God Believes In Love | Notes & Review

Gene Robinson. God Believes In Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. Vintage Books, 2012. (196 pages)

God Believes In Love

Boston Globe, Michael PaulsonThe Daily Beast, David Sessions, Greta Christina, NPR, The Thinking Theologian, Kirkus, First Things, Dennis Di Mauro, Rick Kleffel,


[via: Reference to the Stonewall riots.]

Marriage calls us to be our best selves, for each other. Marriage is the very human attempt to make a place in one’s heart for another–a place so holy as to make it possible to have a love for another at times greater than the love of one’s self. | And that is why, for the Church, marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament is one of the places God promises to show up! It is in learning to love another as much as or more than one loves one’s self that we get a tiny glimpse of the selfless love that God has for each of us. It is in marriage that we have the opportunity to experience and learn about God’s unconditional love for us. (15)

Those who oppose marriage equality for gay or lesbian couples, pleading for us not to “redefine” marriage, do not understand that gay marriage only builds up the traditional meaning of marriage. We are not changing its meaning but merely revising the list of those to whom it is available. (15)

Society and our religious communities claim to respect the dignity of every human being. The right and opportunity to marry the person one loves are essential to that respect and dignity. I hope you will walk a few steps with me. And together we might come to a place where the traditional meaning of marriage not only survives intact but is indeed deepened and renewed in its profound importance to the well-being of our society, even as we open this beloved institution to couples who have not yet been free to enjoy its many blessings. (17)

1. Why Gay Marriage Now?

Remember how social change happens. Each of us has a worldview that pretty much interprets the world for us, puts our personal and public experiences in some kind of rational and understandable order. That worldview works fairly well for a period of time. Then something happens that renders it insufficient. Something happens that can’t be fit into life as we have known and interpreted it. Something so shocking and disturbing as to shake the very foundations of who we thought we were. (23-24)

As much as some would like all this to have never occurred, or for the world to go back to a “simpler” time when “men were men, and women were women, and everyone knew the difference,” the fact is that toothpaste is never going back into the tube. This is a new reality, and like it or not, the world has to deal with it. (27)

…there is a growing understanding that this group has been discriminated against, not merely in a personal, individual way, but also in a societal structure that systematically rewards heterosexuals and punishes homosexuals, just as whites have been rewarded at the expense of blacks and men rewarded at the expense of women. (27-28)

While there is still opposition to changing these policies, it is now a foregone conclusion that these policies are worth of a vigorous debate and that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people may indeed have a legitimate and equal claim on the rights and privileges of citizenship in America. (28)

2. Why Should You Care About Gay Marriage If You’re Straight

Until we are all free, we are none of us free. – Emma Lazarus

[via: Reference to Jonathan Myrick Daniels]

[via: Reference to Evan Wolfson]

Still, as a straight person, you might say, “This just isn’t my fight.” No, it isn’t. Unless you care about the kind of society we have. Unless you want the society of which you are a part to be a just one. Unless you believe that a free society, not to mention a godly religion, should fight injustice wherever it is found. Unless your religion tells you–as our entire Judeo-Christian heritage does–that any society will be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable. Unless you care about our children. Unless fairness matters to you. Unless violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people concerns you. Unless “liberty and justice for all” is something you believe applies to all our citizens. (41)

Deep within the Jewish, and therefore also Christian, heritage and history is a razor-sharp focus on heeding the cries for justice from those who are oppressed. (41)

Certainly the cries of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized should be heeded by the powers and principalities. But is it too far a stretch to imagine that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people would be among those for whom God would have us advocate? Would not the God of love want us to plead the cause of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, even if we have no existential stake in that issue? I believe so. (43)

When you’re trying to understand the plight of someone else, when you’re trying to understand someone’s experience that has never been your experience, you begin by truly listening to him and his stories, really listening. And then–and this is key, I think–you believe his truth. (45)

3. What’s Wrong with Civil Unions?

The overall effect of such a self-censoring regime is self-loathing. Every time we do it, we feel “less than.” (50)

“Homosexual” feels cold and clinical. | On the other hand, “gay” feels affirming and positive. (52)

[via: Reference to John Pryor]

…being gay is not about what we do; it’s about who we are. (52-53)

Indeed, “gay” represented a kind of quiet naming revolution against centuries of oppression and became a defiant sort of self-assertion. (55)

4. Doesn’t the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?

I would argue that in order to interpret any passage in Scripture, we must employ three lenses: the Scripture itselfthe tradition of how the Church has interpreted that Scripture over the centuries; and reason, that is, the use of our own God-given intellect and learning, up to and including how modern knowledge, science, psychology, and reason inform our understanding of the issues being addressed by the Scripture. But first, and always first, is the Scripture itself. (63)

“Homosexuality” in Leviticus

[via: See my review below for critical engagement with this section.]

One has to wonder why the biblical literalists who cite this passage against homosexuality don’t seem to go all the way and advocate, like Leviticus, for death as the punishment for homosexual behavior! We cannot have it both ways. (74)

For a man to spill his seed on the ground rather than grow more babies was a sin not only against God but against the nation. (76)

“Homosexuality” in Sodom and Gomorrah

In short, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all references to it elsewhere in Scripture, provide no guidance for modern-day believers about the morality or immorality of same-gender-loving people. It simply does not offer an answer to the questions we are asking. (83)

“Homosexuality” in the Gospels

What does Jesus say about homosexuality? Absolutely nothing. (83)

Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans

…he is singling out the misguided practice of idolatry, rampant in the ancient world and contrary to God’s will,… (85)

…when Paul uses the word “nature,” he “apparently refers only to homosexual acts indulged in by those he considered to be otherwise heterosexually inclined; … The words “exchanged” and “gave up” clearly indicate that these were people presumed to be heterosexual by “nature” who were turning their backs on their true nature. (86)

In short, we are not certain what sex practices Paul has in mind in this passage. He simply does not tell us. What is clear is that these practices are related to the worship of idols–and clearly not what we are talking about today. (87)

“Homosexuality” in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy

What we do know is that when the meaning of a word or passage is unclear, the translator’s own prejudices are apt to play a part in the words used to translate the unknowable meaning of the Greek. Do we really want to base our condemnation of an entire group of people on a shaky translation of an unknowable Greek word? A reasonable person, not to mention a compassionate Christinan, would not. (90)

Let me be clear. I am not asserting that the Bible speaks affirmatively of same-gender intimate, sexual relationships. All seven of these passages are negative. They simply are not addressing the questions we are asking in light of modern understandings of psychosexual relationships. (91)

In the end, God believes in love. Therefore, I would argue that Scripture gives us great and lasting guidance for the conduct of our relationships, whether they be with strangers, friends, or lifelong partners. (91)

5. What Would Jesus Do?

While “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD) has become a cliché, it is, at the end of the day, what we’re all trying to figure out. (97)

It is hard to imagine Jesus joining in the wholesale discrimination against LGBT people. (100)

Jesus had an alternative vision of family. The religious Right has “family values” as a centerpiece of its understanding of what God intends for humankind. There is very little in Scripture to back up the notion of a nuclear family, headed by a biological father and mother. Indeed, in addition to calling some of his disciples away from their families to follow him, Jesus had some startling things to say about family and for himself chose a radically different lifestyle. (100)

Jesus’s attitude toward women and children is indicative of his commitment to the dispossessed and the marginalized. (106)

God is all-vulnerable. (107)

It seems to me, then, that vulnerability and self-disclosure are at the heart of what we understand about the nature of God. And the reason I believe gay and lesbian people are spiritual people is that we too have participated in vulnerability and self-disclosure, especially in the process of coming-out. When someone shares with you who they really, really are, it is a special offering. To do so when it risks rejection is a profound, holy gift. (109)

…it is an act of self-disclosure that makes true relationship possible. This kind of vulnerability and self-disclosure I would label “of God.” That is, it participates in the very deepest understanding of what we know about God. (109)

6. Doesn’t Gay Marriage Change the Definition of Marriage That’s Been in Place for Thousands of Years?

While looking at the institution of marriage as practiced and taught in the New Testament, we must be very careful not to project our current understanding of marriage and “family values” back onto an ancient time, when such notions would have been foreign to that culture. (116)

English Puritans believed marriage to be purely secular, and although religious oversight of marriage was restored when the Puritans lost power in England, the Puritans brought this secular understanding of marriage with them to America, where it persisted. (120)

African-Americans as well as couples of two different races were not arguing over the importance or meaning of marriage but rather fighting for their civil right to participate in this noble institution. They were not trying to redefine the meaning of marriage but only attempting to become eligible for its traditional meaning and practice. (122)

Proponents of marriage for gay or lesbian couples are not changing or undermining the meaning or definition of marriage; rather, they are merely seeking the right for gay or lesbian couples to be eligible for its responsibilities and benefits, both legal and social. Marriage for gay or lesbian couples is not an undoing of the meaning and purpose of marriage but rather its natural and appropriate evolution. (124)

7. Doesn’t Gay Marriage Undermine Marriage?

Perhaps it is because legal marriage between two men or two women is a new thing. Perhaps it is because the right to marry has been denied for so long that when it finally comes, they want to take advantage of every opportunity to deepen their relationship as they enter this new chapter in their lives. And perhaps, as gay marriage becomes as commonplace and uncontroversial as heterosexual marriage, it too will be taken for granted. But for now, gay couples are being extraordinarily thoughtful and intentional about this decision to marry. At a time when more and more heterosexual couples are choosing to live together, even make a life together, without the benefit of marriage, it is gay and lesbian couples who are holding up and affirming the traditional values associated with marriage. (126)

Many conditions and circumstances are undermining it. But nothing in all the data suggests that the existence of legal marriages between people of the same gender affects marriages between heterosexual men and women. As the brief discussion above summarizes, there are plenty of reasons for marriages to be unhappy and stressful and end in divorce. But none of them relate to the existence of gay marriage. (131)

Blaming gay marriage for the demise of the institution of marriage is simply a red herring from people who seem to have no interest at all in doing anything about the actual conditions that cause marriages to fail. (131)

Far from undermining marriage, gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage for themselves are perhaps the institution’s best friends. At a time when marriage is seen as less desirable and less necessary for straight couples, gay and lesbian people are lining up at town halls and church doors to participate in this traditional and long-standing institution. (136)

8. What If My Religion Doesn’t Believe in Gay Marriage?

Opponents of gay marriage, especially religious opponents, argue in the media that the State is violating their constitutionally protected right to exercise their religion without interference from the State. They argue that the State is overstepping its bounds by “changing the definition” of marriage and imposing it on religious communities. The facts are clear that this is anything but the case. | In the states where marriage between same-gender parters has become legal, it has ben made very clear that no religious body or any particular clergy person will ever have to authorize, solemnize, or preside over a same-gender marriage. (146-147)

We can move to legalize same-gender civil marriage without harming any religious institution or dictating any change to the beliefs and practices of any faith. Religious opposition to civil marriage for same-gender couples is irrelevant to the civil, public debate. You’re opposed to gay marriage on religious grands? Fine! Don’t authorize your clergy to act as an agent of the State in any such unions. But don’t deprive the rest of us, who believe that such rites are good and holy, of our constitutional right to practice our own freedom of religion. We don’t live in a theocracy where some one understanding of religion and faith dictates what the State will and will not do. This religious argument agains the right to marry for gay and lesbian couples is simply bogus. And unconstitutional. Religious belief should have no bearing whatsoever on the legal right to marry. (149)

9. Don’t Children Need a Mother and a Father?

First and foremost, marriage is for the couple themselves. (154)

Even the most severe critics of marriage for gay or lesbian people honor the practice of adoption. The world has too many children who, for one reason or another, find themselves without parents. Gay male couples seem especially willing to adopt “problematic” orphans–those who are older, those who are severely disabled or have AIDS, and those considered virtually “unacceptable.” Most everyone would claim that these children will do better in a home and family than in an institution. (156)

There is one thing common to all adoptions, be they by a heterosexual or a homosexual couple: the adopted child is wanted. (157)

No research supports the widely held conviction that the gender of parents matters for child well-being – Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz

Children being raised by same-gender parents, on most all of the measures that we care about, self-esteem, school performance, social adjustments and so on, seem to be doing just fine and, in most cases, are statistically indistinguishable from kids raised by married moms and dads on these measures. – Timothy Biblarz

I suspect that the real resistance to same-gender parenting comes down to the fear that gay parents will make their children gay. … The evidence simply does not support such fears. (166)

What is true and predictable, however, is that if any of the children raised by gay or lesbian parents do discover themselves to be gay, they will not grow up with he fear of being rejected by their parents. This, of course, is the single most powerful fear operating in the minds and hearts of kids who suspect they might be gay: rejection by their parents. (166)

In short, there is no good reason to think that children are at any disadvantage in being raised by gay or lesbian couples. Marriage turns out to be good not only for gay or lesbian couples but for the raising, nurture, and protection of their children. Arguments and opinions to the contrary, no matter how firmly held or loudly proclaimed, are simply not based in fact. Yes, marriage is (for many) about raising a family. No, there are no detriments to the children based simply on their parents’ orientation or gender. (169)

10. Is This About Civil Rights or Getting Approval for Questionable Behavior?

Civil rights are different from disagreements of opinion and perspective. Civil rights are the area of inquiry as to the legitimate and equal claims of all American citizens on the government, based on the constitutionally protected status of its citizens. (172)

An “ism” happens when a prejudice combines with the power to put it into practice, in formal and informal ways, to the detriment of those being discriminated against. (174-175)

Heterosexism is an enshrinement of prejudice against gay people and our relationships into the laws and practices of our governmental and societal institutions. (176)

This struggle is not about certain sexual practices that are abhorrent to some, because those practices are engaged in by both homosexuals and heterosexuals. This debate is about the civil, legal right to marry for our citizens. It’s about the freedom to marry the person of one’s choice. (183)

11. God Believes in Love

This “fragile” institution is remarkably resilient, it seems to me. But why it works and how it works are still a mystery. Even when you account for real commitment, hard work, and a bit of luck, nothing really explains how the relationship of marriage can be so strong and so life-giving, except for grace. Grace is that blessing which comes as a gift, unearned and undeserved. (187)

God is all about love. Whatever is at the center of the universe, whatever gives meaning to creaturely existence, whatever we mean by “God,” it is all about love. There is no more fundamental belief among people of faith. (187)

Christian theology maintains that in loving another human being, a love that at times becomes selfless, we have a window into the kind of love God has for us, which is infinitely selfless. In those moments in which I care more deeply for the welfare, happiness, and joy of my spouse than for my own, I get a glimpse of the infinitely selfless love God has for me and all humankind. Indeed, it is the way we come to “know” God. (188)

All of this applies to couples of the same gender. Nothing in the foregoing discussion is any less true for two people of the same gender than for two people of the opposite gender. The context provided by a relationship that is mutually committed and mutually trustworthy is as important to a homosexual couple as to their heterosexual counterpart. (190)

In the end, marriage is the most substantive and deep example of what every religion espouses in one form or another: love your neighbor as you would want to be loved. (194)

— via —

Impassioned. Vulnerable.

Not only is this a well articulated response to the many objections about gay marriage, Robinson has included some beautiful expressions of what marriage itself is, as a sacrament. That, in and of itself, ought to bring pause to the dissenters, as Robinson argues vehemently for the “traditional” meaning and sanctity of marriage, a covenant that is important for our faith and our society. In addition, Robinson includes several historical markers and people that are important to the overall picture.

A few contentions.

The first is the comparison of this civil issue with the issue of race in America. On page 27-28, Robinson writes,

…there is a growing understanding that this group has been discriminated against, not merely in a personal, individual way, but also in a societal structure that systematically rewards heterosexuals and punishes homosexuals, just as whites have been rewarded at the expense of blacks and men rewarded at the expense of women.

I’ve bolded and underlined the phrase “just as,” to simply ask the question, Is it really “just as?”

I have mixed feelings on this as I can empathize with the feelings that LGBT(QIA)+ (cf. also this NYTimes article) people have regarding the feelings of marginalization and civil injustices. And I would not argue that our society has not been brutal to people on the issues of gender and sexuality. However, I wonder two things about this comparison. First, can we really equate these? Does our current sexual identity challenge mirror that of other civil injustices in the same way? Second, if the answer is “no,” or even “not really,” what does this do to the overall argument that Robinson is putting forward? It may distract from the fundamental premise of justice and equality if that tie is not sentimentally strong enough. I’m sure to LGBT(QIA)+ peoples, this issue is clear. I’ve simply heard hesitations from those outside that community regarding the validity of the comparison.

Again on page 38,

It is the civil rights issue of our time.

Perhaps it would be better off simply talking about the philosophical, religious, and constitutional ethics of equality and leave the comparison out of the picture?

My next contention is Chapter 4, which is by far the weakest chapter. To be fair, summing up difficult Bible passages in a short chapter in a short book is no easy task. Thousands of pages have been written on very few sentences in the Bible, and it is daunting to try and distill that down for a lay audience. Still, standards ought to be kept high, because these issues are too important, and the arguments are too poignant to be sloppy, and on several items Robinson should have done better.

A few examples:

It never occurred to the ancient Israelites that a man might naturally be affectionally, erotically drawn toward other men. … homosexuality as a sexual orientation was unknown to the ancient mind. …but everyone who engaged in it was presumed to be heterosexual. Therefore, any man who lay with another man as with a woman was considered a heterosexual man acting against his true nature. (72)

First, this is an argument from [biblical] silence. It is also a bit presumptive and pretentious; that ancient people didn’t know about such things. We 21st century people suffer from “modernistic chauvinism.” Second, we have Greek historical records that suggest that ancients were trying to figure out the cause of various orientations (cf. Love Between Women). In addition, we have references in Philo and Josephus regarding homosexual behavior, activity, and causes that are, admittedly ambiguous to our current debate, but are nonetheless extant. To simply say that “orientation was unknown to the ancient mind” must have extensive historiography to substantiate that claim. It is a difficult one, as it is a argument of negation, and it would be more scholastically integrous (yes, I’m using that as a word), to state a more cautious conclusion.

This is also true of what he writes next.

The psychological construct of a homosexual orientation was not posited until the late nineteenth century–the notion that a certain minority of humankind is affectionally oriented toward people of the same gender, rather than the opposite gender. (72)

Ancient people were talking about this. Ancient people were writing about it, and were trying to figure it all out.

Next comes a common, but unfortunate error:

The paradigm of a flat earth prevailed, and we would not expect pre-New World thinking to take into account the reality of a round earth. (73)

This is simply false. It has been shown that the idea of a “flat earth” belief system was a fable fabricated to deprecate pre-modern people during the 17th century. (cf. Myth of the Flat Earth, and Inventing the Flat Earth).  This is a real weak spot in Robinson’s argument. Admittedly, the idea that there was a “flatearthism” is still widely popular, even if it is wrong. This betrays the notion, mentioned above, that we have a low view of scholars that have come before us. We must remind [educate?] ourselves that ancient minds were much more sophisticated than for which we give them credit.


We are mostly untroubled when we read in the Scripture about those “possessed by a demon,” understanding in our minds that this was probably some sort of mental disturbance, inexplicable to the people of biblical times. (73)

Not exactly. It is true that “demon possession” was a common moniker for ailments, and it is most likely true that this kind of mythical explanation was adhered to by many in the ancient world (by the way, as it is also held to today). However, what we cannot do is broad brush stroke every worldview of the ancients, especially with the medical and scientific advancements of the Greeks, some of who were the first to “de-mythologize” some of the explanations. In addition, we should mention the many religious today who still believe in demons as the primary explanation for such ailments. More nuance is needed here.


Either all of these proscriptions must be eliminated as binding on us, or all of them must be adhered to. (76) (emphasis in the original)

This is difficult on several accounts. First, it strips the Scripture of flexible interpretation, what Jewish tradition would call the “70 faces” of the text. It essentially flattens the Scripture to one-dimension. Second, this sentiment cuts both ways. If we eliminate all that is binding, then we also open the door for all sorts of other sexual behaviors, including (but not limited to) pedophilia, incest, etc. The “all or nothing” approach is really an unfortunate line of argumentation, and dangerous. I do think it is important to ask conservative interpreters why they don’t advocate for the death penalty, and hear their response. That’s an informative line of inquiry and could prove quite educational. But to conclude “all,” is not the right answer.

My last question for chapter 4 is the problem with Sodom and Gomorrah. While I would fundamentally concur with his exegetical process, we still cannot get around the reference to sodomy as the act that is literarily tied to the absence of hospitality. It is an indicator that, regardless of the “true meaning” of Sodom and Gomorrah, sodomy is not held in a positive light. Why that connection? Further explanation is needed to dismiss this passage en toto.

My last contention is in Chapter 8, where Robinson argues,

Is not the attempt of religious institutions to block passage of the right to marry for gay and lesbian couples an example of the Church trying to meddle in the rightful business of the State? Is this not an example of religious bodies trying to impose their will on the civil state? (148)

I say, “yes.” And, that’s the American way. The constitutional ethics for which we are all in agreement–and all are [hopefully] fighting for everyone to enjoy–affirms that religious people, as members of the state, have the right to establish laws that are based upon their religious, and therefore, personal convictions.

Now, the entire discussion around the “separation of church and state” is a contentious and complicated one. For the purposes of this contention, I would offer that one line of thinking was to ensure that the “separation” was “unidirectional.” That is, that the state government, an ontologically secular institution ought not make laws that govern “the Church” (or religion). [The idea of “theocracy” was not fundamentally the concern in the establishment clause (one would argue.) Remember, “free exercise thereof” is stated.] But that does not mean that religious people, who are citizens of the state, are prohibited from democratically establish laws and governance simply because it also affirms their personal religious conviction. We may believe those referendums are unjust, unfair, and fundamentally unconstitutional. And the system itself *should* inhibit those motions from becoming laws. But the activity itself, of attempting to change laws in our land, is not “bogus,” as Robinson suggests.


In spite of my contentions, I still recommend this read, for it is honest, thoughtful, heartfelt, articulate, and it represents a view that ought to be received with all respect and humanity.

Last and most importantly, it must also be acknowledged that Bishop Robinson has gone through many harrowing and excruciating experiences as one who has carried the “freight” that comes with being “iconic.” I offer him my thanks and respect (in Hebrew, כל הכבוד) for his courage, and conviction. He is to be honored for his journey.


A man and his wife are watching the news about gay marriage. The man says, “Haven’t they suffered enough already?” – Garrison Keillor

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