The Fourth Fundamental: The Nature Miracles were not meant to be read as Events of History, Part II

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 8 August 2007 0 Comments
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What is your knowledge of the number of priests in the
Episcopal Church who are gay and openly accepted, versus those
whose ministry is rejected because of their gay identity?


Statistics are hard to demonstrate in the absence of honest
data. An African bishop told me once that there are no
homosexuals in Africa. "It is," he declared, "an English
disease." I could have shown him my file of letters from gay
Africans, a file that includes both clergy and bishops. In an
Episcopal Diocese in the United States where the bishop is quite
homophobic and persecutory of gay clergy, they say they have "no
gay clergy." My experience in these dioceses again and again
gives the lie to those assertions.

There are other dioceses in the Episcopal Church, like
Newark, New York, Long Island, Washington, Maryland,
Indianapolis, Chicago, Rochester, Minnesota and Los Angeles,
where openly gay and lesbian clergy serve with distinction and
win full acceptance. When I retired as the Bishop of Newark in
2000, we could count 35 openly gay or lesbian clergy serving
congregations, 31 of whom were living quite publicly with their
partners, and four of whom were single. As acceptance grew in
our diocese in the 80's and 90's, more and more of our clergy
found the courage to come out to their congregations and, in
some cases, even to themselves. I suspect, if anything, that
this number has grown in the years since my retirement.

I do not believe that I know an Episcopal priest who was
removed from his or her priesthood for being gay or lesbian,
although I have heard of that happening and I am sure there have
been many in the past. My sense is that bishops, including
anti-homosexual bishops, have developed a kind of code language
which allows them to "know without knowing." Many of them have
also developed a modus operandi of condemning homosexuality
verbally but accommodating it privately.

I knew an evangelical Anglican bishop in England, now
retired, who headed a large southern diocese, who was a bitter,
condemning, outspoken opponent of homosexuality in public, but
who regularly assigned clergy who were partners to adjacent
parishes. As long as they did not live in a single rectory,
parsonage or vicarage, it seemed to be no problem to this
bishop, who always claimed that he did not know they were
partners. That stance has little integrity in my mind, but
duplicity and dishonesty have never bothered the church nearly
as much as sex has.

In almost every Episcopal seminary in this country we have
gay and lesbian students preparing for ordination. In many of
them, gay faculty members are both known and appreciated. In my
own seminary in Virginia some 15 or so years ago, I engaged in a
debate with the Bishop of Central Florida on homosexuality. The
seminary had maintained to me that they had no gay students.
However, after the debate, my wife Christine and I took Virginia
Seminary's gay students out to dinner. It was a round table and
it was full! A gay Roman Catholic priest also joined us.

I cannot, therefore, give you statistics because I don't
trust the rhetoric. My professional guess is that if we could
get honest statistics, the percentage of Roman Catholic clergy
who are gay would astound the public. The percentage of gay and
lesbian clergy in the Episcopal Church would be higher than most
now believe, but because the ordained ranks of my church are
open to married persons, it would not be as high as the number
in the Catholic priesthood. I personally know clergy who are gay
or lesbian in the Methodist, Presbyterian, Unity, Lutheran,
Religious Science, United Church of Christ, American Baptist,
Southern Baptist, Pentecostal and Unitarian churches. I have
close friends who are gay Roman Catholic priests. However, I do
not have any way to gauge the accuracy of my professional
guesses about the numbers in the entire denomination..

I do know that we have twice as many left-handed Episcopal
priests than there are left-handed people present in the
national population. I'm not sure that I understand what that
means either. If you have a theory let me know.

Thanks for being with me at the Dignity USA Conference for
gay Catholics.

John Shelby Spong




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