Robinson joins think tank

Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire is the new Senior Visiting Fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, DC, think tank.

The Washington Post Under God blog says the Center is “a liberal think tank run by John Podesta, President Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff. According to the release, as a senior fellow, Robinson will be tackling issues involving ‘economic justice, immigration, LGBT rights, health care, and the environment.’ ”

The Center for American Progress website has this:

Jeff Krehely, Director of CAP’s LGBT Research and Communications Project, and Sally Steenland, Senior Policy Advisor for Faith and Progressive Policy, interviewed Robinson on March 22 about a number of issues, including his new role at CAP, what it was like to be ordained as the first openly gay bishop, what a bishop does, and what he sees as the major issues confronting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

Jeff KrehelyWe’ve just announced that you’re going to be joining us as a visiting Senior Fellow, but you are also going to be continuing as bishop of New Hampshire. Can you talk about how these two efforts connect for you?

Robsinson: I think this will be fairly seamless for me because the responsibility of any leader in a religious institution is to connect the values articulated in that particular faith with the culture and issues that surround us everyday. All of the Abrahamic religions talk about love of God and love of neighbor—and love of neighbor is really nothing but caring about the issues and the people of the culture and bringing one’s religious values to that.

I laughingly told someone the other day that I was about to do what our mothers told us never to do at dinner parties, which is to mix religion and politics. But for me the two are quite inseparable. Dearly held religious values always propel us into the public square and the issues that face us at any given time. For me, the two go hand in hand.

At the same time, I am a strong advocate for the separation of church and state. So I will be trying to do this in a way that perhaps contrasts to the way we have seen the conservative religious right, particularly the Christian religious right in this country, trying to affect politics. I will try and walk that very fine line between bringing my faith into the public sphere as a way of informing myself about what I should be doing—and other people of faith—while at the same time never demanding that anyone else should think the way I do because of my beliefs. I think that is possible, and I am excited about trying to model that kind of role for people of faith in public discourse.

J: If we could go a little bit deeper, which issues will you be focusing on at CAP?

G: The difficulty for me is going to be limiting myself because as I look at the concerns CAP is addressing, I am interested in all of them. Certain ones, certainly, lend themselves to a religious perspective, such as economic justice.

In all the Abrahamic religions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the poor figure heavily in the sacred texts. Any of us in any culture is going to be judged by how we care for the most vulnerable among us. I hope to focus on issues such as health care reform, immigration reform, the economy, and the ramifications of this jobless recovery.

My biggest concern is that we have lost the notion of the common good. We are devolving into a, “If I’m OK, then to heck with the rest of the world” attitude. We need to be called back to the common good. It was part of our Founding Fathers’ vision of this country and is certainly part of the progressive agenda in America. We can’t care only about ourselves. I can see myself responding to those things.

Also, the environment figures heavily into most religious groups’ understandings of what we are called to be in relation to the creation.

Personally, I am excited to work with folks at CAP on the intersection of race and public policy and religion. Our experience of slavery, albeit banished 150 years ago, still weighs us down. That racial divide is still in our midst and is mostly played out in economic terms. Yet it seems to be the thing that Americans will tell you is over and should be over—yet we still see the effects of it.

There are any number of things that I would love to bring our religious perspective to and the only trouble I will have is finding the time to do that.

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