BPI-MF-LogoA few weeks ago, the congregants of Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe were honored by a visit from Bishop Gene Robinson who delivered the evening’s d’Var Torah. I interviewed him after the event. (More)

Bishop Robinson is the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop. He was invited to Santa Fe as Grand Marshall of the Gay Pride parade. When Rabbi Marvin Schwab learned from a colleague at St. Bede’s that Bishop Robinson might be barred from speaking in an Episcopal Church, he invited him to deliver the Friday Night D’Var Torah atTemple Beth Shalom. I remembered the Bishop from his inaugural prayer. His sermon was an inspiration. After services, my teen-age daughter, who had complained incessantly throught the long drive from Albuquerque about being dragged, dragged to Temple for her brother’s best friend’s eruv bar mitzvah, turned to me and exclaimed, “Oh My God! I’m so glad I came!”

I asked Rabbi Schwab why he had extended the invitation and what he thought the impact would be on our congregation.

I felt that what Gene had to say was important and it was important that the community have a chance to hear it and that Temple Beth Shalom would be a neutral ground where he could speak and say anything he wanted. I think it was great. I think in terms of speaking to tolerance, respect for people as human beings, to see human beings with respect to see beyond some of the nonsense and to see that everyone has a divine spark within them…This was a message that Gene could deliver with eloquence. We are a welcoming congregation. We have members that happen to be homosexual. This was a way of reaffirming for them that they really do have a place within our congregation and the greater community.

Rabbi Schwab lent me the Temple’s DVD recording of the d’Var Torah. The instant I figure out how to upload it to the web, I will embed it in a diary. However, Bishop Robinson was kind enough to grant me this interview for Tikkun Daily. The first installment of the interview, Bishop Robinson on Obama, follows below the break.

Bishop Robinson\’s Inaugural Prayer

LR: First, Bishop Robinson, I’d love to ask you a practical question. Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you. I’m really honored.

GR: Well that’s great…terrific. I’m happy to do it.

LR: In your inaugural prayer, which my husband and I both followed, you asked for wisdom for the President, and also for patience for the rest of us to remember that he’s a man and not a Messiah. So my practical question to you is, how is the President doing, and how are we doing?

GR: First of all, that’s a great question. I think the President is doing really well, which is not to say that I agree with every decision, act or decision not to act, but I think it is astounding what he has accomplished and it is both frustrating and puzzling to me why he has not gotten credit for what he has done. You know, we have been trying to reform health care for 100 years and he is the first one to be able to pull it off. We were on the brink of total chaos financially and while there are still lots of people without jobs, we are clearly not on the brink of chaos anymore. I just see him making progress in some monumental areas, and yet, the American public is so focused on the unemployment situation that it hardly gets noted. He certainly doesn’t get much credit for that. So I would probably give the President an A- and I would give us a C+.

LR: Wow! (Laughs) That is a very interesting response because one of the reasons I asked you is a lot of the writing that I see on the blogosphere really from those of us on the left is incredibly critical. And while I really have problems with some of the policies that have been enacted so far, I wonder if we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot.

GR: Right, you know, I think the frustrating part for me is it took eight years to get us in the terrible fix we were in at the time of the election. That we think it can all be solved in 18 months is just so shortsighted I think on our part. I also think our expectations were enormously high as if the President could solve these problems by fiat or by the wave of his wand.

LR: (Laughs.) Or by striking a rock!

GR: Yeah. And the fact of the matter is, a President can do very little unilaterally and needs the Congress to follow and to help, and when you’ve got the minority party voting no on everything whether it’s big and important or small and unimportant, and when you’ve got that minority mostly focused on making him fail, the fact that he has accomplished what he has is really quite astounding. Do I wish it were going faster? Yes. Do I agree with everything that’s been done? No. But I think it is so short-sighted of us to either expect him to be able to accomplish everything in 18 months, and I think that it’s silly for us to believe that 8 years of bad government can be righted in the first 18 months of a Presidency. And really, the disastrousness of the financial situation didn’t become known until after he was the President. And thirdly, the oil spill was a completely new fly in the ointment, or fly in the oil as the case may be. So in addition to all the things that he knew he had to tackle and promised he would, he has had unexpected disasters not of his making. So again, do I think the job is done? No. But do I think we’re making headway? Absolutely!

Several days after this interview took place, Robert Gibbs came out with his clumsy much-publicized foot-in-mouth diatribe to The Hill against “the professional left.” I followed up with Bishop Robinson.

LR: Can you comment on the recent bruhaha inspired by Robert Gibbs’ statements about the “professional left?” Essentially, Gibbs’ voiced a frustration identical to yours. Is it appropriate coming from the White House? How should the progressive movement respond?

GR: It is the “professional left’s” appropriate role to keep the pressure on, urging its agenda, just as it is appropriate for the “professional right” to keep pressing ITS agenda. That’s how politics works. I’m not sure why there is a lot of resistance to the use of this phrase. Sounds like a tempest in a teapot — not the same teapot as used by the Tea Party!