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.