When Barack met Gene

Ruth Gledhill has an interesting report (see also her newspaper article) of three meetings between now President-Elect Barack Obama and the controversial Bishop Gene Robinson. Apparently Obama sought out Robinson – but I think only as one of a series of meetings with many religious leaders, so this should not be taken as an endorsement. Ruth writes that these meetings took place “in May and June last year”, but I think she means this year, although pre-Lambeth and pre-US election campaign May and June 2008 must seem at least a year ago!

Ruth’s account is taken from an interview she had with Robinson. Here are some extracts from Gene’s words about Barack:

I must say I don’t know if it is an expression here in England or not but he is the genuine article. I think he is exactly who he says he is. …

He is impressive, he’s smart, he is an amazing listener. For someone who’s called on to speak all the time when he asks you a question it is not for show, he is actually wanting to know what you think and listens, or at least gives you that impression. I think we’ve had eight years of someone who has listened to almost no-one. …

He certainly indicated his broad and deep support for the full civil rights for gay and lesbian people but frankly we talked more about – I pressed him on the Millennium Development Goals. …

The thing that I liked about him and what he said on this issue is that he and I would agree about the rightful place of religion vis-a-vis the secular state. That is to say, we don’t impose our religious values on the secular state because God said so. Our faith informs our own values and then we take those values into the civil market place, the civil discourse, and then you argue for them based on the constitution. You don’t say to someone, you must believe this because this is what God believes. I think God gives us our values and then we argue for those on the basis of the constitution and care of our neighbour. …

He has no hesitation whatsoever to talk about his faith. I find that remarkable not only in a politician but also in a Democrat. For years it’s only been Republicans who wanted to talk about religion. …

One of the things Barack and I did talk about when we were together was just  the experience of being first and the danger of that and we talked about being demonised by one side and, I don’t know if the word is angelicised, by the other. Expectations are laid on you both negative and positive and neither are true. And the importance of remaining centred and grounded in the middle of that so that you don’t begin to believe either your negative press or your positive press.

Good material which, I must say, raises both Barack and Gene in my estimation, although I continue to believe that practising homosexuals should not be in positions of leadership in the church. I particularly like this:

we don’t impose our religious values on the secular state because God said so. Our faith informs our own values and then we take those values into the civil market place, the civil discourse, and then you argue for them …

But of course I differ from Robinson, and perhaps Obama, in believing that among the values which should be informed by faith are recognition that homosexual practice and abortion are not God’s will for his people.

So let’s avoid demonising or angelicising either Barack or Gene but let them “remain[] centred and grounded in the middle”.

UPDATE: It’s only an hour since I posted this, but I have more good news about Barack Obama. Ruth Gledhill reported Gene Robinson “was guarded” about Obama’s attitude to the Millennium Development Goals. But Dave Warnock pointed me to Obama and Biden’s new “Change” website, where, on this page, I read:

Fight Global Poverty: Obama and Biden will embrace the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty around the world in half by 2015, and they will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion to achieve that goal. They will help the world’s weakest states to build healthy and educated communities, reduce poverty, develop markets, and generate wealth.

Halving extreme poverty is in fact only one of the eight Millennium Development Goals, but it is surely the most significant, and probably the most expensive. It would be good to see if Obama and Biden have declared policies relating to the other seven goals, but their foreign policy agenda document is incomplete on the web page.

0 thoughts on “When Barack met Gene

  1. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Jesus’ alternative to the Religious Right, according to a Jew

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