GOD BELIEVES IN LOVE: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. By Gene Robinson. Knopf. 208 pages. $24.
Most Americans know someone who is gay, but accepting and caring about a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person can be difficult. Good moral people legitimately struggle to understand and find comfort with sexualities and gender identities that are not theirs.
Today, the battle over marriage rights, with its powerful moral implications, has become an emotional proving ground.
Bishop Gene Robinson probably understands the struggles of LGBT people, their families and allies better than most. In 2003, Robinson found himself at the center of the controversy over LGBT civil and religious rights when the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected him bishop. Openly gay, Robinson’s election polarized Christendom; Robinson endured harassment and death threats so severe the FBI placed him under 24-hour protection.
“God Believes in Love” is Robinson’s testimony, a love letter to the Christian community that engages the issue of same-sex marriage through an explicitly religious and biblical lens. Ten essential questions organize this conversational and compelling book ranging from the history, definition and meaning of marriage and family to Jesus, the Scriptures and LGBT political demands.
Robinson approaches each important and difficult question with a steady tone, emphasizing respectful dialogue and shared humanity. Far from the angry and polarizing political rhetoric that can dominate discussions of same-sex marriage, Robinson’s personal experiences as a gay man and marriage counselor serve as a constant reminder that behind debates and talking points lie real people who feel love and pain, love Jesus, raise families and contribute to society.
Chapter 4, “Doesn’t the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?” arguably contains the most essential, illuminating content. Sophisticated and clear, Robinson directly engages the seven scriptural passages often understood to reference homosexuality, four contained in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Genesis 19:1-16, Judges 19:17-28) and three from Paul’s letters (Romans 1:20-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-11).
Informed by Scripture in its entirety, Christian tradition and biblical scholarship, Robinson’s detailed, nuanced exegesis demonstrates reverence and sobriety. When understood in their original languages and historical contexts, Robinson concludes that the Scriptures “condemning” homosexuality are, at best, complicated and unclear.
Quite simply, the Bible does not speak to modern understandings of sexual orientation or loving same-gender relationships. Instead, the Scriptures speak to situations and understandings far different from our own; Christians should not use them to condemn LGBT people today, he says.
Though Jesus never spoke a word about homosexuality, Robinson often calls on the sayings and example of Jesus, urging readers to heed his call to love unconditionally and defend the vulnerable. Christian readers undoubtedly will identify with the reverence for Scripture, love for Jesus and passionate faith that permeates “God Believes in Love.”
In 1947, when Robinson was born, the gay community was invisible. Hushed whispers in church taught him that people “like that” were guilty of an unspeakable sin. Robinson spent decades struggling to ignore or eliminate his feelings, but years of therapy, seminary and marriage to a woman did nothing to change his sexual orientation.
As God’s plan unfolded, struggle and self-hate gave way to the realization that being gay was no better or worse than being straight. Robinson recognized that God loved him unconditionally, just as he created him; the problem was that Robinson did not love himself.
“God Believes in Love” is an indispensable resource for anyone touched by the issue of same-sex marriage and anyone seeking deeper understanding of one of the great issues of our time.
Reviewer Katie Hladky is assistant professor of religion at the College of Charleston.