5 questions with Jonathan D.F. Nelson
Jonathan D.F. Nelson, 63, is partner in the Fort Worth law firm of Watson, Caraway, Nelson, Midkiff and & Lunningham. Nelson represents the Steering Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, which is preparing to reorganize after its bishop and a majority of delegates voted to leave the U.S. church in November, in a dispute over the role of gays and women. Nelson lives in Fort Worth with his partner of three years and attends the Cathedral of Hope.
In a nutshell, what is going on with the Episcopal Church in Fort Worth right now?
Episcopalians are governed by the Canons of the National Church. Nationwide, out of more than 2 million Episcopalians, about 30,000 have chosen to leave the church. This they can do, but, under Canon law, the property is held in trust for the National Church so they cannot take the property with them. There is no provision in the Canons allowing a Diocese to leave the Episcopal Church. This is the dispute in Fort Worth.
What is the next step for you and your clients?
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church will come to Fort Worth on Feb. 7 to open a special convention to approve a new, provisional bishop and elect members to various boards vacated by those who left the church.
How did you get involved in the case? Did they pick you because you’re gay?
I was interviewed, along with other lawyers, and was chosen because of my training, knowledge and expertise as a trial lawyer. So, I wasn’t hired because or in spite of my being gay.
Does the fact that you’re gay make this case personal for you?
Somewhat. My job as a lawyer is to assist in the recovery of property rightfully belonging to the Episcopal Church. However, because the church has so courageously grappled with issues like the ordination of women and gays, I do feel a personal bond with them.
I understand you didn’t come out until later in life, at age 58. What was that like?
Like millions before me, I was afraid; the fear of the unknown. Would I be accepted? What about my job? How would my family react? My coming out was like standing on a mountaintop, arms outstretched, my head lifted to the heavens; the warm, gentle rain of freedom cleansing me.
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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 23, 2009.