Theologian William Stringfellow was a semi-closeted gay man. Anthony Dancer points out that even his awakening as a Christian was, by Stringfellow’s own account, through “an unusually close friendship with another fellow”—surely loving, if not necessarily sexual. Though he never made his own homosexuality explicit in his writing, he did write and speak on the topic, always denouncing the idolatry of both homophobia (as we now call it) in churches and the “ostentation” of gay culture, which too often encourages assuaging loneliness with lust and promiscuity. Though in opposing ways, both ways of obsessing about homosexuality distract people from the gospel’s call for equality and love. Dancer does an excellent job of showing how sexuality was a central concern in Stringfellow’s life and work, even while he always handled it with a light touch. Stringfellow met the poet Anthony Towne in 1962, and within months they had moved in together.
Five years later, Stringfellow’s poor health forced them to “immigrate” from New York to a quieter homestead on Block Island that the couple called, fittingly, Eschaton. It was there that they harbored the Jesuit poet and activist Daniel Berrigan after his participation in the illegal burning of draftcards at the Cantonsville Nine protest against the Vietnam War, and it was there that the FBI finally caught up with him.
There, also, Towne died of a sudden illness. Stringfellow’s 1982 book, A Simplicity of Faith, is a tribute to “my sweet companion of seventeen years” that, again, refuses to label their love homosexuality as such—it was just love.
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