The Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, spoke Saturday night (Feb. 9) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville.
Robinson delivered the lecture “Being a Prophet in Times of High Anxiety” and took questions from a crowd of hundreds that touched on his controversial election as the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, as well as continued gay and lesbian involvement in the church even while there is a perception that many Christian denominations are still not accepting of the gay, lesbian, transgender and bi community.
Robinson began his discussion with something of a joke, telling the crowd they may have come to hear him speak about “all things gay,” but he had other topics to discuss.
He then shifted to his election as bishop, explaining that he tried to not be known as “the gay” bishop, but to no avail.
“I stopped resisting it and just started taking advantage of it,” Robinson said.
Robinson advised audience members to stop worrying about causing conflicts in the church, just as he had stopped worrying about his role within the church. Conflict, he said, may actually be what is needed in certain situations.
“In the midst of conflict, God has a chance of being heard,” Robinson explained.
In explaining how he believed God’s voice could be heard in the middle of conflict, Robinson told the story of a letter he had received shortly after his election. The letter came from a woman who had killed her mother at the age of 15 and was in prison.
She wrote Robinson to explain how his new position within the church had touched her life, even though she was not gay or overtly religious.
“There was something about a church raising up a gay bishop that made her think that there may be a community that could accept (her),” he said.
Robinson shared with the crowd how there were many negative sentiments from both inside and outside the Episcopal Church that could have harmed him. Robinson also said many people had asked him to not accept the position of bishop, even after he had been elected by the diocese.
“I was told the Anglican Communion would break apart upon my election and that didn’t happen,” he said. “Ten years later, it hasn’t happened. The truth is, we are far more diverse then we have been willing to admit.”
Thurman Metcalf of Rogers came to the speech because he said Robinson had a way of reaching people with the message of Christ in a way unlike others.
“Very few speak to me on the level that he spoke to me,” Metcalf said. “There’s no room for gay or Lesbian in most churches. In the Episcopal Church, there’s room for everybody.”
Robinson, who recently retired from his role as bishop, spoke at St. Paul’s as part of the McMichael Speaker Series.
He is the author of “God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage” and is the subject of the new documentary film “Love Free or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire is Changing the World,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012.
Robinson will speak again at St. Paul’s on Sunday morning (Feb. 10) at 10 a.m.