Friday, 20 January 2012

Gay Bishop Charles Otis, on Homosexuality and Faith

Bishop Gene Robinson is  the best known openly gay bishop, but there are many others. Bishop Otis Charles, who came out in 1993 after his retirement from full time ministry, is one of them.  He is also legally married: he and his husband held a ceremony in San Francisco in 1993, then wed legally in California in 2008.

While still serving as Bishop of Utah, he did not disclose in own sexuality, but did advocate openly for a relaxation of the barriers to ministry in the Episcopal Church. As a result, Utah came to be seen as a relatively liberal place of refuge for gay men and lesbians in the Episcopal Church.

[caption id="attachment_21515" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Otis Charles and Husband, 1993"][/caption]

This year's Sundance Film Festival, features a documentary film about that other, better known gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.  " Love Free or Die", which also includes reference to Bishop Charles, will  be screened on Monday January 23rd, and preceded by a worship service on Sunday 22nd.   QSalt Lake has a piece on Bishop Charles, illustrating the dramatic contrast between the conditions for gay clergy when he was first ordained in 1951, and those prevailing today:

After 60 years in the clergy, including 40 years as an Episcopalian bishop, Otis Charles, 85, was one of three openly gay bishops within the faith, he said. Although, when he first entered seminary in the 1950s homosexuality was not talked about, let alone embraced, by many in the church.

“I never would have imagined how far we’ve come – in the church and in general. It’s a different world. I never would have imagined, when I was first entering seminary, that I would be able to be married to my husband and enjoy all the benefits that come with that,” Charles said. “In my lifetime I’ve seen the onward movement from being outside of the movement into the ongoing life of the community in ways that I never would have imagined.”


We must remember though, that we have not arrived at this place of moderate tolerance without a great deal of preparatory work, by a great number of people. Bishop Charles was one of the pioneers:

The path to arrive as a happily married, accepted bishop was more than three decades in the making; the issue of openly gay clergy members was first raised in 1976 during a general assembly where Charles testified about the need to accept gay clergy members, although he was not open about his own sexuality. In 1979 he was a member of a coalition of leaders who signed a letter in opposition to the newly enacted policy prohibiting gays and lesbians from being ordained into the ministry.

Charles, along with eight members from the Utah delegation, opposed the church’s new position, which led to Utah having a liberal reputation.

“We were kind of a place of refuge for gay or lesbian individuals who wanted to be ordained and their home bishop wouldn’t accept them or recognize them,” Charles said. “The authorities in the diocese of Utah supported more than one such person. And so the dioceses in Utah have a spirit of openness for a long time.”


There also, quite obviously, many barriers to overcome, especially in the Catholic Church - but I will leave those out of this post. For now, let us simply celebrate Bishop Charles, Bishop Robinson, and the other pioneers on the road to LGBT inclusion in church. I look forward to this documentary film becoming more widely disseminated.

[caption id="attachment_21517" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Bishop Gene Robinson (right), Mark Andrew at their civil union, 2008"][/caption]


An earlier version of this post stated that the documentary film "Love Free or Die" is about Bishop Otis Charles, but in fact it is primarily about Bishop Gene Robinson].

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