Happy Monday, friends! On Friday, October 6, 2023, Bishop Gene Robinson received an honorary doctorate from Sewanee: The University of the South during the university’s Founders’ Day Convocation. Given that Robinson is both an alumnus of the undergraduate college at Sewanee and that he is a retired Episcopal bishop and Sewanee is an Episcopal institution, there should be nothing particularly compelling about his honorary doctorate or that he delivered the convocation address. Yet this honor was far overdue; a slight never fully acknowledged by the university as having to do with Robinson’s identity as a gay man and as the first openly gay bishop in The Episcopal Church, but known to anyone with eyes or ears. It has long been a tradition at Sewanee that alumni who become bishops in The Episcopal Church are all but automatically awarded an honorary doctorate regardless of their particular theological or political positions. In fact, the honor has even been extended to several alumni who are bishops or senior ecclesiastical leaders in other denominations. So, Robinson should have received an honorary doctorate from Sewanee in either 2003 or 2004. He didn’t. During my first semester at Sewanee (2006), Robinson was invited to speak at Sewanee, but still was not honored. Despite at times significant pressure put on the university’s administration and governing boards, it took 20 years for Robinson to receive the honor that he more than deserved.
Speaking to the assembled congregation of board members, administrators, faculty, students, parents, and alumni, Gene gave a passionate and emotional oration on his journey of faith and his path to understanding himself and his call. With tears in his eyes, he admitted that “On many a night, I would walk through the dense Sewanee fog…out of which this chapel would magically appear, and I would get on my knees at [the] altar rail. God knew I had a secret, and God and I would fight about whether or not someone like me was worthy of seminary and ordination. My answer was ‘no,’ and God's answer was ‘yes,’ and God won.” Yet again and from one of the most recognized LGBTQIA+ Christians in the world, we hear the struggle of feeling that one is unworthy and definitely not called to enter ministry or even to profess one’s faith because of what we have been taught is the place and end of people who are LGBTQIA+.
Gene Robinson is a hero of mine. I first heard him speak at Sewanee in 2006 when I was, to borrow his phrase, “fiercely closeted.” I had the opportunity to correspond with him and speak to him during college and have always appreciated his calm, pastoral demeanor. As a bishop his focus was always on his diocese and the people there. It was only in 2013, after he retired from active ministry as a bishop, that he became more radical and politically engaged. In his gentle pastoral and expressive way, he ended his convocation address by articulating seven challenges he hoped his audience, particularly the students, would take with them. I’d like to use those challenges as inspiration for the upcoming weeks of Monday Moments.
Gene closed with this statement: “It is a joyful and healing moment for me to feel once again like I've come home.” Involved as I was in the push to convince Sewanee to right the wrong of not awarding Gene an honorary doctorate, I always wondered what he thought. The one time I asked him he avoided the topic with a humble response. Hearing his closing, I have to wonder what kind of healing he experienced in finally being recognized for his many achievements by the place where in many respects it all started.
What healing can we bring to LGBTQIA+ people? What healing do we need first?
Let us pray: O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will: Bless us with anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future. Bless us with humility open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world. Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger. Amen.
~Excerpted from a prayer by Gene Robinson on the occasion of President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Blessings on your weeks, my friends! Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.
 If you’ve never experienced it, Sewanee fog is not so much fog as it is persistent cloud which hangs over the entire campus from late October to early April. Walking into people, narrowly dodging vehicular traffic, and finding buildings from memory of their locations alone are all experiences that generations of Sewanee students have had while entirely sober.