The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson speaks

The first openly gay Episcopalian bishop speaks to Sacramento

The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson at Midtown’s Trinity Cathedral.

The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson at Midtown’s Trinity Cathedral.

Photo By MALCOLM MACLACHLAN of Capitol weekly

“What about the gay thing?” I remember asking my 19-year-old missionary. “Well, you know, it’s not encouraged,” he hedged. He thought I was asking because I cared about universal human rights. I didn’t tell him that “exploring” on New Year’s Eve left me confused about my place on the Kinsey scale.

“Hate the sin, not the sinner,” my missionary said, a talking point I’d hear over and over again.

The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, best known for being the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop, said that people like my missionary “are only following what we taught them.” Speaking to packed pews at Midtown’s Trinity Cathedral earlier this month, Robinson explained that “people have this temptation to want to draw the line between us and them. God wants us to be only us.”

Robinson, bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, visited Sacramento to promote the documentary For the Bible Told Me So. But those who made it to Trinity’s afternoon Eucharist service experienced Robinson as vestment-clad preacher, masterfully blending humor with sobriety to communicate the need to take cues from the civil-rights movement and “toughen up and expect suffering.”

Robinson shared pieces of his personal history: a Kentucky childhood in a fundamentalist congregation that put on revivals every August, the hottest month of the year. Attached to the ubiquitous church fans were pictures of Jesus, blond and blue-eyed (“not looking remotely like a Jew”) and knocking at a heart-shaped door.

“I probably first knew I was gay when I found that so tacky,” Robinson joked.

Robinson offered straight-talking constructive criticism to the GLBT movement. “We want to change the world without paying a price for it,” he said, adding that people in the civil-rights movement “knew there would be dogs, tear gas, possibly death. And they did it anyway.

“The forces of evil are just so strong. We’re not going to do this work and not pay a price for it.”

Robinson’s tone was both determined and hopeful, emphasizing that struggles will end in acceptance. “There was a time when people of color and women didn’t believe that. But we know how this is gonna end. We’re only arguing over timing,” he explained.

As for those who believe that homosexuals are worse than beasts, Robinson offered assurance. “We’re all going to be in heaven together,” he said, adding with a playful smirk, “I say that partly to irritate the Archbishop of Nigeria.

“It matters less how fast we make this journey than how we treat each other along the way. The only way forward is to love one another forward.”

Robinson concluded with a simple and unswerving note of encouragement. “We must do the hard work of God’s love. God thinks we’re up to the task.” He looked out over the rows of pews, packed with bureaucrats and blue-collar workers, people in suits and people in tie-dye, all colors and sexual orientations represented. In the hushed silence, he posed one final and inevitable question: “If not us, who?”