A PILGRIM'S WAY by Walter C. Righter


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Righter, retired Episcopal bishop of Iowa, tells the story of the nationally publicized heresy trial brought upon him for ordaining a gay man. Bishop Righter details a case of the cruel politics loosed in the Episcopal Church by clerical resisters to social change. The book opens with the words of the ecclesiastical court that exonerated the bishop from any wrongdoing in ordaining Barry Stopfel, an openly gay man in a committed relationship, to the diaconate, the first rung of clerical orders. It then backtracks to the bishop’s childhood and active career in the Church, moving from a midwestern setting where “an interracial marriage was defined as a union between a Norwegian and a Swede,” to the more highly charged ethnic mix of the Episcopal Church’s diocese of Newark, NJ--a progression he labels “the process of becoming a liberal.” But the book’s most intellectually stimulating pages address the Kafkaesque anomaly of heresy as such emerging to occupy a mainline Protestant denomination in the late, post-heretical years of the 20th century. The bishop astutely connects homophobia to misogyny, and helpfully distinguishes doctrine from recommendation in Church polity, and consensus from compromise. But he never quite explains how, after the Episcopal Church, in 1994, canonically forbade discrimination against candidates for the priesthood on the basis of sexual orientation, ten conservative bishops could have colluded, in 1995, to bring about the heresy trial in the first place. Some minor errors and inelegances mar the writing: For instance, the bishop unduly credits the world, in 1939, with significant moral outrage over Hitler’s treatment of Jews and gays; and he clumsily describes a sympathetic new acquaintance as “genuine-seeming”. An informative if loosely structured and digressive memoir by a cleric who helped move his Church toward greater inclusiveness. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 4th, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-45442-X
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998