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Going to Heaven: The Life and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson Paperback – September 1, 2006
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Now that I have had time to think more deeply about Adam's biography, something that her writing and approach encourage, I have another perspective. This book is also written for the many people honestly struggling with the issue of gay rights and all that means. I remember well the summer of 2003 and the small knots of committed Christians who gathered after mass despite the suspension of coffee hour to talk about Gene, gay rights and the powerful sermons my husband delivered. I remember their struggles, their confusion, their desire to know more, to go more deeply, to do and think the "right" thing. Adams' biography is for them. She gives them much to think about. She helps them see the bigger picture. She holds their hands as they get to know a not-so-perfect creation of God, the world he occupied and the church he serves. In the end, her biography talks about the power of love, not such a bad message in a time of strife.
Ms. Adams makes clear that the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire is much more a symbol of schism than its cause. The wheels were set in motion long before anyone outside the diocese ever heard of the man. She traces the breakups within Anglicanism to the fall of the British Empire and the end of the Cold War, which left a shadowy, right-wing think tank called the Institute for Religion and Democracy, formerly aimed at destabilizing the Soviet Union, with nothing to do. So, like most such institutions, it simply traded missions and started focusing on liberal churches instead, lest they start influencing U.S. foreign policy toward such nightmares as world peace and justice for the poor.
The poor bishop ends up caught in the crossfire. Born to landless farmers in rural Kentucky, raised in fundamentalist simplicity, attracted to piety, music, books and boys, he somehow lands a scholarship at the (Episcopal) University of the South, and from there his future is set in motion. He is introduced to a whole different world of liturgy, scholarship, gentility and faded wealth, which accomodates his own gifts of energy and open gregariousness. He goes to seminary, gets ordained and happily married, has two daughters; but inevitably he must confront his own inner nature. With the help of his gracious wife, he does so successfully; the day of their divorce, they dissolve their wedding vows in church and take communion together.
He works long, hard and well as a bishop's assistant, and at some point meets the man of his dreams. Who this partner is is never quite made clear here, nor is Canon Robinson's ex-wife interviewed. Both those omissions weaken the book somewhat and keep it from being a complete biography. Privacy is respected a bit too much; some quotations fail of attribution and certain villains of the piece (other churchmen) are allowed to scamper away. But this reveals the author's real purpose: solid, insightful and original reporting on the hidden drama of church politics. There she seldom disappoints.
The book is greatly enhanced by scores of photographs by Jonathan Sa'adah showing the bishop, his lover Mark and ex-wife Boo, their daughters, various church personalities, even Sir Elton John.
What we are left with is a humble priest who has grown into the job of diocesan bishop and international symbol. In extensive, self-disclosive interviews, he shows himself to be just the sort of open personalty by whom some people come to know Christ. That he is the object of others' scorn, derision and death threats says everything we need to know about his enemies' willingness to use Gene Robinson for their own purposes.
I hope that Ms. Adams will go on from here to produce another book about the Anglicans' schisms, which continue to unfold in worldwide headlines. She already has the background and covers its complexity with clarity and insight here. The issues now go beyond Gene Robinson and the Episcopal Church; there is much to discover about the secret promoters of division, in the United States, England, Nigeria and elsewhere. A good place to start is in Falls Church, Virginia, where a breakaway megachurch is populated by conservative Baptists and Methodists in high positions in the current U.S. government.
By the time former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold spoke out against the invasion of Iraq and consecrated Gene Robinson, the Institute for Religion and Democracy had long since been cutting the ground out from under them.++
So...Perhaps via Bishop Robinson's advise...I have spent the last year reading about various religions. Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism...I read "the idiot's guide to the protestant reformation", and then I got "The Episcopal Handbook" and then i ordered "Welcome to the Episcopal Church" and "Unabashedly Episcopalian". I figure I'll stop picking up these books when I stop being interested in it. But so far, I am quite interested. And this book by Elizabeth Adams was filled with details about Gene Robinson, the man, The Diocese of New Hampshire as an institution, the ECUSA as an institution, Lambeth Palace, the political intrigue behind it all... It was great. I recommend it to anyone new to the episcopal Church, because this lays out the schism in a really clear way. Again - she is sympathetic to Gene Robinson, so if you're evangelical, you may not like that. But, if you want the whole thing unraveled and laid out flat, this is it.