May 12, 2008

Memior of a Bishop's Daughter Riles Up the Episcopal Church


Six months after the death of Paul Moore, the Episcopal bishop of New York from 1972 to 1989, his daughter Honor got a phone call. It was her father's birthday, and she was at home unpacking boxes of his belongings. The caller introduced himself as an old friend of her father's; it was a name she had not heard until it appeared in the bishop's will some months before. Moore began to talk with him, eager for insight into the man who had loomed larger than anyone in her life but had been a difficult, impenetrable figure. The caller repeatedly mentioned how close he had been to Paul for 30 years, and Moore finally asked if her father had ever confided in his friend about his sexual life. The man's answer was immediate. "I was his sexual life," he said.

The revelation, Moore writes in her new memoir, "The Bishop's Daughter," was startling but not entirely surprising. Her father's bisexuality was an "open secret" that she and her eight younger siblings had known for years, and that had been hinted at in the press and by members of the church. Still, the publication of an excerpt from her book in The New Yorker in March, detailing her father's sexuality, created a minor scandal. In a letter to the magazine, two of her siblings wrote, "Doesn't it matter, even when someone is dead, that his most fervently held private life, and the unnecessarily explicit details of his marriage, are exposed against his wishes? We believe that it does matter, and that both of our parents' good legacies have been damaged." Others applauded Moore's candid portrayal of her father. An Episcopal priest from Maryland wrote, "This story illustrates the necessity for our church to struggle honestly with the issue of healthy sexual behavior—gay or straight."

This is a difficult issue, but I suspect (I have not read the book) that there is value in this story being told besides selling books. Most major religious denominations continue to force gay christians to choose being one or the other and, as a result, they must deny a part of who they are.

God sent his Son down to earth to give people a chance to become whole and appreciate the fullness of the gifts He has given to them, not to deny a major portion of who they are. As people understand what that can do the life of a leader of the faith like the late Bishop Moore, perhaps they will be less likely to force someone like him to lead two seperate lives, which by its nature diminishes them both.

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