“Pastor was Trapped”: Queer Scandal and Contestations Over Christian Anti-Vice Reform

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In November 1915, popular Baltimore minister and anti-vice reformer Kenneth G. Murray became enmeshed in scandal after he allegedly attempted to engage in sex with another man at the Y.M.C.A. The revelation of Murray’s alleged queerness became a flashpoint in ongoing contestations over anti-vice reform and the legitimacy of using state power to enforce Christian morality. In the hands of his political opponents, most notably H.L. Mencken, Murray’s apparent homosexuality became a tool for vindicating long-standing assertions that men who campaigned for state-enforced morality were hypocritical and motivated in their activism by sexual and gendered pathologies. In tracing print reactions to Murray’s public exposure, this essay argues that homosexuality proved to be a powerful political weapon against progressive anti-vice campaigning like Murray’s because it was capable of reconciling competing stereotypes of religiously motivated anti-vice reformers as simultaneously overly sexual and impotent, feminized and pathologically masculine. The Murray scandal also opened the door for critiques of muscular Christianity, which made it an early example of how the sexual diagnosis of religious figures and reformers could be used to discredit social and religious activism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-200
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 8 2022


  • H.L. Mencken
  • LGBT history
  • Progressive Era
  • anti-vice reform
  • muscular Christianity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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