For gay bishops, ‘what a difference a decade makes’

NPR News Western Bureau Chief Jason DeRose moderates a conversation between Rev. Gene Robinson and Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin. (Photo by Bobby Blanchard)

NPR News Western Bureau Chief Jason DeRose, left, moderates a conversation with Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin and Rev. Gene Robinson. (Photo by Bobby Blanchard)

Two gay religious leaders — who experienced dramatically different reactions when elected in their churches a decade apart — on Saturday discussed the splashes they made and how LGBT activism and religion intersect.

Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin and Rev. Gene Robinson discussed the crossroads of religion and LGBT activism at a Saturday morning panel at the national convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association in Chicago. The two were elected in their churches about 10 years apart, and their experiences were drastically different.

Robinson, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire who was elected in 2003 and was the first openly bisexual priest, said the scrutiny and attention he received was intense.

“I had no ramp-up time,” Robinson said. “On Friday, I was just Gene Robinson, on Saturday I was elected and on Sunday it was a firestorm.”

Balancing his religion and his sexuality was difficult at first, Robinson said, because he did not want to be known as “the gay bishop.”

“The one thing that irritated early on was you just didn’t see the words Bishop Gene Robinson without seeing the words ‘openly gay,’” Robinson said. “It finally dawned on me this was a wonderful opportunity that God was putting on me.”

Erwin, the bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and first openly gay and Native American bishop of that church, said his “15 minutes of fame” lasted just 48 hours. He was elected in 2013, shortly before the Supreme Court issued a ruling that struck down California’s same-sex marriage ban and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“What a difference a decade makes,” Erwin said. “It has been a much easier ride for me.”

The two weighed in on current events, including the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Hobby Lobby case. Although the court’s ruling struck down a federal health care law requiring employers to provide contraception, some say it will allow private companies to claim religious exemptions from other laws.

“This is a very, very slippery slope,” Robinson said. “At first blush, it seems a little bit silly. But very quickly, you understand there is something very huge here.”

Erwin and Robinson also spoke about Pope Francis and his relatively progressive stance on LGBT issues. While they said he is like “a fresh glass of water” for many Roman Catholics, they said that the pope has not faced the scrutiny he deserves.

“Very little has changed other than tone,” Robinson said. “So far, there has not been a lot of change. I think when the honeymoon is over, there will be that kind of scrutiny.”

Robinson called the decision by The Advocate to call the pope “person of the year” was premature.

“There is great potential there, he just hasn’t had time to execute it yet,” Robinson said.

Saturday’s morning panel was the first in the Michael Triplett Speakers Series, which will feature well-known speakers talking about religion and faith at the annual NLGJA convention. NLGJA designed the keynote series to honor the association’s former president, Michael Triplett, who died in January 2013.

“Michael was a true leader of this organization — he was a wise counsel to many of us and a dear friend,” said NLGJA board member Matthew Berger. “Michael was as passionate about his faith and his Lutheran community as he was about his work of LGBT journalists.”

Bobby_BlanchardAbout the Author
Bobby Blanchard is a student at the University of Texas. Click here to learn more about him.

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