Acts of Forgiveness
Faith Journeys of a Gay Priest
In 1980s America, coming out as gay as a father and husband was a significant journey for anyone to make. Coming out as gay as a priest guaranteed immersion into controversy, contradiction, and challenge. This book tells of the Reverend Canon Ted Karpf’s navigation of new social and romantic journeys, all within the context of his priestly vocation in the Episcopal Church.
Covering from 1968 to 2018, Karpf recounts his vivid memories, life-changing dreams and resonant reflections on living a life of faith in a socially and politically tumultuous period. His narratives are crafted as poetic meditations on enduring values and meaning, which can remind any reader that we are neither abandoned nor alone, and that forgiveness is a fulfilling way of living in a world of contradictions.
While billed as a memoir, this very readable work feels more like an extended poem or meditation. In its thematic, rather than chronological organization, Articles of Faith: a priest’s tale, also reveals the influence of the author’s years in Africa. Here, individual stories interplay with reflections on their meaning—swirling, circling, occasionally overlapping—inevitably coming together to form a richly textured, instructive narrative. Woven throughout the whole is a reverence for authentic encounter with others. Karpf clearly is unafraid to engage with those very alike and radically different from himself, going beyond meeting them to learning from them.
As American society increasingly fractures into self-selecting enclaves of like-mindedness, Acts of Forgiveness proclaims a very different approach to life. Such an approach is bold yet vulnerable, values interdependence over individuality, and is unapologetically reliant on the sacred and mysterious. Seekers of meaning and coherence in our uncertain times should find much in this book to challenge their convictions and encourage their quests.
In Acts of Forgiveness, The Reverend Canon Ted Karpf weaves together the many threads of his life’s work in ministry by sharing the challenges beset upon him while seeking to remain faithful to his call. Time and again, Ted exposes the challenges of working domestically and internationally as an openly gay man and a priest working in a ministry that all in the church had not come to embrace, understand or believe that it even had a place in the church especially, to it’s shame, the Church in Mother Africa.
Ted’s passion and personification of Dr. King’s concept of the “fierce urgency of now” Is evident throughout every aspect this compelling work. In this powerful reflection and sharing of a life’s journey where his feet never wearied, and his faith never waned, he presents a life lesson to be read, marked and inwardly digested of what it truly means to keep the faith.
If Easter thrills you, read this book. If your faith is wobbly, read this book. If you wonder whether the church can still remain a moral force in these angry and divisive times, read this book.
In his intimate and profound memoir, Ted Karpf details a lifetime of crucifixion and resurrection. He was betrayed by those pledged to love him from his vicious parents, to the gay lover he left his marriage for, to the close friend who cheated him out of most of his life’s savings, and yet, he triumphed. He was brought to his knees by the struggles of his children. He was silenced for years by the church he was dedicated to serving, and yet, he triumphed.
He triumphed through the sheer power of his love and trust in God, and by his determination to relentlessly forgive. Acts of Forgiveness: Faith Journeys of Gay Priest, overflows with the joy that makes Easter a verb.
Born out of his poet’s soul and a real talent for written communication, Articles of Faith is so much more than a well-constructed legacy for his deeply-loved family. It is excellent reading for all who are called into vocation only to discover that Church must never be confused with our God of love. Especially with Ted’s potent mix of HIV/AIDS activist, gay and divorcee. I was particularly touched and encouraged to learn that we share the battle to live the lessons we teach.
Not least, Ted and his ex-wife Kaye’s story of mutual love, respect and dignity is a beacon for the many good Christian couples caught in the same web woven with the threads of human sexuality denied.
Acts of Forgiveness, his spiritual autobiography, Father Ted affirms that priesthood is not a fainthearted withdrawal from the world but a bold embodiment of it as eucharist: a call to remain sanguine and faithful no matter how bloody or messy that world has become. Describing his own struggles with sexual identity as well his clashes with church hierarchies who frowned on his AIDS ministries, this book is a compelling account of what it means to be authentic in a Christian context.
Like Teilhard de Chardin, Henri Nouwen, and Simone Weil before him, Ted Karpf has joined the company of other modern mystics who find salvation by embracing the world, not rejecting it. His heart-filled memoir is an affirmation of Frederick Buechner’s declaration that “The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Ted Karpf has given himself to us in Articles of Faith, as he has given himself to others throughout his ministry, whether at the epicenter of the HIV/Aids crisis in Dallas in the 1980’s or working to stem the global AIDS pandemic in South Africa. To speak of his service to humanity would be enough for a significant memoir. But, he has done much more. He also shares the anguish of coming out as a gay priest alongside many of his parishioners in the conservative Dallas Diocese of the time. A hero for his ministry, yet forbidden to minister, when he declared his sexual orientation.
A hero for his ministry, yet forbidden to minister, when he declared his sexual orientation. Courage and integrity are the hallmarks of this deeply compassionate and painfully honest memoir. Ted Karpf writes, “What have I learned?” Faithfulness in apparent small things over the long haul is faithfulness in great things over a lifetime.” May each of us live this lesson with the love that he displays.
Forgiving and loving yourself for who you truly you are, despite what you’ve done or didn’t do, are as important for living fully as a person of faith as forgiving and loving others despite who they are or what they did or didn’t do. People of faith hope that God is so forgiving and so loving toward us. But how can we believe that God so loves us, and how can we be that loving and forgiving person in the opportunities big and small that life presents to us all? Canon Karpf explores these issues with raw and excruciating honesty and with deep spiritual focus.
Each chapter addresses different Articles of Faith and describes heart-wrenching and heartwarming episodes of learning them from his life working in the Church and in HIV/AIDS, and from growing as a father, husband, son, and friend. Lay people and clergy alike will find Karpf’s book a remarkable guide to explore our own past, to assess how we are living in the present, and to consider how we might act or want to become. His is a wonderfully raw story, and he offers a wonder-filled gift and guide to people of all faiths. Karpf’s story is not yet over, and neither is ours. We may think or fear that who we are is defined by the pains and joys of our past; but Karpf’s Articles teach how we can become the God-beloved person we truly want to be; and how we can change the next chapters of our lives, and very possibly, how our own story might end.
We are all travelers, and our life’s journey is both particular yet also finds echoes in the journey of fellow travelers. The honesty in these writings speaks volumes about the author who shares openly his journey through pain and joy, hope and disappointment. Anyone seeking to understand the nature of calling/vocation will be encouraged by Ted Karpf’s own journey which shows that for many of us we all walk by a winding way to find our way to God.
There is no straightforward path to truth and God does not write in straight lines. The writing is rich in poetry and so descriptive as to make one enter into the picture . Writing about an evening in Zululand he talks of “The dried rustling grasses hissing as the fearful serpent of death slithered away.”
At times it was a hard read when the author deals with his growing up, suffering abuse and then living in an abusive relationship with a partner after his divorce from his wife. Yet here one is encouraged as Ted shares the influence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who wrote “No future without Forgiveness,” and Ted found himself having to learn to love and forgive and so accepting our weakness and vulnerability. This priest’s tale will encourage and enrich anyone who is serious about celebrating life.
Artfully told narratives that challenge the reader and—at the same time—call us into companionship with the author are infrequently encountered treasured windows into the soul. Articles of Faith: A Priest’s Tale is exactly such a treasure. It reminds us all that forgiveness is a way of life, which ultimately calls each of us to become seekers of justice for all people.
In the tradition of the rabbis, Father Ted Karpf calls upon both his heritage and experience to bring the reader into a place of sensitivity and compassion. We literally "suffer with” in order to achieve healing and activate a more hopeful future; not because of the suffering, but in spite of it.
In Islam, one of the 99 names of God is “Al Ghaffar” which translates as repeatedly forgiving. In Articles of Faith: A Priest's Tale, Ted Karpf gives an unflinching account of a life of love, rejection, grieving, and, above all, repeated forgiveness. His memoir draws on the many struggles and gifts of his sojourning, pilgrimages and encounters to reflect on what it is to be “real” to one’s self and others.
This book contains the painful, courageous and even funny stories of Karpf’s unusual and challenging life: stories of a faithful man longing for God; of a gay priest immersed in the sorrow and tragedy of HIV/AIDS ministry and policy, even as he himself was rejected by his Church; of the struggles of reconciliation after a brutal childhood; of the challenges of divorced parenting and the besotted joy of grand-parenting; and of the anguish and delights of an open heart.
Ted Karpf has written a luminous, clear memoir that invites the reader to accompany him on his life pilgrimage. Son and father, spouse and partner, priest and seeker. A gay man, often ‘a prophet without honor’ (Mark 6:4) in his own Church, Ted is an inveterate speaker of truth, a champion for the wounded and those without armor or weapons. And, first and last, seeking his own truth and ground in life. Articles of Faith is a gift both to those who know Father Karpf and those on their own complex journeys.
Those familiar with Ted Karpf’s decades of ministry know him as a priest, counselor, statesman, educator, and humanitarian. His work caring for souls touched by the early days of the AIDS epidemic led him to a presidential post providing spiritual and medical aid at a global level. Some of us have had the pleasure of getting to know Ted beyond his public ministry.
Those who read Articles of Faith: a priest’s tale, will have a taste of what Ted Karpf’s friends have long enjoyed: the blessing of his company and his penchant for storytelling that ultimately instructs and uplifts. Herein Ted describes his deeply personal journey through the triumphs and hardships of life and ministry. This is a book from which the next generation of activists and ministers can glean wisdom and encouragement for their own lives, just as we have done in Ted’s company over the years. *(For a more authentic experience of communing with Ted, we suggest reading the book while sipping a beautiful scotch.)
Please join us for this conversation about Christian activism during the HIV/AIDS crisis, featuring leaders who have been at the forefront of AIDS work since the 1980s. Anthony Petro, Ph.D. will moderate this dialogue with Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, Rev. Canon Ted Karpf and Rev. Dr. Steve Pieters. What challenges has the AIDS crisis presented, especially for leaders of religious communities that welcome queer people and people of color? How have progressive Christian leaders responded to the emerging and ongoing pandemic? And what work is left to be done?