Lexington native, Bishop Gene Robinson, appeared on The Daily Show to discuss his new book, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. Robinson, elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003, was the church’s first openly gay bishop.
Host Jon Stewart, introducing the book, said, “The timing could not be more appropriate. The Supreme Court of the United States is about to take up the case of whether or not the Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional. Kismet?”
(“The Episcopal Church’s liturgical ritefor blessing same-sex relationships, was authorized by General Convention for use in the Episcopal Church beginning the first Sunday in Advent, December 2, 2012 [and] must be approved by each diocesan bishop before it is used in individual dioceses.”)
Robinson said, “We’re reaching this moment in which, even people of faith — maybe especially people of faith — are seeing that there is a way forward on this gay marriage issue. We’re seeing it in all ages, all races, all denominations — they’re looking at our families; they’re looking at our relationships; they’re looking at how we raise our kids — and what they’re seeing is all-American family values. You’d think the conservatives would be for that, wouldn’t you?”
Stewart agreed. “It’s so surprising to me that this isn’t a conservative issue — to try and bring more people into the fundamental unit that they believe to be the foundation of any rational, structured society. More people getting married seems better than less.”
Robinson said, “I think back to raising our two daughters. The wild, gay lifestyle that everybody talks about? [It] was a Saturday night playing board games and watching The Golden Girls and going to church on Sunday morning and making sure there were clean clothes for school on Mondays. Our families are like other people’s families,” adding, “We’re just seeing this tipping point in American culture and in religious denominations.”
Stewart, gesturing to the book, said, “what’s nice about this is, I feel like many people of faith are struggling to get some foundation to agree with this, because their experience is exactly what you say, but they need to also not abandon scripture, so that’s what you try and do here.”
Robinson responded, “I was just at a very conservative seminary out west, and evangelicals are even finding that their young people — who have gay and lesbian friends — are leaving them, because they know that the things that are being said about LGBT people are just simply not true,” adding, “My sense is that there’s a real hunger, even among the more conservative religious denominations, to find a way forward on this… because Scripture says, ‘where love is, there is God also.’ And they see that love in our families, and I think people can’t help but be supportive.”
Stewart joked, “It always struck me when they used the Biblical foundation to be against gay marriage, they would use Leviticus at times (it says ‘to lay with man is an abomination’). If you read Leviticus, eating shellfish is an abomination. So why aren’t they trying to also shut down Red Lobster? Where is the consistency of thought there?”
Robinson answered, “the fact of the matter is, we have to take scripture in its context. You know, they try to rope Jesus into this thing. So here’s a guy who, in a culture that virtually demanded marriage, was a single guy; spent most of his time with twelve men; singled out three of them for leadership; and one of them is known, in the Bible, as ‘the one whom Jesus loved.’ Now, I’m not saying Jesus was gay, but let’s be careful [about] roping this guy in for a husband-wife and 2.2 children as a model for Family. He knew about families of choice. And so do LGBT people.”
Stewart joked in response, “I’ve heard some say it was a Last Brunch, and not a Supper.”
Robinson laughed, “that would have made it really clear wouldn’t it?”
From the extended interview, available online at The Daily Show:
Stewart: People want to look at the community of faith as a monolith, but it has never been that way. You have been active in this for many years.
Robinson: I came out 25, 26 years ago… thinking that my ordained ministry would be over, and having no idea that I would wind up being a bishop of a church, and the first openly gay bishop in christendom… Not the first gaybishop.
Stewart: even the biblical story, you talk about Sodom and Gomorrah… the idea was that that was destroyed by homosexuality. You say that is a misinterpretation.
Robinson: It is. It’s a misinterpretation. And even the rest of the Bible, including Jesus, interprets it differently. It was the treatment of the poor in that city that was Sodom’s sin. It’s a stretch perhaps, but there’s a lot of ‘sodomy’ going on in Washington with our very poor care of the poor.
Stewart: I see what you did right there… It’s interesting to me, we had on Mike Huckabee, and he had done a commercial, that talked about ‘you’d better make sure that your vote matches up with scripture,’ and it looked to me like he was saying ‘Vote Republican or you’re going to hell,’ it seemed like… And he said, ‘no, no, no. It’s just [in] Corinthians, they say, you have to test yourself for Eternity…which still sounds like Hell, but what the hell do I know? But the idea was that traditional marriage is the only way to view it if you are a person who wants to go to heaven, or have eternal strength, or something along those lines. Isn’t there a co-opting of that idea?
Robinson: I know we all tend to want to find verses that support what we already think. But marriage has meant very different things throughout time. The church didn’t even really get involved in marriage until about the 12th century. Before that, it was only for people of property. The only reason for marriage was to make sure that it was clear who the heirs were, and then this whole notion about love being a part of marriage is a fairly recent development. Sometimes it happened, and it was a lovely by-product, but it wasn’t the reason for it.
Stewart: A lot of people would get down on one knee and say ‘would you make me some heirs?’ I think would be the way they would say it.
Robinson: We’re seeing that in England right now aren’t we?…
We’re finding that the essential part of marriage, this incredible commitment that someone makes to another person to try to learn to love them as much — and on a good day — even more than they love themselves, and that’s true whether you’re a straight couple or a gay couple, that’s the essence of marriage. That’s what we want.
Stewart: do you see the more strict conservative religious groups trying in some way to find a life raft on this issue, and is there something that can be thrown to them that gives them nice, biblical, scriptural foundation that can bring them along on this issue? Because I think they’ll be the last holdouts on this.
Robinson: they will be the last holdouts. I try to make the case, from a faith perspective in the book because I think they need a good, solid piece of ground to stand on. And I think it’s there. It will never happen if we proof text little verses here and there without looking at the message of all of the Hebrew scriptures as well as the Christian scriptures that love is central, and where love is, that’s where God is, and it ought to be supported and respected.