Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gene Robinson and the universal gospel

The basic problem with Bishop Gene Robinson is not that he is openly and actively homosexual. The real problem is that he does not believe Christianity is a universal faith, nor does he believe that the Hebrew and Christian scriptures have a universal message. Why do I say that? Well, because of some things he said that are quoted in The New York Times. In an article about his being chosen to give a public prayer at the time of the inauguration (not at the inaugural ceremony itself), he said that he had been reading former inaugural prayers and was "horrified" at how "aggressively Christian" they are. He says that his prayer at the time of the inauguration will not be a Christian prayer at all, "and I won't be quoting Scripture or anything like that." He said he might offer a prayer to the "God of our many understandings" (using AA language).

I can certainly imagine a situation in which prayer to "God" without Trinitarian language might be called for, for instance in an emergency situation like a battlefield or under bombardment where there were people of many faiths. I believe that Christians can pray with Jews to "God." Possibly even with Muslims. But for a Bishop of the Christian Church to say (aggressively) that he is shocked by Christian prayers offered at past inaugurations and that he will not offer a Christian prayer suggests that he does not really believe that the Christian gospel is truly universal (I do not use that wimpy word "inclusive").

What does this mean? Does it mean that Christian clergy and other Christians should not offer prayers at official functions at all? Maybe. Does it mean that we should simply do away with all prayer at public events? Maybe. I don't know. But what I do know is that we (especially those of us on the evangelical left) must do a much better job of teaching the universal message of (for instance) Isaiah 40-55, some of the Psalms, and Romans 9-11.

P. S. Having now heard most of Bp. Robinson's prayer on NPR, I find some of it very impressive (asking "the God of our many understandings" to bless us with more tears concerning suffering, more anger against injustice-- reminiscent of William Sloane Coffin's famous public prayers). The point is not the prayer itself. The point is that Bp. Robinson, in his quoted remarks, discloses his lack of faith in and understanding of the radically universal message of the Scriptures which he disdained to quote.