The first openly gay bishop in The Episcopal Church recently praised pro-gay Presbyterians for creating "enormous confusion" and what he called "holy chaos" in their denomination over homosexuality.
"It was not that many years ago when our churches, yours and mine and most others, were absolutely certain what God thought of us ... and because of your courageous work, there are a lot of confused people out there and that is a huge step forward," Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire said Saturday during an event sponsored by More Light Presbyterians – a pro-LGBT group.
Robinson looked to commend and further encourage gays and lesbians as they face several measures on homosexuality during the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s General Assembly in Pittsburgh. The denomination is considering a proposal to reverse a 2010 decision that allowed partnered gay clergy to serve and another measure that would redefine marriage. Votes are expected to take place later this week.
During his half-hour talk, Robinson, who was consecrated in 2003, cited several passages in Scripture to defend homosexuality.
"Let's take the Bible back from those who have taken it hostage," he told the LGBT crowd. "You know, those are our Scriptures too."
But Parker T. Williamson believes Robinson is twisting Scripture to show that God is OK with homosexuality.
In a commentary on The Layman Online, Williamson argued that the Episcopal bishop is filtering Scripture "through a GLBT entitlement lens."
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Robinson went to what he called one of his favorite stories in the Bible. Acts 3 tells the account of a man who was lame from birth and who begged for money every day at a gate called Beautiful – which was the entrance to the temple.
Peter told the man that he didn't have silver or gold but stated, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." The man was healed and went into the temple courts "where somewhere on the back of his mind he thought he belonged all the time," said Robinson.
"That's our story," the bishop said.
"We have been told for years that we can only come as close as the door like that lame man who was told it was his sin or perhaps that of his parents that made him lame. You and I have been told that we have this thing about us that makes us unworthy to come any closer."
But like the lame man, they were told, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" and "discovered what it's like to walk ... right to the center of our churches where we suspected all along that we belonged."
Williamson rejected Robinson's interpretation of the Bible passage, saying he "twisted the tale" to try to show that "GLBTs have always deserved full participation and leadership positions in the church."
"Robinson's takeaway bible distorts Scripture by omitting or ignoring 'All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.' He replaces it with entitlement language that has no place in the community of faith. Those whom the Lord has redeemed, who by God's grace experience amended lives and whose lives the church recognizes as demonstrations of the Gospel, are called by the Lord to serve his church," Williamson contended.
He further denounced the Episcopalian's use of the passage where God says He is "well pleased" to justify the homosexual lifestyle.
Common ground with African Americans?
Robinson, who is to retire in 2013, pointed to the civil rights movement of the 1960s as inspiration for his pro-gay efforts.
He believes that LGBT people have a common cause with African Americans, though many black pastors have rejected the link between the two movements.
"What we really need to be talking about is not so much homophobia but heterosexism," the Episcopalian asserted, placing "heterosexism" with the rest of the "-isms" such as racism and sexism.
"The sin we are fighting in this movement is the notion that it is better to be heterosexual than it is to be homosexual and we set the system up just to work that way," he said, noting that churches have long taught up until recently that homosexuality is an abomination.
Just as Christians repented of the sin of racism and slavery, Robinson says they will eventually apologize to LGBT people as well.
How will it end?
The vision that the LGBT community is putting forward, he maintained, is that God's love is broad.
"It's just too good to be true," Robinson said of the vision.
"Isn't it astounding that you can be on 800 radio stations preaching a God of revenge and hate and non-mercy and get by with it just fine. But you start preaching a God who is too merciful, too loving, too expansive, too inclusive and there will be hell to pay."
Looking to encourage the crowd, Robinson said they shouldn't be surprised by the grief they get for their efforts and for "preaching that kind of God."
Some pushback, he contended, means they're going on the right path.
"I would actually say that the real question for your church and mine is if you're not in trouble because of the Gospel you preach, is it really the Gospel?" he said to applause.
Confident of how it will all end, the Episcopal bishop stated, "This is going to end with the full inclusion of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the church, the synagogue, the mosque and in the culture.
"Let me tell you a little secret: the conservatives know it too. They know ... there is no stopping it. And now we're only arguing over how soon.
"When you sing 'we shall overcome,' sing it like it's a fact, not a hope."
Not only did he suggest that there will be a happy ending on earth, but in eternity too.
"We know we're going to be in heaven with one another and by the way with our enemies; they'll be surprised to see us there but we're going to be there with them and it's going to be just fine because God will make it just fine."
Robinson will be heading to his own legislative meeting this week for The Episcopal Church's General Convention in Indianapolis where homosexuality is also expected to be debated. The PC(USA) and The Episcopal Church have both been tackling the issue for decades now and have seen dozens of congregations depart over their increasingly liberal stance on the Bible.