The Episcopal Church and Homosexuality in the U.S.: Timeline

1962: October Homosexuality, along with alcoholism, is studied by the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church. It is referred to as a “standard weakness.” [1]

1963: August Rev. David B. Wayne of the Church of the Epiphany in New York City preaches that homosexuals “must be accepted fully into the fellowship of the church” while they also must seek counseling or psychological treatment. [2]

1964: November A proposed revision to a New York State law that would decriminalize “sexual deviation” (i.e., homosexuality and adultery) is praised by Episcopalians and denounced by Roman Catholics. The revision is later dropped by the NY state Legislature. [3]

1966: October Speaking at Duke Law School, Episcopal Auxiliary Bishop of California, Rev. James A. Pike claims that laws “aimed at controlling homosexuality, sexual practices between man and wife and abortions…must be changed.” He claims that such matters are “nobody’s business but the individuals concerned.” [4]

1967: November During a symposium on homosexuality sponsored by the Episcopal Dioceses of New York, Connecticut, Long Island, and Newark, ninety Episcopalian priests agree that the church should classify homosexuality as “morally neutral” and “in some cases…a good thing.” The priests claim that whether or not the individuals are “expressing genuine love” for one another is more important than their gender. [5]

1974: November Integrity, an LGBT ECUSA group, is started as a newsletter by Dr. Louie Crew. The first chapter is founded in Chicago by Jim Wickliff. [6] 

1975: August Integrity runs into trouble when planning its first national meeting in Chicago because the promotional materials mention gay marriage, upsetting some local church leaders. Integrity subsequently assures the Chicago Episcopal Diocesan Center that all mentions of marriage will be eliminated. [7]

1976: January At the denomination’s General Convention, two resolutions supporting same-sex relationships as well as gay legal rights are passed. A resolution on the ordination of homosexuals is deferred, pending a report from a Commission on the Church in Human Affairs. [8]

1977: January Ellen Barrett becomes the second open homosexual to be ordained as a priest after the priesthood is opened to the ordination of women on January 1. Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr. of New York performs the ordination and says that “homosexuality is a condition which one does not choose; it is not a question of morality.” [9 

February A general public discussion on the ordination of homosexuals is held, following Barrett’s ordination. The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church subsequently urges that homosexuals not be ordained until the Church as a whole can define the “position of homosexuals.” [10]

August Bishop William Frey of Colorado endorses a ministry aimed at “converting” homosexuals to heterosexuality, which is criticized by many other members of the clergy. Rev. Richard Kerr, rector of an Episcopal church in Denver, said that “People ought to be taught, instead [of converting sexualities], to accept themselves and how to integrate into the whole community.” [11]

October United States Bishops meet to discuss homosexuality, among other things. They overwhelmingly adopt a theological statement “that condemns homosexuality as un-Biblical, bars ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood, and forbids priests of the church from blessing homosexual marriages.” However, they stop short of a proposal to censure NYC Bishop Paul Moore, who warns that the Church’s new resolution might lead to a “McCarthy-like purge,” for his ordination of lesbian Ellen Barrett. [12]

December A Committee for Justice in the Episcopal Church is formed of about 40 clergymen and lay people to “put pressure on Episcopal bishops and deputies on the issue of women and homosexuals as priests.” [13]

1979: June A report is submitted by a national commission recommending that homosexuals be allowed to be ordained if they are “able and willing to conform their behavior to that which the Church affirms as wholesome.” The commission also states that they would accept “militants” that “aggressively” demand gay rights into the church as well, but would not deem them fit for ordination. [14]

September At its General Convention, the church legislature debates about 15 resolutions relating to homosexuality. The Convention ultimately passes a resolution stating that no “practicing homosexual” nor heterosexual person engaging in extramarital sex should be ordained, though homosexuals have “equal claim with others upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern of the church”. Twenty-one bishops sign a “statement of conscience” in opposition to the official ruling. Additionally, LGBT group Integrity holds a counter-convention simultaneous to the General Convention. [15]

1981: May Rev. Robert Nugent, a Catholic priest, attempts to organize a workshop entitled “Homosexuality and the Hurting Parents,” in Chicago. Both the Episcopal Diocese and the Catholic Cardinal of the city reject requests to hold the event in their churches. Finally, the Trinity Episcopal Church, on Chicago’s South Side, offers to host the workshop. [16] 

1982: Undated (Likely June/July) The General Convention passes a resolution reaffirming the actions taken by the 1976 and 1979 Conventions, holding that “homosexual persons are children of God and are entitled to full civil rights.” [17]

1984 July Episcopal Bishop of New York, a long-time supporter of gay rights, writes an editorial for the New York Times in which he condemns the Salvation Army and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, while praising the NYC mayor in a controversy over the employment of homosexuals in publicly funded NYC church agencies. He writes that “The Episcopal Church, most mainline Protestant denominations, and many Jewish groups stand strongly behind the gay community on the issue of gay rights.” [18]

1985: September The General Convention passes a resolution urging each diocese to “find an effective way to foster understanding of homosexual persons, to dispel myths and prejudices about homosexuality, [and] to provide pastoral support.” Despite this, the House of Deputies (one of two houses making up the Convention) rejects a church law that was approved by the House of Bishops (the other legislative body) that would forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the process of ordination. [19]

September Bishop William E. Swing, the Episcopal Bishop of California, issues a pastoral letter concerning the fears of parishioners in the San Francisco area regarding the communal cup of wine and the transmission of AIDS. Bishop Swing calls for “pastoral understanding of the ‘cautious person,’” but also states that he “believe[s] in a common meal and everyone coming to the table.” He claims that he wrote the letter because he did not want people in the church to “treat people with AIDS as lepers.” [20]

1986: January Edmond L. Browning of Hawaii is installed as the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Browning is a “strong supporter” of the ordination of women, as well as homosexual rights. [21]

1987: January-December (yearlong controversy) In January, John Shelby Spong, the Episcopal Bishop of the Newark, New Jersey diocese, backed by a report prepared by local clergy and lay people, seeks approval to recognize and bless “nonmarital relationships, including those between homosexuals.” In September, 22 New Jersey Episcopalians file ecclesiastical charges against Bishop Spong that are subsequently dismissed after being investigated by a panel of bishops. Bishop Spong later claims that his support of homosexuals stems from his work in the Civil Rights Movement, argues that the Christian Church’s treatment of homosexuals throughout history is “immoral,” and says that the church must “deal with reality.” “I want the traditional family upheld,” he states, “but I don’t want it upheld to the detriment of other people.” [22]

October In an interim report, Episcopal bishops call for the suspension of “ancient judgments” against homosexuals until the church has made a more thorough study of homosexuality. [23]

1988: January Bishop Oliver D. Garver, Jr., of the Los Angeles diocese refuses to sanction a “one-woman order of nuns,” established by Sister Mary Elizabeth, a transsexual woman who has previously been rejected admittance into six Roman Catholic and two Episcopal orders of nuns due to her sex change. Sister Mary Elizabeth’s vows were officiated by Rev. Robert Boyer, in preparation for the establishment of an order to be known as the Community of St. Elizabeth. She plans to continue in her own order without the Church’s blessing. [24]

February The Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, headed by Bishop Spong, approves a policy that would offer the church’s blessing on homosexual couples, making it the first diocese in the country to do so. The blessing of relationships is not the same thing as gay marriage, which is not dealt with by the policy. [25]

May A manual entitled “Sexuality: A Divine Gift, A Sacramental Approach to Human Sexuality and Family Life,” which was released in September of 1987, draws controversy for condoning homosexuality as well as its “failure to condemn” sex outside of marriage. The manual, which one critic has called “the most controversial document in the history of the Episcopal Church,” was mandated by the church in an attempt to “come to terms with the sexual revolution” that has rendered the church “out of sync.” [26]

July The General Convention passes a resolution “decr[ying] the increase in violence against homosexual persons” urging law enforcement officials “across the land to be sensitive to this peril and to prosecute the perpetrators of these acts to the fullest extent of the law.” The resolution also calls upon Bishops to “repudiate the misconception that the Church encourages such violence and to counter the public declarations of those who claim that AIDS is the punishment of God upon homosexual persons.” The Convention also resolves to spend the next three years—until the next convention—in “open dialogue” about sexuality. [27]

1989 June The Diocese of Newark, New Jersey opens a special ministry, entitled Oasis Ministry, to bring “unchurched and embittered lesbians and gay people” into a church program that accepts their sexual orientation. [28]

December Bishop Spong of Newark, New Jersey ordains the first gay male minister, Rev. J. Robert Williams, in Hoboken, New Jersey. The ordination was attended by three protesters from other denominations, one who was ejected from the service. Bishop Spong draws controversy for his action, which some claim to be in violation of the General Convention of 1979, which Spong claims is only “advisory.” [29]

1990 January Rev. J. Robert Williams, of New Jersey, resigns as executive director of Oasis Ministry amid controversy over his statements against the Church’s position on celibacy and monogamy. Bishop Spong, a gay advocate who ordained Rev. Williams in December of 1989, subsequently requests that Rev. Williams not “function as a priest or…speak publicly” while the diocese investigates him. Rev. Williams vows to continue functioning as a priest saying that it will “take a church trial to make him remove his clerical collar.” [30]

 April A “traditionalist” group of churches within the Episcopal denomination, the Episcopal Synod of America, request to be incorporated into their own province because of their opposition to the Church’s “modern positions like ordination of women and equality for homosexuals.” Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning rejects the request, expressing his “profound” disappointment. [31]

May Anglican Bishop Alexander Muge of Kenya, who had been invited to speak at a San Francisco church, is barred from the pulpit after he makes clear his condemnation of “homosexual activity.” [32]

June Bishop Spong of Newark, New Jersey drops plans to ordain another gay man, Barry Stopfel, at the request of the Presiding Bishop, Edmond L. Browning. [33] 

September Oasis, the Newark diocese’s gay and lesbian ministry, is revived after its first director Rev. J Robert Williams resigned in January. Bishop Spong installs Rev. David L. Norgard, a homosexual who had been ordained in Michigan in 1984, as the new director. [34]

1991 March A church committee issues a report that, after three years of study, recommends that the decision of whether or not to ordain homosexuals be left to the individual diocese. [35]

June The Episcopal Bishop of Washington, Rev. Ronald H. Haines, ordains, Elizabeth L. Carl, a lesbian, in a decision that “surprises” and “upsets” the Presiding Bishop Rev. Edmond L. Browning. [36]

July The General Convention passes a resolution “noticing ‘discontinuity’ between the traditional teachings of the Church and the experience of some of its members.” The body approves a compromise leaving the church’s official stance on homosexual relationships ambiguous until the next convention, three years later. In the meantime, gay ordinations are expected to increase. [37] 

1992 April Newark, New Jersey’s Bishop John S. Spong draws controversy for an article published in the Virginia Quarterly Review in which he calls St. Paul a “self-loathing and repressed gay male.” Spong also attacks the Roman Catholic Church for being “repressive, patriarchal, prejudiced, and hypocritical” with regard to women and homosexuals. [38]

December The Rev. J. Robert Williams, the controversial first director of New Jersey’s Oasis Ministry, dies of an AIDS-related pulmonary infection. [39]

1993 May and July The rift in the Episcopal Church over the ordination of homosexuals continues as gay Washington D.C. Rev. Jim Steen is asked to resign over his homosexuality. Deirdre Good, a lesbian and tenured professor in the Church’s seminary, is also evicted. Despite the ongoing tensions, Integrity, an Episcopal gay rights group, estimates that more than 50 gay priests have been ordained since 1977, more than any other denomination. [40]

1994 June A committee of the Episcopal Church bishops releases a draft statement that asks the church to “uphold an ideal of lifelong faithful unions for both heterosexual and homosexual couples, and treat gay people with hospitality rather than hostility.” The statement does not advocate gay ordinations or the blessing of same-sex relationships. [41]

August At the General Convention, the Standing Commission on Human Affairs concludes that “ironically in this Decade of Evangelism, we seem intent on keeping out one of the few identifiable groups of people who want to be welcomed in [gays and lesbians].” Their “wish list” for 1994 includes “dialogue on human sexuality to continue within the Church, more lesbian and gay members [to] come out of the closet and be recognized as human beings rather than as an issue, members [to] speak out against ‘gay bashing,’ and church members [to] fight local initiatives designed to deprive gays and lesbians of equal civil rights.” A group of 45 bishops sign a statement of protest in regard to the conclusions of the Commission. [42]

1995 February The Episcopal diocese of Washington D.C., following a statement drafted by Newark Bishop Spong, declares that gays and lesbians who live together in monogamous relationships should be “honored.” [43] 

June Rev. John K. Mount, a gay, 85 year old priest in Maryland who has been ordained since 1935, loses his “priestly powers” on Maryland’s Eastern Shore after he blessed two HIV-positive gay men in a “marriage-style ceremony.” Mount dies in July 1996 [44]

1996 July The National Consultation of Episcopalians on Same-Sex Unions, held in Washington D.C., reaches a consensus that “there is no justification for the exclusion of gay/lesbian people from full participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the community.” Their report includes “A Rite for the Celebration of Commitment to a Life Together.” [45]

1997 July Frank T. Griswold of Chicago is elected as Presiding Bishop, the denomination’s top post. A “moderate,” Bishop Griswold is a supporter of the ordination of women, but expresses reticence on gay issues, though he acknowledges that his diocese has ordained “a number” of gay priests. Bishop Griswold later urges the Church to “heal their divisions over homosexuality” which leads to the expectation of an “era of diversity.” [46] 

1998 June Rev. John Croneberger is chosen as the successor of Newark diocese’s Bishop John S. Spong, who plans to retire in 2000. One of the other candidates, Rev. Gene Robinson, who was passed over in the selection processes, would have been the first openly gay bishop. Croneberger, who has a gay son and lesbian daughter and has been active in support groups for parents of gay children, supports the ordination of gay priests. [47]

June Jon Holden-Galluccio and Michael Galluccio, a gay couple whose lawsuit paved the way for other unmarried couples in the state of NJ to adopt children jointly, have their union blessed in an Episcopal ceremony on Father’s Day. [48]

August At the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of about 700 Anglican leaders, the world’s bishops vote to endorse a resolution declaring homosexual activity to be “incompatible with Scripture,” and advise against the ordination of homosexuals. Several American bishops, including Bishop Spong who calls the resolution a sign of “waning Christianity,” rush to reassure gay and lesbian members of their congregations. [49]

1999 June The Episcopal dioceses of Connecticut and Rochester, New York choose new bishops, Rev. Jack McKelvey and Rt. Rev. Andrew Smith, respectively. Once again, Rev. Gene Robinson, a gay priest, was passed over as candidate for the Rochester position. [50]

 

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Notes

1. New York Times 10/31/1962 p10

2. New York Times 08/12/1963 p43

3. New York Times 11/26/1964 p1 and New York Times 05/28/1965, p36

4. New York Times 10/11/1966 p35; Chicago Tribune 10/11/1966 pB11

5. New York Times 11/29/1967 p1; Chicago Tribune 11/29/1967 pD7

6. www.integrityusa.org/history/founding.htm

7. Chicago Tribune 08/02/1975 pC11

8. Resolutions A-69 and A-71; New York Times 01/11/1977 p34

9. New York Times 01/11/1977, p34; see also: New York Times 01/16/1977 p148; Washington Post 04/01/1979 pE1; New York Times 08/16/1979 pC16; New York Times 06/02/1984 pA14

10. Washington Post 02/04/1977 pB14; Chicago Tribune 05/17/1977 pD11

11. Washington Post 08/12/1977 pC6

12. Washington Post 10/04/1977 pA3; New York Times 10/04/1977 p18; see also New York Times 10/19/1977 pB3

13. New York Times 12/04/1977 p59

14. New York Times 06/04/1979 pA1; Chicago Tribune 06/04/1979 p2; Washington Post 06/04/1979 pA7

15. New York Times 09/09/1979 pE6; New York Times 09/14/1979 pA13; New York Times 09/18/1979 p20; New York Times 09/19/1979 pA16; Chicago Tribune 09/19/1979 p11; Washington Post 09/18/1979 pA5; Washington Post 09/19/1979 pA1

16. Chicago Tribune 05/02/1981 pS6; Chicago Tribune 05/07/1981 p11

17. Resolution B-6 1A

18. New York Times 07/02/1984 pA14

19. New York Times 09/14/1985 p7; Chicago Tribune 09/15/1985 p10

20. New York Times 09/13/1985 pB3

21. New York Times 01/12/1986 p1

22. New York Times 01/30/1987 pB3; Washington Post 01/31/1987 pG12; New York Times 02/01/1987 p35; Washington Post 09/26/1987 pG1; New York Times 10/03/1987 p31; Washington Post 10/10/1987 pC10; New York Times 12/28/1987 pB1

23. Washington Post 10/10/1987 pC10

24. Washington Post 01/16/1988 pC10

25. New York Times 02/01/1988 pB3; Washington Post 02/06/1988 p G12

26. Washington Post 05/29/1988 pA4; Washington Post 06/12/1988 21

27. Washington Post 07/09/1988 pD11; New York Times 07/11/1988 pA13

28. New York Times 06/21/1989 pB1; New York Times 07/03/1989 p18; New York Times 12/10/1989 pA1

29. New York Times 12/17/1989 p54; Chicago Tribune 12/17/1989 p20; Washington Post 12/23/1989 pC11; Washington Post 01/06/1990 pD13

30. New York Times 01/29/1990 pB3; Washington Post 02/10/1990 pG14; New York Times 02/12/1990 pB1

31. New York Times 05/19/1990 p8

32. Washington Post 05/26/1990 pD1

33. New York Times 06/30/1990 p7

34. New York Times 09/30/1990 p30

35. New York Times 03/01/1991 pA20

36. New York Times 06/06/1991 pA1; Washington Post 06/06/1991 p1

37. New York Times 07/16/1991 pA16; New York Times 07/20/1991 p8; Washington Post 09/28/1991 pB8

38. New York Times 04/01/1992 pB6

39. New York Times 12/28/1992 pD9

40. Washington Post 05/29/1993 pF1; 07/25/1993 p31

41. New York Times 06/26/1994 p19; Washington Post 06/25/1994 pC8

42. New York Times 08/25/1994 pA13; Chicago Tribune 08/25/1994 p4; New York Times 08/27/1994 p9

43. Chicago Tribune 02/03/1995 p9

44. Washington Post 06/11/1995 pB3; Washington Post 07/02/1996 pB5 Obituaries

45. www.oasiscalifornia.org/1996_Introduction.html

46. New York Times 07/22/1997 pA10; Chicago Tribune 01/11/1998, p8

47. New York Times 06/07/1998 p29; New York Times 11/21/1998 pB2

48. New York Times 06/22/1998 pB5

49. Chicago Tribune 08/06/1998 p6; New York Times 08/06/1998 pA1; pA18; New York Times 08/09/1998 pWK5; New York Times 08/13/1998; pA1; Chicago Tribune 08/14/1998 p10; New York Times 08/18/1998 pA18; New York Times 09/12/1998 pD12; Chicago Tribune 03/19/1999 p8; Chicago Tribune 03/26/1999 p10; see also: www.lambeth conference.org/resolutions/1998 and www.mindspring.com/~bcglm1/lambeth-resolution.html]

50. New York Times 06/20/1999 p34