Theologically, God has no sex,” says Paul Moore Jr., Episcopal Bishop of New York. “But traditionally we have worshiped the male image of the priest.”
Before the clergy and laymen took their vote last month on the controversial issue, Moore argued that it was “simple justice” to ordain women. His view prevailed. “There is no theological basis against female priests,” he says. “But there are 2,000 years of tradition. The reaction comes out of people’s depths.”
Moore’s plunge into this most recent squabble—and, at first anyway, on the unpopular side—is typical of the 56-year-old ex-Marine. When he was a schoolboy, Moore heard tales of London priests working in the slums and “got turned on by the image of the priest as hero.” If social and political activism makes heroes, the Right Reverend Paul Moore is well on the way to becoming one himself.
With the ordination battle won, Moore is concentrating once again on the crisis of the cities, particularly that of his adopted hometown. He does not hope to liberate women and save the cities single-handedly. “I’m searching for a way to be a catalyst for action,” he says. The crusading bishop may find one. “He has something moving,” says the Reverend Dr. Eugene Callender of Manhattan’s Presbyterian Church of the Master. “No one else could do the job.”
Moore’s campaign began with an Easter sermon in which he attacked corporations that flee the city like “rats leaving the sinking ship.” To leave, he charged, is irresponsible and immoral. “Many of these decisions are pretty arbitrary,” Moore insists. “Notice that if the executive lives in Fairfield County [Conn.], the likelihood of the plant moving to New Jersey is minimal.” The sermon brought Moore a flood of media attention and mail, mostly favorable.
On the Fourth of July he won a five-minute standing ovation for a sermon that called on the federal government to take over health and welfare costs in return for New York’s gifts to the nation. As Moore sees it, “Historically, New York has been the school of America, the hospital of America, the major port of entry. New York made that donation to the vitality of America for free.”
Moore’s views are never universally popular. But he does not mind stirring up “a little bit of a fuss.” In the early ’50s, when he and two other young priests served in Jersey City, N.J., “We brought landlords to court,” Moore remembers. “We integrated public housing. We collected petitions against police brutality and did other stuff that wasn’t so common in those days.” Later Moore picketed the White House in support of civil rights. In Saigon he took part in a peace march and was teargassed. Most recently, Moore came out in favor of a homosexual rights bill and ordained an avowed lesbian as a deacon. “Homosexuality is a condition one does not choose,” he believes. “It is not a question of morality.”
The bishop’s patrician family hardly brought him up in Morristown, N.J. to be a troublemaker. They gave him ponies and sailboats and sent him to St. Paul’s School and Yale. As a child he was “bored to tears” by churchgoing, but at 17 underwent an emotional conversion. When Moore wanted to join the Marines, his father agreed, perhaps hoping that it would change his mind about becoming a minister. Young Paul emerged from World War II wounded, much decorated—and still determined to enter General Theological Seminary.
He married Jenny McKean, and they had nine children. Mrs. Moore died of cancer in 1973, and in 1975 Moore married a 30ish widow, Brenda Hughes Eagle. The two of them picnic in Central Park, battle their weight together in a New York exercise spa and play what Brenda says is “bad chess.”
Is Moore a radical? “I don’t know,” he answers. “You cannot see people crushed in the ghetto without feeling that the true response of love is to do something about changing the system. So if changing the system is radical, well then, I am.”