Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Gay Adoption, Gay Marriage as Moral Obligations: Two Jewish Views (and one Christian)

Here's a refreshing change: instead of the spurious, religious arguments against gay adoption and gay marriage, two more voices (this time, from Jewish perspectives)  speaking out on the positive faith-based reasons in favour of each.

In the first of these, at the Jerusalem Post, the orthodox Rabbi, television host and author of religious books on relationships Shmuley Boteach argues strongly in favour of gay adoption. Last month, he participated with Rosie O'Donnell in a New Jersey public discussion on the subject. In an article published before this event, he reflected on these issues, and especially on an aspect that I see as the most important of all. When a friend he spoke to expressed regret that Rosie's four adopted children would never have a father (the standard, theoretical argument against gay adoption), Rabbi Shmuley replied with the obvious and important, reality-based response:
that without Rosie they wouldn’t have a mother either.

Gay Couple with child

For a Queer Christmas - Send Gay / Lesbian Cards.

Advent begins this week, and with it the season for shopping.

For all Christians, this time of year can be difficult, with tension to negotiated, between Advent as a solemn season of preparation for the important Christian festival of Christmas, and the purely secular festive season leading up to the winter solstice, which marks the mid-point of winter's darkness and gloom.

For Christian sexual minorities (including the many straight singles and childless couples) there is an additional difficulty - the relentless emphasis in both church and stores on children and family. Kittredge Cherry at Jesus in Love Blog has come up with an ingenious way to counter this. Send your friends gay or lesbian themed Nativity cards. Love, after all, makes a family.

(I like Kitt's use of the term "Nativity" card - the word "Christmas" has been as much distorted and misused as the festival.)

Read her original post at Jesus in Love Blog, where she makes an important point: we must remember that in the traditional Nativity story, the biological details of the birth are extraordinary. Is the idea of a same sex couple procreating any more extraordinary than the Virgin birth?

To that, I would add the observation by the Catholic theologians Salzmann & Lawler, in "The Sexual Person": procreation refers not only to the physical production of an infant, but also the the subsequent care and nurturing of the child.  Procreation by same-sex couples is not nearly as far-fetched as some people would have us believe.

Order your nativity cards from the ?Jesus in Love Card Shop?.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Why Queer?

In an email message a few days ago, a reader wrote that his one reservation about this site and its parent is the word "Queer" in the name:

But I do have to say that I kind of have issues with the word "queer" as it makes me cringe.  As a young person I didn't like hearing that word.  I guess that you could say that I have issues, but then again, don't we all. :)
Indeed we do, Mark - and I have issues with any alternative terms. However, a colleague at the Soho Masses some time ago made precisely the same observation to me, and so has my partner, Raymond. This is probably a reservation shared by many people, especially those from a generation who can remember when the word was widely used as a term of abuse and derision.

I do have very specific reasons for choosing this word as the best among a range of unsatisfactory choices, and explained these in one of my very first posts. As most of my present readers will not have seen my earliest writing, Mark's expression of regret has suggested to me that it could be helpful to repost the same original explanation - which I do below:

Here's why I like 'Queer'

Over the years, we've moved beyond gay, through gay & lesbian, LGB, LGBT, to LGBTQI  ( "Q =Queer" adds more sexual minorities, including the heterosexual flavour, such as S&M and cross-dressers; "I" goes beyond transgendered to "Intersex"). I'm sure we could further extend the acronym if we put our minds to it.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

DC Bishop's Christian Case for Gay Marriage.

In the ongoing brouhaha in DC over the forthcoming recognition of same gender marriages, with the rather odd position of the Catholic archdiocese that this will somehow force them to either become ineligible for the city’s contracts, or to compromise on their religious principles, it is great to see one bishop arguing from Christian principles and history that the archdiocese is, quite simply, dead wrong. The bishop in question is of the Episcopal  Diocese of Washington DC, John Bryson Chane (pictured below), who has a powerful commentary in the Washington Post.

Bishop John Chane of Washington
Here are some extracts, followed by my commentary:

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Give Thanks For This Kairos Moment of LGBT Inclusion

For Thanksgiving, More Light Presbyterians have released an important statement "Giving Thanks for Change in Our Church":

This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for God's extravagant love for all of God's creation...no exceptions, no one outside of God's embrace. This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for God's sustaining grace in and through difficult times, loss of those we love, illness, economic hardships and war. This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the peace that passes all understanding that comes from trusting that God's redemptive love and justice is at work in our own lives, in the lives of others, in our Church and in the world.
The rest of the statement is worth reading, but is specific to the Presbyterian General Assembly's approval last summer of 10-A, on the ordination of openly gay or lesbian pastors. Thanksgiving is a specifically an American observance. The principle of recognizing and giving thanks for progress, though, is an important one for all who are queer in church, anywhere in the world, as the evidence for progress is strong, across all major denominations and regions of the world.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Fr Owen O'Sullivan, on Gay Inclusion (Pt 8)

In March this year, Fr Owen O'Sullivan published an article in the theological journal "Furrow" on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, "Boundless Salvation". 

Here is the eighth (and final) extract:

Are homosexuals showing church and society a way forward?
There is a long history in the Christian community of the stone which the builders rejected becoming the corner stone, the ‘sinners’ being preferred - as in the Gospel - to the holy huddle of the mutually approving who follow the official line.

Forty years ago, in Ireland as in other countries, homosexuality was a subject that ‘decent people’ didn’t talk about. But homosexuals found the honesty and courage to come out, to declare themselves, and to share their thoughts and feelings, often in the face of derision, hatred, violence or the threat of hell. They began to organize, to challenge the system, and to go political. They have brought about a 180 degree turn in public attitudes, exemplified by the Civil Partnerships Bill now going through the Oireachtas (legislature), something unimaginable forty years ago. Would that the church had so re-invented itself in the same forty years! Maybe the missing ingredients were the same: honesty, courage, openness, dialogue, challenging the status quo.

One finds a similar process at work among the ‘Anonymouses’ – alcoholics, gamblers, narcotics- and sex-addicts. They are at the bottom of the heap. By coming out, facing the truth, revealing their feelings, supporting and challenging each other, they have built communities which reflect what the church is meant to be – but often isn’t. Leadership is from the bottom up, the despised and rejected at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid showing the way to the wise and learned at the top.

And recently we have seen how it was the suffering of the most helpless in society – children – which eventually led to the exposure of much of what was rotten in the church.

Will homosexuals help us to re-discover new/old ways of doing theology and developing pastoral practice, where human experience is the starting point? That has happened already with other teachings that didn’t tally with human experience or meet human needs. Will they help us to read scripture with one eye on the page and the other on life? They are equally parts of one process. Perhaps they will show us that human experience is as valuable as scripture, as Saint Ignatius Loyola, for one, affirmed. ‘The word became flesh…’ (John 1.14) - God still speaks.

Perhaps, too, homosexuals are showing men a way forward out of self-imposed isolation, out of individualism built on machismo, and a way of dealing with personal issues such as men’s identity, men’s spirituality, addictions, domestic violence against men, male suicide, how abortion affects men, bereavement, paternity and parenting, access to and custody of children in a separation, and care of one’s health. The issues are different, but the qualities needed to face them are those that homosexuals developed in recent times.

Some of what the Scriptures say.
A few quotations: -

‘God saw all that he had made and indeed it was very good.’ (Genesis 1.31)

‘God does not see as people see; people look at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7)

‘Anyone who is not against us is for us’. (Mark 9.38-40; Luke 9.49-50)

‘Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’ (Luke 12.57)

‘Whoever comes to me, I shall not turn away’. (John 6.37)

‘God has no favourites.’ (Romans 2.11)

‘We belong to each other.’ (Romans 12.5)

‘Each must be left free to hold his own opinion.’ (Romans 14.5)

‘You should never pass judgment on another or treat them with contempt.’ (Romans 14.10)

‘Do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil.’ (Romans 14.16)

‘Your bodies are members making up the body of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 6.15)

‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’ (1 Corinthians 15.10. See also 12.18-21, 26)

‘Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God.’ (2 Corinthians 6.19)

‘You are, all of you, children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.26-28)

‘We are what God made us’. (Ephesians 2.10)

‘Everything God has created is good.’ (1 Timothy 4.4)

The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of ‘the whole church in which everyone is a “first-born” and a citizen of heaven.’ (12.23)

Or read 1 John 4.7-21.

For those who don’t like the above, the great consolation is that it’s all God’s fault. Why? For creating in diversity instead of uniformity, as we see all around us in - guess where? - nature, for making some people different from others. Or did God make a mistake?
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Monday, 22 November 2010

Fr Owen O'Sullivan, on Gay Inclusion (Pt 7)

In March this year, Fr Owen O'Sullivan published an article in the theological journal "Furrow" on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, "Boundless Salvation". 

Here is the seventh extract:

‘In the end we will be judged on how we have loved.’
Many of the passengers on the 9/11 flights, when told they were going to die, phoned their families to say that they loved them. In former times, we might have thought that a better response would have been to beg God for forgiveness of their sins. I prefer the first, and I dare to think that God would, too.

If God is love, and if sex is loving, then sex between two people of different or the same gender can only be looked upon lovingly by God. The real sin would be to live without ever having had this contact with another human being.

Sacraments are places where God’s story and the human story meet. Not only do we need to tell the human story, but we need to tell it first; that was Jesus’ way of doing things and of teaching. The human story of some homosexuals is that awakening to their sexuality has meant taking responsibility for themselves and growing up. They say they have grown into better people for having taken the risk of giving and receiving love. A gay man said that, in experiencing being despised and rejected for being gay, he found that, ‘The ultimate sign of a person’s love is the figure of Jesus on the cross. The wound of homosexuality is not unrelated to Christ’s presence in the Passion. Through suffering, rejection and pain, people grow, change, and are transformed.’ Another said simply, ‘God wants us to be the people he created us to be.’ This echoes the saying of Saint Clement of Alexandria that, ‘We ought not to be ashamed of what God was not ashamed to create.’ Where is the Good News for homosexuals? Is it in the Wisdom of Solomon, ‘You [God] love all things that exist, and detest none of the things you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, O Lord, you who love the living. For your immortal spirit is in all things.’ (Wisdom 11.24-12.1, NRSV)
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The Catholic Church in Belgium strikes me in some respects as a microcosm of the state of the Church in the rest of the developed world - Africa excepted.
In this nominally Catholic country, ordinary people have been turning away from formal religious observance in their droves; the clergy have been collectively tarnished by the clerical abuse problems, which culminated earlier this year in the resignation of a senior bishop; the public has been angered by the inaction and excuses of the bishops in response; churches are being closed for lack of clergy; and the main remedy of the Vatican has been to put in charge a grossly insensitive conservative, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels.   At a recent public meeting, one Belgian was so incensed by this man that he threw a pie in his face. More ominously for the Church as a whole, a small but growing band of Belgian Catholics, like their neighbours in the Netherlands, are simply going their own way. They are doing it themselves, practising their faith without depending on the benefits of ordained clergy - "benefits", which in their eyes are distinctly dubious.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Fr Owen O'Sullivan, on Gay Inclusion (Pt 6)

In March this year, Fr Owen O'Sullivan published an article in the theological journal "Furrow" on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, "Boundless Salvation". 

Here is the sixth extract:

Our theology of sexual relationships

We have the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but have developed an elaborate theology around self-defence, just war, capital punishment, and indirect killing. But, where the sixth commandment is concerned, a blanket disapproval covers everything outside the marital bed, and much within it. Some theological language around sexuality is so spiritualized and out-of-the-body that it becomes a way of avoiding the truth that God created people sexual. Is there not much in our tradition that is anti- the human body, despite the Incarnation and Resurrection? We are not far from thinking, if not actually saying, that people should have as little sex as possible, and ideally - as in celibacy - none at all.

We wish that eros be safely tucked away and put to sleep in the bed of monogamous heterosexual marriage. But re-awakening it could help us to see our relationship with God as a love affair, with emotion. All our theology, not only of sexuality, is so deeply pervaded by exclusivism, by either-or instead of both-and, that we are probably not capable even of imagining such an awakening. In the Septuagint Song of Songs, the word used for love is agapein; this includes the sexual. Yet the church is afraid of sex; it’s our Pandora’s box, better kept locked. Why is the church so afraid of erring on the side of love? Jesus had no such fear. The difference between being open, or not, to questioning your prejudices is what Christian tradition calls conversion.

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Saturday, 20 November 2010

Patrick Chen, on the "Erotic Christ".

When I referred somewhat simplistically in an earlier post to LGBT "gloom" over the mid-term election results, Kittredge Cherry (of the excellent Jesus in Love blog) replied in a comment that  this should be set against remarkable progress in LGBT theology - an opinion I wholeheartedly endorse. Progress really has been remarkable since the early pioneers began to write about "gay and lesbian theology" thirty five years ago.

Patrick Chen is one of a much younger generation of theologians, with an expanding body of important work. Jesus in Love blog has begun publishing (in instalments) an extended article by Cheng, "Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today".  The first instalment is now available, under the provocative title, "The Erotic Christ". Here is an extract:

The first christological model of sin and grace for LGBT people is the Erotic Christ.  According to Audre Lorde, the Black feminist lesbian writer, the erotic is about relationality and desire for the other; it is the power that arises out of “sharing deeply” with another person.  The erotic is to “share our joy in the satisfying” of the other, rather than simply using other people as “objects of satisfaction.”[2]

The Erotic Christ arises out of the reality that Jesus Christ, as the Word made flesh, is the very embodiment of God’s deepest desires for us.  Jesus Christ came down from heaven not for God’s own self-gratification, but rather for us and for our salvation.  In the gospels, Jesus repeatedly shows his love and desire for all those who come into contact with him, including physical touch.  He uses touch as a way to cure people of disease and disabilities, as well as to bring them back to life.  He washes the feet of his disciples, and he even allows the Beloved Disciple to lie close to his breast at the last supper.
Conversely, Jesus is touched physically by many of the people who come into contact with him.  He is touched by the bleeding woman who hoped that his powers could heal her.  He is bathed in expensive ointment by the woman at Bethany.  After his resurrection, Jesus allows Thomas to place his finger in the mark of the nails and also to place his hand in his side.  All of these physical interactions are manifestations of God’s love for us – and our reciprocal love for God – through the Erotic Christ.
Carter Heyward, the lesbian theologian and Episcopal priest, has written about the Erotic Christ in the context of the “radically mutual character” of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  For Heyward, the significance of Jesus Christ lies not only in the ways in which he touched others (both physically and otherwise), but also in the ways in which he was “healed, liberated, and transformed” by those who he encountered.  This power in mutual relation is not something that exists solely within the trinitarian relationship between God, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit.  Rather, this power is present in all of us who have ever “loved, held, yearned, lost.”

Follow the link to read the full post at Kitt's blog - and look out for the remaining instalments.


Recommended Books

Fr Owen O'Sullivan, on Gay Inclusion (Pt 5)

In March this year, Fr Owen O'Sullivan published an article in the theological journal "Furrow" on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, "Boundless Salvation". 

Here is the fifth extract:

What’s wrong with saying “Do your best”?
What’s wrong with saying to the homosexual, ‘Being a homosexual is not sinful; performing homosexual acts is. So do your best. If you fail, go to confession, ask for forgiveness, and try again. God will help you’?

What’s wrong with it is that it ignores the full truth, and nothing worthwhile in human relationships can be founded on half-truths. There’s an analogy here with Humanae Vitae. That document states, in effect, that a man should love a woman in her totality, and not implicitly say to her, ‘I love you – but not your fertility; I don’t want that.’ The church says to homosexuals, ‘We love you – but not your homosexuality; we don’t want that.’ In effect we say, ‘What a pity you’re not normal!’ We ‘respect and love’ them – except for what is a most precious and important part of what they are. All the talk in the world about loving the sinner while hating the sin rings hollow: how can you respect or love a person while repudiating something they see as central to their self-understanding? Sexual orientation is central to that.

Jesus - who is not recorded as having said anything about homosexuality - went about including those the religious authorities of the day excluded on the grounds that they did not fit the established pattern of behaviour. Should we not consider the possibility that we might be wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time!

Think, too, of the Gospel parable of the ten talents: one man, motivated by fear, wrapped up his talent, buried it, and then handed it back intact. Jesus had strong words for him. (Matthew 25.14-30; Luke 19.12-27) For homosexuals, is the gift of their sexuality meant to be wrapped up, buried, and returned unused? Why did God make people sexual, if not for them to give expression to it?

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Friday, 19 November 2010

Fr Owen O'Sullivan, on Gay Inclusion (Pt 4)

In March this year, Fr Owen O'Sullivan published an article in the theological journal "Furrow" on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, "Boundless Salvation". 

Here is the fourth extract:

‘Homosexuality is objectively disordered.’

Saying that homosexuality is objectively disordered presumes that sexuality can be evaluated outside of the context of persons and their relationships. Context matters. In the context of a loving, committed relationship, sexual acts have a different significance from what they have outside it. To ignore the context is to ignore the person, to ignore the full truth. To ignore the person is the pharisaism that Jesus condemned in the Gospel. Human relationships, like human beings, are so diverse that a one-size-fits-all approach to morality does justice neither to them nor to itself.

In the days before the church changed its teaching from support for to opposition to capital punishment, we heard the metaphysical argument that the dignity of natural law, outraged by the act of murder, required the death penalty as fitting punishment. When someone shifts the ground of moral debate from the inter-personal (e.g. human relationships) to the biological (e.g. objective disorder), it sounds like an admission of defeat. It’s a materialistic argument which elevates the biological to the metaphysical. There’s more to humanity than the biological. Quasi-metaphysical arguments about moral behaviour acquire a (bogus) aura of irrefutability because, like Saint Anselm’s metaphysical proof of God’s existence, they involve a jump from the speculative to the real order. But such a jump is invalid.

In this debate, to say that serious account must be taken of the quality of relationships between people is to leave oneself open to a charge of subjectivism. But its opposite pole, objectivism, is as fallacious; it is distorting and incomplete, as if everyone else had an axe to grind while the objectivist is a privileged person with a detached view from nowhere, above all personal considerations. Objectivism posits a reification of relationships, as if they could be considered ‘in themselves,’ apart from the human beings involved. This ‘dispassionate’ approach has its head in the sand, afraid of what it might see. The best authorities in sexuality are those who lead loving, committed, healthy, integrated sexual lives; the authority of experience trumps the experience of authority any day.

To homosexuals, the pastoral rhetoric about respect is dishonest, because it is not possible to respect a person while hating the actions that express what that person is. A frequent comment by homosexuals is that they believe they have become better human beings by coming out and entering into a committed relationship. If you have to suppress your sexuality, can you develop as a balanced human-being with feelings of self-worth? What is it like to live with your soul split from your body and your mind? Reality wins every time; reality is truth.
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"Adultery", and the Problem of Heterosexuality, Revisited

My recent post, "The Problem Of Heterosexuality", has drawn a comment from my reader David, who refers to the desire of the pope and bishops to protect the sanctity of sacramental marriage. In his response, he raises two important questions. The first, I think goes right to the heart of the matter:
"..how can the beauty and sacredness of the sexual relationship within the context of marriage, and the ability to produce children be promoted, and sex outside of a sacramental relationship be promoted without appearing to judge those outside of the relationship?"
How, indeed? Orthodox Catholic doctrine simply avoids this challenge entirely by falling into the binary trap of insisting that "sacramental marriage+ children = good" implies that "any other erotic relationships = bad", which is a complete logical fallacy. The problem is that this simplistic thinking is not based on Scripture, which in fact contradicts it, as does the practice and teaching of the Church in history.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Fr Owen O'Sullivan, on Gay Inclusion (Pt 3)

In March this year, Fr Owen O'Sullivan published an article in the theological journal "Furrow" on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, "Boundless Salvation". 

Here is the third extract:

 ‘It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay.’
Is a homosexual, by reason of that fact, called by God to lifelong celibacy? The church says yes.
Imagine someone saying to a group of Irish people, ‘There’s nothing in itself wrong with being Irish. I’m not saying there is. But that doesn’t mean you may act on it. So, no more Guinness, going to Croke Park, singing rebel songs into the early hours of the morning, waving tricolours, no more craic. Close the pubs as occasions of sin, and, while you’re at it, would you please do something about your accent: it’s suggestive - of Irishness. I’m not asking you to deny your Irishness, far from it, just not to act on it.’ Would you consider the speaker to be nuanced, respectful and compassionate, or pedantic, patronising and arrogant?

Being homosexual and trying to be faithful to church teaching - is it a cruel joke? Would God tie a starving person in a chair, put a plate of food in front of them, and say, ‘Your self-denial… will constitute for you a source of self-giving which will save you’? (See CDF Letter, n.12.)

The church requires abstinence of the homosexual. To abstain from the physical expression of sexuality means, for the homosexual, abstinence from the truth, from reality, from identity, from recognition, perhaps also from family, and surely from love. Sexuality is not an optional extra to our humanity; it’s an integral part of it. An alcoholic is invited to abstain from alcohol - yes. But alcohol is not an integral part of anyone’s humanity; it’s an optional extra.

Official teaching invites a homosexual to a strange limbo-like existence where being and doing are required to be separated. It says there’s nothing in itself wrong with being a homosexual - as long as you don’t act like one. There’s nothing in itself wrong with being a bird, as long as you don’t fly. How can that be an honest or a healthy way of living?

The distinction between being homosexual and doing homosexual acts is phoney. It’s like saying, ‘Your sexuality is part of you; but you must not be part of your sexuality.’ Have we forgotten that the Incarnation brings matter and spirit, body and soul into one in the human-divine body of Jesus? The Incarnation is God’s answer to dualism.

Being and doing are not as separable in life as they might seem in a lecture hall. But, even in a lecture hall, Saint Thomas Aquinas said, ‘Agere sequitur esse in actu.’ (Summa contra Gentiles, 3.53, 69.) If my Latin is not too rusty that means, ‘Doing follows being in action.’
Homosexuals who try to be faithful to church teaching are in danger of distorting themselves, like left-handed people forcing themselves to use only their right hands; they are in danger of developing a Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality, suppressing what is true about themselves. The statement of the CDF that, ‘Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral’ applies here. (Letter, n.15)

The pastoral rhetoric about respecting homosexuals is meaningless at best when the associated moral rhetoric undercuts a homosexual’s personhood. It means that homosexuals are neither in nor out, neither persons nor non-persons, but tolerated somewhere on the border.
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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Fr Owen O'Sullivan, on Gay Inclusion (Pt 2)

In March this year, Fr Owen O'Sullivan published an article in the theological journal "Furrow" on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, "Boundless Salvation". 

Here is the second extract:

‘Why don’t they just keep quiet about it?’Homosexuality is not a problem; the denial of it is, especially if one denies it to oneself. Good human relationships (or good health) can never be founded on the basis of suppression or denial of the truth. The ‘problem’ of homosexuality may be resolved in one word – truth, or, if you prefer, reality. If you live a lie, you’re lost. Wholeness is linked to soul and body; cutting one off from the other is divisive. It is a sad thought to know that you’ve hated your body, been unable to face the truth about yourself.

If homosexuals feel valued only when they live a life that is less than whole, a half-life, they may well feel that such a life is worthless, and suicide may follow. A survey in Northern Ireland of gay men aged between 16 and 25 showed a level of attempted suicide five times that of their straight counterparts. The US Department of Health and Human Services states that rates of attempted and actual suicide among homosexuals are 50% higher than among heterosexuals, and that 30% of all teen suicides are among homosexuals.

There are lofty souls who respond to this by saying that, in formulating doctrine, they do not allow themselves to be influenced by considerations of psychological or sociological data. That sounds like saying, ‘We don’t need to take account of reality,’ or, ‘Don’t bother us with facts; we know what God thinks!’

As members of Alcoholics Anonymous say, ‘We are as sick as our secrets.’ In this case, the secrecy is the sickness. It’s the denial, the secrecy and the lies that are damaging, not the fact, the reality. Jesus said, ‘The truth shall make you free.’ (John 8.32)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Fr Owen O'Sullivan, on Gay Inclusion (Pt 1)

In March this year, Fr Owen O'Sullivan published an article in the theological journal "Furrow" on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, "Boundless Salvation". 

Here is the first extract:

 ‘Homosexuality is unnatural.’

‘Nature’ is a loose peg on which to hang a theology of human relationships. The word has multiple meanings: the Concise Oxford Dictionary lists nine for nature and fourteen for natural. In Victorian times, Europeans spoke of Africans as ‘children of nature’, meaning they were brutal, primitive, and savage, in need of the wise, firm and civilizing hand of the colonial master; this was to justify European exploitation of Africa. For centuries, slavery was regarded as natural; it had a long and virtually universal tradition behind it, as had the subjection of women to men. It was natural, too, for gentlemen of quality to rule the lower orders. The word has been pressed into the service of several racial, political, social and cultural agenda. Today, people like food to be natural, meaning free from artificial chemicals. But mildew, ants, aphids, cockroaches and rats are natural, and will happily occupy food. Is it natural to have them on it?

Some argue that the natural purpose of sexuality is procreation, and that, since homosexual relationships are not procreative of life, they are therefore unnatural. The argument draws on teleology (ends) or finality as seen from one viewpoint, and seems to imply that since procreation is the principal purpose, then it’s the only legitimate purpose of a sexual relationship. Where does that leave non-procreative heterosexual love, or sexuality simply as play? Does it not also mean that the non-use of genital sexuality, as in celibacy, is likewise unnatural?

Is anatomical structure the determinant of what is normative in human behaviour? If the natural purpose of nipples is to give milk, why do men have them? The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) states, ‘The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation.’ (Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1 October 1986;
CTS, London, n.16.) A teleological argument from biological nature is no less reductionist. Homosexuals find it natural to engage the body as it is in sexual relationships, and consider it suited for the purpose.

Throughout history, and across the globe, as art, history and literature testify, same-sex attraction and acts have been a consistent feature of human life. In that sense, they cannot be called unnatural or abnormal. Same-sex attraction is simply a facet of the human condition.

As is often the case, our use of language is not helpful. The word ‘straight’ implies that someone who does not fit that category is crooked, deformed, or queer. It’s a by-product of a culture of contempt and repression towards homosexuals on a par with calling black people niggers, and it helps perpetuate prejudice. In this article, I use the word homosexual to describe same-sex attraction, whether between women (lesbians) or men (gays). And homosexuality is not just about what goes on between the sheets, or in clubs or the ‘gay scene.’ The latter is often as far removed from a committed, loving relationship as the activities of a brothel are from a committed, loving marriage. Homosexuality is about the way human beings relate to each other in their totality.

Does homosexuality exist objectively - clear, cut-and-dried - like Plato’s forms, regardless of relationships? According to the president of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, between eighty and ninety percent of
Northern Ireland’s wider gay community are married with families. In Latin America, the “active” (top) male partner in sex between men is not regarded as gay, only the “passive” (bottom) partner. Gays estimate that between one-third and two-thirds of men who frequent gay clubs or bars live in a heterosexual relationship. And it is not uncommon to find lesbians who have had a child. There is some of the straight in every gay, and some of the gay in every straight. (If all the gay people in society came out, it would banish homophobia overnight.) Some of what is included in the ideas of homo- and hetero- are cultural constructs, such as our ideas of beauty, for instance. It might be nearer the truth to think of homosexuality more in terms of what one does, or how one relates, than of what one is.

The hope some people have is that a homosexual gene will be found; it would let them off the peg on which they’ve hung themselves. Homosexuality could then be considered natural. (How do you persuade people who think they have to be right in order to be credible that their credibility would be enhanced by an admission that they could be wrong?)

Is there a ‘homosexual gene’? I don’t think anyone knows. I hope not; it might lead to homosexuals being treated ‘compassionately’ as freaks. But surely the question is irrelevant. Whether a homosexual orientation is genetic or environmental, inborn or acquired, from nature or nurture, it’s there, and that’s what counts. Most homosexuals experience it as a given, no more a choice than the colour of their eyes.

A more important question is, ‘What sort of human being is this?’ ‘What sort of relationships does s/he engage in?’ And the great challenge is for people to be true to themselves.

Shakespeare wrote: -
‘This, above all,
to thine own self be true,
and it must follow,
as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man.’

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3, lines 78-80.)

Is homosexuality unnatural? Yes, it is - if you’re heterosexual.
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Monday, 15 November 2010

The End Is Not In Sight - But the Journey Has Begun.

In a piece from Wasilla, Alaska at the Wat-su Valley Frontiersman, the evangelical pastor Howard Bess laments that in the struggle for gay inclusion in church, the end is not in sight:
“is the end in sight of all discrimination and rejection of people because of their sexual orientation?” I feel strongly about the subject. I ask the question because it has played a major role in my professional life as a minister. There are some hopeful signs, but I confess I do not see the end in sight.
Now,  reading quickly as we tend to do, you may have missed the significance of this statement. I repeat it, with some added emphasis and notes.
In a piece from Wasilla, Alaska (that's right, Wasilla, home of you know who), at the Wat-su Valley Frontiersman, the Baptist pastor Howard Bess (not a trendy Episcopalian, and also not himself gay) laments that in the struggle for gay inclusion in church, the end is not in sight.
The end? He's right, of course, but many people would be surprised that the journey has even begun, so convinced are they that homoerotic sexuality is inherently and "obviously" sinful. Of course the end is not in sight - but I prefer instead to note how rapidly we are making progress. The simple fact that somebody like Howard Bess could be writing on this theme from Alaska, and that others should be discussing the church and gay marriage in Utah, is a striking example of this in itself. The end is not in sight, but the journey has at least begun.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Queer Inclusion in Church: Evangelicals Ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Church debate on full inclusion for lesbian, gay and trans Christians has become commonplace in the US mainline Protestant denominations, and in some European churches. A few denominations already ordain openly gay or lesbian pastors in commited, monogamous relationships, or are engaged in regular debates on moving towards that goal. Others already provide for either full church weddings for same-sex couples (where local laws allow it), or accept church blessings.  Among these denominations, it is becoming ever clearer that full inclusion, for both marriage and ordination regulations, will soon become widely accepted, if not (yet) universal.

It is less well-known, but is slowly becoming evident, that a similar process has also begun in other more surprising denominations.

Toby Huckaby's address on gay inclusion to a Catholic college is just one sign of the increasing debate in the Catholic Church, as is the number of bishops who have followed Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna in quietly asking for a rethink, or at least a more compassionate approach - and are not being repudiated.  A recent panel discussion in Utah is another indicator that churchmen and women are questioning the old assumption across a wide front. A report on this broadly based rethink at CNN has drawn my attention to yet more evidence that this new open-mindedness is also having an impact elsewhere, in some evangelical circles:

In Denver, an evangelical Christian pastor has split with his former church and started his own evangelical church that fully welcomes gays as worshipers and leaders.

The Rev. Mark Tidd says he does not see a discrepancy between the Bible and accepting members of the homosexual community.

"There's times when we change how we approach scripture because we observe how God is making God's self known in creation," he said.  "We don't consider it a sin to be gay and we don't consider it a sin if you are gay and seek a relationship which is the only natural one you can have which would be someone of the same gender."

Video: Colorado candidates debate same-sex marriage issue

Lisa Crane and her husband Ryan left their more traditional evangelical church for Tidd's church, and have no plans to go back.

"Do we ever worry like, 'Oh God am I wrong about this?' and 'Am I going to get to heaven and God is going to be like – No, you weren't supposed to let the gays serve communion!'" Lisa said.

"You know, I don't think so. That doesn't jibe with the Jesus that we learned about from the Bible"

-Read the full report

My answer to the "WWJD" question is simple: there is no need to consider what Jesus "would" have done. Just look at what in fact he did do.  His ministry was deeply characterised by His conspicuous outreach to the oppressed and marginalized of all kinds, whom he accepted on fully equal terms with all other disciples. He also quite deliberately agreed to cure the Centurion's "servant", and even to enter the Centurion's home, even though there would have been at the very least a popular assumption that in keeping with common Roman military custom, the Centurion would have had a sexual relationship with this servant.


Same-Sex Church Weddings Inch Closer in Finland

Last year, the Swedish government and the state church, the Swedish Lutheran church, between them approved legal recognition for same sex marriage including church weddings - the first country in the world where this has happened. At the time and since, I have noted that other Scandinavian countries were likely to follow suit: I know that the subject has been discussed (out of the public eye) by church authorities in all of them. Now the Finnish Lutherans have taken a public step in that direction.

Friday, 12 November 2010

In Minnesota, Catholics Support Marriage Equality.

Despite the high profile opposition of many of our bishops, we know that Catholics as a group are firm supporters of legal recognition for same  - sex unions, and are more likely than most other Christians to support full equality in civil marriage regulations. Now, it seems that the bishops' vigorous efforts to prevent marriage equality are spurring many Catholics to open disagreement in formal groups publicly supporting same-sex marriage. In Maine last year, Maine Catholics for Marriage Equality was the first such group, spurred into action by Providence Bishop       fund-raising for the Prop 1 campaign to overturn marriage equality in that state. "Catholics For Equality"  took that campaign to a national level earlier this year - "Equally Blessed" is another national initiative, a joint effort by New Ways Ministry, Dignity USA and others.  In Minnesota, just as in Maine, the efforts of Archbishop  Nienstedt to influence state elections to stall same-sex marriage have spurred another local group in support of justice for same sex couples.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

"Catholics For Equality" on Gay Bullycide

Catholics for Equality and Catholics for Marriage Equality
Issue Joint Statement to LGBT Youth

WASHINGTON - Catholics for Equality and Catholics for Marriage Equality, with all people of good will, lament the multiple tragic deaths of gay youths. As Catholics, we confess that our personal indifference and institutional church prejudices have contributed to the morbid despair of these and many other LGBT youth.
Our response moving forward must be both personal and political. We must personally include and affirm LGBT youth in our homes, churches, neighborhoods and schools.
Catholics for Equality and Catholics for Marriage Equality pledge active political support for The Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2010 (SSIA). The SSIA would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (part of the No Child Left Behind Act) to require schools and districtsreceiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
LGBT suicide is not primarily a psychological issue, related to individual failure to cope, adapt, or access adequate services. It is a social issue. It reflects our collective failure as a society and a Church to affirm, nurture, and provide safe place for vulnerable persons to grow in truth and love.
Our message to LGBT Catholic youth is fourfold:

  1. The problems that drive you to despair are not your fault. Regardless of your struggles and thoughts of suicide, you remain the beloved child of God. That love never changes.
  2. Know that we love and cherish you as our own flesh and blood, united in one Body in the Lord. We are family. In family there is no other. You are not alone, and will never be abandoned. You may feel isolated, and wonder if there is hope. Believe that your LGBT and allied Catholic family are here for you. Many in it have been where you are. Let our love for you help you through the challenges you face.
  3. What must change are social attitudes, and our capacity as Church to understand, care and advocate for you. We have failed you. We have allowed anti-gay bishops to issue a steady stream of anti-gay pronouncements; to promote an anti-gay agenda in our parishes through literature, DVDs, petitions and political campaigns. Our silence has led you to believe that we agree with Church hierarchy. We do not. We recognize and respect your intrinsic human dignity.Our confessions: We have not treated you with sensitivity, as the Catechism teaches. We have sinned in our indifferent attitude to LGBT-affirming ministries, which should be made available in every parish, so that you would never for a moment have to think that you were the only one, or that there was no place for you in the Church of Jesus Christ. Please forgive us.
  4. We ask you to consider that "it does get better". We pledge to you our personal support as Christians who share the baptismal gifts of faith, hope, and unfailing love. We pledge to you our political advocacy to make the promises of The Safe Schools Act of 2010 your reality.No matter what you are going through now, things will get better. God is not a bully. God loves you, and will continue to supply all of the graces you need to live an abundant life in Christ Jesus.
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Wednesday, 10 November 2010

“Speaking the Truth” on Catholic LGBT Inclusion

Regular readers here will know that the infamous CDF document on "homosexuals", Homosexualitatis Problema (better known as then Cardinal Ratzingrer's Hallowe'en letter), is not my favourite Church document.  Nevertheless, it does include some important features, which many people in the Catholic Church too easily forget.
In its closing paragraphs, the document reminds us of the words of Scripture: "Speak the truth in love", and "The truth shall set you free". It is disgraceful that the document itself ignores its own advice here, but no matter: the advice itself is sound, and there are an increasing number of Catholics, lay and clerical, who are making up for the CDF omission, by speaking the truth in love on LGBT inclusion in church. The latest to do so is  Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), in an address October 21 at King’s University-College, a Catholic institution based at the University of Western Ontario. In doing so, he reminded us of the other neglected portion of the CDF letter - the exhortation to treat "homosexual" persons with dignity, compassion and respect.

I regret that the only report I have been able to find of Huckaby's address is from Lifesite News, which is not usually renowned for its sympathy with progressive causes in general, or LGBT Catholics in particular. Nevertheless, they quote some sections verbatim, which are worth taking on board:

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Blessing Same Sex Unions in Toronto

There is no longer any doubt in my mind that widepread, formal recognition by Christian churches of same-sex unions, by liturgical rites in church, is on the way - one small step at a time.
One of these small steps is in the diocese of Toronto, where the local archbishop has given pastoral guidelines for blessing same sex unions. Technically, the impact will be only local, in his own archdiocese, and limited to a simple blessing, not full marriage. Effectively, though, this one of those small steps that makes subsequent strides that much easier. Civil marriage for same sex couples is already a well-established fact of life in Canada. Church blessings in Toronto will soon spread across the nation, just as civil marriage did after a purely local introduction. From country-wide blessing of civil unions, to blessing civil marriages, to full church weddings, will be easy steps. Sweden already has gay and lesbian church weddings in the Lutheran church, with which Anglicans and Episcopalians are in communion. Other Scandinavian churches will soon follow suit - as will Canadian Anglicans, just a little later.

Archbishop Johnson with Queen Elizabeth, 2010

Philippine Idiocy, Continued

In the Philippines, where the Catholic bishops are engaged in a foolhardy, Quixotic fight against the government's plans to reform the national reproductive health system by easing access to contraception for low-income families, their latest salvo is a highly offensive attempt to justify their stance by invoking the memory of the church's historic role on the side of the poor and for justice,during the remarkable display of people power which unseated former President Marcos and his wife Imelda (and her famous shoes). The two issues are not comparable.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Pray, Don't Pay, Disobey: The Catholic Revolution Has Begun.

Prickly Pear, at Far From Rome, has written about a personal decision to remove himself from the sacramental life of the Church. He says that this was "precipitated" by moving house, but has been a long time coming - and was preceded by substantial time for reflection, during a time without easy internet access.  It's important to note here, that this time was accompanied by an increase in meditation practice.  I was alerted to Pear's post by a report on it by Jayden Cameron at Gay Mystic, who writes on his own experience outside the formal life of the Church for over 25 years. Anyone who is familiar with Jayden's writing will recognize that he too may have left the institutional church, but retains a very strong spiritual, even sacramental life, with a strong devotion to the Eucharist. He simply chooses to practice his spirituality independently.  Pear quotes from a Commonweal article by Cathleen Kaveny (sadly, hidden behind a paywall I cannot access), on many others who are doing the same thing:
From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering. But why not stay and fight? First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don’t like what fighting is doing to them. The fight is diminishing their ability to hear the gospel and proclaim that good news. The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.
Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage is another important Catholic blogger who writes specifically as a Catholic theologian, at his own site and at Open Tabernacle, and has frequently made clear his objections to participating formally in the sacramental life of the Catholic church. He has a useful summary of Kaveny's piece, and includes this extract:
From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering.  But why not stay and fight?  First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don't like what fighting is doing to them.  The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.
Prickly Pear, Jayden and Bill are far from alone. It has been widely reported that ex-Catholics, those who have either transferred to another denomination or simply ceased to identify as Catholic, are now the second largest religious denomination in the US. Similar patterns of disengagement are seen in many other parts of the world. (Research has shown that the most important reasons people give for leaving concern Vatican teaching on gender and sexual ethics, compulsory clerical celibacy, and the child abuse disgrace). I am more interested though, in another phenomenon: the abundant evidence that Catholics who choose to stay are simply ignoring official doctrine, on matters ranging from sexual ethics to church discipline.
A couple of months ago, an Irish paper asked, with reference to the call for a boycott of Mass, "Is this the start of a revolution in the Catholic Church?" My response is no, the start of a revolution is no longer possible. The revolution has already begun, and is well under way, in Ireland, in the US, and elsewhere.
Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia: Prague 1989

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Come Out to Save Lives - Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley

There are many sound religious reason for coming out (which I summarise below).  The Georgia megachurch pastor Jim Swilley, of  "Church in the Now", by his own example has presented another. He has come out to save lives.
Swilley has hidden his sexuality from his congregation for years, through two marriages (although he was at least honest with his second wife, who in turn encouraged him to be open more publicly). Unlike so many other closeted preachers (Bishop Long, George Rekers and Ted Swaggart, for instance) however, he has never fallen into the trap of preaching against homosexuality to hide his own orientation.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Coming Soon: John McNeill & “Taking a Chance on God”, On Film, On-Line.

For some time, I have been reading reports of a documentary film on the life and ministry of the pioneer gay theologian, John McNeill, in production by Brendan Fay, one of the producers of "Saint of 9/11", on the life and death at the World Trade Towers of Father Mychal Judge, the gay Franciscan chaplain to the NYC fire department,By way of a comment he has placed here today, I can now pass on the good news that a trailer for the film, which takes it title from one of John McNeill's books, will shortly be available on-line:
Just wanted to inform all that in a few days a trailer to the documentary on my life and ministry will go on-line, at (http://www.TakingaChanceonGod.com.) The complete documentary will be premiered in December.
McNeill's Book of the Same Title