The victory for gay rights in the Episcopal Church is almost complete.
The Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire--which has fewer than 50 parishes--is nevertheless part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Last month, its members elected an honest, out-of-the-closet homosexual priest to be its next bishop.
The word "openly" was used as a modifier for the word "homosexual" in most of the stories written about the Rev. Gene Robinson. It was a telling choice of words, clearly cognizant of the fact that homosexual people have been secretly ordained since the Christian Church was born.
At that time, when Christianity moved out of the Jewish orbit and into the Mediterranean world, it confronted a dualistic neo-Platonism that denigrated the flesh and suggested that marriage was a compromise with sin. Holy life was to be celibate. This, in turn, attracted men into the priesthood who, because of their homosexual desires, wanted to hide from marriage. The evidence is clear that the priesthood of the Western Church became the largest closet in which gay men hid their sexual orientation during the Middle Ages. This theory has been fully documented in a monumental study on homosexuality in the Church from its beginnings to 1400 by Yale historian John Boswell.
It should by now be obvious that an institution does not make celibacy a prerequisite for leadership without attracting large numbers of gay men into its ranks. This has always been an unspoken but silently acknowledged reality that those familiar with the Church's ministry accepted as a fact of life. Yet the Church protected itself with a vocal and frequently vicious anti-homosexual campaign, since it could ill afford for the public to become suspicious about the reality of homosexuality in the priesthood. Officially, then, homosexuality was deemed "deviant behavior" and "unnatural." Privately, however, every bishop knew the gay clergy of his diocese-sometimes the bishop himself was also gay. Duplicity came to be viewed as a virtue.
Until the middle of the 20th Century, there was little discussion of this issue in either church or society. The general consensus was that practicing homosexuality was destructive behavior, condemned as "sinful." But data began to emerge in the 1950s that was destined to change these definitions and their resulting stereotypes. Scientific studies began to suggest that homosexuality was not abnormal behavior; it was simply a minority aspect of sexuality that has always been present in the human family. Investigations revealed that the percentage of homosexuals in the population was fairly constant at all times and in all places. Homosexuality was determined not to be something people choose, but something to which they awaken. It was part of one's identity--and as such not amenable to change.