One of the privileges and fascinations of being the biographer of a living person is observing, close at hand, how that person changes over time. If the relationship is open and forthright, which mine with Bishop Gene Robinson has always been, you come to know them and learn how they think and react, but you never know exactly how that person is going to grow and change after the book is written and their life goes on. You, and the people close to the subject, can make educated guesses about future behavior, but human beings are fallible under pressure: some break, and some grow stronger.
In my book about Gene, I tried to show, especially in the final chapters, a man was not only accepting the particular role he has been called to by God, or history, or fate, but who was growing daily in willingness both to serve, and to lead. The pressures on him have been enormous, and they have certainly taken a toll. Seeing him recently I was struck by how much older -- healthy and energetic, but older -- he looks than when we met.
Around the time of his election, he used to say how much he looked forward to the day when he could "just be the bishop of New Hampshire." That day never arrived. Instead, he has chosen to adjust his entire life to the fact that he has been called to serve both as the Bishop of New Hampshire, and as a worldwide symbol of hope, courage, and integrity -- or sin and division, depending on who is doing the judging.
Gene has had to draw upon everything that has made him -- his education and training, his past experience and challenges, his close relationships with family, friends and colleagues, and especially his prayer life -- to find the strength to shoulder his place in history. He's grown from someone who made the hopeful and naive statement I just mentioned, to an outspoken worldwide religious leader who is unafraid to call it like it is, and to challenge the institutional church to literally practice what it preaches - a Gospel of love, integrity, inclusion, forgiveness, and honesty. People listen to him not because he is a "great man" but because he is so clearly a humble human being whose story contains elements of their own. Like many great men, he has come to realize that by risking everything, he has nothing to lose -- and it's given him the courage to take on the "powers and principalities" - which of course include his own institution, the Anglican Church.
Our cathedral in Montreal is hosting its annual OutMass tonight, as part of the city's Gay Pride celebration. Last year, Gene was the preacher at the first OutMass; tonight, the Anglican Bishop of Montreal, Barry Clarke, will be speaking. I'm very sorry I can't be there. But I was thrilled to read an article this morning in the London Times quoting recent remarks Bishop Robinson made while in London, calling on the Church of England to end their two-faced attitude toward gay clergy:
Speaking in an interview in London, Bishop Gene said: "I have met so many gay partnered clergy here and it is so troubling to hear them tell me that their bishop comes to their house for dinner, knows fully about their relationship, is wonderfully supportive but has also said if this ever becomes public then I’m your worst enemy.
"It’s a terrible way to live your life and I think it’s a terrible way to be a church. I think integrity is so important. What does it mean for a clergy person to be in a pulpit calling the parishioners to a life of integrity when they can’t even live a life of integrity with their own bishop and their own church? So I would feel better about the Church of England’s stance, its reluctance to support The Episcopal Church in what it has done if it would at least admit that this not an American problem and just an American challenge. If all the gay people stayed away from church on a given Sunday the Church of England would be close to shut down between its organists, its clergy, its wardens.....it just seems less than humble not to admit that."
Isn't this exactly what needs to be said? I'm proud to call this man my friend, and to pray for his continued health and strength along with all the people who work for justice and compassion in this unjust and often cruel world. Those of us in the laity need to repeat his message; speak out and insist upon progressive change in our parishes, dioceses, and society; and strongly support the clergy who agree but are often in a more difficult position than we are to press for change.