The Episcopal Church should be wary of its relationship with Nigerian Anglicans, the denomination’s first gay bishop has warned.
Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, questioned the wisdom of the US church aligning itself with Peter Akinola, the Anglican Primate of Nigeria, who has openly spoken out against homosexuality and labelled gay people as inferior.
Bishop Robinson raises the issue in Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson, a biography based on interviews with the clergyman and friends and family.
He tells the author, Elizabeth Adams, “You’ve got him saying that people like me are lower than the dogs, that’s one step away from saying we’re inhuman. That’s the kind of language the Nazis used about the Jews that allowed them to perpetrate the Holocaust.
“Do people in this country who are part of the network and want to swear allegiance to Uganda and Nigeria- do they really want to align themselves with people who are trying to deny my very humanity?”
The book describes the father-of-two’s upbringing on a Kentucky tobacco farm and reveals his perfect attendance at an evangelical Sunday school, as well as his sympathy for the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War.
He attributes the anger towards his controversial 2003 election as bishop to the church’s fear of losing power, “I think that in the last thirty or forty or fifty years, people of colour are coming into their own, women are coming into their own, and now gay and lesbian people are coming into their own.
“And what that means is that straight white males are not going to get to run the world any more. And that’s got to be painful. I mean, I’ve at least reaped the benefits of being at least two out of those three! It’s painful. But I think that’s why this is gathering so much steam.
“It shouldn’t be getting this much attention, but it is. I think that’s because it’s challenging patriarchy all over the world, even in some cultures that haven’t even gone through some of those other gate-breakers.”
The book also addresses his recent struggle with alcoholism and reveals his battle in college and in his theological seminary with coming to terms with being gay, “I don’t know that I realised it then, but I think I was probably clinically depressed. I was fighting so hard to keep down everything around my orientation-remember this is an all-men’s school-that I pretty much repressed everything, so consequently I really don’t remember much about college. It’s a great sadness for me.”
He added, “When I was young we didn’t use or have the word ‘gay’ meaning what it means today. You would not label yourself as such, or self-identify that way, because there was no good that could come of it.
“At about the age of twelve or thirteen, I began doing what an awful lot of us of that era did: we started pretending to be someone we weren’t. We learned to pretend to be developing in the ways other kids were, which leads to a kind of self-isolation and self-alienation that is pretty horrible.”
The cleric tells the author that he even went through therapy to “change,” he explains, “I think it’s because that’s when I began to both be clearer with myself that this wasn’t going to go away, and to redouble my efforts to make it go away. I was able to admit a little more to myself my attraction to men, but I desperately wanted to get married and
“So I got into therapy to change myself. Lord knows I’d been praying about it long enough. Prayer hadn’t seemed to solve the problem, so I thought maybe therapy would.”
Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson is out on September 28 2006.
This article first appeared in the September issue of The Pink News which is out now