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

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Episcopal Church USA

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.” [NYT 10/31/1962 p10]

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. [NYT 08/12/1963 p43]

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. [NYT 11/26/1964 p1 and NYT 05/28/1965, p36]

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.” [NYT 10/11/1966 p35; CT 10/11/1966 pB11]

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. [NYT 11/29/1967 p1; CT 11/29/1967 pD7]

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. []

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. [CT 08/02/1975 pC11]

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. [Resolutions A-69 and A-71; NYT 01/11/1977 p34]

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.” [NYT 01/11/1977, p34; see also: NYT 01/16/1977 p148; WP 04/01/1979 pE1; NYT 08/16/1979 pC16; NYT 06/02/1984 pA14]

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.” [WP 02/04/1977 pB14; CT 05/17/1977 pD11]

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.” [WP 08/12/1977 pC6]

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. [WP 10/04/1977 pA3; NYT 10/04/1977 p18; see also NYT 10/19/1977 pB3]

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.” [NYT 12/04/1977 p59]

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. [NYT 06/04/1979 pA1; CT 06/04/1979 p2; WP 06/04/1979 pA7]

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. [NYT 09/09/1979 pE6; NYT 09/14/1979 pA13; NYT 09/18/1979 p20; NYT 09/19/1979 pA16; CT 09/19/1979 p11; WP 09/18/1979 pA5; WP 09/19/1979 pA1]

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. [CT 05/02/1981 pS6; CT 05/07/1981 p11]

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.” [Resolution B-6 1A]

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.” [NYT 07/02/1984 pA14]

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. [NYT 09/14/1985 p7; CT 09/15/1985 p10]

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.” [NYT 09/13/1985 pB3]

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. [NYT 01/12/1986 p1]

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.” [NYT 01/30/1987 pB3; WP 01/31/1987 pG12; NYT 02/01/1987 p35; WP 09/26/1987 pG1; NYT 10/03/1987 p31; WP 10/10/1987 pC10; NYT 12/28/1987 pB1]

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. [WP 10/10/1987 pC10]

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. [WP 01/16/1988 pC10]

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. [NYT 02/01/1988 pB3; WP 02/06/1988 p G12]

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.” [WP 05/29/1988 pA4; WP 06/12/1988 21]

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. [WP 07/09/1988 pD11; NYT 07/11/1988 pA13]

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. [NYT 06/21/1989 pB1; NYT 07/03/1989 p18; NYT 12/10/1989 pA1]

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.” [NYT 12/17/1989 p54; CT 12/17/1989 p20; WP 12/23/1989 pC11; WP 01/06/1990 pD13]

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.” [NYT 01/29/1990 pB3; WP 02/10/1990 pG14; NYT 02/12/1990 pB1]

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. [NYT 05/19/1990 p8]

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.” [WP 05/26/1990 pD1]

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. [NYT 06/30/1990 p7]

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. [NYT 09/30/1990 p30]

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. [NYT 03/01/1991 pA20]

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. [NYT 06/06/1991 pA1; WP 06/06/1991 p1]

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. [NYT 07/16/1991 pA16; NYT 07/20/1991 p8; WP 09/28/1991 pB8]



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. [NYT 04/01/1992 pB6]

December The Rev. J. Robert Williams, the controversial first director of New Jersey’s Oasis Ministry, dies of an AIDS-related pulmonary infection. [NYT 12/28/1992 pD9]

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. [WP 05/29/1993 pF1; 07/25/1993 p31]

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. [NYT 06/26/1994 p19; WP 06/25/1994 pC8]

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. [NYT 08/25/1994 pA13; CT 08/25/1994 p4; NYT 08/27/1994 p9]

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.” [CT 02/03/1995 p9]

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 [WP 06/11/1995 pB3; WP 07/02/1996 pB5 Obituaries]

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.” []

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.” [NYT 07/22/1997 pA10; CT 01/11/1998, p8]

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. [NYT 06/07/1998 p29; NYT 11/21/1998 pB2]

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. [NYT 06/22/1998 pB5]

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. [CT 08/06/1998 p6; NYT 08/06/1998 pA1; pA18; NYT 08/09/1998 pWK5; NYT 08/13/1998; pA1; CT 08/14/1998 p10; NYT 08/18/1998 pA18; NYT 09/12/1998 pD12; CT 03/19/1999 p8; CT 03/26/1999 p10; see also: www.lambeth and]

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. [NYT 06/20/1999 p34]