The Rt Revd Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire and patron of Changing Attitude, is interviewed by Michael Buerk for The Choice, to be broadcast next Tuesday, 28 August on Radio 4 at 9 a.m.
Bishop Gene is to contract a Civil Partnership with Mark, his partner of 18 years, in June 2008, following the legalising of such partnerships on January 1 2008 in New Hampshire. He denies in the interview that choosing a date three or four weeks before the next Lambeth Conference for his civil-partnership ceremony was provocative. The date will be the fifth anniversary of his election, and a three-day weekend. He says: “My critics would find any date impermissible.”
He takes issue with “people who would say its OK to be gay as long as you don’t practise it. First, I would question the honesty of their statement that it is OK to be gay in their eyes, because their other actions do not indicate that to me. Second of all, very few people are called to celibacy, certainly not a whole category of people.” Being a practising homosexual was what he did all the time. “It’s about every moment of the day. This has nothing to do with a genital sexual relationship.” His comments will be familiar to those people who attended the Changing Attitude 10th Anniversary Service in St Martin-in-the-Fields in November 2005 when Bishop Gene addressed the congregation.
He says that it was painful for him to have people from Africa feeling that homosexuals were “bestial”. “We in the US treated people who came out of Africa as less than human. We used scripture to justify this slavery and continued bondage.” But the US had repented of its past behaviour. It is very, very painful to have those people in Africa in some sense using the same thinking against gay and lesbian people and against me.”
Bishop Gene comments on the attitude of the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, towards him. He says: “I believe that Peter Akinola . . . believes he is following his call to God as best he can. I just wish he could believe that I am following my call as best I can. I love the Anglican Church, and I value the Communion, and I will do everything short of standing down to benefit the Communion, but I will not reject God’s call to me.”
When asked if he should have stepped aside for the sake of the unity of the Communion, Bishop Gene says that God had constantly called him to offer himself as bishop, and had never once gone back on that call. He had resisted because he knew it would be controversial, but God had nagged at him to act. “I took it to God in prayer daily, sometimes hourly; as best as I could discern, this was God’s voice talking to me. Never once did I hear God saying ‘Don’t do this’. If I had, I believe with my whole heart I would have made that decision.”
Bishop Gene rejected the idea that God’s call to him was convenient. “There has not been a lot that has been convenient since my election — certainly not the death threats. There continues to be concern for my safety in the diocese. There are some crazy people in the world, and all it takes is one.”
This is also a familiar dilemma for Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, who has also received death threats. His members in Nigeria remain deeply anxious for his safety. Further threats have been received following his successful visits to the UK and USA.
The belief some people hold that it is legitimate to threaten the lives of people like Bishop Gene and Davis Mc-Iyalla is encouraged by the prejudiced and homophobic language emanating from the conservative Global South leaders. It is a powerful reason for conservative Christians to moderate their language and think carefully about the effect their interpretation of the Bible has on LGBT Christians, including the threat of death.