Interview: Otis Charles, Gay Former Bishop, Disinvited by SF Archdiocese to Participate in Advent Services

Otis Charles (Photo: David Perry & Associates)
As first reported in The Bay Area Reporter, after being asked to participate in Advent services by San Francisco’s Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro, two gay and one lesbian clergy member were disinvited in late November at the request of the San Francisco Archdiocese. One of the disinvited was former Episcopal Bishop of Utah Otis Charles, who announced his sexual orientation after retiring in 1993, wed his same-sex partner in a San Francisco church in 2004, and married in a civil ceremony in San Francisco in 2008, during the brief period before Proposition 8 that same-sex marriage was legal.

The other two clergy to have their invitations rescinded were retired Reverend Jane Spahr, a Presbyterian, and Reverend Roland Stringfellow, a Baptist. Both are known as gay rights advocates.

Yesterday, KQED’s Stephanie Martin interviewed Otis Charles about the incident. Here’s the edited transcript:

Stephanie Martin

What’s your take on what happened?

Otis Charles

I think it was a very sad day. I had been invited to speak to Advent, which is a time of hope and certainty, that the world is in the process of being transformed. And Most Holy Redeemer is a parish that has been in the midst of the life and death struggles within the gay community over AIDS, and they have provided a spiritual home for gay men and lesbians and transgendered people. My sense was that disinviting someone because he happened to be gay and in a married relationship is the ultimate insult, because what we as gay people have dealt with and continue to deal with is being considered non-people.

So a time of hope was transformed into a time of pain and disappointment for the members of the congregation. Disinviting us is just one more example of the inability of too many in the church to be able to embrace the fact that there’s a wide spectrum of human beings and that we all attempt to live our lives with integrity, and to have lives in which it’s possible to express love and commitment and faithfulness. I think of the people who had been invited to speak, those are the values, whether they spoke to them directly or indirectly, that they would have been presenting. The kind of values that the church at its best wishes to support.

So it was very disappointing. And I found it just another example of the inability of too many to embrace the fullness of god’s humanity.

Stephanie Martin

Were you told why the archbishop wanted to cancel?

Otis Charles

I was called the night before I was to speak. It was all very unexpected. The impression I was given and those of the people I’d spoken with at Most Holy Redeemer was that the archbishop felt that if I were to participate in a liturgical service, it would seem to imply that the Roman Catholic Church supported gay marriage.

My hope would be that we come to that time when we are able to accept and affirm every human being as they seek to live their lives with integrity and faithfulness and commitment to other human beings, and in the service, for those of us who are Christians, of Jesus whom we follow.

Stephanie Martin also spoke with George Wesolek, director of communications and public policy for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Stephanie Martin

Why were the speakers cancelled?

George Wesolek

On becoming aware of the speakers and the advertising that was put out on the speakers, the archbishop called the pastor and asked him to reconsider those particular speakers. He felt there should be something in vespers that would more adequately reflect the themes of advent.

Did the archbishop order the disinvitation or make a request?

I think it was a consensus conversation.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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