too long to cover everything, but this will be quite along post as I want to give his lecture the attention it deserves. Before I launch in I will explain that prior to the lecture I was somewhat sceptical about the bishop. I had been touched by the message he had sent to Pride via Sir Ian, but…well there was too much showbiz about this bishop for my liking. Tonights lecture changed my mind though. I have, in my time, heard a range of world class speakers in various settings and I have to say there was something different about what Robinson said and how he spoke. He had a touch of humility I think I have only truly come across in public speaking before from RT Kendall and Jimmy Carter. Yet there was something more about his lecture I can’t quite put my finger on.
Anyway on with what he actually said. Firstly he made clear that he was one person, whose words and faith are shaped by a mixture of his own experience, his social characteristics and the time and place in which he live. He acknowledged that he could speak on behalf on nobody other than himself, despite what others would like.
The first thread of his lecture related to the fact we live in changing times. Over the last ten to fifteen years things have changed primarily because more people are now “out”. Whilst in the past, when discussing the issue, people were able to talk in abstract terms without knowingly being in relationship with anybody who was LGBT that has changed. When we discuss these things now it is more personal, because faces come to mind during our discussions. This has impacted what is seen as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. The concrete worldviews we previously held therefore become confused as we struggle to combine our experience with our theory. This in turn causes anxiety. Additionally the world we now live in encourages anxiety aswell. However, in the end, the likely result of these situations is the anxiety subsides as a new view of the world becomes stabalised.
The next aspect he addressed was language. Firstly we are regularly adding more letters LGBTQ being the most frequently used. However, as more letters are being added they are becoming more meaningless. We are moving towards a situation where we will simply have to accept that people have a wide range of sexualities and who you are is who you are. The other aspect of language discussed was how homophobia is not a useful term. Whilst a small number of people may have a fear a more useful word to use, he argued, is heterosexualism. What we are struggling against is prejudice plus the power to enforce that prejudice on others.
He then moved on to look at the relationship between the religious issues involved and the civil rights issues involved. It is, he argued, important to look at the civil rights and religious rites seperately. Religious people should support civil rights because everybody should have these, even if they can’t accept religious rites for LGBT people. The legal aspect, therefore, needs seperating from the religious. In the UK we have a strange situation where the state church has been allowed an excemption from state law.
Where religious arguments and oppressions, from all three monotheistic religions, have become secularised this has seen led to wider scale oppression. As the roots lie within the religions it is the role of the religious to deal with changing the oppression through changing perceptions This change of perception comes from preaching what God actually thinks rather than what people think he thinks and in order to do this we have to look at the bible.
His starting point was to say that our construct of “homosexuality” is a modern thing. Therefore, when modern translations talk of homosexuality they are talking about different thingst to those we understand. Similarly the understanding of abomination and what is an abomination to God becomes an issue. We have to look at the whole text. At all levels there are decisions being made about what to accept within the modern situation and what not to. Some verses are bought into the modern context whilst others are not.
Robinson stated, in relation to the bible, he regarded it as “the word of God” but not the “literal words of God”. For Robinson Jesus is the perfect revelation of God and the bible cannot be placed above Jesus. The night before death Jesus said that he things to reveal that had not yet been revealed. This is why we have the Spirit, who has the role to lead people towards a better understanding of God. This is why the God we worship is a living God and didn’t stop working at the end of the 1st century when the bible was completed. Things the Spirit has revealed over the centuries include the way slavery is not acceptable and the way women are to be treated. This doesn’t mean that Gods truth is changing but it does mean that we’re getting it more. However, this doesn’t mean all progress is good, sometimes we are moving backwards away from understanding Gods truth aswell as moving towards it at other times. Language has again been the key because when people say we can’t change the bible what we have constantly changed is our understanding of words. We need to acknowledge that this is one way in which the Spirit works.
Political points he made related to the way the view of family differs according to if we are talking about homosexuals or heterosexuals. This he argues is key because it isn’t right to have one structure available for heterosexuals but not for non-heterosexuals. He, somewhat weakly in my opinion, linked this to patriarchy and said that misogony and heterosexualism were clearly linked. Once the church fully sorts out its views towards women it will sort out the sexuality issue.
The most moving part for me was when he spoke about his own faith. He believes the bible and Jesus life shows God has a heart for the marginalised whoever they are. He said mission is finding God where is He is on earth and joining him there. Robinson loves the church and could not leave it because it is the church he came to know of Gods love in and it was where he heard God tell him that he was loved for who he was. However, the fullness of God’s love is not knowable he says. All the boxes we build for God are too small for God. He also explained how he has a spiritual director to help him discerne God’s voice and how community is vital.
In relation to those who oppose him he said he knew they would be in heaven with him and they were also faithfully on their way home to God, hearing the Spirit aswell, although in different ways. They are important, we have much to learn from the South, particularly. He acknowleged that some movement forward may lead to some people moving into defensive positions but believed in the end equality would prevail. We need to choose carefully what battles to fight and what to leave. Sometimes we will make mistakes, and we won’t see all the results. We all build upon the people before and what matters is that we all play our individual part.
There were a few other odd bits he said but this was the main substance, although I am sure I have not been able to give it full justice. This is Gene Robinsons own blog, which he is posting at the moment. As for me, I think that this evening is one of those evenings which will take time to sink in and fully learn from, it has given me alot of positive stuff to think about though. I have been given a slightly new way to look at the bible and a positive explanation of why leaving the church never quite becomes possible, to think about amongst other things.