Gay Bishop’s Inclusion Heals Wounds, But Make No Mistake Who Made It Happen

Congratulations, Rev. Warren critics: You did it. Yesterday’s announcement that Episcopal New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson would lead the opening invocation of the Inauguration is great news for the gay community, but more importantly, it’s proof that vocal opposition to Rev. Warren had an effect.

An unnamed transition official claimed the appearance was planned all along, but of course, that’s a lie.

If it were true, why would it not have been announced in tandem with or shortly after the announcement that Rev. Warren would lead the day-of invocation? Are we to believe that Mr. Political Strategy decided to hold off on the announcement for three weeks while he suffered blistering criticism (from us, among many others) for being completely tone deaf to the needs of the LGBT community? Are we to believe that Bishop Robinson’s criticism of Warren’s inclusion in the event was done while all along, he knew he was going to be invited.

That unnamed official is a moron. But does the inclusion of Bishop Gene Robinson make things all better?

The answer is a qualified “Yes.”

The problem with Obama’s decision to include Rick Warren was that he claimed it was a sign of his inclusiveness. He maintained that we could “disagree without being disagreeable,” but he chose to make the medium of his message an insanely popular evangelical preacher who used his power to help Proposition 8, one of the most stinging pieces of legislative fag-bashing to pass in this country. It took away enshrined civil rights, and Obama’s argument that LGBT people should sit by and abide a man who made it his personal mission to deprive them of those rights in the name of “inclusiveness” was too ludicrous to stomach.

In expanding this idea of inclusion to include Bishop Robinson, Obama has managed to unite his rhetoric with his politics. Did he do it because of the loud, vocal and persistent opposition to Warren? You bet. Does that make the act any less significant? Not really.

Consider this the LGBT community’s first dance with the new President. He got it wrong, badly wrong and stepped on our toes. Well, actually, if we’re going to use a dancing analogy, it was more like he stepped up to us and slapped us across the face and then asked us for a waltz, but I digress.

The point is, we did not stand by and put up with it.

We were outraged and rightly so, and lo and behold, the President-Elect did something about it and is now asking our nation’s most prominent gay religious figure to kick off the Inauguration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at an event that’s open to the public, loaded with celebrity singers (see related article) and will be carried for free on HBO to any home that has basic cable on the second biggest home-viewing night of the week.

That’s change we can believe in. It shows the president-elect is different than his predecessor in that, when he is confronted with opposition, he doesn’t dig down into his bunker, but instead actually listens to what his opponents are saying.

More saliently, it shows we must speak up often and loudly about our issues. Make no doubt about it, had gay and lesbian activists not made a stink about Warren, Robinson would not be leading Sunday’s invocation.

There’s also a wonderful bit of schadenfredue in all this, as right-wing evangelicals blow their gaskets as we did three weeks ago.

Catholic League President Bill Donahue responded to the announcement by saying:

“President-elect Barack Obama says he wants to unite Americans, and yet he chooses the most polarizing person in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Gene Robinson, to offer a prayer at one of his inaugural events. Robinson, who dumped his wife and children to live with another man, is not just an embarrassment to rank-and-file Episcopalians, he has a record of offending Catholics, as well.
“In 2005, Robinson said the following: ‘I find it so vile that they [the Catholic Church] think they are going to end the child abuse scandal by throwing out homosexuals from seminaries. It is an act of violence that needs to be confronted.’ He added that ‘Pope Ratzinger [sic] may be the best thing that ever happened to the Episcopal Church. We are seeing so many Roman Catholics joining the church.’
“Three months ago, the disgraced openly gay bishop admitted that he had led a retreat a few years ago for gay Catholic priests. He stuck his nose into the affairs of the Catholic Church even further when he urged those priests to push for women priests, saying ‘that if you work for the ordination of women in your church, you will go a long way toward opening the door for the acceptance of gay priests.’”

It’s entertaining to hear Donahue complain about Robinson meddling in the Catholic Church (for the record, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, which the Episcopal Church is a part of, and the Eastern Orthodox Church all consider themselves to be theologically bound to each other) when Rev. Warren has taken it upon himself to meddle in the affairs of the Episocpal Church.

Some asshat site called RaptureWatch (any second now, guys!) shares the outrage, writing:

“Truly, it is nice for a minority to see someone like them up front, but you know what else would be nice? To see the majority of people in this nation who oppose the lifestyle of Eugene Robinson on religious grounds be respected by our incoming president and his administration! If Eugene Robinson felt like he was slapped when Rick Warren was asked to pray, I, personally, feel like Barack Obama has shot me and every Bible-believing Christian in America and spit on our Bibles to boot by putting a wolf in sheep’s clothing like Eugene Robinson in the national spotlight on his very first day in office!”

Which is more like it. Some readers have written in and said that there’s entirely too much religion in the inauguration; that it violates the whole idea of the separation of Church and State and this is probably true, though the mission of the inaugural events is to share in the rich diversity of the country and showcase it. This is a congenital issue with our nation’s freedom of religion. Does it mean freedom from religion, or does it mean that we are to tolerate the multiplicity of religion in the public square?

Obama clearly likes to believe that he falls on the side of multiple viewpoints and the rich cacophony of opposing views. I happen to side with him. Nothing makes me happier than to see people on the left and the right, the religious and the non-religious, the gay, straight, the rainbow-hued populace of our nation forced to recognize that each of us has an equal part and voice in our destiny.

Should we continue to be upset that Rev. Warren will officiate at Obama’s inauguration? Absolutely.

Should we celebrate the prominent inclusion of Bishop Robinson, even if it took our shouting for it to happen? Absolutely.

This is what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of 46 years ago, that the oppressed and the oppressor would sit down at the table in brotherhood, that we would be judged not by what we are, but by our character, that we would be one nation of equals.

But Dr. King knew that the dream could not be achieved by meek, apologetic and appeasing voices when he said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:

“It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.”

Our issues are not gay issues, they are moral issues. Our rights are not gay rights, but civil rights and as we’ve seen, the only way we shall prevail is to make our ‘legitimate discontent’ known, not just to the President, but to the nation. If you are gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, or you care about those who are, this is your moment of urgency. The historic events of the last few months are not the end, but the beginning.