For it’s annual conference this year Quest (a British association for lesbian and gay Catholics), took as its theme the jubilee year, “60 Glorious Years”. I was privileged to contribute a presentation on 60 years of progress towards queer inclusion in church, for which I took as my title “Blessed Are the Queer in Faith (for they shall inherit the church)”. In this I argued that what we have experienced, following many centuries’ persecution had made it effectively impossible to be both Christian and openly homosexual, is in effect 60 years into a modern resurrection for LGBT Christians.
I have posted the full Powerpoint Presentation as a file at Google Docs. To view, follow this link. In the full text which follows, the numbers refer to the slides of the presentation.
(The full text is lengthy. For those who would prefer it in more digestible, bite-sized, portions, I am also posting it as a summary, extracts, and conclusions. The introduction and summary is here, with other extracts to follow).
“Blessed Are the Queer in Faith”
1) Blessed Are the Queer in Faith (for they shall inherit the church): 60 years into a modern resurrection for LGBT Christians.
The claim that I make is a strong one, possibly surprising to many. What do I mean by it? What evidence is there? If the transformation is real, how can it be explained?
The concept of a “resurrection” implies that a death has previously occurred: I suggest that by the middle of the last century, that is in effect what had happened to the collective body of queer Christians.
The period from about the 14th century to the mid-20th, may be thought of as the “Great Persecution” of queer Christians. The early church had numerous LGBT saints and martyrs for the Church. During the Great Persecution, our forebears were martyred by the Church – exemplified by the martyrdom of St Joan of Arc.
But the past 60 years have seen LGBT Christians move from total invisibility, to substantial progress on the road to full inclusion – the beginning (only a beginning) of a modern resurrection!
I begin by illustrating the point. Later, I will produce the evidence, and attempt an explanation. I end with some suggestions to continue the process.
THE COLLECTIVE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF LGBT CHRISTIANS
2) 1952: How Bad Was It?
By 1952, just 7 years after the Nazi Pink Holocaust and six centuries after the Inquisition began to hunt down and burn “sodomites”, it was effectively impossible to be openly gay and Christian – to declare oneself as such, was to announce that one was both a criminal by law, and (supposedly) condemned to eternal hellfire by Scripture.
3) In the West, penalties no longer earned the death penalty – But legal penalties could include life imprisonment, or castration (eg, Alan Turing, currently widely celebrated for his contribution to computer science, in 1954) Justification was couched in religious language, social penalties included gay bashing, ostracism, career destruction – and often, suicide (including that of Alan Turing)
The persecution in the name of religion continues, promoted by the state in some countries, and by individuals and hate groups in others.
EVIDENCE AND EXPLANATION
6) Five Transforming Trends
The first of these trends to emerge, beginning in 1954, was a reconsideration of the Biblical evidence.
8) In the Beginning Was the Word…….
In 1954 Canon Derrick Sherwin Bailey led a group of Anglican churchmen in a study of homosexuality in the bible and in church history, leading to a publication called “The Problem of Homosexuality”. (It’s findings were submitted to the Wolfenden Commission, and so contributed to the UK decriminilazation of same – sex acts in private and between consenting adults).
Bailey later expanded this into a larger work, “Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition” (1955), which included the first substantial reconsideration of the Biblical clobber texts, and especially a demonstration that the Genesis story of Sodom was nonsexual.
Bailey’s book undoubtedly had an impact on LGBT Christians, providing some impetus for the other trends to be covered later, but it was some years before scholars returned to his investigation of scripture.
Later writers moved beyond merely challenging the traditional interpretations, to labelling them as scriptural and spiritual abuse.
Other writers moved from a preoccupation with arguing against the texts of terror to an exploration of supportive interpretations of scripture. This is neatly illustrated by Keith Sharpe’s “The Gay Gospels”, with its sub- title “Good News for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered People“, and in its two part division into what he calls the “Defensive Testament”, which responds to the clobber texts, and an “Affirmative Testament”, which draws attention to supportive passages.
Other titles with explicitly LGBT affirmative readings include Nancy Wilson’s “Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible“, which identifies specifically queer biblical characters and stories, and Robert Goss’s “Take Back the Word”. This trend reached its fullest demonstration in the monumental “The Queer Bible Commentary“, which has a full chapter for every book of the Bible except the minor prophets – and they each get a section of a chapter.
(The Gay Gospels is strongly recommended for a first exploration of the Bible for those who have been put off by its abuse as a weapon of spiritual warfare, and The Queer Bible Commentary.for those who want to dig deeper).
12) RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE: On the Net
In addition to the growing number of good books on LGBT friendly scripture, there are also numerous excellent blogs and websites. I particularly recommend “The Bible in Drag”, written by the gay pastor, David Popham.
B) Gay Clergy: Coming Out
13) If it was impossible in the 1950′s to be openly gay and Christian, this was especially so for clergy. If exposed as having engaged in same – sex activities, they could expect to be excluded from ministry, losing their livelihoods in the process. That began to change in the 1960s, with implications that cannot be overstated: if young people today are growing up (as many are) in churches served by openly gay or lesbian clergy, even in open and publicly acknowledged same – sex, non-celibate relationships, similar to or recognized as legal marriage, it becomes impossible for others simply to assert without evidence that these relationships are inherently sinful and harmful to society.
The first moves to inclusion came in the Metropolitan Community Church, the Unitarian Universalists, and the United /United Reform Church.
14) Troy Perry and the MCC
15) In 1969, a year after Perry founded the MCC, shortly after Stonewall the first ordained clergyman in a recognized denomination came out publicly. Rev David Stoll, a Unitarian Universalist minister, did so at a youth conference in California. Instead of exclusion, he found acceptance, and was able to advocate for a landmark achievement. In 1970, the Unitarian Universalists approved the first ever “Declaration of Gay Rights”. In 1985, they extended this to specific support for gay marriage – well before this was first introduced into secular law by the Danish government.
16) The United Church, in its differing forms around the world, also moved in the direction of inclusion, with a range of favourable enabling decisions. (However, with final decisions taken at local level, these were enabling decisions only. Actual practice varied from one locality to another).
In Australia, a 1982 decision left open the possibility of gay ordination. In 1985, an “open and affirming” declaration by the USA General Synod declaration encouraged full gay and lesbian inclusion, and earlier this year the United Reform church in the UK registered a church for the registration of civil partnerships.
Then in August 2012, the United Church of Canada elected as moderator the openly gay Gary Paterson – the first out gay or lesbian pastor to become national leader of a major national denomination.
GAY CLERGY: RESISTANCE
17) Other denominations reacted less favourably to LGBT clergy, and were initially hostile. In the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA), a 1976 – 8 church task force on homosexuality recommended LGBT inclusion, but its report was rejected. Chris Glaser, an openly gay man who had served on the task force, was refused ordination. Later Janie Spahr, a lesbian pastor, was effectively forced out of ministry to her congregation.
18) Methodists in the USA were still more forceful on exclusion of LGBT people from active participation in church.
21) In the Anglican communion, inclusion has been most starkly illustrated by the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, by a long way the most visible, and most controversial, of all openly gay or lesbian clergy.
22) But he was not the first Anglican or Episcopal gay bishop, nor even the first who was openly gay at the time of ordination. Bishop Otis Charles outed himself after his retirement, and Mervyn Castle was known to be gay when he was ordained as suffragan for False Bay, in the Archdiocese of Cape Town.
Other bishops, including Arthur Mervyn Stockwood of Southwark and Derek Rawcliffe of Glasgow and eight others, were outed in 1995 by Peter Tatchell and Outrage! (These claimed that they were gay “but celibate”). David Hope, Archbishop of York, outed himself pre-emptively, admitting that his sexuality was a “grey area”.
In 1998, Bishop Terry Brown of the Solomon Islands attended the Lambeth Conference as an openly gay man, and in 1999 Peter Wheatley was appointed suffragan bishop of Edmonton (London), Widely believed to be gay, and living openly with a male partner, he nevertheless claims to be ”a celibate Christian living by Christian teachings”
24) More recently, in the US both Gene Robinson and the lesbian Mary Glasspool have been ordained as bishops, for New Hampshire and Suffagan for Los Angeles respectively.
Jeffrey John has twice been nominated for a bishopric, and twice had the nomination withdrawn. The resulting controversy has ensured that the question of gay bishops will receive close attention, once the matter of women bishops has been resolved, later this year.
Meanwhile, openly gay or lesbian Anglican clergy (including partnered clergy) are widely accepted. Technically, these are expected to be celibate – but this is a fig leaf nobody really believes.
25) July / August 2012
As symbols of the enormous strides to the inclusion of LGBT clergy, consider that in July 2012, the Episcopal Church of the USA formally approved the ordination of transgendered clergy, and at the same synod, approved the inclusion of a lesbian minister, Pauli Murray, in its book of Holy Men, Holy Women, effectively naming her the equivalent of a Catholic saint.
The following month, August 2012, the United Church of Canada unanimously elected the world’s first openly gay leader of a major national church.
26) In the Catholic Church, there have been a number of notable “gay” bishops, and even popes, in Church history. Some examples are saints Paulinus of Nola and Venantius Fortunatus, who both have examples of their homoerotic verse published in “The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse”, and the 11th century Archbishop Ralph of Tours, who succeeded in having his boyfriend John appointed bishop of Orleans – even though it was widely known that in addition to a sexual relationship with Ralph, his previous lovers had included another bishop, the French king, and other nobles. There was a public campaign to prevent the appointment, but not on account of his sexuality, or even his promiscuity. Rather, it was because he was thought to be too young, and would be too easily influenced by Ralph, his mentor. Even so, the campaign failed, and John was appointed. Popes who are known to have had male lovers included Paul II (who died in bed with his lover), Sixtus IV, Leo X, Benedict and Julius III – who appointed his boyfriend a cardinal, aged just 16!
27) In modern times, the only Catholic bishops who are positively known to be gay, are those who have been outed as a result of scandal – such as Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër Vienna (1995), Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee (2002), Bishop Reginald Cawcutt of Cape Town (2002), Bishop Juan Carlos Maccarone of Santiago del Estero, Argentina (2005) and Bishop Francisco Da Silveira of Minas, Uruguay (2009). However, there undoubtedly have been and still are many more who are gay and closeted – just as we know that a high proportion of Catholic priests are gay in orientation,
29) “Welcoming and Affirming”: LGBT Supportive Ministry
30) A few months after Stonewall, a Catholic priest / psychologist founded Dignity, a support group for gay Catholics. Similar organizations were founded a few years later for Catholics in Australia (Acceptance) and the UK (Quest), and for Anglicans (Integrity). There now exist LGBT faith support groups for every conceivable denomination (including Jehovah’s Witnesses), and on every continent (including Uganda)
31) In some churches, support has emphasised getting local congregations to declare themselves “welcoming and affirming”, an important coalition building exercise that was pivotal in the General Assembly resolutions towards LGBT inclusion.
D: MAKING NEW THEOLOGY
32) The emergence of openly LGBT Christians and clergy, supported by revisionist interpretations of the Biblical evidence, has led to a parallel emergence of new explorations of theology, from a gay, lesbian, LGBT or queer perspective.
The different strands in this development are summarized by Elizabeth Stuart, in “Gay and Lesbian Theologies”……
33) Beginning in the 1970s with theology based on the voices and experience of lesbian and gay Christians themselves, which later developed for men into a gay variant of liberation theology, and for women a variant of feminist theology, emphasising relationships.
34) Starting with the challenges to gay theology presented by the AIDS pandemic, “gay/ lesbian” theology gradually transformed into “queer” theology.
35) This has since become so well established as an academic sub-discipline, that there are now even academic studies and textbooks surveying the literature….
36) and the ideas of gay/ lesbian and queer theology are taken seriously by mainstream, heterosexual Catholic and other theologians
37) QUEER FAMILIES
The last of the five transformative trends is the impact on the churches of increasingly visible queer families, especially through demands for gay marriage.
38) Several denominations and dioceses have already approved either full marriage ceremonies or blessings for same – sex couples in church. Provision for marriage in church is built into the equality legislation for Sweden, Iceland and Denmark. The same is expected for Finland’s legislation in 2013. Some Anglican and Episcopal dioceses in Canada and the US permit same – sex church weddings, and others have approved church blessings for civil unions. Even where the rules do not provide for these or explicitly prohibit them, some clergy in many denominations deliberately ignore the rules, and conduct marriage ceremonies without distinguishing between same – sex and opposite – sex couples. A few congregations have decided not to issue civil marriage licences for any couples, until they can do so on a basis of full equality: this will conduct religious services without discrimination, but leave it to the couples to arrange civil marriages elsewhere.
Even where congregations are not formally recognizing relationships, increasing public discussion of gay marriage and acceptability of our relationships is leading to increased visibility of queer families in congregations. There are numerous examples of straight allies, who report that they have had their views of homoerotic relationships transformed, simply by meeting these families, and engaging in discussions with them – finding that their loves for each other have much in common with their own, for their straight spouses.
39) Others, having approved openly gay and partnered clergy in committed, “publicly accountable” relationships, are coming under pressure to make marriage available for their own clergy. On New Year’s Day 2011, two senior lesbian Episcopal priests of the Boston diocese were married in Boston Cathedral, by their bishop. After New York approved gay marriage last year, some Episcopal bishops instructed their priests with live-in same – sex partners to either marry, or end the relationships.
A proposal to approve gay marriages in church was only narrowly voted down at this year’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the USA. A repeated attempt next year could well pass. A similar proposal is widely expected to be approved by the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA).
41) PROCESS OF CHANGE
42) In the Catholic Church, the only one of the five transformative trends that has not been prominently in evidence, is the emergence of openly gay clergy.
43) including, in the US, Catholics have been prominent in campaigns for same – sex marriage
45) SHARE OUR STORIES
46) BE VISIBLE
47) WIN STRAIGHT ALLIES
48) 60 Years into a Modern Resurrection (But a long way still to go, with much hard work to be done).