The Center for the American Progress is the organization that Patriarch Bartholomew endorsed during the Green Patriarch publicity offensive late last year. This George Soros funded institution started out as Hillary Clinton’s cabinet in waiting but was converted into a full-time think tank after her loss. Soros is reportedly still the major backer.
“Bishop Robinson will bring his well-respected perspective and experience to this fellowship, helping to discuss and analyze a wide array of policy areas in a progressive religious light,” the announcement said. The Center did not list any particular policy expertise that Robinson brought, aside from his high media profile as “the gay bishop”.
“I think Gene’s qualifications for this role probably approximate his qualifications for the role of prophet, which he has assumed in the Episcopal Church,” said William Murchison, a member of the denomination and author of Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity.
“Everything Gene does tends to be conditioned upon his absolute faith that he knows what he is talking about,” Murchison said. “He’s a man of some charm, but if you get beyond these somewhat basic and superficial credentials, I don’t believe there’s a whole lot of ‘there’ there.”
The first openly partnered homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion, Robinson has a high profile both in and outside of the denomination, often traveling outside of his diocese to speak at national events. In 2009, Robinson offered a keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign’s Clergy Call, a bi-annual conference in Washington for liberal clergy engaged in gay rights activism. Robinson was also invited to lead prayers at President Barack Obama’s inaugural concert, following criticisms from homosexual activists that California megachurch pastor Rick Warren was too conservative to lead prayers at the inauguration itself.
Robinson most recently drew attention from comments made last week at the Spring meeting of the Episcopal Church House of Bishops. Expressing dissatisfaction with two policy papers presented for and against same-sex marriage, Robinson said it was time to move beyond speaking of “GLBT” orientations.
“There are so many other letters in the alphabet,” Robinson said. “There are so many other sexualities to be explored.”
The Bishop did not elaborate as to what other sexualities might be, and to their corresponding letters of the alphabet. Asked in an interview with CAP how his new role at the think tank connects with his leadership of the New Hampshire diocese, Robinson replied that the connection would be seamless.
“The responsibility of any leader in a religious institution is to connect the values articulated in that particular faith with the culture and issues that surround us every day,” Robinson said. “All of the Abrahamic religions talk about love of God and love of neighbor—and love of neighbor is really nothing but caring about the issues and the people of the culture and bringing one’s religious values to that.”
“I laughingly told someone the other day that I was about to do what our mothers told us never to do at dinner parties, which is to mix religion and politics,” Robinson recounted. “But for me the two are quite inseparable. Dearly held religious values always propel us into the public square and the issues that face us at any given time. For me, the two go hand in hand.”
The Episcopal prelate said he was interested in all of the issues that CAP addressed, but that some, such as economic justice, lent themselves to a religious perspective due to an emphasis on the poor in Abrahamic religions.
“Any of us in any culture is going to be judged by how we care for the most vulnerable among us,” Robinson said. “I hope to focus on issues such as health care reform, immigration reform, the economy, and the ramifications of this jobless recovery.”
“My biggest concern is that we have lost the notion of the common good,” Robinson said. “We are devolving into a, ‘If I’m OK, then to heck with the rest of the world’ attitude. We need to be called back to the common good. It was part of our Founding Fathers’ vision of this country and is certainly part of the progressive agenda in America.”
The New Hampshire bishop said he was excited to work with CAP on the intersection of race and public policy and religion.
“Our experience of slavery, albeit banished 150 years ago, still weighs us down,” Robinson said. “That racial divide is still in our midst and is mostly played out in economic terms. Yet it seems to be the thing that Americans will tell you is over and should be over—yet we still see the effects of it.”
During the interview, Robinson was also asked about the controversy over his election as the first openly partnered homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church.
“To have me elected and consented to—and consecrated—a bishop was a very serious statement on our church’s part that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are children of God and equal in the eyes of God,” Robinson said. Robinson explained that by 2006, the American church had gotten such a negative reaction from the Anglican Communion around the world questioning that decision that the Episcopal Church decided to “push the pause button” and not elect any other partnered gay or lesbian bishops “at least for a while.”
“By 2009, at our general convention last summer, we had thought about it, prayed about it, and decided, nope, actually we had done the right thing,” Robinson said. “We were going to move forward in the direction we thought God was calling us, and that was full inclusion of all of God’s people.”
Following the church’s General Convention, the Diocese of Los Angeles elected a partnered lesbian, Mary Glasspool, to be one of new suffragan (assisting) bishops. Having obtained the church’s consent, Glasspool will be consecrated on May 15 in Los Angeles.
“In that period of just seven years, we have seen the Episcopal Church go out on a limb for its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members,” Robinson said. “I think we are winning that struggle. A few people have left, but certainly not as many as you would suspect by reading the headlines. My sense is that the Episcopal Church is ready to move on and do its mission in the world of fully recognizing that our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members are fully a part of that effort. I couldn’t be prouder to be an Episcopalian.”
Robinson said that early in his episcopate he “didn’t want to be the gay bishop,” but realized within a couple of years that he had no control over that.
“I couldn’t write the headlines in The Washington Post or The New York Times and at least for a time, and until someone else was elected, I was just probably going to be the gay bishop,” Robinson said. “I decided rather than spending all of my time and energy resisting that title, it would be better to spend my time making good use of the opportunities that presented themselves because of it.”
The Episcopal bishop also addressed international issues, specifically those in the Global South. He amplified unproven allegations that U.S. religious conservatives were pushing African countries to adopt legislation imposing harsh penalties on homosexuals (To read the IRD’s coverage of this issue, click here).
“Recently we have come to understand that some of the very conservative and so-called religious groups in America are fanning the flames of this prejudice in other countries,” Robinson said, highlighting controversial legislation in Uganda that would criminalize homosexual behavior. “We looked at that more closely and discovered that several organizations, but principally the Family, which is the sponsor of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., were really behind all that. When confronted about that they said, ‘Oh, my goodness, we never meant for anything like that happen.’ But you can’t play with fire and then claim no responsibility if all of sudden you start a brush fire.”
Robinson said that in California, people who start camp fires that get out of control are punished.
“They hold people accountable for what they did that led to this tragedy,” Robinson said. “So it seems to me that part of the responsibility in America, as gay and lesbian people, as progressive organizations, we need to hold people accountable for stirring up the fires of bigotry and hatred in other countries.”
Not everyone agrees that Robinson’s ends are externally focused.
“It’s all about Gene, everything is about Gene and about how to satisfy his inner needs and the requirement for affirmation,” Murchison said. “The good of the broader organization doesn’t seem to resonate with him.”