In The Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God
By Gene Robinson
ISBN 978-1-59627-088-6, HB, 162 pp. $25
Reviewed by Toby Johnson
In 2003 the New Hampshire diocese of the Episcopal Church elected the openly Gay Gene Robinson as its bishop. He’d been an exemplary priest and religious leader, popular in the diocese, loved by his congregation and more than competent to serve as a church official. He also led what many of us would think of as a satisfying and successful life as a modern Gay man: settled with a long-term partner of twenty years, with two daughters from a previous heterosexual marriage, contributing significantly to the lives of his friends and neighbors.
Of course, as we all heard in the news that year, trumpeted over and over on the TV as though it really mattered, his election by his local community, then ratified by the national Episcopal Church, brought on a veritable firestorm of protest and internecine rancor from conservatives who declared him unworthy of the post of bishop because he was openly Gay—and apparently a proponent of “Gay marriage” since he was in one. His election was pushing the Episcopal Church in a direction that conservatives, especially in Africa, disapproved of and could wave their Bibles at with chapter and verse. (One can’t imagine Episcopalians in New Hampshire sharing much of a worldview, culture or lifestyle with Episcopalians in Africa.)
In the Eye of the Storm is the very readable and interesting autobiographical account of the events surrounding Robinson’s election interwoven into a theological discussion of homosexuality and Christian doctrine.
Readers of White Crane probably won’t find anything new in the theology or the discussions of “what the Bible really says” or how the teachings of Jesus would almost necessarily have been pro-Gay (if Jesus would have known about this as a social issue). Robinson does have an appealing homiletic manner of presentation. One might even imagine he writes like Jesus would have if he were writing for a 21st century audience: Robinson uses personal examples and anecdotes—that seem very much like New Testament parables—and keeps applying the Christian teaching to real life examples instead of focusing on abstract theological principles of morality or obedience to the letter of the Law. Just like Jesus!
The book isn’t really directed to Gay people—that would be “preaching to the choir.” It’s written for the laity of the American Episcopal Church. It certainly provides those readers with new information about a topic not discussed very openly in religious circles. One would hope Robinson’s detractors would study this book.
I enjoyed reading the book; Gene Robinson comes across as a very nice fellow. Gay Episcopalians will also find the reports of Church business revealing and the projections about the future of the Anglican Communion salient: will the Church schism over sexual issues? To wit, the ordination of women, the appointment of a woman as bishop (Barbara Harris) and then another woman as head of the American Church (Katharine Jefferts Schori), and the acknowledgement of sexual goodness in an openly Gay person (Bishop Robinson).
Another openly Gay Episcopalian priest, Malcolm Boyd, is, of course, an important member of the White Crane family. He and his life partner Mark Thompson have helped shape the Gay spirituality movement. Mark’s 1987 book Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning was the book that really articulated the movement for the first time. Mark’s book is one of the anchor titles in White Crane Books‘ Gay Spirituality Series. And this past year, White Crane has brought out a new edition of Malcolm’s autobiographical Take Off the Masks AND most recently White Crane editors, Bo Young and Dan Vera, have produced a “Malcolm Boyd Reader” titled A Prophet In His Own Land which includes interviews and commentaries about Boyd’s work as a proponent of social justice and civil rights in America down through the decades (and for which Bishop Robinson has written a Foreword).
It’s been curious for me to notice how Episcopalian White Crane has suddenly gotten (I say, tongue-in-cheek). Coincidentally (??), at the same time, I’ve been watching the Showtime cable TV series The Tudors which recounts the creation of the Church of England in a schism over the sexual life of King Henry VIII. Showtime has certainly made vivid the sex and the gore that accompanied this development in Christian history!
The iconoclast in me—an integral part, I believe, of my Gay spirituality—jokes that the carrying on of Henry VIII, matched by that of his antagonist Pope Paul III, certainly demonstrates empirically that matters of Church organization are not being guided by the hand of a provident, personal God. And that is demonstrated again in our own day by the rancor over Bishop Robinson.
The spiritual visionary in me—also an integral part, I believe, of my Gay perspective—observes that the forced evolution in thought among the Episcopalians is a wonderful demonstration of the role Gay consciousness plays in human evolution. Gay spiritual writer Christian de la Huerta identifies ten roles Gay people have played throughout history. The first of them is as “catalytic transformers.” That is, Gay people have been involved in the major transformations of human thought—in the religions, the arts, the sciences, all forms of human culture. De la Huerta’s observation includes the idea of our being “catalysts,” i.e., not actually entering the change itself, but creating the ground in which the change can occur. That is, we have bigger effects than just our own minor issues (say, of sexual freedom and personal respectability).
Robinson’s subtitle for this autobiography of turmoil is “Swept to the Center by God.” That is, he’s been pushed into being the catalyst for a much bigger transformation. What will follow from his appointment as Bishop of New Hampshire is likely to have far greater effect: Christianity itself is challenged and forced to mature and face modernity.
We can all be proud we live in the same world as Gene Robinson. It’s getting to be a better world because of him.
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Toby Johnson is the author and editor of countless fine books like Gay Spirituality, and Charmed Lives. He is also former publisher of White Crane Journal and currently Reviews editor. He lives in San Antonio Texas. Visit him at www.tobyjohnson.com