March 5, 2008

Feet of Clay

Bishop Sisk’s letter to the Diocese of New York, in the wake of Honor Moore’s book about her father, has generated a lot of comment in the diocese and the blogosphere. Some seem to think the primary concern was Bishop Moore’s sexuality, and I guess for the wider public interested in such things that will be the titillating revelation.

But Bishop Sisk’s primary concern was certainly not Paul’s sexuality, nor his infidelity, but much more importantly, his misconduct, described in the fifth paragraph of Bishop Sisk’s letter. The misconduct complaints were reported to the PB, and dealt with “quietly” but dealt with, over a decade before the present bishop took up his office. I know this because, although I did not know the nature of the charges, it was easy to see at the time that “something” had happened, for Bishop Moore was a member of my parish, and the scuttlebutt was that he was under some kind of discipline.

In retrospect (which is always 20/20) it would have been better for all if the matter had become public, and Bishop Moore openly sentenced, either to suspension or deposition. This would have been very painful, but it would have lanced the wound. We’ve learned a lot in the last twenty years. But people should realize how very much Paul Moore himself was responsible for imbuing a culture of evasion and concealment in the church. While he led the Diocese admirably, it could not help but reflect his own conflicted life over his long service. The mark such leaders leave upon the institutions they serve will not always be discernible but by succeeding generations.

As it is, though, Paul is dead and whatever sentence a higher tribunal will make, in the earthly arena only his memory suffers. Those who hated him in life will feel vindicated; those who admired him will feel to some extent embarrassed or pained, and some of them have directed their anger at Honor Moore or Bishop Sisk.

But Paul himself is not subject to pain inflicted post mortem. Honor Moore might be held up for criticism for telling tales she knows full well her father did not wish to have exposed. But the anger against Bishop Sisk — and the extent to which that anger distorts perceptions of what he actually wrote — seems to me to be entirely misplaced.

This is difficult for all of us. It is perhaps most difficult for those who have canonized Paul Moore in their memories. I knew and admired Paul Moore in several different contexts: as my Bishop, as Visitor to my community, and as a fellow parishioner. I also know how, in spite of his moving the issue forward, he nuanced his support of gay and lesbian people, and distanced himself with distinctions about “orientation” and “practice” when the House of Bishops came down on him. If you want to see a poignant exercise in Paul’s inability to face his own and others’ realities, and what he knew or didn’t know, read his address to the House of Bishops. He did not want to know of others that which he didn’t want known of himself. He helped us to move forward incrementally; but I wonder how much more he might have done so, had he chosen either the hard task of self-discipline, or the even harder task of self-knowledge and revelation.

For I am very weary of those who blame society for Paul’s double life in the closet, and even more those who blame the closet for his misconduct. He wasn’t “forced” — he made choices, choices which affected others than himself.

Hard as it may be for some to believe, there are celibate gay and lesbian people — some in the closet and some out. There are gay and lesbian people who marry persons of the opposite sex and who remain faithful to them — though this is a painful course I would not urge anyone to follow. There are gay and lesbian persons who remain faithful to their partners, again, some in the closet and some not.

Paul Moore was unable to follow through on his choice; he benefitted from the superficial protection it offered him. Had he been fully honest about himself, he would likely never have been a priest, certainly not a bishop — unless he chose the path of celibacy, or the virtual celibacy of the closet-with-benefits favored in his day in Anglo-Catholic circles, and still urged by some as a way to have avoided the present tensions in the Anglican Communion.

Paul Moore was a man admired by many, including myself. He is a reminder to us that not all great men are good and not all good men are great. Paul Moore did not just have feet of clay. He was, in fact, almost entirely clay -- as are we all. He was inbreathed by God, yet lived a fallible life. He is now dead. He will rise again. Christ died for Paul’s sins as he did for yours and mine, and at the judgment he will stand as we will, acquitted solely because the judge is also our only mediator and advocate.

Tobias Haller BSG

When 5'3" meets 6'5" — Tobias and Paul after a 1983 liturgy


bls said...

A good post. I, too, am tired of hearing about "the closet" being to blame; that's really just not good enough.

There are literally millions of gay people who have been closeted and yet haven't abused their positions of trust. At some point, it's time to take responsibility for one's actions.

Bill Carroll said...

Thank you for this, Tobias. As I've said elsewhere, I think this was a very clear, pastorally sensitive, and entirely necessary statement of where the boundaries lie. The closet is certainly an occasion of sin, and those who try to enforce it on others certainly have guilt. But none of that can absolve Christians of their responsibility for basic truthfulness. As James Alison has said, no one can speak for the closet, because once you speak you're not in it. I feel for closeted persons as victims of violence, but I do not deny their responsibility for keeping vows. To do this is a further assault upon their agency and personhood.

Much of the reaction to Mark's letter seems to be pure reactivity (in Friedman's sense). So quickly, rather than listening to what he said and why, people attack him. Christian leaders are called to exercise responsible judgment.

Anonymous said...

This post is excellent. Thank you for this considerate perspective.

Anonymous said...

i agree with bls's distaste for those who have said that the closet is to blame for Moore's infidelity and misconduct.

but i would add that even if it were to blame, the closet in turn was something he chose. the closet is not imposed, it is accepted. we are in the closet only and always because we choose to be. no force in heaven or on earth can compel our dishonesty.

Allen said...

Very good points, Tobias. Aren't you a little off in your chronology. Paul was Bishop of New York until 1989 and whatever discipline he was under came after that. So it was at most 12 years before Mark Sisk became diocesan, and, I think, more like 10 years, not the almost 20 you mention.

W said...

Tobias, Thomas,

I would ask, are you absolutely sure that society cannot compel one to be dishonest with oneself?

In the Biblical era, slavery was unquestioned. It was only later that we came to realize it was evil. But, no one ever questioned that it was allowable. Even Jesus did not forbid slavery.

I'm not advocating that we absolve people of responsibility. Slavery is wrong. But, how would the Biblical era Jews and Romans have known otherwise?

Similarly, Paul did not know.

I'd disagree with Thomas, especially, that the closet is accepted, and not imposed. It is imposed. There are those who break free of it. But to say that it is chosen may be absolving society of abusing LGBT folks.

That having said, I've stated on my blog that Paul clearly broke his marriage vows, and may have behaved abusively, as Mark says. He should have known, particularly since the Church of his era was starting - slowly and painfully - to come out to itself.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

I have no knowledge of Bp. Moore from life, but, as Shakespeare put it:

"The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones."

Anonymous said...

I believe it's unfair to judge the Closet of 1958, by the standards of 2008.

Similarly, to talk about "freedom" and "choice" in 2008, acting AS IF there were similar freedoms and choices to be had in decades past, is similarly UNFAIR.

I believe that +Mark Sisk passed judgment on Paul Moore, having never---having never even IMAGINED---"walking a mile in his moccasins." :-(

All that said: completely agree with you, Tobias, re

it would have been better for all if the matter had become public, and Bishop Moore openly sentenced, either to suspension or deposition. This would have been very painful, but it would have lanced the wound.

THAT is the real lesson here, IMO.

Bill Carroll said...

Like all sin, including other forms of untruthfulness, the closet is freely chosen but once one is there one finds oneself less free. God's grace can set us free, but the process is often painful and costly. But then again so is all personal growth and all genuine ministry.

I've told would be lgbt postulants that I would not support them unless they were honest with everyone in the process, because once they so much as shade the truth, they have done damage to their own soul and their future ministry. Fortunately, those I've dealt with have been quite open and quite willing to be open with others.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Allen. I was never good at math! I will correct the post, which may render you comment "strange" to readers, but which, I hope, this message will explain.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I fear in introducing the "closet" question I may have confused issues here. Let me clarify a few things.

Although I think life in the closet comes with a cost to one's own dignity and freedom, it is not immoral in itself.

There are also situations and cultures in which the choice to be out, as opposed to the closet, is very difficult to make. My suggestion in the present case is that a man like Paul Moore, with the resources available to him, could have chosen a life in the Greenwich Village vie de bohême rather than in the church. Such a man could have become a tall, eccentric, fop. There were forums for a relatively "out" gay or lesbian life in NYC and other places even as early as that. Dare I point out such figures as Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman, who made even bolder choices in far more restrictive times? My point is only that while I acknowledge the reality of societal pressure, I also believe strongly enough in the dignity of human freedom to make choices even in difficult circumstances and at sometimes high price.

Finally, many who choose the closet are able to contain themselves within it and act within recognizable moral constraints of fidelity or celibacy. I know of two bishops, both of Paul's vintage, who managed to maintain long-term relationships with their partners while preserving at least the appearance of propriety (according to the homophobic standards and pervasive atmosphere of "as long as we don't 'know'" of the time.) This was certainly possible in certain Anglo-Catholic circles. Paul probably had internalized too much of the cultural homophobia to have that capacity. So yes, to that extent, he was pressured; but he was too strong a person for me to say he had "no choice" in the matter. I think Honor Moore's article bears this out -- it is a poignant story of a strong man with a weak spot.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

JCF, I think my response to Weiwen answers some of your thoughts on this. Many others did wear those moccasins, and yet made other choices than Paul did. And remember, the issue is the misconduct, not the closet.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Bill. Bishop Grein instituted the same policy, in a marked departure from Bishop Moore. This was one of the reasons for my own choice to delay entry into the ordination process -- I did not want to be part of a "don't ask / don't tell" regime. That also was a choice, but I think the need for authenticity is such that, as you say, a need to live duplicitously robs one of the freedom to be unharmed by calumny. The armory of God includes truth as well as good news.

Frank D. Myers said...

Thank you for the clarifications. But I continue to fear we're judging decisions and actions of a half century ago, attributed to a man we cannot know, as if 2008 existed then. That's entertaining to do and a convenient platform for a degree of self-righteousness but for the most part irrelevant. Nor can we go back and help Bishop Moore undo what he did --- only learn from his life and try to do better. Fortunately none of us are required to judge the bishop and there's a good deal of grace involved in that fact.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

You summarize what I was trying to get at, and what I think Bishop Sisk was trying to do as well -- essentially to say that this was a sad turn of events which was addressed at the time. The only reason it is coming up now is due to Honor Moore's "exhumation" of things that Paul really did want to keep to himself: surely one of the most poignant things about her book is the fact that this was an aspect of her father she never really knew -- and that this book is in large part a result of her own need to reclaim her father in the totality of his life she was never able to share -- and more importantly he was never able to share, while he lived.

Ann said...

I don't believe any of us are completely honest about our pasts -- most of all in the ordination process. There are things in our youth and before becoming Christians that are over and nobody's business - even one's bishop (or even more so one's bishop - who has incredible power over clergy).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

A helpful comment. I think there is a difference between honesty -- particularly being honest with yourself -- and privacy, and publicity. After all, the old doctrine of absolution was that once a sin was forgiven it was no more. But it was confessed first. So the issue is complex, and as in the AA step (I don't remember which one) there is a real value in being open about one's past faults even if it is only to the one wronged, or to one pastor. This need not happen in the ordination process, of course; although when I was going through it I did try to be as open about my past failings as much as I could, because I know those failings also helped to make me what I am.

I think as Honor's testimony indicates, Paul was never at ease enough about his own ambiguities, in his past and his present, to share them even with his daughter. Perhaps it was "Andrew" who was his true "confessor" in this regard -- which explains some of Honor's apparent hunger for talking with him, and some resentment against him for having known a part of her father she never had access to.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tobias. I think +Sisk did the needful thing.

Moore put himself at risk by failing to acknowledge to himself the full implications of a deeply closeted and divided life, particularly for a leader or caretaker. Such men are not accessing the people or the lore of the gay community, and their main chance of meeting people is through their job - for a weaker man this is a temptation to get overly attached to those he counsels, and to cross the line sooner or later.

Was it at all "done" for clergy to consult psychologists or other secular professional counsellors in those days? Not that the average practitioner was very competent to deal with gay issues in general (being told you are "that way" due to something your parents did is hardly a recipe for solving behavioral issues).

I think the closet, personal and societal, can be to blame for a person's inability to see and deal clearly with the issue. And I think that high office, or any office of healing, often betrays the holder by making it even harder to admit to something that deeply shames the person.

Every one of us has blind spots, delusions, bad judgement, and so on, all adding up to repetitive sin and failure to learn better - and failure to let oneself be forgiven and move towards a resolution rather than repeating the same old mistakes.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate this thoughtful analysis, Tobias, and the comments by several other refined gentlemen of the cloth reflecting their sound and well-worked ethical positions. Though I have posted elsewhere about my reservations re Bishop Sisk's letter, I also find your position persuasive. I don't mind being of two (or more) minds about a situation this complicated and distressing.

As I continue to reflect on the 'Atlantic' excerpt and the blog reports I've read, the issue that looms large for me is that of psychological/ spiritual inflation. Honor Moore writes in moving detail about the overpowering effect on her, as a little girl, of seeing her father in his black clerical robes in the seminary chapel, and later watching him robe in the vestry and serve at the altar rail in the parish church, and still later feeling the impact of his preaching and his presence in the pulpit at the Cathedral. Paul Moore was a big man with a large personality and substantial talents and resources at his disposal. It looks as though his charisma was matched by his narcissism. While I don't underrate the value of his ministry or doubt the genuineness of his calling to the priesthood, it's also clear that he felt the need to live extra large and found himself in a position to do exactly that, and it came out in his sexual life (even the marital part -- nine children?!?). This is the kind of bargain a lot of successful men make with themselves, men whose gifts lie more in the public than in the private realm. In religious settings it can be especially deadly because the priest too easily carries the projection of the divine image (Father or Son). So many instances of clergy sexually transgressing the limits of the pastoral relationship have this basis. It’s less about sex, in other words, than about a priest nourishing himself on the adoration of a parishioner, feeding an idealized, narcissistic self-image. The effect on the other party can be spiritually catastrophic; in addition, the priest (having tasted this ambrosia) has less and less to offer in his ‘real’ relationships where he is on an equal footing with his spouse, or has to be an ordinary dad to his children.

In Honor's account you get a sense of the hothouse atmosphere of the seminary and parish of that time which added to the mystification she felt (and which he also must have been caught up in). She is also clear that part of her sense of remoteness from her father came from the realization that only males could ever hope to enter into the charmed circle of holiness he occupied. Today at least in most parts of TEC we have enough women clergy that ‘holiness’ is no longer gendered in that way. But in all idealistic professions the danger of inflation/ identification with the ideal coupled with narcissistic exploitation is always going to be around, requiring vigilance on everyone’s part and the kind of honesty that has been discussed by commenters on this thread. Perhaps Honor's book will in the end have more relevance to this issue than to the question of gay relationships or the effects of the closet.

Oh, and that photograph. Well, Tobias, I’m sure you posted it with genuinely mixed feelings. For my part, despite my affection and respect for the Paul Moore I knew long ago, I took one look at it and thought, “Hey! Get your hands off our friend Tobias, you dirty old man!”

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller and Carroll,

I agree with your overall assessment, but as others have said here, I don't think the "closet" is a singular reality. Often "coming out" is not a presto-chango reality, something which Alison's own suggestion quotes here reads though he would eschew such an evangelical approach if pressed. I have found that "coming out" is what seems a never ending process of being truthful in new situations. And yes, there have been a few situations where I keep my pearls to myself while not lying. There are situations that are life threatening and frankly at the same time not worth dying over. I don't judge others harshly for remaining closeted, nor of making decisions within that (un)reality that I would not choose, but can understand, such as remaining celibate or on the "downlow" in a committed relationship--though that too can have a terrible price, having been there personally as the spouse of such a one.

Most of what has been said here strikes me as if we have not ourselves been caught in the closet and its being opened. It's affected all of us, and it is by all of us that it has changed at all, so high horses won't do. I hope we're learning that as well.

What is important is our promises, and it is here I am troubled by Bp. Moore's behavior. He promised fidelity to his wife and pastoral care for those whom he would lead. Both were broken.

I do think we need to examine not only the sins of individuals but the reality that the closet is an occassion for sin--more than acts, rather a force of alienation, and an expression of alienation, not only for non-heterosexuals but for heterosexuals. The closet harms all of us. It affects all of us, and the only way it changes is our changing how we respond in light of its presence. And I don't use the term "presence" lightly.

I do think though that your assessment of human freedom is perhaps overly generous. We can recognize the import of human dignity and the possibility of making choices and yet recognize that our choices are not always completely free. The difference between sins and Sin comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

Many others did wear those moccasins, and yet made other choices than Paul did.

I'm sure they did---but I would rather uplift our saints, than haul down our sinners.

[Yes-yes-yes: Honor Moore's decision to pubish and all that. I'm speaking generally---and genuinely: we NEED to hear more about our LGBT saints, who triumphed over impossibly-stacked decks against them]

Anonymous said...

Small correction to my post of last night: of course I meant to refer to the excerpt from Honor Moore's book that was published in The New Yorker. Like many others, I was simultaneously reading the piece by Eliza Griswold in The Atlantic about religion in Nigeria, which highlighted the shocking remarks of Abp Akinola which you've addressed on another post.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks to all for the additional helpful comments.

I was thinking this morning that the issue of the closet --- and why I am reluctant to think that people have absolutely no choice in the matter --- relates to the Baptismal Covenant and the concept of the dignity of every human being. I certainly realize, as Christopher points out, that this is not a black and white situation, and that the societal pressure is a part of the equation, sometimes a very important part. And I do not, please note with care, condemn anyone for choosing to live in the closet if they feel forced to do so, even though that choice comes with its own costs. Not all will have the courage to confront the forces that oppose them --- not all are called to martyrdom, if that is what might result.

Louie Crew as rather famously said that he would never out anyone, but that he also would not defend anyone who used the closet as a sniper's nest --- referring to closeted people taking a public anti-gay stance (wide or not!). I think the similar observation in the present case is that the closet must not be used as a cloak for abuse. I do not accept the suggestion some have made at the closet itself is the source of the abuse. Many closeted people live perfectly moral lives. I wish they could feel able to be liberated, and I understand that there are some circumstances in which they will not feel it to be possible. But my very strong sense remains not only that the continuation of living the closeted life exacerbates and perpetuates the problem not only for the individual but for the society; but that stepping out of the closet, difficult as it might appear, is not always as costly as people imagine it will be.

Anonymous said...

Weiwen Ng raises some good questions about my assertion that the closet is always self-chosen and cannot be imposed.

I should add that my assertion is based upon some pretty serious reflection about just the realities he names. But to start with:

Yes, there were people in antiquity who questioned the morality of slavery. I am convinced as well that those who supported the institution were morally wrong in doing so. "Everybody does it" is no excuse. See a graduate paper I wrote on this very question.

To say that the closet is imposed misses the dynamic I was raising. The costs of leaving the closet can be extreme. But I reject the easy move people make from "the costs of doing X are high" to "X is impossible." It is possible to be a pacifist in a society where pacifists are shot. It is possible to stand up for justice in a society which jails those who do so. It requires courage--perhaps more courage than I have--but what is lacking is my courage, not the ability. And the way to avoid courageous action is always to protest that the action is actually impossible.

The closet exerts tremendous force, and you are right that only some break free. But the irony is that the only force it has is self-imposed. It has force only because one chooses to allow (for example) a position of power and importance to have precedence over honesty and dignity. Many people make that choice, but make no mistake: it is a choice.

I once knew a young gay asian man who insisted that "in his culture" it was not possible to come out. Of course that was utter hogwash, as the plenty of out gay people in is culture can testify. I'm glad to say that finally he did become honest with his family, and discovered quite to his (happy) surprise, that he was quite wrong about his culture.

Now I do agree with Tobias that there is nothing immoral in itself about the closet. But that does not mean that anything done in the area of closet-maintenance is therefore morally acceptable. Lying, whether directly or merely constructively, is morally wrong, and lying about ones most important relationships to other most important relations (for example, lying about the gender or existence of one's spouse in talking to close parents) is a moral fault.

The closet in itself may be morally neutral, but many of the things done--even taken in stride by some--to maintain a closet door, are nowhere near morally neutral.

Erika Baker said...

I have read all the comments on this thread now and, on the whole, I tend to agree with Tobias.

But it does worry me that Bill Carroll writes he would never have accepted someone for ordination who was not open about his lgbt status, and that Tobias appears to agree with this.

There are many dioceses, even now, who will not accept even lay people who are openly out and living in partnered relationships.

For many people like Paul Moore the choice is to be a priest according to God's calling or, as Tobias suggests, opt for a Greenwich Village vie de bohême. Hardly a comparable option.

I don't respect some of the choices he has apparently made, although I would never judge them not having been in that position myself.

But I know that I have had to give up all the church involvement I loved when I came out and started to live openly with my partner. As a lay person that was comparatively easy, although still one of the most painful things I had to do in my life.

I would never expect someone who feels genuinely called to the priesthood to take the same risk.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


Thanks as always for the cogent thoughts. I suppose there is a permeable boundary Or range of options between "the closet" and mere "privacy." Part of my concern is that people do have a right to some privacy in their lives, which need not require duplicity.

I suppose I am also looking towards the future age in which such questions would not arise; and I try to model that at present -- that is, not being militant about my sexuality but not being covert about it either. I get the sense we are slowly moving out a period in which militancy was absolutely called for; although we are not out of it yet, and I still wish more of our gay and lesbian clergy, especially bishops --- and they know who they are --- had the courage to step out of their closets in a graceful way. The closet breeds more closets -- an ironic phenomenon if ever there was one.


Thank you for your gracious words. I think what Bill and I were getting at is that this is a kind of self-regulating mechanism: bishops who believe in clergy being out will want clergy to be out. Although I made the choice not to enter the process while my diocese ran a "don't ask/don't tell" model, I cannot fault those who did enter the process with that understanding. It is not for me to judge them for doing something I could not do in good conscience. in addition, that policy ended almost 20 years ago, with Paul Moore's retirement; and things have changed a good deal since then. The same is true for laypeople --- and I would hate to think that anyone would have to choose between the church and their beloved; but I know this happens, and it is the church's loss.

I so long for the day when these matters will be as embarrassing to us as the slave galleries in many an Episcopal parish became in succeeding generations.

Christopher said...

I'm simply not so sure that the closet is morally neutral. Maintenance of the closet not merely as persons, but as societies requires various types of violence both overt and covert, nor do I think looking at the closet in such terms as "morally neutral" is really the best way to understand its tendency to distort, and that is precisely its tendency, and not only our distortion of relations with others, but with our self, and even with God. Terminology like "morally neutral" does not seem to fit the experiences the maintenance of the closet requires.

The closet distorts reality on multiple levels for all of us, non-heterosexual and heterosexual alike. Our present undergoing of the slow collapse of the closet is perhaps indicative of how painful it is personally and communally to unhinge our understanding of Sin from its having been borne upon the shoulders of what had been understood to be merely specific acts. Essentially, we are being asked to make a separation between Sin and what had been understood to epitomize Sin/idolatry, namely homosexual acts, where formerly the two were conflated as to be synomymous. That's something all of us are undergoing irrespective of our orientation.

A morally neutral reality needn't distort. It is quite one thing to choose celibacy out of joyous response to God in service to the community. It is quite another thing to choose celibacy because of the multiple ways the closet influences through external and internal pressures (remember we are born into these distortions and they shape us before ourselves), so that survival and subjection to death might make necessary in one's mind that celibacy is the only option. I understand quite well the second choice, having made it my own in considering a monastic vocation. It was not morally neutral and tended to "leak" in ways that affected others and my own personal boundaries both in how I was with others and how others were with me.

Already, distortion has crept in before ourselves and leaves us less than free to make a godward decision. Hence, I read here again an overly generous assessment of our human condition in our own and others' freedom of will, an assessment that allows us to too quickly line out the authentic path without recognizing how we too have at one time or another fallen to the distortions of the closet or find ourselves caught in the throes of its collapse.

That in nowise means I condone Bp. Moore's behavior, but I think this tendency to distort inherent in the closet does, as any solid systems theory would suggest, help us better understand the acting out of Bp. Moore. It also helps us to better understand Sin, and the human condition, and grace.

This is all to say that to "come out" is not something of our mere selves that we are able to do merely by our own free volition, but is in my experience something of a gift, a gift that in my life was given to me first by God in Christ in contemplative prayer and then by a few close friends who loved me out and then by living in a social reality that although hostile in many aspects is and has changed enough so that in some places there is a space simply to be human. That was not the case when I was a teenager in Wyoming, nor even at community college in rural Oregon, nor was that the case for those in my life. Enough changed so that I and they were able to face reality. Such courage is never first our own but God's gift to us.

As I said before, the closet has a presence or possessive quality, if you will, and recognizing its power to distort, I would hope, would temper overly generous assessments of our freedom--which suggests that our own prior shaping has been only godward when it has not been, and to focus on how horribly others have acted out without recognizing how our own pasts are likely not without effects from such distortion.

Such a recognition leads me away from a presto-chango understanding to a lifelong conversion understanding as Christ's light breaks into the labrythine depths where Sin has distorted my self, which the closet, is for me a representative of that distortion.

Because of this recognition of my own having been and likely still caught up in the closet, I can lament for Bp. Moore and with those whom he harmed.

Anonymous said...

Haven't read Ms Moore's book or interveiw but do you suppose this was a revenge piece for being named Honor? Anyone else see the irony in how she treats her parents?

Erika Baker said...

What worries me, Tobias, is that while many diocese have become more open in the last 20 years, others have responded to the increasinglgy hostile debate by becoming increasingly rigid.
Don't ask don't tell has often been replaced by "we will ask and if you're open you're out". And that applies to celibates as much as partnered people.

Here in England we had a high profile case only recently where a bishop refused to employ a celibate youth worker simply because he did not believe that he would remain celibate. The diocese lost the employment tribunal, but it is clear what kind of messages this sent out to any would be ordinands.

Another outspoken bishop blamed the summer flooding on our corrupt society including the homosexuals. I don't think clergy in his diocese are likely to be open about their sexuality.

As the contact person for our diocesan Changing Attitude group I have heard appalling stories. Only recently a young woman told me she had been stalked by a stranger and her church told her it was God's sign that she should "go straight". A man who walked into a Christening listening centre after his male partner died in a car crash was given a lecture about his sinful lifestyle. And a woman training to be a street pastor was shown a video with real life situations she might come across. At the sight of a civil partnership ceremony she clenched her fists and said she'd like to smash these people's effing faces in... she's now out there evangelising for Jesus.

While these attitudes continue and remain so strong, I can understand anyone who doesn't know how to respond. Is this particular bishop gay friendly? To what extent are local priests and congregations supportive? What level of abuse happens? Who tolerates it? How much do those in positions of authority know? To what extent do their lesser homophobic attidues give the extremists the feeling that they can safely discrimminate and hate?

Unless someone truly understands all the insides of a diocese he/she is almost recklessly brave if they are open about who they are.

The question is - if they feel genuinely called by God, and if the church confirms this calling, should they be open and risk notn following their vocation, or should they chose the closet hoping they will eventually be able to leave it again?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Christopher and Erika, it is between your two posts that I find myself being ambiguous -- that is, unwilling to declare the closet to be always and in all circumstances bad. This has to be a matter of personal choice -- and I think it quite evident that not all people choose, or have the strength of will to choose, to be out of the closet in an oppressive environment, either as lay persons or clergy. I also recognize, as I said, the extent to which the lack of martyrs (in the true sense of witnesses) and pioneers perpetuates the closet for yet another generation.

What I am saying -- and I say it in connection with my sense that every person is unique, although they may share common environments -- is that each will need to search his or her heart and make the decision that they believe is best for them. As I also said, there is a difference between a duplicitous closet and a robust decision to keep ones counsel and privacy intact. I suppose, in this case (unlike the one in the other post) this is a time when "no comment" is perhaps acceptable. Whether that comes out of weakness ("O Lord, they've guessed, what am I going to do?!?") or security in oneself ("This is really none of your business.") will depend on the individual.

Much of this, of course, relates to the whole social construction of same-sexuality, and the extent to which society manages its own dis-ease to the point of acceptance in some acceptable social construct. In the main, and this is where my optimism kicks in, we are in a time of transition, which is why the questions arise. There are places now where the closet is no longer expected by the society, as that society has come to a place of acceptance, at least of certain constructs. In others, the closet will still remain for a time as the "socially acceptable" accommodation: that is where I think most Western societies are now, which is to say, still clinging to models of social acceptability from the middle of the last century. This is where the language of privacy is articulated: "why do they have to flaunt it?" and the language of "Uncle Jim's roommate" -- and even as these phrases come to be seen as more and more quaint, we see indications of the change. I take heart that the large Middle has now come rather clearly to reject the rabid bigotry of the far right; though they are note yet at a place of affirmation, they reject condemnation in those terms.

So what I advise is helping society move to a place where the social construct can be seen as acceptable, because it is Good and True. This is one of the strategies behind using terms like "marriage equality" rather than "supporting same-sex marriage." It shifts the discussion to the truly moral issue and away from the merely sexual.

Well, I could go on, but I think the two of you have articulated very well where we are at present. The task is to move forward in helping to reframe the societies within which we live -- and that may mean the civil society before the church, as, sadly, it so often is with moral issues.

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

You wrote:

In others, the closet will still remain for a time as the "socially acceptable" accommodation: that is where I think most Western societies are now, which is to say, still clinging to models of social acceptability from the middle of the last century.

Actually, I don't think that is completely true if my experience of Germany and Canada is any indication. Sure this attitude still exists among parts of the population in many Western societies, but it is not the only nor necessarily the dominant attitude. When my partner and I can go down to the local register in a village of 4000 persons and with family and friends celebrate our union, that's a huge shift.

I think two things. The U.S. is a special case, more religious and in my experience more overtly set in a hostile framework toward homosexuals. I wouldn't fear getting shot to death walking down the street in my partner's rural village--here, not so much.

I also think that what is true is this:

In others, the closet will still remain for a time as the "socially acceptable" accommodation: that is where I think most Western churches are now, which is to say, still clinging to models of social acceptability from the middle of the last century.

Teasing out where society has moved in many Western societies from where the churches tend to remain is important, and bad news for the future of the church in some places. Even in the U.S., the Barna Report made it rather plain that the next generation, Christian and non-Christian alike, sees Christianity as a faith for bigots.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Christopher, for summarizing more clearly what I was trying to say. I am, of course, speaking from an American perspective, and almost said, "Wester societies outside of much of Europe" --- for actually the problems I see lie mostly in the US and parts of Latin America. In any case, as I also mentioned, the churches are in virtually all places a generation or more behind the society in terms of equality issues. It is bad news for the church in many places, as not a few teens and young adults today look at the church stocked with music and liturgy of their parents and the moral vision of their grandparents. Not a happy combination. The church is not becoming irrelevant because it is not following society, but because in many cases it is following a society that has already moved on.

Thanks for helping me to be clearer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

From a comment I made on Christopher's blog:

Another thing that occurs to me is the question of how well we know ourselves, and the sense that our self-knowledge only becomes complete in the telos of God, when we will know as we are fully known. This might be a helpful way of understanding both the progressive nature of (self)revelation in emerging from the closet and the eschatological truth that what is said in secret will one day be shouted from the housetops.

But I also want to move beyond mere revelation (which relates to the concept of the True) to return to the theme of the quality of what is revealed, in that it is Good. It is not enough that the love that dare not speak its name as suddenly found its voice -- but rather that it has something to say that builds up, and does not content itself in its own perhaps self-centered revelations. Not all of the out-of-the-closet folk I know function as more than clanging cymbals and noisy gongs, rather than as certain trumpets of goodness, kindness, and love. It is not enough merely to speak -- but to speak the Truth in Love.

Erika Baker said...

The real gap is between the attitude of the church and the attitude of society.
My uncle in Germany was in the position to vote for accepting same sex blessings in the Lutheran Protestant Church some years ago, and although he is the kindest and most loving people I know, he voted against it.
On the other hand, all of my German family and friends accepted my relationship without the slightest hesitation. All of my English friends and family have done so too.
The only difficulty we ever faced came from church circles, where there has been profound polarization.
In general(Western) society same sex relationships are genuinely no longer an issue.
What my friends truly query is not my love for my partner, but my love for my faith.

So for me, the closet is a concept particularly tied to faith, or better, to the church.
Unfortunately, my faith is the most important thing in my life. So in many respects I find myself marginalised twice – as a Christian within my society, and as a woman with a same sex partner in my church.

I hear what you say about “quality”, and deep down I agree with you.
But I would love for society and the church to get to a state where we don’t have to present perfect relationships to be acceptable, to them or to ourselves, but where the goal posts are no higher and no lower than for heterosexual couples.

A failing heterosexual couple is not a symbol for all heterosexual relationships, sadly proving that they are defective.
I hope and pray that eventually, homosexual relationships too, will not have to bear that huge burden of symbolism.

June Butler said...

Quite a few of our heroes are found to have feet of clay, or perhaps the clay goes further upwards than the feet. Bishop Moore seems to have done quite a bit of good in his lifetime. That he could have done more good is certain, but that can be said about any of us. The good that he did is no less good because of the secrets that have been brought forth into the light.

I think of his wife and children and the effect on them of his hidden life, whether they knew about it or not. They were hurt the worst. Perhaps, it was not the best and wisest decision for Honor to publish her book, but it's possible that writing it helped exorcise her own demons. Yes, it was done at the expense of further besmirching her father's reputation, but I can't find it in my heart to judge her harshly for doing it. My greatest sympathy goes to his wife. Surely, the nine children were the result of some sort of over-compensation on the bishop's part.

The closet is not to blame, because Moore made certain choices when he was free to make other choices.

It's a sad affair all around, and it would have been better if the discovery of the double life and the discipline that followed had been public. That would have taken some of the burden off the daughter and lessened the hostility that she faces as a result of her book.

Bishop Sisk did the right thing in publishing his letter. The critics who attack him for piling on a dead man are wrong.

Living a lie is never a good thing. Perhaps, the best we can hope for is that lessons are learned from sad situations like this.

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

I don't disagree with your concern about Good and quality necessarily.

I think part of the coming out process is often this obnoxious stage. Most move on from it to other things as their life reshapes. Some may need greater tenderness to do so, as their self is decentered, and some do not recover from the trauma and fail to integrate. I can understand. Integrating one's sexuality can be difficult and moreso if one's faith tradition has been hostile. I suspect many of us carry scars from that stage, and that from time to time we revert, if for moments, to it.

What standards are to be set for determining the Good and quality? Erika makes an important point that it seems to me that whenever "the Good" and quality are brought up in discussing same-sex relationships, a higher bar is set than we generally expect of your average good quality heterosexual relationship. And our contributions to the Good in serving others are to somehow be fantastical rather than the ordinary and everyday that we associate with goodness and quality in heterosexual relationships. My partner's service as a pastor, mine as a vestry member and seminarian advisor, or the myriad of folks in my parish who build up our community and serve the world in life and work are not often seen as the quality or good folks or looking for when these standards are brought up. It seems the moveable bar of Good and quality can become a means for others to not see when otherwise they would have to face reality.

I have a deep suspicion of use of "the Good" because it tends to be concerned only with the common good and not also the personal good, which violates to my mind a deep sense of catholicity as James Alison points out--a common good must also be concerned with the personal good. For example, your fine post on that passage from 1 Corinthians has been used precisely in a common good fashion against gay persons.

Because I have walked through the grounds of camps in Germany where "the Good" was used precisely in ways that allowed some to justify working to death and destroying others, I know that quality and Good can be used to simple see others as productive, as products. So, it might be helpful to flesh out more precisely what quality and Good would look like without the moveable bar. The studies I've read in psychology do precisely that in comparing same-sex and different-sex couples. It's a sad comment on our moral theology and ethics that often we cannot apply so equal standards as this secular field.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Christopher,

You raise a number of very good questions, but most of them seem to me to be coming from a different angle than the one from which I was hoping to write. Let me see if I can reorient the perspective.

In terms of the coming out issue I was speaking politically as well as morally --- that is, as much as it is important for one to come to terms with one's own sexuality and be able to be honest about it, there needs also to be a recognition of the actual impact this process has on the larger society; and to my mind the ultimate good for the society is a reflection of that same healthy integration within the individual psyche: acceptance of gay and lesbian persons as moral agents no less capable of the Good than heterosexual persons --- that is to say, no more is to be expected from gay and lesbian couples than is expected from straight couples: no double standards.

I agree that our present culture puts gay or lesbian couples under the magnifying glass and, if not holding them to a higher standard, at least expressing a certain schadenfreude when a gay or lesbian couple's relationship collapses. This is a normal part, sadly, of the process by which oppressed communities become ultimately integrated into the society that oppressed them. In the early days of the civil rights movement leaders knew how important it was for the leaders and workers to be "squeaky clean" and of course that was the very reason people like J. Edgar Hoover were keeping files on the private lives of those very leaders.

But when it comes to the Good I was not thinking of the society as a whole; if anything I am a counter-utilitarian when it comes to ethics and so I reject all that baggage about the good of the many at the expense of the few: because I ultimately believe that the true good of the many cannot be purchased at the expense of the few.

So when I speak of the moral goodness of the relationships (that is, the moral quality of the relationships) I mean within the context of the relationships themselves in the good done to the "most intimate neighbor" loved as oneself -- not for the good they might do to society. And of course, in this whole conversation, I believe that the greater good of the whole society will be achieved by that society's full acceptance of gay and lesbian persons --- and that this will also assist gay and lesbian persons to live into the Goodness that is to a very real extent limited by the closet. Evil societies that harm their members in search of a Fascist "Good" are cursed from the beginning; the poison is in the roots and you cannot harvest good fruit from a bad tree. That is why I raise that issue in connection with the 1 Corinthians passage: I see in the language of the Windsor Report not just a bad idea, but an evil idea -- and if the Anglican Communion follows that course it is following a false gospel of expediency.

Hope this clarifies my position, or perspective.