The Rev. Canon J. Edwin Bacon Jr. from Southern California has made it no secret that he supports gays and lesbians and same-sex marriage. But his recent pro-gay comments on the Oprah Winfrey show have stunned even the popular talk show host herself.
"Being gay is a gift from God," Bacon declared in an episode that aired Jan. 7.
Appearing shocked, Winfrey responded, "Well, you are the first minister I've ever heard say, 'Being gay is a gift from God,' I can tell you that."
Bacon's controversial statement sparked a fiery debate on Winfrey's website, leading the talk show host to invite the Episcopal priest back to elaborate on what he meant.
"I meant exactly what I said," Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, told Winfrey via video a few days later. "It is so important for every human being to understand that he or she is a gift from God, and particularly people who are marginalized and victimized in our culture. Gay and lesbian people are clearly outcasts in many areas of our life and it's so important for them to understand that when God made them, God said you are good. That is a gift, that is a blessing, that is the original blessing with which every one of us is made by God and loved by God."
One commenter on Oprah.com's message board responded: "I was appalled by the pastor's remark ... how many people did this man of the cloth lead down the wrong road with his comment?"
Another commenter praised Bacon and said it was "freeing" to hear Bacon's statement.
And yet another said: "Though I agree that being gay is not a gift from God, but rather a sexual preference and thus a choice, I also believe in love and acceptance of all, no matter what."
The Episcopal priest has repeatedly proclaimed a message of inclusiveness. In a controversial move last year, Bacon opened his church to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples a week after the California Supreme Court had legalized homosexual marriage in May.
After stirring more controversy on Winfrey's show this month, Bacon has been flooded with calls and emails, some with positive words and some with critical remarks.
Labeling himself as "biblically oriented," Bacon claimed he's going down the road of Jesus, showing compassion and being inclusive, and not the road of condemnation and judgment.
Warren Throckmorton, and Assoc. Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy in the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, doesn't believe Bacon's comments help in the ongoing debate over the Bible and homosexuality.
"Traditional Christianity teaches that all people are valued by God as bearers of His image," he commented to The Christian Post. "However, moral questions surrounding sexual behavior are matters of great dispute among Christians. Rev. Bacon is less than helpful when he condemns those who disagree with him."
Bacon's comments aired during the third episode of Winfrey's special series, "Best Life Week."
Correction: Friday, January 23, 2009:
An article on Wednesday, January 21, 2009, about an Episcopal priest's controversial comments on homosexuality incorrectly titled Warren Throckmorton as director of the College Counseling Service. Throckmorton is no longer the college counseling director but now serves as Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy in the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.