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A Word in Edgewise

By Lavender June 5, 2008

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Pride is a time to consider: where we were; how far we’ve come; how far we have to go. Two recent books concerning Episcopalian clergymen illustrate these stages: The Bishop’s Daughter was written by Honor Moore, eldest of nine children of Paul Moore Jr., activist for women’s rights and the disadvantaged, and Bishop of New York for 17 years; the other, In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, was penned by Gene Robinson, controversial Bishop of New Hampshire.

Both men had/have long, distinguished careers; both were married; both were fathers in the familial as well as clerical sense. Both were gay.

Daughter, published after the Bishop’s death, reveals that family and a few close friends had known of Moore’s homosexuality or bisexuality, although letters of rebuke from two of the siblings protested that excerpts in The New Yorker tarnished their father’s name.

Robinson writes as an openly gay, noncelibate man, partnered now two decades. His name and reputation hit the global Episcopal fan on June 7, 2003, with his election as Bishop of New Hampshire.

Whatever Moore’s life in the flesh, his spiritual record as a man of the cloth is unimpeachable. He and his wife, Jenny, were activists, raising their brood in the slums of New Jersey, and ministering to the disadvantaged. Becoming Episcopal Bishop of New York in 1972, he promoted women priests, and, in 1977, was the first Episcopal bishop to ordain a gay woman. When Moore died at 83, in the year Robinson was ordained Bishop, The New York Times lauded him as “the most formidable liberal Christian voice in the city.”

Robinson, too, performs admirable activist work. Still, his gayness has caused a seismic rift in the Episcopal Church—of such dimensions that he wore a bulletproof vest to his ordination. Had Moore had been as visible as Robinson, his ministry never would have existed.

These facts address to a degree the first two issues mentioned above, while raising others: Is it more important to be out—even outed—or is there an argument that sometimes, more can be accomplished in silence? What about families? Honor Moore reveals some of her mother’s deep marital anguish, while Robinson alludes fleetingly to an amicable relationship with his ex-wife, a closeness to his two daughters.

Rejection is devastating; secrets are corrosive. No union is perfect, but as same-sex marriage becomes legal nationwide, adoption and surrogacy readily available, the inevitable pain of a marriage based on deceit will yield to the day-to-day pitfalls mining the path of any heterosexual union. The playing field will be level, the rules of the game applicable to both partners.

This is how far we have yet to go—how long will it take?

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