Introducing NALT – “Christians Are Not All Like That”

If you haven’t yet come across the letters NALT – you’ll soon be seeing them, again and again (and that’s good).

Some time ago, a QTC reader suggested to me that a kind of Catholic version of the “It Gets Better” project would be something worth developing on the site. I agreed, and began some preliminary work on it, intending to make just such a video myself. Like so many things I would like to do here, I never did really get my head around the nitty gritty of making it work. Now, there’s a similar project up, infinitely better and more ambitious than I could have done.

Dan Savage first began to use the abbreviation NALT, for Christians who are “not all like that”, to describe the steady stream of people who would come up to him after his public appearances at which he criticized religious leaders’ homophobic responses to equal marriage. Instead, these people would point out to him the large and growing number of LGBT people of faith, and their straight allies, who take a very different view of religion and sexuality – a view which sees no inherent contradiction between a same- sex affectional orientation and religious belief, who do not believe that living with integrity in a loving relationship is forbidden, and who emphasize the affirmative passages in scripture, rather than the much abused clobber texts.

Now, there’s a new project, modelled on Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, which invites contributors to make and upload their own Youtube videos to explain that Jesus is certainly Not Like That – and nor are all Christians.

(more…)

“The Times, They Are A-Changing” – And How!

Late last night, I joined a BBC WM (West Midlands) phone – in programme, the Graham Torrington Late Show. Every week, the show discusses an aspect of love, sex and relationships. This week, the subject was changes in gay lives over the past 20 years or so. (Until Sunday 4th November, UK readers can listen to the full programme by following the link). Or, if you want my pearls of wisdom without the full program, if you are outside the UK, or listening at some future date – here’s an MP3 file, supplied by the producer.

terry weldon – bbc wm – tx 281012

What Torrington want to know from me, was two things. First, he asked about the circumstances that led me to marry (a lot more than twenty years ago), the consequences, and whether in modern circumstances I would have done the same thing. To recap, I repeat that as a young Catholic, steeped in Catholic education, I took it as axiomatic that I had to follow church doctrine in every element of sexual teaching. Repressing any recognition that I was in fact gay, I married far too young, two children soon followed – and thereafter a breakdown of the marriage in pretty traumatic circumstances. Along the way, both my wife and I drifted away from the church, and I lost almost all religious faith. After I later acknowledged my orientation, came out as gay and settled down in a committed, marriage – like relationship, my partner gradually led me back into the church.

The second theme I discussed concerned the very profound changes that have been taking place in the churches, and the position of gay and lesbian people in the Catholic Church specifically. I referred to the changing responses of Biblical scholars to reading the Biblical evidence, to the rise in numbers and acceptability of openly lesbian or gay clergy in many denominations, even at leadership level as bishops, or as national moderator (of the United Church in Canada), and to the spread of support for gay marriage – even in church – and to church blessings for civil unions. I also referred briefly to the growth of support groups for LGBT Christians, in every denomination (including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists) and on every continent.

And so yes, was my very clear answer: in practical terms, it is vastly easier for young people to be openly gay than it was twenty years ago, and no, with an abundance of appropriate role models before them, these young people are far less likely than I was to feel forced into entirely inappropriate heterosexual marriage.

These changes I discussed represent four of the five transforming trends in the church that I identified in my address to the 2012 Quest annual conference. The one I did not cover directly, was the emergence of openly gay and lesbian theology (followed by queer theology), and the changing response it has forced from many other theologians, in recognizing that same – sex relationships should be viewed in much the same way as any other committed, loving relationships.

This was a subject that I covered as one of five trends in my Quest presentation – but Savi Hensman, an associate and columnist for the Ekklesia think – tank, has written on the same theme, in much greater depth, in a long essay on The Journey to Acceptance. Beginning, as I did, with the position in the mid – twentieth century and Canon Derrek Sherwen Bailey, who initiated the reassment of the Biblical evidence, she continues by tracing the developments throughout the intervening years right up to the present, identifying an impressive range of contributions by lesbian, gay and straight theologians from a wide range of traditions and denominations, and how this is reshaping views on the morality and value of same – sex relationships. (She explicitly does not include in her essay, the related but distinct subjects of gender identity and intersex people).

One of the delights of this essay, for one like myself who is not a scholar and lacks easy access to scholarly libraries and their journals, is that her extensive, meticulously cited footnotes almost all refer to on-line sources available to all. ( One or two exceptions are to abstracts of journal articles, not the complete originals, and one link I could not get to work). This a treasure trove I will be exploring in detail. For anyone with a serious interest in how the theology has changed, and continues to change, I recommend that you do, too.

Here are Savi Hensman’s section headings:

  1. Introduction and overview
  2. Beyond the sin of Sodom
  3. Questioning assumptions
  4. Love and grace
  5. Sexuality, liberation and “queerness”
  6. Theological reflection in fiction and film
  7. Debating sexuality in the church
  8. ‘Family values’ in the Bible
  9. Good news and challenge
  10. Creating space for discussion and reflection
  11. Looking back and forward
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Blessed Are the Queer in Faith: Introduction and Summary

This year’s national conference of  Quest, the British association for lesbian and gay Catholics, had as its theme “60 Glorious Years”, tying in with Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee year. For my presentation, I took as my title, “Blessed Are the Queer in Faith, for They Shall Inherit the Church”, later adding as a subtitle, “60 Years Into a Modern Resurrection for LGBT Christians”. With the word “resurrection”  I was suggesting that by the middle of the last century, the collective body of LGBT Christians had in effect been metaphorically killed off in the name of religious belief. 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!

Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washingto...

Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washington, DC, with a LGBT banner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

THE COLLECTIVE MARTYRDOM OF LGBT CHRISTIANS

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.

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.

Penalties were no longer imposed by the Church – but motivated by an insistence that sodomy was the “Sin that cried out to heaven for vengeance”.
By 1952, 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.

And yet- How Far We’ve Come!

By 2012, things have changed dramatically – at least in some denominations. In just the past two months, one major Christian church has honoured a modern lesbian by declaring her their equivalent of a modern “saint”, and another has unanimously elected an openly gay man as national moderator.

FIVE  TRANSFORMING TRENDS

In explanation of how this remarkable transformation has come about, I have identified five distinct but mutually reinforcing and interacting transformative trends that have taken us over the past 60 years from total invisibility, to where we are now: solidly on a path to full LGBT inclusion in church.

A)Finding a Rainbow Bible.

 A fundamental reassessment of the scriptural verdict on same – sex relationships. We have, in a sense, discovered or rediscovered a rainbow bible. If the bible really is “good news” for modern people, that must mean good news for all, including queer Christians. Beginning early in our period, a series of scholars have done work to show first, that the “traditional” interpretations of a handful of clobber texts are at best less secure than previously believed, and possibly deeply flawed, possibly even amounting to spiritual harm or “textual abuse”. Others have moved beyond defensive attempts to counter the texts of terror, to uncover and celebrate the vastly more numerous affirmative texts, and to read affirmative interpretations into others.

B) LGBT clergy coming out of the closet

Ever since Rev Troy Perry responded to his expulsion from Baptist ministry for having had a sexual relationship with a man not by meekly accepting the verdict, but by forming instead a new denomination with an explicit welcome for lesbian and gay Christians, a continuing stream of clergy, and those seeking ordination, have come out, insisting that there is no conflict between their sexuality and their religious faith.  Responses from their denominations have differed, from acceptance and accommodation to outright hostility, but several denominations have already made explicit provision to accept openly LGBT clergy, or on course to do so, or accept them informally, in a clerical version of DADT. The visibility of these queer ministers, in public or in local congregations, makes it much easier for individual Christians to find self-acceptance, and to come out in church themselves.

 C) The development of a range of self – ministry & support groups.

While Troy Perry’s solution for supportive ministry was to found an entirely new denomination, others have formed support groups and ministry structures within mainstream denominations. In the US, Dignity was started by a Catholic priest, originally as a support group for gay Catholic patients in his psychotherapy practice. Similar organizations later followed for Catholics in Australia and the UK, and for just about all other denominations (including Jehovah’s Witnesses), and on all continents. In many Protestant denominations, there has been a parallel movement aimed not at separate support groups, but at getting local congregations to declare themselves “open and affirming”. This development of an expanding base of straight allies has been key to the succession of LGBT support resolutions adopted, or due to be adopted, at various national assemblies – and to the election of queer candidates to leadership positions.

D) Contributing to Theology

 From about the mid 1970′s, there has been the emergence of of an increasing number of openly gay and lesbian theologians, contributing to mainstream theology in all its variety, but also creating the brand new academic subdisciplines of gay and lesbian theology, and later queer theology. While this remains a minority pursuit, it has developed sufficiently that it now has its own academic journals, shelf space in theological libraries, and academic reviews of the literature to date. In her summary of the development, Elizabeth Stuart identified the origins in the early pioneers emphasising theology drawing strongly on personal experience, then developing into gay liberation theology (especially for men), and into a theology emphasising relationships (especially by lesbians drawing on feminist theology).  After discussing the challenge to gay and lesbian theologies presented by the AIDS pandemic, she describes how this led to a shift from gay/lesbian theologies to queer theology. In a later, more exhaustive account of queer theology specifically, Susannah Cornwall describes several “Controversies in Queer Theology”, in which she argues (among other things) that a queer perspective on theology is useful even for heterosexuals such as herself, and that there are many insights from queer theology making valuable contributions to mainstream theology.  At the other end of the academic scale, Patrick Cheng’s text “Radical Love” is described as an introductory text book on queer theology for junior college students.

E) The increasing visibility of queer families.

 Ever since Stonewall, gay men and lesbians have been encouraged to come out, declaring their sexuality publicly.  Many, growing in confidence from the range of faith – based support groups, revisionist interpretations of the biblical evidence, and the insights from gay/ lesbian or queer theology, have done so in church, as well as in the secular world. With growing social acceptance, people of our community are forming stable relationships and families, and taking their place as families in many congregations. Their increasing visibility, coupled with the expanding availability of legal recognition for  same – sex unions, is forcing the churches also to consider ways in which they can celebrate these committed, marriage – like relationships, on a basis of equality and free of discrimination.  This is especially so in those denominations which have come to accept the possibility of ordaining openly gay clergy, in partnerships that are committed, faithful and publicly accountable to the community, in a manner comparable to marriage. This requirement is most easily met – but providing opportunities for full marriage for all their clergy, gay or straight, without discrimination. It is not surprising then, that while many religious leaders are actively campaigning against marriage equality legislation, some others are actively promoting, or implementing, same – sex marriage, even in church. This is currently available in some denominations and geographic regions, others are likely to approve it in the next few years, and still more are approving arrangements for church blessings of civil unions.

Conclusions: The Modern Resurrection

 While many of the features I’ve listed may seem familiar, we tend to be so overwhelmed by the extent of vocal opposition, especially to recognition for marriage and family equality, that we tend to lose sight of just how far we have come. From the perspective of the grand sweep of history, the past 60 years is a short time indeed, and yet progress, from near invisibility, has been remarkable. What is more, we must remember that each of these five trends continues, and they mutually re-inforce each other. The process, and further progress to full LGBT inclusion in church, will surely continue. We really are, I submit, 60 years into a modern resurrection for LGBT Christians.
(The above is just a summary of the original presentation. The full text is available here, To  To view the full Powerpoint Presentation at Google Docs. , follow this link.) 
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“Blessed Are the Queer in Faith”: Quest Presentation, 2012

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.

 4) Penalties were no longer imposed by the Church – but motivated by an insistence that sodomy was the “Sin that cried out to heaven for vengeance”.
By 1952, 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.
5) And yet- How Far We’ve Come!

By 2012, things have changed dramatically – at least in some denominations. In just the past two months, one major Christian church has honoured a modern lesbian by declaring her their equivalent of a modern “saint”, and another has unanimously elected an openly gay man as national moderator. (Details on these, follow later)

EVIDENCE AND EXPLANATION

6) Five Transforming Trends

 In support and as explanation, I trace five distinct but mutually reinforcing and interacting transformative trends that have taken us over the past 60 years from total invisibility, to where we are now: solidly on a path to full LGBT inclusion in church.
These five transformative trends are:
A) A fundamental reassessment of the scriptural verdict on same – sex relationships
B) LGBT clergy coming out of the closet, and finding acceptance of their relationships
C) The development of a range of self – ministry & support groups
D) The emergence of of openly gay and lesbian theologians, creating gay and lesbian theology, and later queer theology, with its acceptance in the academy as respectable academic pursuits.
E) The rapidly increasing visibility of queer families, especially as gay marriage and gay adoption receive widespread public attention or even approval.
A) SCRIPTURE
7) RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE : Finding the Rainbow Bible

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.

9) RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE : Refuting the Clobber Texts
In 1980 John Boswell, in his seminal historical study “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality”, included an impressive chapter in which he applies his linguistic skills to the Biblical verses, and William Countryman published the first major work, “Dirt, Greed, and Sex”exclusively devoted to a reassessment of the biblical evidence.
The Catholic scholar Daniel Helminiak  and the evangelical pastor Jack Rogers (“What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality” and Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church) were just two among many who followed in critical examination of these texts of terror.
10) RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE : Traditional Readings as Spiritual Abuse

Later writers moved beyond merely challenging the traditional interpretations, to labelling them as scriptural and spiritual abuse.

Some titles illustrate this development:
Rembert S Truluck: “Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse
11) RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE: Inclusive Readings

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

 When Troy Perry was exposed in 1968 as having had sexual relations with a man and barred from practising as a Baptist minister for that reason, he did not simply sit back and accept his fate, as others had done. Instead, he started his own church, specifically to serve gay men and lesbians, meeting initially in his own living room, and later in gay bars.
Today, the MCC is established as a recognized denomination, with congregations in many countries around the world, on all continents.

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.

In 1972, the “Book of Discipline” declared homosexual practice incompatible with Christian teaching. This declaration was subsequently used to prohibit gay ordination, marriage, blessing same- sex unions – and in some cases, even church membership. For example, in 1985, Elizabeth Stroud had her clerical status revoked
GAY CLERGY: INCLUSION
In spite of this official exclusion, however, more and more LGBT clergy were in fact being accepted by local congregations, and tolerated as long as they were not open, in a form of DADT. Others who were open, were accepted by local congregations, but unable to secure national recognition.
19) In time, active repression began to give way to moves towards inclusion, starting most notably with the Lutherans.
The Canadian Lutherans appointed their first openly gay vicar in 2006, and in the US,  the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America at it’s 2009 general synod approved the ordination of openly gay or lesbian clergy, including those in non- celibate relationships, provided these were committed, faithful, and publicly accountable, in a manner comparable to heterosexual marriage. This has important implications for the church’s stance on same – sex marriage ceremonies.
Across northern Europe, openly LGBT clergy are widely accepted, and also in 2009, the Swedish church appointed a lesbian, Eva Brunne, as bishop of Stockholm.
20) Somewhat more cautiously, the Presbyterian Church of the USA has also removed the firm barriers to gay ordination.
After repeated defeats in earlier years, in 20o9 the PCUSA General Assembly voted to remove ban on LGBT clergy, but was unable to secure the required ratification at local level.
In 2010, they again voted to remove the ban, and followed up in 2011 with successful ratification. An attempt in 2012 to rescind the decision failed badly.
This approval however, simply removes national barriers, it does not mandate LGBT ordination. Substantial discretion in the application of standards is left to regional and local level.

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.

CATHOLIC 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,

 28) For openly gay Catholic clergy, we need to look beyond the bishops, to the priesthood. It is believed that possibly a third to a half of Catholic priests are gay, but only a tiny number are publicly out. The image on this slide, one of my favourites, shows four priests in clerical collars (Dan McCarthy, Bernard Lynch, John McNeill and Robert Carter) marching together in a New York gay pride parade.  Others were involuntarily outed when they fell ill during the AIDS epidemic, bringing to public attention that sexually active gay priests existed. Still others, like Sebastian Moore, and Mychal Judge, victim 0001 of 9/11, have been open about their sexuality, but have kept to their vows of celibacy. Even greater numbers are not fully out publicly, but are to close friends, and even to their colleagues and bishops. That number is probably increasing.
C: WELCOMING AND AFFIRMING MINISTRY

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).

40) CONCLUSIONS

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

44) LESSONS

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).

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Ron Goetz: Straight Ally in Faith, “Bible – Thumping Liberal”

I have an email subscription to Ron Goetz’s blog, “Bible – Thumping Liberal“, where he often has useful posts on biblical passages relating to same – sex relationships (and on countering the infamous clobber passages that don’t, but are believed to condemn them). See for example, his series of posts on  gays and lesbians in Luke:

 I tell you, in that night,
          there shall be two men in one bed;
                the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
          Two women shall be grinding together;
                the one shall be taken, and the other left.
           (Luke 17:34-35, KJV)

This week he placed a post about his personal journey to LGBT advocacy, as a straight ally in faith, which illustrates several themes familiar from other such journeys: how for many years he never thought of himself as prejudiced, but his ignorance and insensitivity could on occasion give offence; how the subject became personal for him when his own son came out as gay, and experienced direct discrimination from Christians, leading to three suicide attempts (in an earlier post, he described how A Pastor and a Teacher Nearly Killed My Son); how he then used his existing skills in bible study to re-examine for himself the biblical evidence against- and found as so many others have done, that it is scant to non-existent:

Two or three years later I decided it was time for me to look at the Bible verses used by anti-homosexual Christians.  It is, after all, one of my strengths. Romans and Leviticus were relatively easy, the others took some time.  My main take-away from studying the Clobber Passages was how incredibly flimsy they were.  Each proof text was flawed, weak to the point of irrelevant, in no way justifying the campaign being waged against lesbians and gays.

 We as LGBT Christians, and our allies, need to know and understand this, how flimsy are the arguments based on these texts of terror, but that is not my main concern today. Also important, is simply sharing our stories – our own, and those of our families. We need to honour and thank the people of PFLAG (and, for Catholics, Fortunate Families), who are our most valuable allies.

Rational, abstract arguments I can sometimes summarize, but personal stories are – personal, and need to be read in a personal voice. Read Ron’s story, and his telling of his son’s experience, here and here.

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St Matrona /Babylas of Perge, November 9th

9th November is the day the Eastern Orthodox Church remembers the feast of St Matrona /Babylas of Perge, another of the group of female saints in the early church who dressed as men to be admitted to all-male monasteries.

Our Holy Mother Matrona (492 AD):

She was from Perga in Pamphylia, and married very young, to a youth named Domitian, to whom she bore a daughter. The couple settled in Constantinople. Matrona became so constant in attending all-night vigils in the city’s many churches that her husband suspected her of infidelity and forbade her to go out. This was unbearable to Matrona, who fled the house with her daughter. Determined to embrace monastic life, she gave her daughter into the care of a nun named Susanna, disguised herself as a eunuch, and entered the monastery of St Bassian (October 10) under the name of Babylas. Though she amazed all with her zeal and ascetic labors, Bassian one day discerned that she was a woman. Though he reprimanded her severely because of her zeal, he was unwilling to drive her away from monastic life because of her zeal; so he directed her to go to Emesa in Syria to enter a certain women’s monastery there.

Matrona continued to advance in the virtues, and once healed a blind man by anointing his eyes with myrrh from the head of St John the Baptist (which had been miraculously discovered around that time). The miracle became widely-known, and because of it Matrona’s husband learned of her whereabouts. When he came to her monastery she escaped to Jerusalem, but he pursued her there too. She fled from place to place, even living for several years in an abandoned pagan temple in Beirut, where she was constantly assaulted by the demons that inhabited the place. In time several pagan women, seeing her struggles, asked to be her disciples, and a small monastic community sprang up in the pagan temple. After a few years she and her disciples made their way back to to Constantinople, where St Bassian received her joyfully and helped her to establish a monastery. There she was visited by the Empress Verina, wife of Leo the Great, and many other noblewomen of the City, some of whom left all to join Matrona in monastic life. Saint Matrona lived to be almost one hundred years old and reposed in peace, having foretold the day of her death.

(God is Wonderful in His Saints, November)

(For some general observation on the full group, have a look at “Transvestite Saints?”)

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Secrets & Lies – and Uncovering the Truth

“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!”

(James 3:5)

*******

Indeed, this small member has potential for great damage – but also carries with it the potential to counter and repair the damage.  It is this potential for recovering truth that interests me more, but first, we must review the nature of the problem. There are many kinds of lies: outright falsehoods, lies of selective truth, and lies of omission among them.  For us as lesbian & gay Christians, some examples of each are well-known.ttongue

Perhaps the most egregious of the downright falsehoods is that the destruction of Sodom was God’s vengeance on the homosexual sins of its populace.  As many modern scholars have shown, there is absolutely no basis for this. The true sin of Sodom were pride, indulgence and sloth, which motivated the visit of the angelic messengers. (more…)

The Road from Emmaus: Gay & Lesbian Prophetic Role

As an example of powerful Biblical interpretation which combines the different approaches approved by the Pontifical Biblical Commission of which I wrote yesterday, I would now like to present to you a powerful reflection by Michael B Kelly.  This was originally presented as a keynote address to the Australian lesbian and gay Catholic group “Acceptance” back in 1997. An edited text is reprinted in his book, “Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith“.

Seduced by Grace_ Michael Bernard Kelly

Michael’s interpretation is notable for the way in which he places the familiar story of Emmaus firmly within the broader context of Luke’s Gospel, and specifically its narrative of the Resurrection. (more…)

Marriage Equality & the Church: Take 2

Back in May, I wrote that the growing international acceptance of civil marriage for same sex couples would inevitably nudge the churches to rethink their own positions, nudging them to greater acceptance.  (See “Marriage Equality and the Church“ ). Some recent news stories illustrate the point.

gay_marriage

In the UK,  the change in Swedish law is already having a direct imact on the Anglican church, which has close ties to the Lutherans.  The resonse described here is about two English bishops who have written to the Lutherans to express their “concern” that the change in Swedish law will ut pressure on the English church to accept same sex marriage: (more…)

“To the Tune of a Welcoming God”

Michael Bayley at The Wild Reed has drawn my attention to David Weiss’ book To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality, and the wideness of God’s welcome, and posts two excerpts from the book.

To theTtune of a Welcoming GodIn the first, David describes his journey in coming out – not as gay, but as a gay ally.  The second is a prose poem,   “Words Offered at the End of the Day to an Unknown Friend Living in Fear”. Both are worth reading:  we as LGBT people of faith need to speak up opnely and in our own voices, but we also need allies, and we need to hold firmly to the knowledge that God is always welcoming:  not “in spite” of our sexuality, but just because we are all God’s people.

I do not reproduce the text here, but encourage you to read it.  Go to (more…)

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