November 27, 2012

Post-Retirement, Robinson Bound for D.C.

As the Anglican Communion’s first openly homosexual partnered bishop enters retirement, he plans to serve as bishop-in-residence at a Dupont Circle parish. (photo: St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church)

Religion News Service has an informative new article this week about homosexual partnered Bishop Gene Robinson and his plans after his January 5 retirement. Unsurprisingly, the New Hampshire bishop plans to relocate to Washington, D.C., where he already serves as a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress. Robinson’s partner will remain in New Hampshire, where he is employed.

Mostly, the article focuses on Robinson’s aspiring role within public policy “as a bridge builder for a nation strained by divisive issues.” Part of this will be the founding of a “Center for Non-Violent Communication” at his new parish home, St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Dupont Circle, where he plans to preach once a month as bishop-in-residence.

“Our big goal is to change the nature of the debate in Washington,” Robinson said during an interview at his Concord office. “We’re mostly shouting at each other these days. We’d like (the center) to become a place where people can learn about and commit themselves to a different kind of tone.”

Despite fighting for one side’s agenda, Robinson hopes to show how shared values and language can help diffuse tensions. He aims to model, for instance, how to translate religious views into secular policy statements that anyone could endorse.

Not everyone seems convinced that Robinson will be able to reinvent himself as a transcendent figure. Sociologist of Religion Wendy Cadge of Brandeis University suggests Robinson could build bridges through “private relationships out of the public eye, rather than in the high-profile roles that he’s lined up” but is quoted sounding decidedly unconvinced:

“To go from being an activist, and from playing the central role that he has played in debates over homosexuality, to being someone who helps people … come together would be very difficult,” says Cadge, who studies mainline Protestant attitudes toward homosexuality. “But maybe he has some other idea for building relationships that we just don’t know yet.”

It’s a safe bet that Robinson’s plans don’t involve moving away from the public eye. Even as bishop of a relatively small, rural diocese (one that shed over 1,000 members last year alone), Robinson frequently travels on a national speaking schedule, including promoting a documentary about his advocacy and a new book arguing for same-sex marriage.

Robinson will probably be a good fit for St. Thomas, a small parish heavily involved in homosexual advocacy causes. The church was once much larger and known for the Washington elite who attended services there (From 1913 to 1920, while serving as assistant secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt was involved with the parish, including a term on the Vestry). White flight in the 1960s and an arson fire that in 1970 destroyed the 19th Century gothic cruciform structure were both hard on the church. Parishioners have worshiped in a modified fellowship hall since, and average Sunday attendance has oscillated between 110 and 150 persons over the past decade.

I did enjoy this fascinating tidbit about St. Thomas’ Parish from RNS:

“[Robinson] already raised $500,000 for a new $6.3 million sanctuary at St. Thomas’, which was destroyed by arson in 1970, where a chapel will be named for him. He’s pitching the chapel as a pilgrimage destination, especially for gay teens who’ve never seen a Christian tribute to an openly gay person.”

This does not sound like someone who wants to quietly step out of the spotlight: “Attention all gay teens: take a pilgrimage to the chapel named after me, where you can be inspired by tributes to me.”

The quest for affirmation continues.


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  • Ben Welliver

    Anne Rice (yeah, the vampire novel queen) posted a slobbering review on Amazon of His Holiness Robinson’s latest self-justifying book. She talked about how she hoped it would end “persecution” of gays. “Persecution”??? A guy trashes his marriage vows, dumps his wife, abandons his kids so he can hang around bars and pick up strangers – and how do the Episcopalians “punish” him? Make him a bishop! And he’s treated like royalty (notice I didn’t say “king”) wherever he goes. I’m still trying to figure out where the “perscution” was in all this, but who am I to argue with the Queen of Horror?

    If you ever wonder if you died and woke up in an alternative universe, join the club. Is this supposed to be Christianity? The Book of Revelation and its vision of the lamb-beast (religion propping up the tyrant leopard-beast) doesn’t seem farfetched.

  • Eric Lytle

    I was thumbing through Halley’s Bible Handbook, the 1965 edition. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, it was for several decades one of the most popular Bible guides for evangelical laity. Anyway, it cites some membership figures circa 1960: Methodists, 10 million, Presbys 3.2 million, Episcopal 3.3 million, United Church of Christ 2 million, Disciples of Christ 1.8 million. Want to guess how those compare with 2012? At the other end of the scale, the Assemblies of God were a mere 543K in 1960, today 1.7 million.

    It’s a pretty simple rule: the more a church looks like the world, the fewer people will bother with it.

  • John B. Johnson

    Awe. I’m disappointed; you left out my quote from the RNS article entirely from your blog post. “Following the example of Jesus Christ is what’s important to us,” said John B. Johnson, the senior warden at St. Thomas’. “Gene has faced evil words (and) absolute anger with grace and poise. I can’t think of anybody better to help us navigate some of the harder conversations here in Washington and around the world.”

    Please keep following us! We are evangelists and unapologetically followers of Jesus Christ. Join us!

    John B. Johnson
    Senior Warden
    St. Thomas’ Parish
    Executive Council Class of 2018

  • J P Logan

    Gene Robinson “ministering” to gay teens….
    Does this denomination not have ANY sense of decency at all?
    What kind of parent would let their under-18 son anywhere near this creep?