The Gospel According to GQ


This summer, the men’s magazine GQ published a lengthy and respectful profile of Gene Robinson, the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, whose election in 2003 brought the Anglican Communion’s disagreements over homosexuality into public view. Robinson’s patience, charity and love shine out from this well-written article by Andrew Corsello.

One might expect a magazine like GQ to hold its subject’s faith at arm’s length, playing to the cynical sophisticates in their target audience. But Corsello’s even-handed writing never invites the reader to sneer that the God whose love Gene Robinson feels, and whose will he tries to obey, is an irrational construct he would be better without. Unlike many of the bishop’s conservative Christian detractors, this secular magazine accepts the genuineness of his love for Jesus and humanity–a love borne out by Robinson’s activism on behalf of the poor, and his desire to reconcile with Christians who have abused and threatened him.


By the time Gene Robinson ended his marriage and came out of the closet, New Hampshire’s Episcopalians had known him for eleven years. They were shocked but, with a few exceptions, not up in arms. The man had brought love, transparency, and the truth as he knew it to their children and their families for more than a decade. Why would he stop now?

One of those exceptions was a fellow priest named Ron Prinn, whom Robinson had known and worked with for years. “I understand you’ve done this because you’re a…what?” Prinn demanded.

“A homosexual, Ron. I’m a homosexual.”

“I just don’t understand it,” Prinn said. “Boo. The girls. I don’t understand.”

Robinson said he wasn’t demanding or even asking Prinn to understand. “Just be in communion with me. That’s all I ask.”

“I don’t think I can,” Prinn said. “I just don’t know if it’s permissible.”

Terrible words. To the unchurched, “in communion” is the kind of term that can pass through the senses without finding purchase. But to those who have grown up in the church, not to mention those who devote their lives to it, to be told by a man of the cloth that you are not worthy of sharing Communion is to be cast out by one’s own flesh and blood; it is to be told that you are unworthy of salvation.

And then there was that word. Permissible. It was a word that implied the primacy of doctrine—canons, rules, rote adherence to the letter of the law—over the kind of questing, empathetic faith Robinson had practiced all his life. Not only was Gene Robinson being told he was unworthy of communion but also that he fundamentally misunderstood what it represented….

Not long after moving into his new home with Mark Andrew, Robinson sent Ron Prinn a letter. The two had worked for several months on a committee, after which Gene and Mark hosted a dinner for committee members and their spouses. Prinn had answered the invitation with silence, so Robinson sat down and wrote everything he’d learned about fear.

“I told him what I’d learned from my own life, and from those of everyone to whom I’d ever been a pastor—that the fear is always worse than the reality. You know how when you’re a kid lying in bed and you just know there’s something in the room with you, and how frightening that is—but how the thought of turning on the light is somehow even more frightening? So I wrote, ‘Ron, I don’t think you’re afraid of what you think you’ll see if you come to my home. You might think you are—that you’re afraid of all the pictures of naked men we must have on every wall. But I think you’re afraid of what you won’t see. I think you’re afraid that you won’t see those pictures, that what you’ll see is actually quite boring. Which it is. And I think you’re afraid of what that might mean. So let me tell you now: What you will see when you come here is a Christian home. You have a standing invitation.’ ”

Prinn never acknowledged the letter, but a year later the two men met at a clergy conference. Robinson was now Canon to the Ordinary—the New Hampshire diocese’s second in command. Prinn took Robinson’s extended hand but said nothing in response to his hello. Something was very wrong—he wouldn’t let go of Robinson’s hand. Just kept it gripped while gazing into Robinson’s face. His voice trembled when he spoke.

“I have done everything the church has asked me to, I have believed everything I have been told to believe, and I am unhappy.” He seemed to be talking at himself as much as at Robinson. “And here you are living your life the way the church says you shouldn’t. And…look at you.” Before Robinson could muster a response, Prinn withdrew his hand, turned, and left the room.

“Later in the conference, the bishop got called away, so it fell to me to celebrate the Eucharist,” Robinson recalls. “I was halfway through the prayer of consecration when I realized he was going to have to present himself to me for Communion. Sure enough, I looked down and there he was in line. When he knelt, I thought he might cross his hands over his chest, so as not to receive the host from me. But then he put out his hands. Not for the host but for me. So I knelt with him, and right there at the altar rail he took me into his arms.”

Several years later, Prinn worked on a committee tasked with deciding whether the diocese’s annual clergy and spouse retreat should be renamed, with “partner” replacing “spouse.” Prinn was torn. Though he had come back into communion with Robinson, he still didn’t approve of what he saw as the man’s poor decisions—and he still hadn’t brought himself to cross his doorstep. As Prinn saw it, a gay clergyman, an individual, was one thing; the institutionalization of “gayness” in the church, even semantically, was another. Grudgingly, he placed a call to Mark Andrew.

“Would it even mean anything to you?” he asked. “I mean, you already attend the conference. It’s just a word, right?”

“A word is never just a word,” Andrew said. “It would mean everything.”

Prinn made the change.

By the time Prinn finally accepted one of Gene’s group-lunch invitations, three years ago, Parkinson’s disease had ravaged his body. He could no longer eat—liquid nutrients had to be pumped directly into his stomach through a stent—and had neared the point where he could no longer walk or talk. Another of the guests ushered Prinn and his wife, Barbara, through the garage, where Gene and Mark had installed a handicap lift years before. When he rolled his walker into the kitchen, Prinn beheld Gene with a bewildered look. A gurgling sound emerged from his throat. Barbara put an ear to her husband’s mouth, then translated.

“Ron wants to know who in your family is handicapped.” No one, Gene said.

It clearly pained Prinn to muster the words, but he managed.

“Who did you build that lift for?”

The lift had been used only once before. Gene hadn’t thought twice about installing it. His theology of inclusion had structured not only his ministry but his idea of what a living space should be; the lift hadn’t been built with anyone particular in mind.

“We built it for you,” Gene said.

Prinn began to cry quietly, then motioned for Gene to come close. When he did, Prinn whispered that he wanted Robinson to kiss him.

Barbara Prinn says that in her husband’s final months, when he could no longer speak, Robinson would sit with him in silence for hours at a time, holding his hand and, before taking his leave, kissing the dying, smiling man on the crown of his head.

I suggest reading this article for background before moving on to Robinson’s recent book, In the Eye of the Storm, which has much to recommend it, but is somewhat too reticent for an autobiography (he is Episcopalian, after all!). Inspiring but disorganized, it reads more like a collection of sermons on the social gospel than a truly systematic defense of gays in the church. I was glad to discover, though, that Robinson holds orthodox views on the Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection, contrary to the scare tactics of conservative Christians who argue that acceptance of homosexuality leads inexorably to theological liberalism and relativism.

Blogger Mars Girl has written a good review of Robinson’s book, in which she also explains why she’s such a passionate straight ally. She speaks for me when she says:


Too often, homosexuals are driven from a faith-based life because their home churches spurn them as sinners of the worst kind. It was really refreshing to read this book and get some insight to a great man who has found a way to challenge the people in his faith as well as unattached readers like me who just seek social justice for homosexual and transgendered people.

He had me at one of the first paragraphs in his book when he stated in better words what I’ve always thought in my heart:

Everyone knows what an “ism” is: a set of prejudices and values and judgements backed up with the power to enforce those prejudices in society. Racism isn’t just fear and loathing of non-white people; it’s the systematic network of laws, customs, and beliefs that perpetuate prejudicial treatment of people of color. I benefit every day from being white in this culture. I don’t have to hate anyone, or call anyone a hateful name, or do any harm to a person of color to benefit from a racist society. I just have to sit back and reap the rewards of a system set up to benefit me. I can be tolerant, open-minded, and multi-culturally sensitive. But as long as I’m not working to dismantle the system, I am a racist.

Similarly, sexism isn’t just the denigration and devaluation of women; it’s the myriad ways the system is set up to benefit men over women. It takes no hateful behavior on my part to reap the rewards given to men at the expense of women. But to choose not to work for the full equality of woman in this culture is to be sexist. (p. 24, bold emphasis mine)

Robinson goes on to equate this same argument with those who sit back and benefit from a hetersexually-centered society but do nothing to help change the system for equality for homosexual and transgender people. This argument is why I fight so hard for this cause when often times people ask–or want to ask–why I care so passionately about this issue when it’s not really my issue to fight. As a Unitarian Universalist, one of the seven principles to which I have agreed is the inarguable “inherent worth and dignity of every person.” This is the only principle of the seven principles I ever remember when asked, and that’s because it’s the one that resonates to my heart the strongest.

In reading the book, you have to swallow a lot of Christian dogma and faith. For someone like me, it’s hard not to roll my eyes and squirm when he discusses how every human being is saved through Jesus Christ. This man is certainly as evangelical as any Sunday morning preacher when it comes to his love for God and Jesus, and you can feel it hitting you full blast from every page. However, you also really understand the man Robinson is and you understand how deeply he believes. You can’t help but respect that. I can see why he must be such a great priest that he elevated to bishop: This man believes and he knows he’s saved and he wants to tell you all about how you can join him on this journey. I almost did want to join him on this journey. In fact, by the end of this book, I was bound and determined to visit the Episcopal church in Kent. I thought if the people of his faith thought as he did, even a questioning, sometimes-believer/sometimes-atheist person like me could join the bandwagon without much notice.

I haven’t gone to that church just yet, not even to peek for education’s sake. I’m happy where I’m at and where I’m at gave me the ability to appreciate Robinson’s words in ways I never could have even two years ago. He made me want to be Christian like no other preacher has before….

Even as a heterosexual, I can relate on some level to being forced to hide aspects of oneself from the public eye to fit in. As a child in middle and high school, I submerged aspects of my personality in order to fit into the group mind of the adolescents in my high school. Though trite compared to having to hide your own sexuality, the toll to my mentality was detrimental. I found myself doubting my own self-worth and it took a lot of years to undo the damage I did. I guess that’s part of the reason I’ve gone the complete opposite direction as an adult in highlighting the unique aspects of my personality, calling myself Mars Girl to constantly remind people that I feel I am different. I’m tired of hiding who I am so I’ve let myself out of my own closet to tell the world, “This is who I am; like it or leave it.”

It’s much harder to take on this sort of attitude as a homosexual because the backlash from the general public can be deadly. People have such a strong, irrational reaction to those whose sexual orientation or understanding of one’s gender is so radically different from their own. The religious conviction from fundamentalists that homosexuals and transgenders are damned does not make the situation any better. It’s a very sad situation and I completely empathize with anyone who has had to hide themselves in this manner. It’s a shame that people cannot accept people for who they are and show God’s love in a more positive manner. I believe that a person should have the right to walk down the street, arm in arm with the person they love, and not have to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid of the public’s reaction to the sight. As a heterosexual person, I feel almost ashamed of my freedom to publicly show affection for a man I love without having to worry about reaction from those around me. I want to fight for the right for all people of any sexual orientation to have the same freedoms and lifestyle I’m automatically entitled to as a heterosexual.

14 comments on “The Gospel According to GQ

  1. Steve says:

    This gave me a lot to think about – especially the comments about being racist or sexist if you do nothing to dismantle the structures those prejudices have erected.

  2. Anonymous says:

    the Bible does not change it’s view on sin. just because mans wants it to change. Sin is still sin. we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God! and through Him were saved.Putting aside our sin. stopping the sin in our life to be like Christ. Homosexuality is still a sin. just as stealing, murder, ect . are sins. to be a Christian is to be Christ like! Learn what that means by reading the bible.He is a God of Love and forgiveness.

  3. Jendi Reiter says:

    It is disappointing that you do not have the courage to put your name on your comment. The modern concept of “homosexuality” was unknown to the Biblical writers. Many contemporary scholars believe that the verses you refer to are describing temple prostitution or the rape of male captives in wartime. A truly loving and forgiving method of Biblical interpretation is one that looks honestly at the historical context for a verse, to ensure that we are not using the Bible to justify oppression of minorities. We did this with slavery and the status of women, we can do it for gays and lesbians.

  4. Todd Rab says:

    Well I will put my name! Where in the world are you getting your information from? The modern concept of homosexuality was not unknown to biblical writers, that is why you find verse after verse about it how the relationship between two men is wrong! The problem with your “contemporary scholars” is that they “BELIEVE” that these verses are refering to that mess! It is just a belief not based on fact! The bible “STATES” that homosexuality is wrong in several places! In Leviticus 18:22 it can not say any clearer that homosexuality is wrong and is a sin! If you disagree with the written word of God, which is perfect, then how can you call yourself a Christian!

    1 Timothy 1:3 say, “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer!” The bible warns about false Doctrine in Timothy and in several other places in the bible! What you are doing is twisting God’s word and making it suit your little desires! My God is a God of mercy and of wrath, and we will all have to give an account for our lives! You better be ready to give an account to the creator of the universe for twisting his word and deceiving people!
    2 Peter 2:1-3 say,1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

  5. Jendi Reiter says:

    Thank you for putting your name, Todd. I’m sensing more “wrath” than “mercy” in the tone of your comments. When speaking for a God of Love, let’s all try to manifest more love and respect for the sincerity of one another’s faith.

    While same-sex activity was obviously known in Biblical times, the modern discovery of sexual orientation was not. One could argue that St. Paul’s passing reference to same-sex acts in Romans 1 was based on a now-superseded assumption that a same-sex inclination did not naturally occur in anyone, just as the prohibition on spilling seed in the Old Testament is based on an outdated biological theory that sperm contained miniature human babies. I’ll refer you to some of my theological posts below for more information on why the “plain meaning” of the passages you cite is not so “plain” after all.

    More generally, the Jesus I encounter in the Bible is most concerned about love, inclusion, equality for society’s outcasts, and preventing abuses of power and privilege, even where these values require him to reinterpret scriptural rules (such as those for the Sabbath, a far more important topic than homosexuality for the Biblical writers). The triumph of love over legalism is the very reason I became a Christian.

    See also these posts:

    Other Sheep “Christianity & Homosexuality” Seminar in Nairobi
    …References to “sodomites” in the King James Version are mistranslations of a word for the male and female priest-prostitutes of Canaanite fertility cults. The issue was not their sexual orientation (a concept unknown to pre-modern writers) but the fact that they used their sexuality for idol worship. The story of Sodom itself is concerned with male gang rape as an act of inter-tribal hostility, which has no bearing on the morality of consensual same-sex partnerships, any more than the instances of heterosexual rape in the Bible undermine the ideal of male-female marriage. Similarly, the obscure words Paul uses to allude to same-gender sex acts in the Epistles, to the extent that they can be accurately translated, are concerned with the disordered and abusive quality of the relationship (pederasty, self-indulgent promiscuity, idol worship again).

    Whether or not these are the only ways to interpret these verses, Steve and the long list of scholars he cites in his bibliography have made a reasonable case that Bible-believing Christians can support gay rights. Their position is also more in line with New Testament values of charity and inclusiveness, and supported by the evidence of GLBT clergy and lay people who manifest the gifts of the Spirit. Let us disagree if we must, but let us hear no more of the abusive fiction that opponents of homosexuality are the only “orthodox” Christians….

    Book Notes: Undergoing God
    [James Alison writes:] “I understand how it is one of the delusions of wrath that it is able to point to the growing visibility and public and legal acceptability of gay people and their lives and relationships and see this as an attack on the “family” and the “divinely given order of society”. But it is a delusion of wrath, like that of the Venetians against Shylock, because all it does is disguise from all of us quite how much the unleashing of desire which continues apace in our world, our capitalist, globalizing, technological world, does in fact subvert from within and change every form of relationship, including family relationships. It disguises from us how much we are all already run by these things, and how arduous it is for any of us to receive holiness of life, of desire, and of relationships in the midst of all this. And it sets things up for us to fight about this, rather than to help each other out of the hole.”

    Book Notes: Openly Gay Openly Christian
    Welcoming gays into full Christian fellowship is exactly the same kind of scandalous, progressive leap as welcoming Gentiles was for the Jewish Christians in the early church (see the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10). And it is justified by exactly the same evidence: the empirical evidence of the workings of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those once considered beyond the pale.

    Suffering for the Wrong Reasons
    Good and WISE spiritual discernment and direction knows that we have to be careful in determining another’s call or what from they are called to abstain, and even more careful in making carte blanche generalizations for an entire class of persons in this regard, and particularly so, it seems that while it is suspect to draw conclusions from gay individuals who claim celibacy is NOT their call and partner, it seems many heterosexuals are quick to glom on to those gay individuals who claim it is the call of every gay person simply because it’s working for those gay persons….

    It’s my opinion that such efforts to make such determinations are ego-driven rather than driven by a concern to love the other as ourselves or to bring them the Good News of Christ Jesus and let the response be truly a working out of God in the gay person’s life. And this egoism can be hidden under all sorts of pious declarations and considerations.

  6. Hi Jendi

    I came across your details while online as a new “myspace” user, and would like to invite you to take a look at my new blog, and details, which very much support your work to promote equality and peace and harmony. Our one hope (to love, and be loved in return) unites us – all. May all of life’s benefits and blessings be yours ! Long may your love-light shine long !

  7. Father Ron Smith says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    It is patently obvious that you have never spoken with a person who is a homosexual and a Christian. If you had, you would have realised that his/her sexual orientation has nothing to do with his/her devotion to the Christ who welcomes all to the Table of the Lord.

    Jesus is perhaps unique among religious leaders who accepts all people – regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. He knew. instinctively I think, that God’s image and likeness has been bestowed on all human beings, no matter what their cultural, ethnic, social or sexual orientation might be. He, in his own lifetime had to contend with the moralisers among the Scribes and Pharisees, whom he challenged to become more reflective of their own judgementalism. For this he was condemned to death and crucified.

    This same spirit of judgementalism today is holding back many would-be believers from giving their lives to Christ. Is this the desired outcome of the Gospel call of Jesus? I think not!

  8. Suzanne says:

    I happened by accident upon this blog and cringe and what “Christians” from both sides say to one another. Firstly, I was touched by the story of the two Episcopalian ministers and how the one overcame his fears and re-embraced his friend, sins and all. (We all are in relationship with people with sin in their lives, aren’t we?) I was also touched by Robinson’s love and care for the man who had pushed him away. I am however, bothered both by the “wrath” side as well as the “acceptance” side. You see, Jesus accepted people bound by various sins, but as you may remember, the woman caught in adultery was told to “go and sin no more”. Jesus’ love and compassion for her did NOT sweep her sin under the carpet but set her free from it and called her to a new way of seeing herself and of living. We all have sin in our lives. The blood of Jesus washes all of our sin, no matter what it is. The problem is when we are unwilling to call it what it is. If I am bound by a compulsive lying but never call it sin, and seek to be freed, it doesn’t matter how many people say it’s okay, normal, or that I was born that way, it’s still wrong.
    The issue is really this…That Christ died to save us from our sins, of which we all have many, of various types. We all have to go through the same door to get to salvation. But Jesus loves us far too much to coddle us and say of our sin, “Oh don’t worry your pretty head. I understand.” God did not create us to be locked in sin, He wants to free us, whether our sin be a Pharasaical superiority or homosexual behavior and desires. Sin is sin, so whoever we are, let’s call ours what it is and ask to be freed from it, and stand with one another as we battle our own demons on our way to becoming more like Christ.

  9. Suzanne says:

    I happened by accident upon this blog and cringe and what “Christians” from both sides say to one another. Firstly, I was touched by the story of the two Episcopalian ministers and how the one overcame his fears and re-embraced his friend, sins and all. (We all are in relationship with people with sin in their lives, aren’t we?) I was also touched by Robinson’s love and care for the man who had pushed him away. I am however, bothered both by the “wrath” side as well as the “acceptance” side. You see, Jesus accepted people bound by various sins, but as you may remember, the woman caught in adultery was told to “go and sin no more”. Jesus’ love and compassion for her did NOT sweep her sin under the carpet but set her free from it and called her to a new way of seeing herself and of living. We all have sin in our lives. The blood of Jesus washes all of our sin, no matter what it is. The problem is when we are unwilling to call it what it is. If I am bound by a compulsive lying but never call it sin, and seek to be freed, it doesn’t matter how many people say it’s okay, normal, or that I was born that way, it’s still wrong.
    The issue is really this…That Christ died to save us from our sins, of which we all have many, of various types. We all have to go through the same door to get to salvation. But Jesus loves us far too much to coddle us and say of our sin, “Oh don’t worry your pretty head. I understand.” God did not create us to be locked in sin, He wants to free us, whether our sin be a Pharasaical superiority or homosexual behavior and desires. Sin is sin, so whoever we are, let’s call ours what it is and ask to be freed from it, and stand with one another as we battle our own demons on our way to becoming more like Christ.

  10. Jendi Reiter says:

    Suzanne, thank you for your peacemaking intentions and your openness to see good things in the lives of those who are different. I share your belief that God wants us to obey Him and repent of our sins. I guess we’ll have to disagree about whether same-sex intimacy is always one of those sins.

  11. Father Ron Smith says:

    Suzanne,
    Christmas Greetings from New Zealand, where we have already had our Midnight Masses and Christmas Day Celebrations, so that, fortified by the Christ within, we are ready for whatever comes our way.

    Yes, “Go and sin no more” is often the focus of some Christians; whereas, it is important to realise that Jesus first said “I do not condemn you” I’m sure there was a sparkle in his eyes when he told her “Go and behave yourself in the best way you can”. Forgiveness from God may often secure our repentance.

    “God so loved the world – that he gave his Only-Begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him might have eternal life”. The free gift of God is for all who look for it. Yes, we are indeed all sinners; but forgiven sinners – even before we ask. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift. Alleluia!

  12. Greg says:

    Todd Rab wrote:

    “In Leviticus 18:22 it can not say any clearer that homosexuality is wrong and is a sin! If you disagree with the written word of God, which is perfect, then how can you call yourself a Christian!”

    If the entire Bible is perfect, Todd, then let me ask you to read the following passage:

    Deuteronomy 21:18
    “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
    21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
    21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
    21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

    My question to you is this:

    This passage CLEARLY explains that the punishment for a son disobeying his father is DEATH BY STONING— and yet we do not, in our modern age carry out this Biblically-mandated punishment.

    Why is that, huh?

    Why aren’t there monthly child stonings right after the school PTA meetings? “Well, Bobby had an 87 in math this quarter, Mrs. Brown, which is an improvement! Unfortunately, we heard him disobey his father after soccer practice last week when he refused to take off his dirty soccer cleats, so I’m afraid we’re going to have to kill him in a public stoning. Yeah, sorry about that. Of course, you’ll get back your tuition for the Spring semester!”

    There are only two possibilities here:

    (1) We are all disobeying Biblical law by not following all these Old Testament laws to the letter, and therefore we all are going to Hell, so any other question is moot.

    (2) Biblical law is not perfect.

    Let me reemphasize this: In the OT Bible, disobeying your father is a CAPITAL OFFENSE!!!!!! Yet we do not stone children in public executions. Why?

    And if we now choose to believe that disobeying your father is not a capital offense, which seems to be the case even among evangelicals— I don’t hear many evangelicals picketing grammar schools demanding execution of children— then why oh why do I hear these same folks calling for the death and destruction of homosexuals?

    Ask yourself that, come up with a good answer, then, PLEASE, enlighten me!!!!

    -Greg

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