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The Battle for Gay Inclusion: An Open Letter to George F. Will 


Dear George: You have a huge platform through television, Newsweek, and the Washington Post to be a major influence in shaping public opinion. I find myself impressed by your insights into the world of baseball and a bit less impressed by your right-of-center political musings. I am, however, absolutely amazed at the profoundly uninformed positions you have recently offered the public on the questions that are currently the content of ecclesiastical debate in our churches. You seem to have no understanding of what it means to seek to bind together an ancient faith with the insights of our contemporary world.

I appreciate the fact that you are a fellow Episcopalian and, as such, are vitally interested in the issue of the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Eugene Robinson to be the Bishop of New Hampshire. The fact that this event was covered by the media of the world indicates that it was regarded as a significant moment of history, a turning point in the life of the Christian Church. Indeed, I believe it was the enabling vote at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church that allowed this consecration to go forward that opened our church decisively to the full inclusion of homosexual people. It also struck a mighty blow at cultural homophobia. As such it has inaugurated a great consciousness-raising and welcome discussion that has now reached far beyond the boundaries of the Episcopal Church. That is a major accomplishment for a relatively small church.

Yet you, George, in your Washington Post column, have characterized this debate as one that pits the “cultural trendiness” of the Northern Hemisphere nations against the “doctrinal clarity” of the Southern Hemisphere nations. I regard that analysis as breathtakingly naive and suggest that it is revelatory of nothing more than your own deep and abiding prejudice. For you to speak publicly about this issue, when you are as poorly informed as your words reveal you to be, calls either your competence or your integrity, perhaps both, into question. Because you added a gratuitous comment about me by name in your Newsweek column (November 10, 2003), I think it appropriate that I respond to you in an equally public way.

You pose the issues of this debate as between modernism in religion and the true faith of antiquity. You suggest that two thousand years of church teaching about sexuality and family are being imaginatively construed in “a certain interpretive trajectory.” You quote approvingly a Fairfax, Virginia, Episcopal priest who, referring to the debate at the National Episcopal General Convention last summer, said, “When the plain teaching of the Bible was referenced, eyes rolled, and with expressions of polite exasperation, we were told that it was time to move on. The Bible simply had not kept up.” You appear to be saying that those who quote the Bible, as if it provides the last word on moral issues, are to be commended.

Well, George, perhaps you need to understand why it is that people who quote the Bible to undergird their own inability to embrace reality might need to be enlightened.

The Bible was quoted to support the divine right of Kings when the Magna Carta made its appearance in 1215. History has demonstrated that the Bible was wrong on that issue and today no king rules on this planet by divine right. People have embraced democracy. You might think that represents “cultural trendiness,” but I believe it represents an emerging consciousness that the writers of the Bible, bound to their time in history, could never have contemplated.

In the 17th century the church, acting out of what you call “doctrinal clarity,” imprisoned Galileo and almost executed him because his study of the motion of “heavenly bodies” led him to the conclusion that the earth was not the center of the universe and that indeed the earth rotated around the sun. The “fathers of the church” in their attack on Galileo quoted a verse from the book of Joshua, in which the sun was made to stand still in the sky to enable Joshua to kill more of his enemies, as sure proof that the sun rotated around the earth. I think eyes should roll in a space age when this “clear teaching of the Bible” is referenced.

In the 19th century, Charles Darwin challenged the “clear teaching of the Bible” in the story of creation. But no matter how many passages of scripture have been quoted since The Origin of Species was published in 1859, our modern world is quite sure that it is Darwin rather than the Bible that is closer to the truth. That is, unless you now want to regard dna evidence as a bit more of your “cultural trendiness.”

Speaking of...

  • John Shelby Spong’s open letter to George F. Will.

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