God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage
by gene robinson
vintage, 196 pages, $24.00
In 2004, Gene Robinson became the first cleric in an openly gay relationship to be ordained a bishop in a major U.S. Christian denomination. After serving as the bishop of New Hampshire for nine years, he recently retired last year. In God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage, Robinson makes the case for the legalization and acceptance of gay marriage based on religious, legal, and practical grounds.
Robinson begins with a short autobiographical introduction outlining his struggles as a gay youth growing up in a Christian family in Kentucky. The introduction discusses the psychological therapy he received to rid himself of same-sex attractions, his subsequent marriage to Isabella McDaniel in 1972, and the births of their two daughters, Jamee and Ella. Robinson provides a detailed account of his subsequent “divorce ceremony” and the terms of his amicable separation from Isabella after deciding that he could no longer live honestly as a gay man in a heterosexual union. In 1987, Robinson met Mark Andrews, a Peace Corps employee working in Washington, DC. They entered into a civil union in New Hampshire in 2008 and were legally married in 2010.
Throughout the rest of the book, Robinson seeks to convince the reader of the need for legal gay marriage in all fifty states and at the federal level. Chapters with titles such as “Why Marriage Now?” “Don’t Children Need a Mother and a Father?” and “What Would Jesus Do?” attempt to counter commonly heard objections to homosexual unions. Robinson concludes the book with his final chapter, “God Believes in Love,” where he makes the case that God’s bountiful love puts no restrictions upon the gender of those expressing their love for one another.
God Believes in Love is a deeply personal story told with conviction, but it comes up short in a number of areas. The most glaring is the undercurrent of self-centeredness which arises from time to time in its narrative. As in all divorce stories told by the uninjured party, Robinson’s is one in which everyone concerned has benefitted greatly from the break up. His wife was freed from a relationship with a man who couldn’t love her in a truly marital way. His daughters benefitted from a happier father, and they built a new and wonderful relationship with their new stepdad, Mark. Above all, Robinson was able to be “true to himself,” the highest in our current table of virtues. But one wonders how his ex-wife and daughters remember those difficult years when Robinson decided to disassemble their family (the children were four and eight years old).
While Robinson served as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, he surprisingly uses far more secular arguments than theological ones. The religious ones he does use are often speculative. Robinson explores the commonly used verses proscribing homosexual sex by referencing Daniel Helminiak’s 1994 book, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality. Using Helminiak’s work, he proceeds to reinterpret the verses in Leviticus 18 and 20, Genesis 19, Judges 19, Romans, 1 Cor. 6, and 1 Tim 1. His conclusion? None of these verses deal with homosexuality. They are dismissed as merely divine proscriptions against violence, prostitution, idolatry, or some other sin, or as anthropological remnants of an outdated and bigoted age. And no matter what interpretation is proposed, the traditional view is uniformly dodged. Robinson also asserts that raising children is not a primary religious purpose of marriage for those able to conceive, and is merely optional, a view which contradicts countless biblical pericopes. But perhaps the most astounding of all his biblical propositions on marriage was his observation that Jesus and the apostle that He loved, John the Apostle, were homosexual “soulmates,” while perhaps not lovers.
One is also struck by a number of other opinions. He explains that he believes Jesus to be the “perfect revelation of God.” This appears to be a kind of Arian code for “I don’t believe Jesus to be the Son of God,” but as with much mainline doublespeak, one simply can’t be certain about Robinson’s Christology. The doublespeak continues with the gender neutral language sprinkled throughout this short work. The use of “Godself” instead of “Himself,” distracts from the flow of the work. His proposal to remove a minister’s role as an officer of the court in weddings follows lockstep with the progressive goal of ridding the state of any vestige of religion. Finally, he explains that the reason one-night stands are wrong is that they are risky to the heart. That the prohibition of this sin (or any other) might be part of God’s Holy Word is never discussed.
God Believes in Love is understandably long on personal feelings and anecdote and short on theological, political, or social research that might shed some light on this divisive subject. Robinson uses such anecdote to punctuate the oft-repeated assertion that gay rights are simply a continuation of the civil rights battles of the 1960s and 1970s. He relates an awkward situation that occurred during an airplane flight when he and his husband were required to use separate customs forms, since the federal government did not recognize their New Hampshire nuptials. Awkward, yes, but does it rise to the level of Bull Connor’s fire hose?
Dennis Di Mauro is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Warrenton, Virginia, and teaches at St. Paul Lutheran Seminary. Image from Wikimedia Commons.