A Religion-Based Progressive Agenda
The Center for American Progress yesterday hosted a wide-ranging and lively conversation with Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church. Robinson’s election in 2003 triggered a struggle within the Episcopal and worldwide Anglican church over human rights for gay men and lesbians—a struggle that reflects tensions and rifts within society at large.
Robinson’s appearance at the Center was the first follow-up event to the Center for American Progress’ October conference on the common good. His conversation with Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of Faith in Public Life, and remarks in a question and answer session with the audience revealed a strong, vibrant spirituality, savvy political awareness, and a deep sense of compassion and humor.
Robinson called on Americans to practice “solidarity and empathy with all of God’s people” in order to achieve a common good. He has a strong belief in the humanity of his opponents, and seeks to reach reconciliation over issues of justice in order to nourish the common good. He described his election as a step towards these bold ideals. It symbolized the “beginning of the end” of society’s domination by “white, straight, western males” who “have made most of the decisions for most of the world.”
This patriarchal domination of society, in his opinion, is characterized by institutional racism “set up to benefit certain people.” He was therefore unsurprised by the level of resistance to his election, as it foreshadowed the end of this corrupt power structure, provoking resistance from the beneficiaries of the status quo.
The election caused fears and anxieties within the Christian community as a whole. And this “anxiety,” Robinson noted “is the greatest enemy of promoting the common good.” These sentiments, he contends, have been exploited by the Bush Administration to divide Christians and prevent social change.
According to Robinson, many Christians have been manipulated by some who falsely construe Biblical scriptures. Scriptural passages may seem to advocate harsh social policies on first glance, but Robinson argues against a literalist interpretation of the Bible. In his view, “the Gospel is always unfolding;” it’s a living document, not a rulebook, for modern policymaking.
Robinson also focused on strategies for bringing about the changes he advocates. He called for unity and cooperation between minority groups. “I don’t think you’ll ever solve the gay issue,” he said “until you solve the women’s issue.” In his opinion, the fight for the rights of women is inextricable from the struggle for GLBT equality.
To form an effective movement for change, he urged gays and lesbians in the faith-based community to declare their orientation and “speak out” in favor of a religion-based, progressive agenda. He also urged progressives to “try to understand” opposing arguments, and treat their opponents with “respect and human dignity.”
Bishop Robinson called on those within the gay community to reach out and recognize the humanity in their opponents, and to live with joy and love. His message was one of hope and reconciliation. “We know where this is going,” he said, “we know that in the end we will all be included in God’s table and we will all be treated as full children of God.”
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