Earlier today, the reverend Gene Robinson, who was elected in 2003 as the first openly gay (and non-celibate) bishop of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, officially announced his retirement. His influence in shifting public perceptions on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Equality—in civil liberty and in the life of the Church—has been monumental. His departure, while well deserved, is also bittersweet for bodies of faith who have come to rely of his leadership.
As I mentioned in "Nightcrawler and the Demonization of Homosexuality," although I am quick to point out religious bigotry wherever I come across it, I am equally adamant at amplifying the voices of those who work tirelessly at promoting proper tenants of faith, such as humility, morality and liturgy, in addition to acknowledging the basic human dignity of all persons, regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or nationality. Without question, Gene Robinson is one of those voices. I had the pleasure of meeting him (briefly) in 2009 when he was presented with the Stephen F. Kolzak Award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) "for his work to raise visibility of LGBT-inclusive voices of faith." Throughout his tenure as the ninth bishop to preside over the Diocese of New Hampshire, he has frequently challenged the "mainstream" interpretation of scripture concerning same-sex relationships as well as overwhelmingly homophobic and heterosexist attitudes within Christianity. He is the author of books such as In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God (2008) and God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage (2012) and has been the keynote speaker for countless events debating the intersection of sexual orientation, religion and government. His is also a shining model of religious tolerance, stating while he believes Jesus of Nazareth is "the perfect incarnation of the living God" he does not believe that Christ is the sole revelation of God and respects all those who come to find God through other faiths.
Religion has often had a contentious, if not adversarial relationship with civil liberties and scientific fact. A strict adherence to tradition or cultural norms often fly in the face of progressive thinking. Such conflicts are often represented in fiction, such as televangelist William Stryker and The Purifiers in Chris Claremont's X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (1982) or the Church of Humanity found in Uncanny X-men: Holy War (2003) by Chuck Austen from Marvel Comics. At a time when people like Pat Robertson, Harold Camping, Bryan Fischer and Mike Huckabee assume to speak for all of Christendom, it would be not only refreshing but vital to model fictional characters after religious leaders such as Gene Robinson, regardless of whether or not they are utilized for LGBT-specific plot lines. As I join GLAAD, the United Churches of Christ (UCC) Coalition for LGBT Concerns and countless others in saying #ThanksBishopGene I also make a heart-felt plea to creative and editorial teams across the comic book industry for better representation of progressive and all-inclusive religious voices in future publications.