Thursday, 29 October 2009

Queer by Any Other Name: Mark Jordan on Terminology

In the beginning was a word, and the word was “queer”. But this was seen as offensive, so we changed it to “gay”.  Many women felt they were not clearly included, so the words became “gay and lesbian”. Some thought this was a tautology, so it was spelt out: “gay men and lesbians”, sometimes “lesbians and gay men”.  “What about us?” asked the bisexuals, so it became “lesbians, gay men and bisexuals”.  But some men didn’t like being called gay, they were just “men who have sex with “men” – MSM. Then we realised there were others who were excluded – but lesbian gay bisexual and transgendered was too much of a mouthful, so it became LGBT, later extended to LGBTQI – so adding “queer” (now including all other sexual minorities, or none) and “intersex”.
Yesterday, Michael Bayley and I had a short interchange in the comments thread to a post at Wild Reed (an important one, which I plan to address separately.  In the meantime, read and think about the post at “An exciting endeavour”, or just read the comments.)
In yet another example of staggering synchronicity, one of the first news reports I saw this morning on my personalised Google News page was a report of a lecture by Mark Jordan on exactly this topic, together with a comment which pretty will sums up my feelings – but ever so much more eloquently.
(Before giving you Prof Jordan’s remarks, I should clarify may own stance on this blog.  I don’t like any of the terms that are used, but my preference is “Queer”, with a very specific new meaning.  But I recognise that many people either dislike the term, or are not familiar with the modern usage.    So, in a spirit of inclusiveness, I try to use a range of the less offensive terms without discrimination – and with no attempt to be consistent).
Here follow extracts from the lecture (from Yale Daily News):

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Gay Marriage – in Church: Sweden

It’s been a long time coming, but has been expected ever since same – sex marriage was approved by the Swedish parliament back in May this year – immediately before the news from Iowa.  As I predicted at the time, the Swedish Lutheran Church has now approved church weddings for gay and lesbian couples.   The interesting part of this to me is that although individual pastors are not obliged to perform same sex ceremonies, local churches do not have the same opt-out:  all churches must be available to all couples.  If the resident pastor won’t do it, a substitute must be brought in from elsewhere.

Bridegrooms on Church Steps

Once again, this advance has come after discussion that began much earlier, before the church approved “blessing of homosexual partnerships years ago.”  In so doing, the majority of the church discounted the traditional view that such partnerships were somehow “against Scripture”.  This is another very welcome step in the defanging of that fallacious argument. (See “Countering the Clobber Texts”)

Monday, 13 July 2009

My Homoerotic Retreat: Six days that changed my life.

(In offering the story below, I do so with some trepidation.  I know that many readers will be sceptical or cautious, may even find it ridiculous. I myself, given my particular background in faith and religious temperament, would have been made distinctly uncomfortable if any of my friends had asked me to take such a story seriously. Still, I think it is time to share it.  I leave you to decide for yourself:  was this a genuine mystical experience, as my eminently well qualified spiritual directors believed?  Or was I just suffering from some kind of spiritual delusions of grandeur?  Make up your own mind.)

During Advent of 2002, I underwent a 6 day directed retreat which turned out to be the most extraordinary spiritual, even mystical, experience of my life, which in certain key respects fundamentally changed my outlook on faith.

Background & Context

As the experience really was remarkable, sounding like an account that I myself would previously have dismissed as ramblings from the sentimental / superstitious wing of Catholicism, I want to begin by setting out my prior religious / spiritual background, as well as the context in which I began my retreat.  This will provide both context and contrast for what followed.

After drifting away from the church during my twenties as a married man, I later came out as a gay man.  Ironically, it was only after setting up in a committed long gay relationship that I was moved to return to the church.  The parish I then joined was led by Jesuit priests, and in time I began to explore the Ignatian approach to spirituality, by way of increasingly heavy involvement in the CLC – “Christian Life Community”.  In spite of this involvement, I did not see myself as particularly “religious” (a word I detest), nor “spiritual”, with all its connotations of “piety” and mysticism.  I simply knew that I enjoyed profound satisfaction in setting aside time for quiet reflection on my life.  My take on all matters of faith was primarily cerebral. (I was distinctly uncomfortable with the more ostentatious displays of images and relics, of novenas and special prayers “guaranteed” to bring results, or of mystical voices and apparitions.)  I did, however, find value in the Jesuit emphasis on balancing the promptings of head and heart, and on the value of paying attention to experience.  I became of convinced of the truth that Prayer is not just about speaking to God asking for favours, but also of attempting to listen.  I knew that by proper attention to the discernment of spirits within, one could, with care and imperfectly, hear the voice of the Lord speaking directly to us.

The context for this retreat was that after a long period of careful discernment, my partner and I had taken the important decision to leave South Africa, the only country I had ever known, to take up teaching posts in the UK – a country which I had never even visited. This was to be my final Christmas in South Africa, and the decision lay heavy on my mind.  I was also reoccupied with the nature of my gay relationship.  I had repeatedly considered the issue of homosexuality in prayer and under spiritual direction, and was comfortable that there was nothing immoral or reprehensible in our relationship.  Still, I was just a little bothered by the possibility that perhaps after all, I was fooling myself, making excuses and rationalising away some inner doubt.  So I was looking for final reassurance on two key questions in my life:  the decision to emigrate, and my status as a sexually active gay man in the church.


Saturday, 27 June 2009

Sharing our Stories

In Redemptive Intimacy, Dick Westley argues persuasively that revelation is constantly being unfolded for us by the Holy Spirit, and that one way that the church can interpret this continuing revelation for our times is by listening carefully to our personal experiences, as revealed by honest and frank sharing in trusting small faith communities.  When I first encountered this idea, it hit me like a bombshell, but it is one I have come to hold dear (and I have since discovered is a completely orthodox notion).

The descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of t...

It was very much in that spirit that I launched this site 6 months ago, so I was delighted earlier today to find a comment posted by Jeremiah, with some kind words, but also noting:

" Jim Alison teaches, we are NOT manifestations of a 'disorder'; and therefore, our insights, our experience, our unique and gay approach to the Gospel have great value.
In that gay spirit I've just launched a site for shared reflections and experience."
I have since had a look at Jeremiah's site, "Gospel for Gays",  which I found impressive.  It is technically polished, with great starting content.  I was particularly pleased to see how neatly it complements this site, with a strong emphasis on Gospel reflection, which I have long recognised as a glaring weakness on Queering the Church.   (Go ahead, take a look for yourself)

Friday, 29 May 2009

Marriage Equality & the Church - Sweden

Wedding cake of a same-sex marriage, photo tak...
In the wake of the disappointing, but expected, Californian ruling on Prop 8, it is worth stepping back and reflecting on the gains elsewhere, and especially on the impact on the churches.
It is well known how rapidly legal recognition of same sex marriage has progressed: first in Iowa, by court order, then in rapid succession Vermont and Maine by legislative action. New Hampshire is not quite there yet, but it is likely just a matter of time - as it is in New York and New Jersey.  DC has voted to recognise marriages legally conducted elsewhere, Washington has approved expansion of their civil union regime to 'everything but marriage', and in many other states and city jurisdictions, there have been less dramatic, incremental gains.  These have been widely reported and celebrated.
One big advance, and the one that I suspect may be more important for its long term impact on the churches of the world, has drawn remarkably little attention.  The day before the Iowa announcement, and drowned out of the news by the drama of developments in Iowa and New England, The Swedish parliament, with the minumum of fuss or fanfare, and the support of all the major parties, voted to make Sweden the fith country in Europe to recognise same sex marriage.   For those of us in Europe, especially if we are committed to the ideal of ever closer union, this is obviously more significant than the stop-start progress in some minor American states and cities. But I believe that the siginificance for all of us is substantial, particularly if we are professed Christians.  Why?

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Catholic 'Dissent', obedience

As a child in Catholic primary schools, I vividly remember memorising, page by page, the catechism of the church:  first a slim little red version, later a slightly fatter grey-green version for older students.
"Who made you?
God made me."

"Why did God make you?
To know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this world,  and to be happy with Him forever in the next."
But by the time I reached secondary school, Vatican II was in progress, enthusiastically embraced by the preist who taught me RE for the next 5 years. I never again saw that little catechism.
There is a quaint view in some quarters that to be a Catholic requires that one suspend all powers of the intellect, and meekly agree to believe, and to live, exactly as one is told.  This view I emphatically reject.  One of the key parables in the Gospels is that of the 10 talents. We are taught that the Lord requires us to use all the talents we are given, for his greater glory and to further His reign on earth.  Surely the intellect is one of the greatest talents He has bestowed on us?  (Another is our sexuality, which should also be used - but that is another story.)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

I spent last Saturday with a group of 20 LGBT Catholics on a pastoral planning workshop for the 'Soho Masses'.  These Masses are now marking a double anniversary:  this week is the 2nd anniversary of their formal recognition by the diocese, and a move into a Catholic church, while April will mark the 10th anniversary of their inception, on a much smaller scale.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to tell you a little more about who we are, and why this journey has been important.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

"Christianity is a Queer Thing" - Elizabeth Stuart

I have been re-reading Elisabeth Stuart's wonderful "Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Difference", which presents a 'genealogy' of the changing approaches by self-identified lesbian & gay theologians, culminating in the last two chapters with a discussion of "Queer theology".  It was these latter two chapters that I was particularly interested in.


As I went through Stuart's rundown of the leading figures in the development of Queer Theology, I found myself excited by the description of almost all, and planning on adding them to my 'Wish List', which I have now done.  I thought I would share with you why.  The notes below are super - brief descriptions of the key ideas that caught my interest, and the books, as reported by Stuart, that hold them.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Books: Where to Begin?

One of the best ways to prepare oneself for the onslaught of religion-based hostility is to read some of the very many books on the subject that have  emerged over the last thirty years or so. But with such a wealth of titles available, and the field constatnly expanding, the obvious question is where to begin? To which the obvious reply is, where are you starting from?

The question matters. You need to be clear on whether you want a simple introduction, a general but comprehensive overview for playpeople, or a scholarly tome filled with notes, sources and all the necessary qualifications, ifs and buts. Are you looking for approaches rooted in scripture, or Church teaching, or both? From a gay male, lesbian, or trans perspective? All these questions, and more, will influence your choice. In my detailed posts for each book, I have attempted to provide answers to these questions. The labels included in each post will help you to find books on a specific topic. With time, I will be building in thematic lists, a search engine, and other means to access exactly what you personally will find helpful - but all these refinements take time, while I am simultaneously trying to expand the number and range of books included. I crave your patience.

In the meantime, I offer some suggestions of what might be the most useful for specific purposes.

For a very simple, introductory overview of Scripture and Church teaching, I was impressed by "The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality", by Nicholas Coulton. Written from an Anglican perspective, but is also more widely applicable.

Also tackling both Scripture and Church teaching, but going into more detail, former Jesuit John McNeill's "The Church and the Homosexual", was one of the very first and is still a classic. "A Question of Truth" by the Dominican priest Gareth Moore covers much the same ground, and is much more recent.

On Scripture specifically, I think the best for the general reader is "Dirt, Greed and Sex" by the Episcopalian L. William Countryman. For a later, more Evangelical approach to the same subject, read Eugene Rogers, ...If you are ready to tackle a more academic treatment bristling with footnotes, then read the chapter on Scripture in the landmark "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality" by John Boswell. (This is also of fundamental importance for gay church history, and the development of theology). If you are put off by the excessive footnotes and Greek & Latin quotations, you will find summaries of his arguments in many of the other books).

The Catholic priest, theologian and psychotherapist Daniel Helminiak has written that McNeill, Countryman and Boswell (noted above) were the three books that nmost influenced his own thinking and understanding. Helminiak's "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality". Helminiak's book is often listed alongside those three.

It is important though not to get bogged down in biblical studies of homoeroticism by dealing only with fending off the oppressive texts of terror.  There are many ways in which we, like all other Christians, can read scripture for its positive inspiration. "Take Back the Word" (edited by Robert Goss) does just that.

An important set of books "from a perspective Catholic and gay" are more difficult to classify. These are the series by the theologian and former Dominican James Alison. These are undoubtedly works of "theology", but the word is misleading, with its associations of ancient, scholastic tomes. Alison's books are tightly reasoned, but presented in an informal, chatty style, as a series of reflections on God, and on what it means to be both gay and Catholic. These are all popular and highly recommended. Start with the first in the series: "Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay."

Faith is incomplete without prayer. The Presbyterian Chris Glaser has several books on prayer for gay men and lesbians. A good one to begin with is "Coming Out to God" - which is a good way to think of starting our queer faith journey.

Finally, two books by Catholic priests which offer a completely fresh, unfamiliar take on the awkward question of sexual ethics: "Sex and the Sacred" by Daniel Helminiak, and "Sex as God Intended", by John McNeill.


I realise that all the above titles are written by men, and have a clearly male focus, although all do also try to cover lesbian relationships as well as gay male. There are good books by women, but I am not aware of any (yet) that I can reommend at this general level. I will make a point of highlighting books written from lesbian, bi or trans perspectives when I discuss some more specialised topics.)
The full introductory list then, is:
Coulton, Nicholas: The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Book Club

One of the best ways to prepare oneself for the onslaught of religion-based hostility is to read some of the very many books on the subject that have  emerged over the last thirty years or so. But with such a wealth of titles available, and the field constantly expanding, the obvious question is where to begin? To which the obvious reply is, where are you starting from?
The question matters. You need to be clear on whether you want a simple introduction, a general but comprehensive overview for laypeople, or a scholarly tome filled with notes, sources and all the necessary qualifications, ifs and buts. Are you looking for approaches rooted in scripture, or Church teaching, or both?