By Kirk Petersen
The Rt. Rev. George Nelson Hunt III, who served as the 11th Bishop of Rhode Island from 1980 to 1994, died October 23 in California after a long illness, surrounded by his family, the diocese announced. He was 90.
Hunt took an active role in secular affairs, according to a history on the diocesan website. “Bishop Hunt is perhaps best noted for his long struggle to call the state’s government to accountability, crusading fearlessly against corruption, organized crime, and gambling, and for his insistence that the process for ordination in the Diocese would not discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.”
His secular activism extended to international relations. The Living Church reported in May 1983 that Hunt was one of three bishops who took a fact-finding trip to Nicaragua, and on their return they urged President Ronald Reagan to initiate a dialogue with the country’s Marxist Sandinista government.
“In my mind, there is no question whatever that the CIA has been directly involved in an attempt to subvert the present government and to bring it down,” Hunt said. The article added that Hunt “has changed his attitude toward Marxism. Whereas he formerly thought Marxism and Christianity incompatible, he now sees ‘that is is possible for Marxist ideology to evolve in such a way that both the church and the Marxist ideology can live compatibly in the same person.'”
Hunt chaired what became known as the Hunt Commission, which recommended to the 1991 General Convention “that the ordination of gay candidates to the priesthood should be left to the discretion of local bishops,” Episcopal News Service reported in 1991. The commission also recommended “that the church consider blessing the relationships of committed gay and lesbian couples.”
According to the Association for Episcopal Deacons, Hunt ordained a class of deacons in 1985, “beginning the revival and resurrection of the vocational Diaconate not only in the Diocese of RI, but also in the Province of New England.”
Hunt was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on December 6, 1931, and graduated from the University of the South: Sewanee in 1953. In 1956 he received a master of divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary, and was ordained as a priest. He later received honorary degrees from Yale and the University of Rhode Island. He served several churches in Wyoming and California, and was the executive officer of the Diocese of California before being consecrated as Bishop of Rhode Island in 1980. In 1994, he retired in Rhode Island and served as interim Bishop of Hawaii from 1995 to 1996.
He married Barbara Noel Plamp in 1955, and the couple had three children. Funeral arrangements are pending.