Gay Sunday: NPR Celebrates 'Protestant Royalty' Coming Out of the Closet as 'Incredibly Liberating'
On Sunday night's All Things Considered newscast, NPR anchor Guy Raz celebrated “Protestant royalty” coming out of the closet. Bishop Jim Swilley of a megachurch appropriately called The Church in the Now decided to reveal his sexual orientation because of the burst of gay-bullying publicity. Former CNN reporter Raz welcomed the change and how it must have been “incredibly liberating” to be openly gay.
NPR lavished 12 minutes of air time on the interview -- currently a hot and very recommended item on NPR.org -- and they also offered a more extended interview online, complete with the minister's coming-out speech to his church. Raz wondered:
RAZ: You come from a long and distinguished line of famous southern preachers. One of your kids said “Protestant royalty,” that's where you come from. Did you feel like - when you were growing up, did you feel like you were a sinner most of your life? I mean, as a kid, when you had certain thoughts, did you feel like, you know, this isn't what you were being taught?
SWILLEY: Oh, are you kidding me? Yeah. I mean, there is - let me tell you. This is one reason I really bristle at the phrase gay lifestyle because I know what it's like to try to change your mind, quote scripture, try to cast out demons that you think are in you, go through all your...
RAZ: Did you try that when you were a kid?
SWILLEY: Oh, my god. Nothing I haven't tried. I learned early on in my relationship with God that it was not going anywhere, so - not that I consider it necessarily a thorn in the flesh, as Paul called it. But Paul said that he had something he had prayed three times that God would take it away. And God said, no, my grace is sufficient for you. And so I just sort of left it at that. I thought, all right, this is my deal. I come from a very apocalyptic, end of the world, Jesus is coming back any moment kind of thing.
So, you know, I know this sounds crazy to people that weren't raised this way, but I really never thought long-term. You know what I mean? I just thought, well, this is all going to be over with soon and we're all gonna be out of here and I'll go to heaven and Jesus will fix me. (Laughter)
And then, as I got more educated and as my theology evolved, I really moved away from that paradigm, and - which then, you know, I was faced with this problem. Like, okay, I guess I'm going to live out my life. And, wow, I found myself in a situation where I didn't intentionally mean to lie, but I'm living a falsehood. Not like I'm living this life where I'm, you know, leaving my house and going out and finding men. That's never happened.
I just wasn't real. You know what I mean? It's like, to me, at this point, at my age, this isn't about me even finding somebody. It's about just telling the truth about yourself and having that freedom.
RAZ: That must have been incredibly liberating to do that.
SWILLEY: You know, I told the church the other day, I've never been a good sleeper. I don't know that I'll call myself an insomniac, but I'm just not a good sleeper. And man, that night - well, first of all, as soon as the service was over with, people lined up and they were, you know, hugging me and affirming me.
Now, I would like to say that in the midst of the service, a lot of people got up and walked out. You know, it was like separating the sheep from the goat, sort of thing. Like, okay, well, I see who I've got to work with here.
Swilley is implying with this metaphor (from Matthew, Chapter 25), as God would separate the saved (sheep) from the condemned (goats), that the “anti-gay” group of Christians is bound for Hell. This slipped right past the NPR anchor, who also asked the strange question if the pastor felt like a “sinner” growing up. Every believing Christian should feel like a “sinner.”
Raz asked the natural question about how being openly gay will change Swilley's approach: “Do you think that the way you will lead the church and the way you will preach will change? I know you don't want to be known as a gay bishop with a gay church. I mean, will things change?” The answer was yes, as Swilley lectured the critics:
SWILLEY: Heterosexuality is doing just fine. It's not going anywhere. There's no gay agenda. Nobody's trying to get your children. They're not trying to take over the world. Just, you know, settle down. But when people say, well, you know, you've got to tell people that they can't have sex because any sex outside of marriage is fornication, to which I say, all right, well then, let gay people get married. (Laughter)
Oh, no, no, no. They can't get married. Like, okay, well, you're not leaving people a lot of alternative. But as a pastor and as a bishop, my responsibility is not to get all in people's personal lives. You know, Paul said this one thing that I wish every Christian church would just put this on their letterhead. He said, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. In other words, your relationship with God is not my relationship with God, and frankly, it's none of my business. So my responsibility is just to preach the gospel and let the gospel do its work. Trust the gospel. Don't worry about it.
Raz concluded with this joke: “Bishop Swilley, there's another secret about you that we actually planned to expose here on this program and here it is. [Plays music clip.] This is the punk band, Black Lips, with their song "Bad Kids." And that's your son, Jared, on lead vocals. How cool is that? I mean, you're an evangelical preacher, your son is in a pretty hipster band that's getting a lot of attention.”
NPR also celebrated gay Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson on Wednesday night's All Things Considered. Anchor Melissa Block focused in on the primary issue: death threats from haters. “You did mention death threats that you've received in that speech. I know you wore a bulletproof vest when you were consecrated seven years ago. Are those threats ongoing still?” He said yes, and they talked of how he could now marry in New Hampshire. Block followed up: “Can you talk just a bit about the kinds of threats that you mentioned and the pressure that that's put on you?”
Robinson said: “What I want to say about that is there is nothing like a death threat to get your attention and to make you think about God. And it seems to me that one of the real benefits of believing in the Resurrection is that you understand that death is not the worst thing. Not living your life, that's the worst thing. And so in the face of death threats, it actually strengthened my faith and strengthened my relationship with the living God, who has seemed so close to me during all of this. And has helped me understand that life is a gift and we are meant to be good stewards of that gift, and to use it for its best possible potential."
Block then wondered:
BLOCK: You may remember, Bishop Robinson, when you and I spoke back in 2003 after you were consecrated, you told me - I can't wait for the gay part to be over. I don't want to be the gay bishop. I want to be a good bishop. I wonder if that ever happened. I mean, the first words in my intro mentioned that you were the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.
ROBINSON: You know, it hasn't happened. And for the first couple of years, I really struggled with that. And then I decided that that was selfish of me. I have been given this amazing opportunity to minister to and advocate for gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. And what I decided was to make my peace with being The Gay Bishop, and to use that opportunity and be the best steward I possibly can of the opportunities that have come my way to speak to and for gay and lesbian people throughout this ministry.
Just as it first happened in 2003, the NPR anchor didn't call Robinson a “liberal,” but his opponents were conservatives: “After you were consecrated as bishop, there were a number of conservative churches in this country that left the Episcopal Church, joined with conservative Anglican churches overseas. Do you feel responsible for this division within the Episcopal Church that you've loved for so long?” Robinson claimed that the churches that left only had 100,000 followers, so it was a “small group that left.”
Neither supportive interview offered a single, solitary second of time for conservative critics to speak out. Conservative Christians just pay taxes to be painted as Hell-bound death-threateners.