The Rev. Robert W. Wood, author of the first book published in the U.S. on Christianity and homosexuality, was born May 21, 1923, in Youngstown, Ohio, to Edith and Harold Wood. Robert enlisted in the army after Pearl Harbor, was called to active duty in February, 1943, and participated in the invasion of Italy that fall. He was wounded during battle on Mt. Maggiore and spent almost two years in recuperation and rehabilitation. He was honorably discharged in November, 1945, and received numerous decorations including the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for "heroic achievement in combat."
Subsequently, Robert went back to school on the G.I. Bill and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1948 and Oberlin School of Theology in 1951. Robert acknowledges having his first homosexual experience in the military and later met a man at Penn who "brought him out."
Wood was ordained in the Congregational Christian denomination on June 17, 1951 in Fair Haven, Vermont. He served on the staff of Broadway Tabernacle in New York City for two years and then as pastor in Spring Valley, New York, for 11 years; in an inner-city congregation in Newark, New Jersey, for 13 years; and finally in Maynard, Mass. for eight years. During this time, he served six years on the United Church of Christ's Board for Homeland Ministries and another six years on the Board for World Ministries.
Robert engaged Christian attitudes toward homosexuality throughout his ministry. In 1956 he wrote an article entitled "Spiritual Exercises" for a gay physique magazine Grecian Guild, in which his photo in a clerical collar appeared. After meeting Donald Webster Cory, author of the ground-breaking 1951 book The Homosexual in America, Robert started writing a book on Christianity and homosexuality. Christ and the Homosexual was published in 1960 by Vantage Press. Wood's photo appeared on the dust jacket and his congregation was identified in the book. All 5,000 printed copies were sold. A review in ONE magazine said: "Sparkling, intimate, compassionate and well-informed--this book is among other things probably the best and most readable description of gay life currently in print...This is the first book written by a responsible clergyman to welcome homosexuals into the Church without demanding that they give up the practice of homosexuality." Wood was honored with Awards of Merit from the Mattachine Society and The Prosperos that year. In August, 1962, Wood was a featured speaker at the Ninth Annual Conference of the Mattachine Society. He was the only clergy among 18 gay men and 7 lesbians who picketed in front of the Civil Service Building in Washington, D.C. on June 25, 1965, in a protest organized by Frank Kameny.
In 1962, Robert met Hugh Coulter, an ex-Air Force man, artist and cowboy who was touring in a rodeo. They lived openly as a couple in all three of Wood's parishes over the next 27 years.
Wood retired from parish ministry after serving continuously for 35 years and 1,610 Bible-based sermons and now lives in a retirement community in New Hampshire. In 1993 he provided written testimony on behalf of lifting the ban on gays in the military before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. In June, 2001, he was honored as a gay pioneer and author by the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the only clergy included in the television documentary "Gay Pioneers" produced as a part of the National History Project. In July, 2004, he received the Pioneer Award from the UCC Coalition of LGBT Concerns that honors those "who have worked with courage, prophetic vision and often times with little support to pave the path for this current generation of LGBT folk." His biography, written by Steven Law, is awaiting publication.
Wood died on August 19, 2018 at the age of 95.
(Some of the above information taken from an article on Wood by Michael Bronski that appeared in the December 4, 1990, issue of The Advocate.)
Biography Date: June, 2003
Dr. Bernard Schlager's paper, "Christ and the Homosexual: An Early Manifesto for Affirming Christian Ministry to Homosexuals," was published in Theology & Sexuality, volume 21, no, 2 (2015). Find the abstract at this link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13558358.2016.1206682
Robert Wood's obituary appeared in the New York Times:
United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Author/editor | Clergy Activist | Gay Liberation Movement | Wood, Robert
“Robert is alive and well living in Concord, New Hampshire. He's still very much engaged in the events regarding gay rights. We are blessed that he married us on June 1, 2013. We are so fortunate to have Bob as our friend. We cherish all the time that we can spend with him. He has a rich history and he loves sharing it with us.”
– as remembered by Robert Paradis and Rejean Blanchette on November 11, 2014
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