Bishop Gene Robinson challenges overflow crowd at Cathedral to become disciples, not just admirers
Gene Robinson preached from the pulpit Wednesday night, March 24, for what he said was the first time since his ascent to bishop almost seven years ago.
But Robinson didn’t do it in his home diocese of New Hampshire, and he didn’t even do it in an Episcopal church.
Robinson delivered a sermon to an overflow crowd in the main sanctuary of Dallas’ Cathedral of Hope UCC, known as the world’s largest gay church.
Robinson, who became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop in 2004, called the visit an "unspeakable honor" given the Cathedral’s reputation around the world.
"You are a beacon of light to so many," Robinson told the standing-room-only gathering. "Harvey Milk said, ‘You gotta give ’em hope.’ So, I come to the Cathedral of Hope with a word of hope, but also a challenge.
"For far too long the Bible has been held hostage by those who would use it as a weapon to beat us up," he said. "And you know what? They can’t have the Bible anymore. Well, they can have it, but they can’t have it just by themselves — it’s our book, too. That scripture was meant to liberate you and me as much as anybody."
Robinson compared LGBT Christians to the lame beggar healed by Peter in the Book of Acts.
"That’s our story, isn’t it?" he said. "We’ve been told there’s something wrong with us from birth, and it makes us unworthy, and then someone comes along and in the name of Jesus says, ‘None of us is worthy, but you have been made worthy by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.’"
Robinson challenged LGBT Christians to become not only admirers of Jesus, but disciples — preaching their gospel even when it gets them into trouble.
"When my partner and I were strapping on bulletproof vests for my consecration and we faced death threats for a year or so, it makes you figure out real quick what’s important to you," Robinson said. "And our daughters were so worried for us, and I was able to say to them, ‘You know, this is the payoff for being a Christian, that death isn’t the worst thing anymore. Not living your life is the worst thing.’
"So I’m going to say to you what I say to the deacons and priests that I ordain, which is that if you aren’t getting into gospel trouble, is it the gospel you’re preaching?"
Following the formal, Sunday-style service, throngs of attendees lined up at a table in the reception area to receive autographed copies of Robinson’s book, "In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center By God."
"I came because I consider Gene Robinson to be a hero of the faith," said the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle, a gay faculty member at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth.
"He’s certainly a hero to the LGBT community. He’s put his life on the line for inclusivity. That’s what constitutes a hero for me."
Katie Sherrod, a straight Episcopalian from Fort Worth who attended Wednesday’s service, said Cowtown’s diocese is "going great guns" after a recent split blamed in part on Robinson’s election.
"If that’s the price we had to pay to have a bishop like Gene in our church, then I’m willing to pay it," Sherrod said of the split. "This man is no reason to leave the church. He’s bringing people into our church."
Craig Henry, who sings in the Cathedral’s choir, said he was inspired by Robinson’s sermon, which he summarized as a reminder that the best way to be helped is to help others.
"It’s almost like him coming home," Henry said of Robinson, "because we’ve always felt so close to him."
The Rev. Jo Hudson, senior pastor at the Cathedral, agreed that despite the denominational divide, Robinson is family.
"He is our bishop in many ways because he’s the visible presence of the church for many people," Hudson said after the service. "We want him to tell [the Cathedral’s] story all over the world."
Both Hudson and Robinson said Wednesday’s visit had been at least two years in the making, but was delayed by the bishop’s busy schedule.
In an interview before the service, Robinson explained that he couldn’t have acted liturgically in a local Episcopal parish without the permission of staunchly conservative Dallas Bishop James Stanton, who wouldn’t grant it.
Robinson said he gets along with Stanton, and the two even became "smoking buddies" during last year’s General Convention.
While Robinson harbors no illusions about changing Stanton’s mind on LGBT issues, he said he takes comfort in knowing which side will prevail.
He pointed to the Episcopal Church’s recent election of its second out bishop, the Rev. Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles.
"To do this once might have been a mistake, but to do it twice, it means that this is the direction the church is going," he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 26, 2010.