frgavin on April 10th, 2011

Mere tolerance not sufficient, Episcopal leader says

By Rachel Stern
April 7, 2011

Bishop Gene Robinson has a favorite bumper sticker: Guns don’t kill people, religions do.

“That would be funny if it weren’t true,” he said. “I would argue that 95 percent of all the pain and prejudice we as LGBT people have experienced can be laid at the feet of religious people.”

About 300 people gathered inside Sage Chapel on the Cornell University campus Wednesday to hear Robinson speak. He delivered the 2011 Frederick C. Wood Lecture sponsored by Cornell United Religious Work.

Robinson, of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, is the first openly gay, non-celibate Episcopal priest to be ordained a bishop. He has worked at the local, state, national and international levels to advocate for equal protection under the law and full civil marriage rights for all.

“For well over 30 years, a great human debate has raged with regard to the role of LGBT persons in the church,” said Ken Clarke, director of Cornell United Religious Work, in his introduction. “Bishop Robinson is one of the most important voices and symbols of that multifaceted debate.”

In his lecture, “How Religion is Killing Our Most Vulnerable Youth,” Robinson drew laughs, applause and cheers. He discussed how society has arrived at this debate, said it is unknown what God thinks about homosexuality, and said it is not enough to simply be tolerant of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Just 20 or 30 years ago, most Americans did not know anyone who was openly gay, Robinson said. Now, almost everyone knows someone, he said. And as a result, there are people all over the place going home and telling their parents they are gay.

“Families are thrown into chaos,” he said. “The world has changed because so many people have come out and all of us have to deal with it, including the church.”

But what seems to be so clear in the Bible, he said, is really not clear at all. It is vital to look at the context of the Bible. Same-sex behavior existed in ancient times, but homosexuality did not, Robinson said.

The word “homosexual” is used in the Bible because of translations that were made, but homosexual orientation is a notion that is just 140 years old, and scripture is silent about homosexuality, he said.

“The Bible isn’t talking about homosexuals,” he said. “It seems to be real clear what God thinks about homosexuality, when in fact it is completely unknown.”

Scripture has been used to defend slavery and the mistreatment of women, he said. Now scripture is wrongly being used to speak out against homosexuality, he said, but society has a chance to correct this misconception.

Instead of simply being tolerant of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Robinson said, the majority must actively support this group of people and fight for their rights.

“When we get white people beginning to understand they are paying a price for racism, or men realizing they are paying a price for sexism, or straight people realizing they are paying a price for the exclusion of LGBT people, then we will get somewhere,” he said.

Cornell freshman Ben Chartock said he was inspired by Robinson’s words. The positive message Robinson left the audience was powerful, he said.

“I was struck by the continued push toward betterment for all humans and that was really the direction the bishop said humans are going in,” he said. “For me, that is a really great sign.”

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