Time to spring the final closet: gay clergy
published in: The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. 16.5
(September-October 2009): p7.
Reproduced here by permission of the copyright holder.
particularly Christianity, is often disparaged by contemporary gay authors,
but passing attitudes are sometimes misread as eternal verities. Certainly
history is filled with deeply religious gay people whose spirituality
reinforced their same-sex affinities. Among gays, particularly gay men,
marriage has undergone a massive shift in attitudes during the last forty
years, moving from widespread scorn to passionate embrace. Is it possible
that religion (including Christianity) will undergo a similar transition and
become a more important part of gay lives in the near future?
There are, of
course, good reasons why gays feel so alienated from religion. The usual
hostility of most Christian churches became virulent during the very years when
gays were most deeply suffering from the AIDS plague and that is difficult to
forgive and forget. But there is also a complex relationship between the
spirit and the flesh that has touched gays in unique ways. While the negative
consequences of the struggle between the spirit and the flesh have been
emphasized, the positive, inspirational effects have not. Apart from Mark D.
Jordan, there have been few academic successors to the gay historian John
Boswell (1947-1994), who attempted to reconcile his Roman Catholicism with
absence of gay religious figures is probably connected with vocational
pressures. Artists, 60's countercultural rebels, actors, and writers
predominated among the vanguard of gays who first came out of the closet.
They were gradually joined by academics, professionals, and blue collar
groups, but unique pressures on clerics have kept most of them in the closet.
Because of this, we are still in the process of identifying them and
incorporating them into gay history. As an example, one of the most notable
religious leaders of recent times, Paul Moore, Jr. (1919-2003), has only
lately been identified as bisexual. Bishop Moore became famous as a leader in
the Civil Rights struggles of the 60's and gay ordination struggles of the
Moore was a child
of privilege, born into an affluent family that was only conventionally
religious. After graduating from Yale, he was commissioned in the Marines and
almost died from a chest wound in the South Pacific. He received both the
Silver Star and the Purple Heart. After his discharge, he entered an
Episcopal seminary and was ordained. In the 60's, he gained a reputation for
social activism in the Washington, D.C., diocese, participating in the March
on Washington in 1963, where he was deeply moved by Martin Luther King's
"I Have a Dream" speech. Although he offended many conservative
Episcopalians, he was lionized by their liberal counterparts and, in 1970,
was consecrated as the bishop of New York. He quickly became the most controversial
bishop in the U.S. for his political and social activism (despite his
conservatism in church liturgy and tradition). He married and had nine
children. When his first wife died of cancer, he remarried a widow named
Brenda Hughes Campbell. What he did not reveal was his attraction to other
I met Bishop Moore
in September of 1977, when he and his second wife visited Mahopac, New York.
He came not only to perform the annual rite of confirmation at the Church of
the Holy Communion, but also to mend fences with the membership, which was
withholding its contribution out of protest over his ordination of an out
lesbian named Ellen Barrett. This was the first ordination of an openly gay
woman. Church members were confused and angry over this apparent violation of
Scripture. That was the dispute on the surface, but there was a deeper story
here, one that it took me years to piece together. I was at the time serving
as the junior warden in Holy Communion, a responsibility that I was much too
young (33) and spiritually immature to handle. I was supporting the rector of
Holy Communion in his opposition to Bishop Moore's ordination of Barrett.
After the service,
we stood on the parsonage patio chatting, mingling with the confirmands'
families, and trying to be polite to one another. None of us realized that
all three of the parties in the dispute--Bishop Moore, the Holy Communion
rector, and myself--were married and closeted bisexuals. I knew that the
rector was because he had told me in vivid detail about his sexual seductions
of young men in the church. I was a good listener, but so deeply closeted
that I doubt he had any suspicions about me. Also, he was quite attracted to
masculine males of Italian descent and he tended to romanticize them (and me)
in ways that WASPS sometimes do. I don't think either of us knew about Bishop
Moore's same-sex attractions. I didn't learn about them until thirty years
later, when I read the memoir The Bishop's Daughter, by Honor Moore.
In 1977, it would
have been impossible for Bishop Moore to have revealed his same-sex feelings
and to have maintained his authority as a bishop in the Episcopal Church. It
would have been possible after his retirement in 1989, but he remained deeply
closeted until his death in 2003. It is uncertain if his first wife ever
discovered his homosexuality, but it appears to have contributed to the
problems in his first marriage. His second wife discovered his sexual
affinity for men and conveyed the news to his family, who kept the
revelations to themselves. He was outed posthumously by his bisexual daughter
in her memoir published in 2008 and first excerpted in The New Yorker. The
picture she paints of her father is very mixed.
The details of her
father's same-sex attractions were first revealed in a phone call after her
father's funeral from a man named Andrew Verver. This unknown person had been
given a bedstand (an unexplained romantic memento) as a bequest in her
father's will. Verver explained that he had been a student struggling with
his sexuality at Columbia in 1975 when he first met Bishop Moore. Some 35
years younger than Moore, Verver had been her father's gay lover, on and off,
for thirty years. In Moore's last years, Verver had accompanied Moore on a
religious pilgrimage to the Isle of Patmos, where Saint John the Apostle was
exiled--a climactic symbol of the life in exile that Moore's own spiritual
closet had imposed.