Gene Robinson: Not a God-Fearing Christian?

The Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation last week following his appearance in Washington, D.C., to deliver the invocation at Sunday’s inaugural concert. His prayer wasn’t carried by the live broadcasts, which prompted a flurry of protest (sounds like it was an organizational snafu, not an intentional snub). For those who don’t know, Robinson is the gay priest who was elected as a bishop in 2003, causing the current upheaval in the Episcopal church. Though I attend an Episcopal church which is still reeling from that 2003 decision, I’m not that familiar with Robinson and his theology.

He had some interesting things to say on NPR as they took callers and he answered questions. Some things I agreed with, some I didn’t.

But one of the most bizarre was an exchange with a woman who described herself as a “God-fearing, Bible-believing Christian.”

Bible-Believing Christian
First, an aside. How redundant is that statement? What Christian doesn’t believe in the Bible? It kind of comes with the territory. And I’m not naive, I realize the statement is hinting at a certain kind of belief in the Bible. This woman believes in the Bible in the way certain liberal Christians don’t. In her mind they’re not Bible-believing Christians because they don’t believe it the way she does. It’s fine if you want to make those kind of distinctions, but to imply that other people don’t believe in the Bible just because they don’t interpret it the same way you do is a bit much. It seems like a better label could be used to describe yourself without thumbing your nose at others.

But that’s not the point. (Robinson went on to address this Bible-believing concept, arguing what I just did—saying that he believes in the Bible too, but that we come to different conclusions.)

God-Fearing Christian
Anyway, the point. Robinson also responded to her God-fearing concept, saying that he’s not a God-fearing Christian but that he’s a God-loved Christian (I don’t have a transcript so I’m going by memory, but I think that’s pretty close to what he actually said). I have no qualms with the God-loved part of what he said, but disavowing the God-fearing part is kind of weird. I’m not sure I understand where he’s coming from.

The fear of God is a basic Christian principle. I can understand being a little leery of the language because over the years Christians have perhaps overused the fear of God. But it’s a pretty standard biblical concept. In a nutshell, we’re supposed to have a healthy fear of God. Reverence might be another way to say it. It’s not a cower in the corner kind of fear, it’s an acknowledgment and understanding of true power.

The Bible references the fear of God more than a hundred times, and it’s always something we’re commanded to have, and something that’s good. It’s often connected with knowledge and wisdom—the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

C.S. Lewis famously compared God to a lion, saying that he is good but he is not tame.

So I’m not sure why Robinson was so quick to distance himself from being labeled a God-fearing Christian. Maybe it’s a matter of emphasis for him and he thinks it’s time love got the front seat. Or maybe he has another interpretation to the concept of the fear of God. I don’t know. I just found it kind of bizarre and wasn’t sure what to think. Anybody have any insights?

3 thoughts on “Gene Robinson: Not a God-Fearing Christian?”

  1. There is an idea that has been gaining momentum that fear is always an unhealthy response to God. God does not judge sin, he purifies sinners, or, to say it another way, sin itself is the cause of destruction, not God acting against sin; if there is any destruction whatsoever. This idea has been popularized lately in books like The Shack and some of the more extreme Emergent writings. It tends to correspond with a less literal view of Scripture (hence the “Bible-believing” woman’s frustration), or at least a progressive view of the Bible that Jesus is a better picture of God’s character than the archaic ideas in the Old Testament. It makes perfect sense that the bishop would hold this view because this sees God as more interested in tolerance and acceptance than in anyone toeing the line.

  2. Based on my somewhat limited experience with homosexual Christians, it does seem like churches that welcome them place a greater emphasis on love and acceptance than on the fear/judgment/condemnation aspects of God. Some of that is, I assume, derived from those churches wanting to assure people that all are welcomed and accepted, sometimes in sharp contrast to the person’s experiences in family and society or at other churches where they have been (sometimes very severely) rejected.

    Having attended a number of different churches, it seems like most denominations, and sometimes individual churches within those denominations, place differing levels of emphasis on different aspects of God. I do see potential downsides to doing this if you completely ignore or deny parts of God’s character, but I don’t know whether or not Robinson goes that far.

  3. Being from NH, I’ve heard quite a lot from Gene Robinson. He’s a regular on NHPR’s “The Exchange,” and this is hardly a surprise.

    The guy is so proud of himself for being a heretic that he seems to be eager to seek out and eliminate any orthodoxy in his life.

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