Thursday, October 23, 2008

A cell phone call before breakfast.

On Wednesday morning, as I was driving to the Woman's Empowerment Conference in Long Beach, California; my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the telephone number which was displayed but, that's not all that unusual for me these days. So, I answered the phone and to my surprise, it was Bishop Gene Robinson.

Bishop Robinson for those of you who may be unfamiliar with his story, enjoys the singular distinction of being the first openly gay man to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church. Not unlike the story of the first violinist at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra who took ill and the post was given to a guest violinist. The guest violinist was apprehensive about her new responsibility. Turning to the second violinist she asked, "When do I start playing?" The second violinist answered reassuringly, "Don't worry, just don't be the first."
Being first, is always disconcerting, if not outright frightening, because there is no precedent. You are breaking new ground; you are breaking the established norms and rules. Many people will take exception to what you've done, and will throw everything at you to discredit you. They will vilify you and make an example of you to serve as a warning to others. If you manage to pull it off, to break through, to open a new door; you will be a trail blazer, a pioneer, and a visionary. 

Bishop Gene took all of those risks. His family and his partner stood with him in the sanctuary on the day of his consecration. They heard the hurtful, hateful things said by some during his consecration liturgy. Bishop Gene opened a brave new door for gay and lesbian people that day. He continues to weather attacks and insults from members of his world wide communion. With the sustaining love of his family and his partner he continues to serve both God, the Church and humanity in the face of bigotry, opposition and hatred. Through his courage, fifty years from now, others will not have to suffer what he has suffered. The Church will have healed and grown because of Bishop Gene's self-sacrifice. Bishop Gene is a hero for me and a living testament of the human spirit's strength to overcome fear, and the hatred it generates, through the power of love. 

My wristwatch informed me that it was a long conversation with Gene Robinson; but to me, it brief . We spoke of the difficulties facing both the world-wide Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church. Both faiths, are international in character and both have the majority of their membership residing in the Third World. While these Third World societies are culturally vibrant, they suffer economic poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa has been socially and economically devastated by the AIDS epidemic. Inter-tribal wars have claimed countless lives and economic colonialism has kept many of these newly created nations impoverished. In addition, these societies tend to lack basic social infrastructures such as adequate health care, social services, and education. As a result of their exploitation, they are suspicious of any new social insights introduced by foreign sources. 

When fighting to survive, innovation is a gamble you cannot afford to lose. The fruit of this colonial legacy is that the indigenous bishops are resistant to any new ideas that come from these former colonial powers, which have a history of subjugating them.  It is the Anglican bishops of these nations that have so vociferously protested Bishop Gene's consecration. The "idea" of an openly gay bishop with a partner is unacceptable because it adds another stress to a society that already finds itself at the breaking point. Of course, these same bishops take exception to women being ordained as deacons and priests (let alone consecrated bishops) for the very same reason. 

This presents a moral quandary for the universal Church. Which course do you take?  Do you risk losing members from more developed societies, or from developing societies? Do you ask for continued, perhaps lifetime, sacrifices from some to calm the fears and apprehensions of others? What is just, what is sensible, what is the best way to proceed?

What does begin to emerge from all of these questions is that the argument against both the ordination of women and the acceptance of those with same sex orientation is far more sociological than theological in its nature. Perhaps, this why the late Pope John Paul II forbade the subject of the ordination of women from being discussed in universities. While such repression may temporarily delay discussion and debate, it does not resolve the underlying issues and simply contributes to a future cataclysmic confrontation and possible schism. 

All of this took place on a cell phone conversation on a drive to an event before breakfast with a most extraordinary person who is a personal hero and inspiration to me: Bishop Gene Robinson. 


Марко Фризия said...

I've known Gene for ten years. I am in awe of his consistent charity in the face of all the abuse he has received, some of it quite vile. Like Gene Robinson, your own courage and risk-taking is inspirational to people. I feel a sense of exhilaration for you. I also worry for you. When I saw the blog headline about "A cell phone call before breakfast" I was worried you were receiving bad news from your own hierarchy. Thanks for standing up for what is right. We continue to pray for you.

Muthah+ said...

I too am a friend of +Gene. What a gift to receive his call and support when the bishops of your own church demean your ministry. Know that you are in my prayers. Know that there is ministry for you to do. Know that the prophetic words you are pronouncing are words that proclaim the Incarnate Christ. Meanwhile..give 'em hell, Harry!

KJ said...

As a fairly recent Episcopal immigrant, I'm very pleased to hear of your conversation with Bishop Gene. I know that you have a calling not unlike his, with similar challenges. Yet, when one is doing what one is called by the Spirit to do, and when one knows that the actions are not for one's self, but for others and those yet to come, there is peace inside a storm.

Now, when you feel that the race has been run as far as it can be run in the Catholic Church, please feel free to come home TEC!

Peace of Christ

Brian R said...

I am so glad Bishop Gene rang you. I consider my chance meeting with him here in Sydney one of the great blessings of my life. I promised to pray for him daily and have added you to my list. May God bless you both richly as you both pave the way for full acceptance in the church of same sex attracted people.

Jose Arroyo said...

Bishop Gene is one of the most loving, down to earth and good natured individuals I have ever met who has been able to keep up such personality traits under the public scrutiny. He is a personal hero of mine and I'm proud to say that you are as well.

Unknown said...

I'm just very sorry that I was unable to meet him when he visited London earlier this year. May you, like him find the grace and strength you need to stand firm against the malice and spite. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Man of God said...

Father Geoffrey Farrow, you have become a hero and personal inspiration to me. It would be so easy to turn your back on God, since so many religious "authorities" claim being gay is an abomination and a sin. I truly admire you and the role model you have become for thousands, if not millions. I don't know if I possess such resolve. Coming to terms with my sexual orientation after many years of denial has left me at crossroads. If you have the time, I'd appreciate a little spiritual guidance.

susan s. said...

Gene Robinson is a hero to many of us, Gay and straight. Once one has seen him preach, and I have only seen him on video, one feels as if he is a friend for life. I hope one day to meet him.

Thanks again for all you are doing to make the world a more loving place. As KJ says you would be welcome in the Episcopal Church. Come and at least visit!

Anonymous said...

To me, you represent God's church...not the Catholic, nor Episcopalian, nor any other but God's own. To walk alongside Gene Robinson is a big responsibility and challenge, but I am here cheering you on in gratitude. Thank you, Father Geoff!

Kathleen said...

Bless Gene for calling you. The Holy Spirit moves us all to do what must be done. Hang in there, Fr. Geoff. We wrap our arms around you in love and admiration.
Kathleen and John

Witchy Dr said...

When I first heard of Bishop Gene taking those first difficult steps, I was overwhelmed with joy. The courage, the leadership and wisdom he took upon his shoulders was another step forward towards humanity and demonstrating that we are human who can serve with dignity and love.

Your strength & courage to follow your heart makes you too a leader. A leader that is demonstrating love is not evil but the foundation for peace.
Thank you for your continued courage.

Rev. David Justin Lynch said...

We really want you to be a Priest in the Episcopal Church! Her'e some parishes to check out: St. Pauls, Pomona. St. Mary's Palms. St. Thomas Hollywood. You'll feel at home at all of them! Rome's loss is our gain.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Geoff Farrow is a hero for civil rights! I can't ignore how wrong the Catholic Church is on same sex marriage. I always thought the so called "religious right" was hateful in its' thinking but unfortunately the Catholic and L.D.S. are in the same "hate boat". I am ashamed of our bigoted church leadership.

NO church has to perform same sex marriages...

Let the leadership of our church look into Christ's teachings especially "Love one another".

Time to stay out of politics and state civil legal matters my dear bishops. Shame on you!

Anonymous said...

So glad for your surprise conversation with +Gene. I remember seeing him speak at a church in London earlier this year when he was there as one excluded from the meeting of Anglican leaders at Lambeth Palace. Someone stood up in the service and started yelling condemnation and damnation at him. I was very impressed with +Gene's calm manner of stepping back and immediately stopping his message while the matter was handled graciously and most kindly by people from the Church. I have continually seen that same graciousness mark your response to those who stand in opposition to the truth you are proclaiming by word and deed. To me that is the witness which gives great credibility to your calling and your leadership.


Fran said...

What a great experience!

+Gene is one of my real heroes. And I imagine him to be amazingly open, humble and very authentic.

All of which must have showed during your talk - and that he would so kindly reach out to you as he did.

What a journey you are on Fr. Geoff, many prayers for you.

Many prayers for all of us - for healing, for unity, for peace and oh for justice.

Juan said...

I continue to think how much I would like to keep hearing what you have to say. You are such an inspiration. All those years sitting in the pews of various Catholic churches, desperately wanting to be wanted, wanting to be cared for by the church. I recall going to local memorial for John Paul II and wondering if he even would be able to accept me for who I was for who I am. I will forever be a Catholic and forever love the Church and the pope, even if they don't necessarily accept me. But you example proves that change can happen, and perhaps someday I will be able to feel in full communion with the Church. Bless you Father Geoff and please do keep in touch. We met at your press conference at Dignity LA and I hope to see you again soon, perhaps at All Saints Pasadena.

Anonymous said...

Hi Father Geoff, I used to serve you at your favorite lunch spot in Fresno…it’s me the asian one! =) Words seem insufficient in expressing my gratitude, but I guess I haven’t much choice but to say a simple thank you for your courage and strength. You are an inspiration.

My prayers are with you,


Anonymous said...

This whole business and the way you and Bishop Gene deal with and respond to your critics reminds me of the furore over the proposal to appoint Jeffrey John as a Bishop here in the UK few years ago. The only person, it seemed to me, who showed any grace, any Christlikeness, whilst that row was going on was Jeffrey John himself, humbly accepting the Church's decision whilst his detractors and opponents seemed to offer nothing but anger and hatred...

May you continue to grow in grace; may you know peace.

Anonymous said...

Hello Father Farrow. I was at the rally at City Hall. We were spit on and called horrible names, and then were pushed into the street. It was a low point for me, as I never thought my neighbors would treat me that way. It was frightening and I find myself emotionally drained from the ordeal. I understand you are speaking Sunday at the rally for NO ON 8. I would like the opportunity to speak with you sometime before that. Please email me at Thank you.

Braddoc said...

Father Farrow,

I'm not much of a blogger. In fact, I'm cruddy at it. But I just wanted to say that I read the LA Times article about you and your struggle with the Church and was inspired by it.
I was raised Catholic and went to a private Catholic school in Hawai'i until I was a Senior in High School. It was during my college years that I came out of the closet. After that, because of the Church's anti-gay stances I officially resigned from the Church. Now I consider myself to be agnostic who believes in God.
I just wanted to say that I understand the struggle. I was inspired by you to be someone who speaks up for what is right.
I voted No on Proposition 8 without hesitation.
Keep up the good work. You are truly a courageous and wonderful person.

Braddoc DeCaires
Toluca Lake, CA

Kevin said...

Hey Fr Geoff:

I've heard good things about Pastor Gene. I hope you remain a Catholic Priest. Your situation reminds me of what happened to Martin Luther back in the 1500's. It's never easy to stand up for what your truly believe.