Austria: pastor bars homosexual from parish council

The parish priest of a small parish in the Archdiocese of Vienna has refused to allow an openly homosexual 26-year-old to serve on the parish council. Florian Stangl, who is disabled, lives in a registered domestic partnership and obtained 96 out of 142 votes in the recent parish council election.

Father Gerhard Swierzek also asked Stangl not to receive Holy Communion.

The vicar forane who heads the local deanery, Father George von Horick, criticized Father Swierzek’s decision, “When we have permission for those candidates who are divorced and remarried,” Father von Horick said, then “homosexual tendencies and life” do not preclude a parish council candidacy.

The archdiocese, however, said in a statement that living in a domestic partnership precludes one from serving on a parish council.

Headlines – Catholic Culture.

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English Bishop Backs Gay Marriage: Queer Ferment in the Anglican Church.

For years, the major focus of controversy in the Church of England has been over the appointment of women bishops. That debate has now been all but settled (even the opponents agree that change is inevitable). Issues around full LGBT inclusion in church will now move to centre stage.

One sign of this is a bishop who has spoken out publicly in favour of gay marriage:

The new Bishop of Salisbury, The Rt Revd Nick Holtam, has spoken out in support of gay marriage.

Bishop Holtam made the comments in an interview with the Times today ahead of the meeting of the General Synod next week, where civil partnerships in churches and equal marriage are to be discussed.

He said: “We are living in a different society. If there’s a gay couple in The Archers, if there’s that form of public recognition in popular soaps, we are dealing with something which has got common currency. All of us have friends, families, relatives, neighbours who are, or who know someone, in same-sex partnerships.”

He said he was “no longer convinced” marriage should be between a man and a woman.

He continued: “I think same-sex couples that I know who have formed a partnership have in many respects a relationship which is similar to a marriage and which I now think of as marriage.

Bishop of Salisbury Backs Gay Marriage - Pink News

Lesbian priests marry, Boston cathedral, 1/1/2010

He is not alone. The Times interview, in which he was speaking about full marriage, followed an earlier report that over 100 Anglican clergy from the diocese of London have signed a petition asking that the synod next week agree to allow local discretion on conducting civil partnership ceremonies on church. The background is that parliament last year changed the civil partnership legislation, which previously prohibited these from being conducted on religious premises, to permit such premises where church authorities give explicit approval. Up to now, the public stance of the Church of England has been that permission will not be granted. Next week’s synod will show that there is significant opposition to that stance. (more…)

Lutheran pastor’s reversal on gay clergy

 Part of the reason that the cause of LGBT equality and inclusion is making steady, inexorable progress, is that for younger people, many of whom have grown up with openly gay or lesbian family members, sexual orientation is just not an issue. This generational divide on its own will ensure that the battles will be one. Another is that individual people, of all age groups, are simply changing their minds.

Bert Oelschig, a Lutheran pastor in Anniston, Ala., is one who has done so, in a move that surprised even himself. Quite how it happened is unstructive, illustrating some common threads that have applied to many others. He draws attention to the work of the Holy Spirit – and to the importance of prayerful reflection.


Bert Oelschig’s mind was made up. The Bible was clear; homosexuality is a sin.

That belief had put Oelschig, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Anniston, at odds with the church’s national denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

In 2009, the ELCA voted to allow openly gay pastors living in “committed, lifelong and monogamous relationships” to serve as members of the clergy.

At Trinity Lutheran, the pastor, the church council and the 80-plus member congregation disagreed so strongly with that vote that they flirted with the idea of splitting with the national denomination. More than 140 congregations had already done so.

- Anniston Star 

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Inclusion in Church, Australia: A Reader’s Personal Story

I love to read the personal perspectives of individual queer people in church, which help to put a human face on the headlines. I particularly like these when they are from people outside the US (which tends to dominate the internet sources), or from backgrounds or denominations other than my own. Sometimes I find these on-line, sometimes they are sent to me as testimony or links in my email in-box – and sometimes they are generously left as comments to some of my posts, as this one was, by a reader in South Australia.

The trouble with good, lengthy contributions to the comments thread is that they probably don’t get the readership they deserve, so I have reproduced below the response from Rev. Sue Wickham  to a recent post relating to the Uniting Church of Australia.


A Transgender Sister in Christ

“Pastor, I need to know if I’m welcome in this church!” It was with these words, blurted out as she ambled across the threshold of my office doorway, that I was first introduced to Sami (not her real name), a person who was in the process of transitioning from male to female. The words barely out of her mouth, Sami plopped down on the edge of the couch adjacent to my desk and launched into her story.

The western New York church I was serving at the time is an American Baptist church that I would describe as conservative to moderate, and one that had never encountered a trans person seeking welcome, affirmation and, eventually, membership.

-full story at  Rev. Rich Rose, Huffpost.

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Two gay ministers uniting the church – SX News

By now, the movement towards full inclusion in church for openly lesbian or gay (and partnered) clergy is strong, and widely reported – for the US. The process is in fact also evident in many other areas. In Protestant Europe, it has advanced rather further than in the US – so that it is no longer even newsworthy. In Australia, it is a little behind, but as this report from Sydney, it has begun there too.

Two gay ministers uniting the church - Australia 

Two congregations of the Uniting Church of Australia (UCA) have appointed two openly gay ministers — understood to be the first time a major Christian denomination has inducted openly gay clergy in Sydney.

The Reverend Nicole Fleming was appointed sole minister of Balmain Uniting Church on July 17.

One week later, the Reverend Ben Gilmour was welcomed as the sole minister of the Paddington Uniting Church.

Both congregations appointed Fleming and Gilmour completely aware of their sexuality.

While the UCA has not made a definitive decision about gay ministers, its 2003 national assembly affirmed the Church’s previous position that a person’s sexuality should not, in itself, be a bar to ordination.

It acknowledged that different views on homosexuality exist within the Church but made it clear congregations can choose clergy who fit the local context.

 -full report at  SX News 

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Methodist Church Billboard: “Being Gay is a Gift from God”

Toledo Ohio is not the first name that comes to mind when thinking of the hotbeds of gay activism in the US, nor the United Methodist church for the vanguard of the move for lgbt inclusion in church. That’s what makes this story important – even in middle America, and even in middle-of- the- road Mainline Protestant churches, the momentum is towards LGBT equality, and replacement of the view of that homoerotic sexuality is sinful, with one of giftedness – and hence of grace.

TOLEDO – If you’ve driven down Monroe St. recently you may have stopped and did a double-take when you saw one message pop up on the electronic billboard. The message reads “Being Gay is a Gift from God.”

Dan Rutt of the Central United Methodist Church is one of the faces behind the new campaign.  He expected not only that everyone who saw the message would be pleased, but that they would encourage the conversation it brings about.  “People who seem to have a different perspective…we welcome that and look forward to that, so let the conversation begin.”

-Toledo on the move

Strictly speaking, it is impossible for this particular conversation to “begin” – it is already well advanced. Some denominations major and minor denominations, in the US and in Europe, have practised full inclusion and welcoming for LGBT Christians for years. Others have done so more recently, and almost all are engaging in serious debates.


Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Now Imminent

Since I last updated the status of the Presbyterian process for ratification of last year’s vote permitting the ordination of openly partnered and lesbian or gay clergy, prospects have brightened even more. There are now 16 regional presbyteries that have switched from No to Yes –  compared with just two that have switched the other way, from Yes to No. This makes a net gain of 14 – against only 9 which are needed. It is likely that there will be others too, making the switch in the weeks ahead. The number of Yes votes still required for approval (7) is down to single figures, and only one fifth of the 35 votes still to be held. The opposition, conversely, in order to prevent ratification would need to win 28 of those remaining votes, including switching at least five from Yes to No – an unlikely task, when so far they have achieved only 2 such switches, out of 153 votes held.

This process is clearly of fundamental importance to lesbigaytrans Presbyterians in the USA, but I believe it has far greater importance for the entire Christian church, worldwide: it is just one, local manifestation of a much bigger process. The ECLA took a similar decision in 2009, and recently 33 retired Methodist bishops called for that denomination to do the same. Three openly gay and partnered bishops have been ordained in the Episcopal and Swedish Lutheran churches, and the German Lutherans have no problem with pastors living with same sex partners. The process extends beyond the ordination of gay clergy. There is increasing willingness in many local churches and (some national denominations) to bless same sex partnerships or even celebrate gay weddings in Church. These are not, as the conservatives claim, simply opportunistic accomodation to secular trends in defiance of Scripture, but are prompted in large part precisely by careful attention to scholarly Biblical study, prayer and attentive listening process. Even Catholic professional theologians are now recognizing what lay Catholics already know – that homoerotic relationships in themselves are not immoral. What is presently unfolding in the PCUSA, why I find it so riveting, is nothing less than a wholesale transformation of Christian responses to homosexuality.




“We Are the Church”: Sr Jeannine Gramick

“I think the best way we convey how we believe is not words; it’s the way we act,” Sr Gramick told students at Columbia Collegege Chicago April 1. Gramick said lay Catholics are far ahead of Catholic leaders on gay issues.

“This happens in a lot of religious traditions, where the people lead their religious leaders,” Gramick said. “The real people who matter are the people in these religious institutions who may not be the leaders, the people in the pews.”
The Catholic Church would better fulfil its mission, Gramick said, by listening to those people and meeting them without judgment.

“When we say ‘church,’ most of us most of the time really mean ‘church leaders.’ I’d like to get back to the people. It’s really the people in the church,” Gramick said. “The church needs to have a little conversion, and we have to realize that we are the church.”

-Now in Gay Chicago


10 Years of Gay Marriage, and the Christian Church

Ten years ago today, the world noted the first legally recognized gay marriage, in the Netherlands. On that day,  four same sex couples exchanged vows in front of  then mayor of Amsterdam, Jeb Cohen.

It took two years before another country, Belgium, followed suit in 2002, and a further three before Spain and Canada joined them in 2005, and South Africa in 2006.

Since then, five more countries were added to the list in the last two years – Norway and Sweden in 2009, Iceland, Portugal and Argentina  in 2010.

In the US and Mexico, local jurisdictions recognize same sex marriage in five US states and in Mexico City. In effect, this significantly increases the coverage of access to same sex marriage, because all Mexican regions are compelled to recognize marriages contracted in the capital, and several US states that do not conduct same sex weddings themselves, grant recognition to marriages contracted elsewhere. Even where marriages are not recognized, many couples simply take the step of getting married where they can, with or without the formality of legal recognition.

Beyond the high profile matter of full marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships are becoming ever more widely available. A recent estimate is that some form of partner recognition is now available to 42% of Americans, while in Europe it is very much higher. Only a handful of  European countries still do not provide for civil unions, and some of those that do, can be confidently expected to upgrade them to full marriage in the next few years. Even in Africa, South Africa has provision for same sex marriage, and in Asia, Nepal will do once the new constitution is finally inaugurated. South America has full marriage and family equality, several other countries have civil unions.

Worldwide, the momentum is clearly in favour of marriage equality for all couples. What are the implications for the Churches?

Initially, the most visible religious response was in opposition, insisting that marriage could only be between one man and one woman, and that anything else was clearly contrary to the Bible and God’s will (in flat denial of the evidence, but I let that pass, today). More interesting has been how the religious responses have developed over the past ten years.

In some cases, religious based opposition has progressed from opposition to all same sex unions, to an attempt to promote civil unions as a weaker alternative to full marriage, or to acceptance of civil marriage for all, but implacable opposition to marriage in church. Others have been forced by the existence of legal provision for same sex couples, to accept the value of offering church blessings for couples who have been joined in civil marriage or civil unions – while continuing to reserve full church weddings for opposite sex couples.

But some churches have gone even further. In Scandinavia, the Swedish and Icelandic Lutherans, as state churches, have accepted the legal provision for both civil and religious marriage, and now conduct church weddings for all couples without discrimination. The Norwegian and Finnish Lutherans are expected to follow, in time. In the UK, the British Quakers and some other religious groups have been prominent in pressuring the government to upgrade the civil partnership legislation to full marriage, because they want to conduct their weddings on a basis of full equality. In the US and Canada, the United Church has conducted same sex weddings for years, other denominations have allowed local jurisdictions to take their own decisions on marriage, and some local churches have even gone ahead and conducted gay church weddings without formal approval for doing so. In the political sphere, public and legislative debates on the introduction of laws for same sex marriage or civil unions regularly feature religious arguments in favour, as well as the more familiar arguments against.

Religious support will be strengthened immeasurably by the expansion of acceptance for openly gay and lesbian pastors.  This support is not unqualified: the ELCA resolution two years ago was specifically to accept pastors in same sex relationships that were committed, faithful and accountable – in a manner comparable to marriage. How better to ensure that this accountability is on a par with heterosexual married couples, than by extending church marriages to all? Acceptance of openly gay and lesbian partnered clergy will soon be the default position for US mainline Protestant churches, as it already is for European Protestants. Support for church weddings is still lagging a little way behind: in both the ELCA and PCUSA assemblies that approved resolutions to permit ordination for openly LGBT clergy, similar proposals to permit same sex weddings in church were defeated.

This will change. These resolutions will reappear again and again, until they are finally accepted, as they will be – just as the proposals for gay clergy were submitted several times before achieving ultimate success.  Religious support for same sex marriage, inside or outside of church, will continue to grow, and overt opposition will decline. This will make the religious arguments against political equality more difficult to sustain, while the growing access to civil marriage will continue to add pressure on the churches to face the reality in front of them, of legally married couples and their children in need of pastoral care.

The world today celebrates ten years since the start of limited legal recognition for same sex marriage. Queers in the churches should celebrate not only the civil progress to equality, but also the undoubted impetus this has given to the movement to full LGBT inclusion in church.


Catholics and Gay Marriage: The Facts

Would Jesus Support Gay Marriage? – Rev Peter Gomes

The GOP/ Evangelical Quiet Revolution on Gay Rights

Are Evangelicals Embracing LGBT Inclusion?

Cathedral Wedding for Senior Lesbian Priests


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