Christianity in Sweden - A Sign of Hope

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 18 August 2004 0 Comments
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Do you have any words that might help me understand the action that Governor James McGreevey took this past week?


For the benefit of readers in various parts of the world let me first say that James McGreevey, a Democrat elected Governor of New Jersey on his second run for that office in 2001, announced on Thursday, August 12, that he was "a gay American," that he had engaged in "consensual sex acts with a man" and that he was "resigning the governorship of this state on November 15, 2004." It was, to say the least, a blockbuster of a news story and it shuffled politics in the Garden State in ways that cannot yet be measured.

My comments on this extraordinary turn of events in my home state are these:

  1. The fact that the Governor is a gay man is not a surprise. I first heard those rumors in 1997. This news was passed on to me in a very matter of fact way by a limousine driver. I paid little attention to it then, but was aware that these rumors would not die out or go away.
  2. I thought the Governor's statement was amazingly well crafted and full of integrity. It was also delivered in a manner that was straightforward, honest and powerful. I admire that.
  3. I think it is a tragedy that the prejudice against homosexual persons is so deep and pervasive that many of them choose to deny this reality even to themselves. In that denial process many homosexual persons even use marriage as a cover. Gov. McGreevey appears to be one of them. He was married not once but twice and is the father of two daughters. Surely the two women who have been his wives were poorly served by his cover-up activities, unless he informed them before his proposal of marriage.
  4. I think it is even more tragic when the human need of homosexual persons to be openly partnered is denied by our society. This inevitably means that relationships are entered in a clandestine manner, which so often proves to be unwise and even exploitative. I regret that the Governor was subjected, it appears, to both extortion and blackmail. But that is what happens when life is forced to be lived in dark corners of deceit and fear. Neither deceit nor fear would survive in an open society. It is a prejudiced society that forces its victims to adopt survival techniques in order to cope with rampant cultural homophobia. It is that cultural homophobia that above all needs to be exposed and removed.
  5. My sense is that New Jersey would have accepted Jim McGreevey as a gay governor for the balance of his term had he not compromised his decision-making integrity with attempts to reward his homosexual partner with a state job for which he apparently had no qualifications. This act appears to have violated the vow he made when he became Governor, which was to tend the business of the state faithfully for the benefit of the people and to guard the people's welfare. To use the public payroll to support one's partner in secrecy is finally not excusable.
  6. Homosexuality is not the problem. Overwhelming medical and scientific data today suggest that homosexuality is a given not a chosen way of life. It is like awakening to the fact that one is left-handed. But we still have centuries of irrational fear and even ignorance to overcome. This fear and this ignorance create a climate in which homophobia thrives and in response to which people believe themselves forced to hide, to lie, to act inappropriately and consequently to live in dishonesty.

Jim McGreevey has now thrown off the shackles of pretending. He has accepted himself as he is. I give him credit for that. He still has to pick up the pieces of his life that his deception to himself and to others created. By being honest, he has also removed the threat of blackmail and extortion. Whether the charges against him of sexual harassment have merit is yet to be determined by the courts. Based on what is now publicly known, I doubt if they will stand. One does not try to extort millions from a public figure who is gay after receiving his largesse and then claim harassment with any degree of credibility.

How the Governor will deal with his wife, his parents and his daughters is still to be determined. That, however, is a personal matter and should be left there. It is not the business of the public.

James McGreevey has, however, made a good start. He has been publicly honest to himself and with himself. He is a gifted man. I hope he will succeed now in putting his life together in a new and creative way. Above all else I think he has struck a blow against prejudice by putting a human face on a reality that affects more people than most of us can imagine.

I wish him well.

-- John Shelby Spong




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