Saturday, 29 December 2012

Do gays need a church of their own anymore?

Gay-centered church founded in 1960s debates role given recent progress for gay rights

On that Sunday in 1968 when Troy Perry borrowed a minister's robe and started a church for gays in his living room, the world was a very different place.
Perry's Metropolitan Community Churches was then a lone spiritual refuge for openly gay Christians, an idea so far from the mainstream that the founders were often chased from places where they tried to worship. Four decades later, some of the most historically important American denominations, which had routinely expelled gays and lesbians, are welcoming them instead.
MCC now has a presence in dozens of U.S. states as well as overseas, reporting a total membership of more than 240 congregations and ministries. But as acceptance of same-sex relationships grows gay and lesbian clergy in many Protestant traditions no longer have to hide their partners or lose their careers, and Christians can often worship openly with their same-gender spouses in the mainline Protestant churches where they were raised the fellowship is at a crossroads.
Is a gay-centered Christian church needed anymore?
"There are many more options than there used to be," said the Rev. Nancy Wilson, moderator, or leader, of the Metropolitan Community Churches. "But there is not a mass exodus."
The denomination has never been gays-only. But for a long time, straight allies were scarce.
The founding congregation, MCC of Los Angeles, opened a year before the Stonewall riots in New York. Few people had ever heard the argument that the Bible sanctioned same-gender relationships and no one of any influence in the religious world was saying it. MCC congregations became targets of arson, violence, pickets and, in at least one case, a vice squad.
Al Smithson, a founder in 1969 of the fellowship's San Diego church, said his pastor would point to Orange County's famous Crystal Cathedral and joke that he was praying for a bulletproof version.
The church today is a bit more diverse. MCC pastors say they see a growing number of straight friends and relatives of gays and lesbians among their new congregants, along with heterosexual parents who want their children raised in a gay-affirming environment. While some MCC congregations haven't changed much over the decades, Wilson said, many are emphasizing a broad social justice agenda including serving the homeless and poor.
"We don't have a rainbow flag on our website, nor do we have it on our building," said the Rev. Dan Koeshall, senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of San Diego, which draws about 220 people for Sunday services.
"It wasn't a decision that caused any controversy or split. It's just been moving in that direction. We know that our target audience is the LGBT community. But we're also attracting people who are saying, 'Yes, I stand in solidarity with you and I want to be part of this.'"
It's remarkable the denomination has endured at all. Metropolitan Community Churches brings together many different Christian traditions under one banner that often struggle to stay friendly in the outside world. Perry, now 72 and retired, is a Pentecostal who started preaching when he was just a teenager in rural Florida. The Rev. Mona West, the fellowship's director of clergy training, graduated from the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. But a large number of MCC clergy train in liberal Protestant seminaries. The common denominator is a belief that Christians can be in a same-sex relationship and still be faithful to Scripture.
"You can go from one MCC to another and have a radically different flavor, depending on the region, the clergy and congregants," said Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist and co-editor of the book "Gay Religion."
The fellowship expanded relatively quickly from its humble beginnings. Within months of founding the first congregation in Los Angeles, Perry started receiving letters and visits from people hoping to establish MCC churches in other cities. Two years later, new congregations had formed as far away as Florida. Within five years, the church had spread overseas.
Then, the 1980s arrived and with it, the AIDS crisis. Metropolitan Community Churches plowed its resources into ministries for the sick, dying and grieving. The fellowship lost several thousand members and clergy to the virus, and the business of starting new churches slowed. As a result, Wilson and others say the denomination missed out on crucial period for potential growth.
But the church has also lost some congregations, including its biggest, to other denominations. The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, a megachurch with about 4,200 members, split off around 2003, and eventually joined the United Church of Christ. Cathedral and MCC officials say the break resulted from disagreements between local church members and local leaders, not a rejection of MCC's mission. The Cathedral maintains its focus on reaching out to gays, lesbians and transgender people.
Still, the United Church of Christ, which has more than 5,000 congregations and roots in colonial New England, can offer much that the MCC cannot, including more resources, greater prominence and a broader reach. In some communities, local churches are affiliating with both the Metropolitan Community Churches and United Church of Christ. But at least one other MCC congregation broke away in recent years: The Columbia, S.C., church became the Garden of Grace United Church of Christ.
"It makes us more than a one-issue church," the Rev. Andy Sidden, the church's pastor, told The State newspaper of Columbia, in a 2006 interview.
Like many other churches coping with a weak economy, the MCC has cut or restructured staff jobs in the last five years and reduced the annual payment congregations pay the national office, Wilson said. Some smaller MCC churches have closed.
Yet, despite the losses, Wilson and others see a continuing role for Metropolitan Community Churches, given the wide range of responses to gays and lesbians in organized religion, even in the more liberal churches that have moved toward accepting same-gender relationships.
Of the mainline Protestant groups, only the United Church of Christ supports gay marriage outright. The Episcopal Church last month released a provisional prayer service for blessing same-sex unions. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have eliminated barriers for gay clergy but allow regional and local church officials to decide their own policies. One of the largest mainline groups, the United Methodist Church, with about 7.8 million U.S. members, still bars ordination for people in same-sex relationships, although many individual Methodist churches openly accept gay and lesbian clergy.
"There's 'Come and don't say anything,' 'Come, but we won't marry you,' or 'Come and be fully accepted,'" said the Rev. Jo Hudson, senior pastor of the Cathedral of Hope. "We're always glad when churches welcome gay and lesbian people, but it's just a different experience in a church that is historically and predominantly led by heterosexual people. Everyone is going to find the church where they most fit in."
Wilson said a large percentage of newer MCC members are from conservative Christian churches teaching that gay and lesbian Christians should try to become heterosexual or remain celibate. Koeshall was a pastor in the Assemblies of God, one of the largest U.S.-based Pentecostal groups, until 1997, when he says, "I came out and I got kicked out."
New MCC congregations have recently started in Peoria, Ill., and in The Villages retirement community north of Orlando, Fla. (In a recent announcement in local gay media, the Peoria congregation described MCC as a fellowship created for gay and lesbian Christians now known as "the human rights church.") Mary Metcalf, 62, a seven-year member of Heartland Metropolitan Community Church in Springfield, Ill., which started the Peoria congregation, said she was a lector and liturgy coordinator at her Roman Catholic parish until some friends brought her to a service.
"When it came time for communion, when the presider said that the table is open to everyone, I started crying," said Metcalf, on a break from painting Heartland church with other volunteers. "I came from the Catholic Church. I'm straight, but I just finally had to come to a parting of the ways. I didn't think Jesus kept anyone away from the table."
Still, like most denominations, MCC is seeing its strongest growth overseas. In Latin America, the fellowship had seven churches in five countries a decade ago, and now reports 56 congregations or ministries in 17 countries, according to the Rev. Darlene Garner, director of MCC's emerging ministries. A congregation in Australia for young adults, called Crave, is thriving, Wilson said. Garner's office is also developing an online church with worship, Bible study and support in several languages. MCC has already conducted its first virtual baptism on the web, a relatively new practice that is gaining popularity among evangelical churches with online worship.
Thumma contends MCC should not be judged by the standards used for other denominations. Only a small percentage of Americans are gay or lesbian, and a limited number want to be active in a Christian church, no matter its outlook. Like other minority groups moving toward mainstream acceptance, some gay Christians are assimilating into bigger denominations while others choose the focus and freedoms MCC provides, Thumma said.
"MCC still has a clear function," Thumma said. "Like an immigrant community, it gives gay Christians a place of their own."

Friday, 28 December 2012

Response to Benedict: Dutch Gay Catholics De-Baptize Themselves

Thousands of Dutch Catholics are researching how they can leave the church in protest at its opposition to gay marriage, according to the creator of a website aimed at helping them find the information.

Tom Roes, whose website allows people to download the documents needed to leave the church, said traffic on - "" - had soared from about 10 visits a day to more than 10,000 after Pope Benedict's latest denunciation of gay marriage this month.

"Of course it's not possible to be 'de-baptized' because a baptism is an event, but this way people can unsubscribe or de-register themselves as Catholics," Roes told Reuters.

He said he did not know how many visitors to the site actually go ahead and leave the church.

- more at Huffington Post

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Italian bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini from Locri-Gerace recognizes that gay couples 'should claim some rights, but they can not ask for marriage'


 18 DECEMBER 2012 | BY DANIELE GUIDO GESSA Photo by DaffyDuke

An Italian Catholic bishop said that ‘same-sex couples should have their civil rights recognized.’ Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini, who is in charge of the Locri-Gerace area in Calabria, recognized same-sex couples’ rights in a letter sent to the churches of his area.

Such a recognition by the Catholic hierarchy is uncommon, but bishop Morosini added: ‘However, same-sex couples are not families. We can not give them the right to a regular marriage.
‘We believe in God and we have to respect the Christian values and rules. I suggest you defend these ideas strongly.'

The Italian Church is analyzing the possibility of a new Italian government wanting to give same-sex couples some rights. The next general elections will be held in spring. Morosini added: 
‘A marriage is a union between a man and a woman, but every couple should have civil rights.’

His stance has been welcomed by Italian LGBT associations, even though the Italian gay movement has condemned his call for ‘traditional’ marriage.Calabria is one of the less gay-friendly regions in Italy. Only a few LGBT associations operate in this area.
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Friday, 14 December 2012

The Rainbow Sash Movement (Lesbian/Gay Catholics) challenges the policy arm of the Catholic Church in Illinois when that Conference makes the claim that it represents nearly 4 million Catholics in the State of Illinois on the issue of Gay Marriage; such a claim is not based in reality.


The Illinois Catholic Conference also states that marriage is unique because it's a union between two genders and "same-sex marriage goes against nature." This is another example of hierarchal bias of basic human rights and fairness for LGBT people. It is not reasonable to deny the evolution of marriage over the centuries with divorce and remarriage being the most obvious example of such evolution.

The Rainbow Sash Movement finds it difficult understand why the Illinois Catholic Conference would align itself with an organization which is part of the ex-gay movement to promote their anti-gay agenda. Courage was founded by Fr. John Harveybased on the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and understands sexual orientation of the LGBT Community as a disease to be cured. The attempt to promote such bigotry under their conference is in our opinion not only offensive to the LGBT Community and most reasonable people, but is also lacking in any significant pastoral intent.

The promotion of such ideas by the Illinois Catholic Conference that love is an abomination when Lesbian and Gay couples practice it in Gay Marriage has its origins in ancient taboos, not nature. This only highlights how out of touch Catholic leaders are with the views of pew-sitting Catholics when it comes to Gay Marriage.

At issue is how to balance competing rights—to freedom of religious expression and freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We believe it would be unfortunate to replace legal oppression of one community (LGBT couples) with legal oppression of another (Illinois Catholic Conference), and current Gay Marriage legislation to be introduced in January 2013 has built in protections to make sure this does not happen.

We want to remind our leaders the principles of our faith and church are based on: forgiveness, love, mercy and charity. Not the flawed opinions of men - even those in the church hierarchy. We are calling on our Bishops to refocus their attention on caring for the poor and vulnerable

The Rainbow Sash Movement believes that the Catholic Conference of Illinois has a right to create its own definition of the sacrament of marriage, but not to impose those beliefs on the people of Illinois who understand this as a question of basic fairness and social justice.

Perhaps it is time for the Church to remove itself from Civil Marriage if it cannot tolerate marriage equality which is defined by the state, and focus rather on sacramental marriage which is defined by the Church. The Catholic Conference of Illinois is stepping over the line when it tells non Catholic Churches who they can and cannot marry.

It is time to pass Gay Marriage in Illinois.
SOURCE Rainbow Sash Movement
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Friday, 16 March 2012

Episcopalians release same-sex marriage rites

While Catholic bishops in the UK and the US are digging in their heels against marriage equality, the American Episcopal church is (very sensibly) looking ahead, to the inevitable day when they will recognize the need to do away with marriage discrimination in their own church (as some local jurisdictions have already done).  
After several years of study, the Episcopal Church has released a draft of what same-sex marriage rites would look like. An important caveat: these are just drafts, and it will likely be years before any final liturgy is approved for official use across the church.
Episcopalians in states that allow same-sex civil marriage (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and others) already have the option to bless same-sex marriages but there is no formal churchwide liturgy. Same-sex commitment ceremonies are permitted elsewhere in the church at the discretion of the local bishop.
From the church's Office of Public Affairs:
The report’s theological reflection notes that the SCLM [Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music] has reviewed more than 30 years of General Convention’s deliberation on same-gender couples, especially [a] resolution approved in 2000, that identified characteristics the Church expects of couples living in marriage and other lifelong committed relationships: “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.”
“Such covenantal relationships can reflect God‘s own gracious covenant with us in Christ, manifest the fruits of the Spirit in holiness of life, and model for the whole community the love of neighbor in the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation,”  the report states.
- Religion News Service
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Reform Jews Back Gay Marriage, Denounce Cardinal O'Brien

The Reform movement has branded as "inflammatory" an attack on same-sex marriage by one of Britain's leading Catholic clerics.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, described plans to legalise gay marriage as "madness" and a "grotesque subvesion".
But Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, movement rabbi for Reform Judaism, said that the cardinal's comments were "inflammatory and incitement to homophobia which can have grave consequences".

Jewish women under a Beverley Hills chuppah in 2008 

Reform welcomed the proposed legislation, she said. "A recognition of equality of marriage for homosexuals as well as heterosexuals can only strengthen society and the institution of marriage."
Rabbi Colin Eimer, who chaired a working party on the issue for the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, said: "Religious ceremonies exist in Jewish life for heterosexual couples to express their love, commitment, values and ideals. We believe that homosexual couples should have that same opportunity for a religious ceremony within the sanctity of Jewish community, tradition and practice."
One commonly heard argument for opposition to equality is that it is an attack on freedom of religion. It is not, as this example and the one below clearly show. It in fact supports religious freedom - freedom for the increasing number of religious groups that wish to minister to all in their congregations, without discrimination.

Marriage Amendment -- a Hindu perspective

In November, Minnesotans will approve or reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Many belonging to long-established religions in Minnesota have joined the debate over this matter. Jews and Christians, liberal and conservative, have expressed positions.
Our state is home also to significant numbers of people of other world religions, including my own Hindu tradition. It is important that our voices also be offered in the public square. This amendment threatens to enshrine in law the perspective of particular religions and marginalize others.
There are important teachings in the Hindu tradition that affirm the equal worth of all sexual orientations. In the Hindu tradition, the value of the human person is not located in his or her sexual identity. It proceeds from the teaching that God is present equally and identically in all beings. No being is excluded, and awareness of this truth is regarded as the highest religious wisdom.
In relation to the attainment of life's highest goal, spiritual liberation, the Hindu tradition does not discriminate between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Its sacred scriptures positively mention the accessibility of liberation for gays. What stands in the way of liberation is ignorance of God existing in the heart of all beings, expressing itself in greed, violence and injustice.
One of the most remarkable statements about the inclusivity of God's love in the Hindu tradition occurs in the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic. The Ramayana tells the life story of Rama, revered by Hindus as an incarnation of God. In speaking about the nature of divine love, Rama mentions also gays:
One who worships me in thought, word and action, relinquishing deceit, whether man, gay or woman is supremely dear to me.
There is good evidence that Hindu culture was one of the earliest to recognize that human sexual identity is not just heterosexual. Ancient texts refer to a third gender, different from the traditional male or female. Gender diversity is seen as part of the natural diversity of humanity and inherited at birth.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Intersex, Women Bishops, and the Body of Christ

The story of Rev. Sally / Selwyn Gross neatly encapsulates the challenges of intersex people to Roman Catholic rules on the ordination of women. Male-identified at birth, Selwyn was raised as male, and became a Catholic priest. When medical tests revealed that internal biology was primarily female, Sally transitioned - and was forced out of the priesthood.
In the Anglican church, there is no problem with the ordination of intersex people, as there is no bar to women's ordination in the first place, nor are there barriers to promotion - up to the rank of bishop. Then the stained - glass ceiling is struck, for intersex people and for women. We know from science that the intersex phenomenon is entirely natural and complex, including a small but significant proportion of the human population. The absolute division of us into a neat two-part binary, is simplistic and a dangerous ground on which to base rules for ordination (or for marriage, for that matter).

The theologian Dr Susannah Cornwall has specialised in the intersex challenge to theology, notably in her book "Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ" . In a new paper, reported on in the Church Times, she applies these considerations to the debate raging in the English Church over women bishops.   The trigger for her intervention came in a paper by those opposed to women bishops,"The Church, Women Bishops and Provision"which argued “When we stop receiving Christ in his essential maleness, his humanity becomes obscured".
Essentially male?

Intersex conditions undermine the assumptions about the clear delineation between male and female which underpin the theology of Christians that oppose women bishops.
Dr Cornwall says that many contemporary theological accounts of sex, gender, and sexuality take too little heed to the existence of physical intersex conditions.
“The important question is what definition of maleness the authors of The Church, Women Bishops and Provision are using, and what it is in which they believe that maleness inheres,” she writes. “Intersex dis­turbs the discreteness of maleness and femaleness, and might therefore also disturb the gendered roles which are pinned to them.”
Dr Cornwall believes that “very little” has been written about the impact of such conditions on theology and the Church’s ministry.
“Generally, there has been a growing awareness that intersex exists but not specifically theological reflection,” she said. “The pastoral concern is the big impetus for my project, but I don’t think it’s possible to do that without thinking about the theological considerations.”
 - full report at Church Times 
In her paper “Intersex & Ontology, A Response to The Church, Women Bishops and Provision”, she argues that it is not possible to know “with any certainty” that Jesus did not suffer from an intersex condition, with both male and female organs.
In an extraordinary paper she says: “It is not possible to assert with any degree of certainty that Jesus was male as we now define maleness.
“There is no way of knowing for sure that Jesus did not have one of the intersex conditions which would give him a body which appeared externally to be unremarkably male, but which might nonetheless have had some “hidden” female physical features.”
Dr Cornwall argues that the fact that Jesus is not recorded to have had children made his gender status “even more uncertain”.
She continues: “We cannot know for sure that Jesus was male – since we do not have a body to examine and analyse – it can only be that Jesus’ masculine gender role, rather than his male sex, is having to bear the weight of all this authority.”

Recommended Books:

Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey: Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach

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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

In Denying Communion at Mother's Funeral, Priest Contravened the Catechism

A Catholic priest has refused communion to a lesbian, solely because she is a lesbian - at her mother's funeral. He said to her directly that he did so because she is living with a woman, and that is a sin, according to the church.
The blogosphere has been abuzz with the news that Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, a priest at St. John Neumann parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington), recently denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral. has posted a summary of various blog posts on the incident, including Ann Werner’s post on, which broke the story.   Werner offers the details:
“My friend Barbara [Johnson], the daughter of the deceased woman, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. She was the first in line and Fr. Guarnizo covered the bowl containing the host and said to her,  ‘I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.’  To add insult to injury, Fr. Guarnizo left the altar when she delivered her eulogy to her mother. When the funeral was finished he informed the funeral director that he could not go to the gravesite to deliver the final blessing because he was sick.”
In claiming to be upholding the Catechism, Fr Guarnizo is displaying woeful ignorance ot it, on at least three counts. First, there is nothing at all in the Catechism against two women simply living together. There is only (alleged) sin if there are “genital acts”. He has not made any such claim to justify his action.

It would also be quite improper to assume that such acts occur, or even if they do, that they are subjectively sinful. We all have an obligation to follow conscience in these (and all other) matters. As the Catechism (1861) reminds us: “We must entrust judgement of persons the justice and mercy of God
Third, there is an equally important part of Catechism teaching, which has been flagrantly ignored:

 "Respect, Compassion, Sensitivity". Fr Guarnizo has displayed none of these.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Gay Marriage, and the English Catholic Church: More Sanity From Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols has once again demonstrated sanity and moderation on the place of the Catholic Church in modern society. While there are many loud, outraged voices raised in complaint in the US and in the UK over alleged assaults on religious freedom and of perceived persecution of Christians, Nichols has correctly pointed out that what is happening is not the "persecution" of Christians, but an attempt to separate the legal and cultural life of the country from its Christian roots. He is saying in other words, that what is happening is a removal from the Church of its previously privileged position. This may be deplorable, unfortunate, or welcome - but does not amount to persecution, any more than the removal of apartheid in South Africa represented the persecution of Whites.

The origins of complaints of persecution in the UK are in a series of high profile court judgements which have consistently found that religious freedom does not give Christians the right to contravene anti-discrimination laws. Recently, the volume has stepped up with complaints against the proposed introduction of marriage equality. (A former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has launched an on-line petition drive in opposition to gay marriage). Archbishop Nichols says that the Catholic Church in England and Wales is against the proposals - but will leave actual opposition to individual Catholics as individuals, but the Church "as a whole" will not join in the campaign.

After a fortnight which has seen the emergence of a "Christianist" backlash – most recently in evidence with an internet petition against gay marriage spearheaded by Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury – Nichols seems to be supporting the movement from a careful distance.

Catholics will be encouraged to sign the petition against gay marriage as individuals, but the church as a whole will not be part of Carey's campaign even though it opposes a change in the law.

"The church, like Jesus, should say 'yes' to new things": Gumbleton

I think it is most appropriate today to begin our reflection on the Scriptures by focusing especially on the first lesson, where Isaiah is trying to reassure people that God is about to do something new, if only they have the courage to respond to what God is doing. We should remember that these are people who have been driven out of their own city and land. Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was left in flames. They had to go off into exile, and were in exile for 80-some years. By now, they had become accustomed to the way things are.

Isaiah is preaching to them that it is time to go back and have your place again, and live where God gave you the land to be yours, but they were hesitant. They'd gotten used to the way things were. That's when Isaiah said, "Do not dwell on the past." They were thinking back to the time when Moses had led them out of Egypt, freed them from slavery and established the Jewish law. They were trying to hang onto that.

God said, "Look, I'm doing new things. Now it springs forth. Do you not see?" Further on, He said, "I have formed this people for myself. They will proclaim My praise. Neither have you satisfied Me with the fat of your sacrifices. Instead, you would burden Me with your sins and wearied Me with your offenses. I am the one who blocks out your offenses for My own sake. I remember your sins no more." God is saying to them, "There is a new opportunity now. Let go of the past. Be ready to follow where God is leading you now."

via National Catholic Reporter.

(Extract from a homily by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time . And to that "Amen, we say, Amen")

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25

Psalms 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14

2 Corinthians 1:18-22

Mark 2:1-12

Full text of the readings

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Monday, 20 February 2012

Remembering Marcella Althaus - Reid, "Indecent Theologian"

Theologian Marcella Althaus - Reid died February 20th 2009, after a theological journey that began with the study and practice of liberation theology in the slums of Argentina under the military junta, and ended as Professor of Contextual Theology at Edinburgh University, where her interests included Liberation Theology, Feminist theology and Queer Theology. I have an instinctive personal response to this trajectory - my own journey in faith was strongly coloured by my experience of the Catholic Church under apartheid South Africa as an important force campaigning for justice and peace.  As in Argentian, liberation theology was an important influence in the South African Catholic Church, where it transformed into Black theology - and later contextual theology. Like Althaus- Reid, my conviction that Christianity must stand on the side of justice and inclusion for the marginalized has led me to a conviction that this must also include justice in the church, and justice also for the sexually marginalized of all shades: gay, lesbian, trans, bi- or simply queer (in either meaning - sexually non-conformist, or just "strange"). And like her, I too have migrated from a land of southern sun to British damp and cold. So - I could be biased.

As a theologian, her work was undoubtedly influential - but also highly controversial. Just the titles of her two major books illustrate this: "Indecent Theology", and "The Queer God". I love the title and concept "Indecent Theology" (which I have not read), which suggests for me two distinct concepts: that theology should not shrink from tackling concepts that are too often avoided as "indecent", and simultaneously that in tackling conventional themes, it need not automatically adopt a reverential, deferential submission to received, supposedly authoritative opinion.  Her thorough grounding in liberation theology left Althaus - Reid with a firm commitment to the value of base communities, in which ordinary people in small groups can do theology by talking about the influence and impact of God in their lives, in their unique circumstances. The formal, accredited theologians have greater training and academic understanding of the theory of God - but the base communities have real - world experience of their own lives. Both methods of doing theology deserve attention and respect.

For her admirers, she was a pioneer in the transformation of gay liberation theology into queer theology. See for instance, Jay Emerson Johnson of the Pacific School of Religion Centre for Lesbian and Gay Studies, School of Religion and Ministry , in a commemorative reflection after her death:

Hardly anyone has a neutral reaction to the word “queer.” People either love it or hate it. I used to belong to that latter camp until a wiry, effervescent, brilliant Latin American liberation theologian converted me. That theologian’s name was Marcella Althaus-Reid, who passed away on February 20 – far too young and with many more theological and spiritual insights left to offer to a world that desperately needs them.

“Queer theology” has been bubbling up in some quarters for a while now, but not quite as long as “queer theory.” Both spark considerable controversy, and sometimes for similar reasons. Usually the word “queer” is enough to send an otherwise congenial dinner party of LGBT people rocking with impassioned disclaimers, hurled history lessons, and proffered pleas for tolerance. In religious circles, gay and lesbian people have been working for decades to carve out a “place at the table” in faith communities that they so rightly deserve. The work can be slow and arduous, which the word “queer” – some strenuously insist – can derail. A few years ago I attended a national gathering of LGBT-affirming ministries where a well-known gay Christian author practically begged his audience of several hundred to refrain from using “that word” in their advocacy work. It simply perpetuates the assumption that we’re different, he explained.

That’s exactly the point, as Marcella Althaus-Reid would have chimed in had she been there. We are different. And the only way to do Christian theology is from that place of difference. The “we” for Althaus-Reid didn’t mean only lesbian and gay people, nor the ones so quickly added on later, like bisexuals and transgender folks. “We” are all those who don’t fit the regulatory regimes of both state and church marked by gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, and economics. For her, “queer” maps out a space of resistance to those regimes, not just to oppose but creatively to construct, re-imagine, and envision a different kind of world.

-Centre for Lesbian and Gay Studies, School of Religion and Ministry

Johnson doesn't spell it out, but her understanding of "queer" was emphatically not restricted to lesbian, gay and trans - it very much included bisexual (which she was herself), and all the varieties of sexual non-conformity - she was one of the few queer theologians to include discussion of S/M  sexuality.

For her detractors, there are many counterarguments. A good friend, who knows far more about the Catholic Church and theology than I do, once described her to me quite simply as a "nutter". Her writing has far more the character of post-modern philosophy or literary criticism than of conventional theology. Her sources are secular writing more often than they are scriptural, or based on earlier theologians. (When I read "The Queer God", I was baffled at times by the style and the dense, sometime impenetrable writing - but equally stimulated and excited by other passages of brilliance and insight). Some would even argue that her theology is post-Christian, not Christian. For example, Rollan McCleary:

In reality, Marcella Althaus-Reid constitutes one of the strangest phenomena in the long and diverse history of Christian thought. To judge from her published works this lecturer in “Christian ethics” who dismissed the Ten Commandments as “a consensus” reflecting “elite perspectives” (2003:163) was less a spokesperson for the “indecent” or disruptive she is supposed to represent and that might have had it uses, than an unusual kind of atheist and blasphemer whose written wit and reportedly frequent laughter in person barely disguised the extent of the game she must have known she was playing. Within the increasingly effete, too often irrelevant world of theological and Queer studies she found opportunity. Her admirers, and in her last years she had them on an international scale, have been deceived or perhaps never really understood what she wrote - whole chunks of it admitted to be dense, difficult, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary based. Those who truly understood might have to be considered infidels towards the religion they profess.

Rollan's Censored Issues Blog

But even her detractors agree on some undeniable lasting value in her work. McCleary concedes in his post,

.... even if Marcella hadn’t returned right answers she had raised pertinent questions based on experiences not to be ignored.

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Sunday, 19 February 2012

On Monday, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed into state law the bill providing for legal recognition of same - sex marriages. Bishop Grant Hagiya of the United Methodist Church, was quick to express his support.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. 

John 13:34-35
I greet you in the very name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
Difficult letters, like difficult conversations are never easy. However, God never promised us easy, and there are times when we must take up the cross and walk in faith. I write today not representing the United Methodist Church, for only General Conference can do that. So, even though I write this letter as your Bishop, I hope it will also be received as your friend in Christ.
With the signing by Governor Gregoire of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington as of June 7th, the state joins six others in recognizing this union. Personally, I celebrate the signing into law of the legalization of same-sex marriage for our state. It is an historic moment for the people of this geographic region, and it marks a secular turning point in the liberation of those who have too long been oppressed in our current times. I celebrate with those who will be free to enjoy equal health and security benefits through the state institution of marriage. 
I also personally grieve over our United Methodist Church polity that will not recognize same-sex marriage. I believe that it is wrong, and we should work for a more inclusive and humane response. The reason for this stance is that I believe that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God's divine love for the entire creation, and no one should be shut out from God's embracing Grace. God's Grace is so pure and encompassing that anything that attempts to limit or control this love must be transformed.
-read the full letter at  Reconciling Minisgtries Network
(emphasis added)
The bill has been signed, but is unlikely to take effect too soon. Opponents will attempt to have it overturned at the ballot box, probably supported by several Catholic and other faith - based groups. It is good to have this public demonstration that there is religious support for equality too - just as we already know that most Catholics support it.
It is also an important illustration of the deep support for inclusion within the United Methodist Church, the largest Mainline Protestant denomination of the USA. In recent years, proposals to admit to ordination openly gay or lesbian, partnered candidates for ministry, and for approval for same - sex  weddings in church, have been a staple of every general assembly of the UMC - as they will be again this summer - but have been consistently defeated, largely on the back of strenuous opposition by delegates from outside the US. So, same - weddings in a Methodist church are in conflict with the denominations rule - book, the "Book of Discipline". But many Methodist pastors see any refusal to conduct such weddings, as in conflict with their obligation to minister to their entire congregation, setting up a direct conflict. Over a thousand US ministers have publicly declared that even without approval from General Assembly, they will simply ignore the Book of Discipline on this matter, and marry same -  sex couples, regardless.
More than a thousand United Methodist clergy across the United States have signed statements committing themselves to fulfill their vow to ministry by marrying or blessing couples regardless of their gender. More than a third of the population of the United States lives where marriage or civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are legal. When parishioners come to their pastors to request that they officiate at their weddings, ministers face a conflict between their vow to minister to their whole congregation and their vow to uphold the Book of Discipline which asks them to deny ministry to some of their members.
Gay marriage, in church, will be debated again this summer at the UMC General Assembly, and also by the Presbyterian Church of the USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which have previously opened up to  LGBT pastors, but not same - sex weddings. There can be no longer any doubt: church weddings for all, without discrimination, are coming. It's just a matter of time - and denomination.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Bishop Hagiya is not the only pastor standing up for equality: just the most prominent. Others are doing so too - or at least, trying to avoid taking a stand. The NOM and the like can not claim to be speaking for the religious point of view:

Church leaders vary on approach to gay marriage issue |

When it comes to supporting gay marriage in Washington, there may be one question even more divisive for Christians than the one they're likely to see on the November ballot.

What would Jesus do?

"There's churches on both sides of that in Yakima," the Rev. David Helseth of Englewood Christian Church said. "I expect there will be some congregations and leaders that are very vocal."

Helseth is one of numerous church leaders locally who won't be addressing the issue from the pulpit anytime soon. He said he knows church members who support and oppose gay marriage, and he would rather promote civil dialogue than something that could seriously divide the congregation.

"We are not going to exclude anybody," Helseth said. "Everyone has a place at Christ's table."

The Rev. Mike Scheid of Yakima's Central Lutheran Church said gay marriage hasn't been seriously addressed within his congregation yet, and that's likely because the issue is still ongoing. Scheid said he thinks the topic will become a bigger issue later in the year when a likely referendum settles the question of legalization.

via  Yakima Herald-Republic.

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Friday, 17 February 2012

Kentucky "Welcoming Church" Leaves Baptist Association

In recent years, progress towards full lgbt inclusion in church has been remarkable, with the appointment of openly gay and lesbian bishops, landmark national decisions by some denominations to remove barriers to ordination for LGBT pastors, and local decisions by individual congregations to conduct same - sex weddings or blessings for queer couples (or to withhold weddings for all couples, until they are able to offer them to all, without discrimination). The headline news reports have usually featured (mainline) Protestant denominations - and resistance by some dissenting congregations, transferring their allegiance to alternative umbrella bodies.

The movement towards welcoming and affirming congregations is present though in all denominations, and that includes the Evangelical churches.  In these, it is sometimes the refusal to accept inclusion, not its endorsement, that leads congregations to disaffiliate. This was the case in Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Central Baptist's commitment to inclusion is clear from its website, right on the homepage: see the logo, and the clear promise just beneath it : "All Are Welcome - No Exceptions".


The Central pastor, Mark Johnson, had written a blog post that featured a poster based marketing campaign by an Indianapolis church. affiliated to the MCC,  that asked the pertinent question "Who Stole Jesus?". This resulted in a complaint from the pastor of a sister - church to the Elkhorn Baptist Association. In response, the congregation opted to withdraw from the association

The congregation opted to leave the association rather than fight, but added a public statement to make clear that all Baptists do not agree on everything.

“We have been quiet for too long,” said church member Rachel Childress. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in our community who do not know there is a Baptist church like us.”

Central Baptist Church’s website lists mission partners including the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The church left the Southern Baptist Convention and Kentucky Baptist Convention a decade ago. Johnson said those decisions made the vote to leave the association “a natural and predictable course of direction.”

Johnson said Central Baptist Church wants to identify itself as “an open and inviting fellowship for God’s people.” A motto on the church website says: “All are welcomed here. No exceptions.”

The press release said Central Baptist harbors “no feelings of animosity toward or alienation from the people or programs” of Elkhorn Baptist Association, but believes “it is best to officially part ways.” The church will continue to work with Irishtown Baptist Mission in downtown Lexington, a ministry supported by the association that Central took the lead in establishing 50 years ago.

Associated Baptist Press - Kentucky church leaves association.

In fact, this withdrawal neatly highlights the relevance of the "Who Stole Jesus?" question. The whole Gospel message affirms the primacy of love, mercy and compassion over strict adherence to rigid religious rules and bureaucratic control. By withdrawing from a body that seeks to impose religious conformity, they are simply refusing to allow them to "steal Jesus" away from them.

The Gay Closet as a Place of Sin

My colleague Advocatus Diaboli sent me a link some days ago to a post at Jesus in Love, about a new book ("Dark Knowledge", by Kenneth Low) which argues that Jesus was homosexual and sexually active, but closeted - and that was the reason for his trial and execution. AD asked me for my opinion. Before getting to my response, I share some key extracts from Kittredge's post:

Dark Knowledge” by Kenneth Low uses rational arguments to disprove much of the conventional wisdom about Christ. According to Low, Jesus was not heterosexual, not celibate, and not happy with his own identity.

Low presents evidence that Jesus must have been homosexual because he was an unmarried man who surrounded himself with men, including John, his beloved male disciple and sexual partner.

-Jesus in Love


Kittredge quotes from Low directly:

In His childhood, Jesus Christ came into His awareness of being the Son of God. His magical authority and other attributes were given to Him as His birthright. As He came into sexual awareness, He discovered Himself to be a homosexual. His awareness of being the Son of God precluded any possibility of denying His sexuality out of some external concern and He began to be sexually active. He was evidently discovered to be a homosexual by people in His hometown and He must have been sharply rebuked and ostracized. He left Galilee and wandered on an endless soulful sojourn seeking a reconciliation of His divinity with His homosexuality. (p. 276)

-Jesus in Love

Toby Johnson, the author of Gay Spirituality and Gay Perspective and a former editor of the "White Crane" journal of gay spirituality, has also written about Dark Knowledge. He summarizes the thesis proposed by Dark Knowledge:

When Low considers Jesus as homosexual, it is as secretive, shamed and closeted, what a homosexual would have thought of himself in an intensely and threateningly homophobic and misogynistic society. His townsfolk would have ignored his teachings because they knew too much about him. He’d have been an embarrassment to his family. The Apostles would have been reluctant to admit they knew him if this fact came out. In this reading of the story, Jesus’s homosexuality isn’t an item of pride, but rather the source of a spiritual crisis that forces him to develop an interpretation of virtue and goodness that isn’t just conformity with Jewish Law, since he himself can’t conform.

(In his review, Johnson praises the originality of the presentation and the  manner  in which Low re-imagines the life of Christ. He concludes by noting that he is sceptical of Low's conclusion, but finds the book stimulating, and a good read nevertheless).

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Catholic Chaplain: “In this Bethlehem, there’s always room for everyone in the inn.”

It may be rare to encounter a multicolored gay pride flag upon entering a church. But Brandeis’ Catholic chaplain, the Rev. Walter Cuenin, proudly displays the rainbow flag in the Bethlehem Chapel’s foyer. With the word “Peace” written across the middle, the flag symbolizes a proclamation of acceptance and unity for each person who may walk through the Bethlehem Chapel’s doors.

Cuenin bases his decision to exhibit a gay pride flag on a tale about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. According to Christian tradition, when Mary and Joseph arrived at a Bethlehem inn, Mary was forced to have her baby in an outside stable since there were no rooms left at the inn. Cuenin connects this story to Brandeis’ Bethlehem Chapel by using the multicolored flag to portray that “in this Bethlehem, there’s always room for everyone in the inn.”

Cuenin is currently an ally of Brandeis’ LGBT group, Triskelion. He claims that while the Catholic Church does not support gay marriage, it does welcome gay people to its churches. In fact, when he was a pastor for a larger church nearby, Cuenin had even performed a baptism for the baby of a gay couple.

“The Catholic Church opposes gay marriage, so I cannot directly say I support it, but I have seen from my experience that for many people it creates a much healthier environment … For example, if you were to go to Provincetown in the summer time, where a lot of gay people go, it’s a radically different place today than it was 20 years ago,” Cuenin said. “They are there with children and married, raising kids, so they go home at night. In other words, it has transformed the whole gay scene … it hasn’t led to total debauchery. In some ways, it has pulled people back together,” Cuenin said.

via The Brandeis Hoot .

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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

"A Catholic Case for Same-sex Marriage": Gramick, DeBernardo

This month in Maryland and the state of Washington, an extraordinary dynamic is playing itself out:  Two Catholic governors are prodding legislators to pass bills legalizing same-gender marriage. Like Govs. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Pat Quinn in Illinois — whose states recently legalized same-sex civil unions — Govs. Martin O’Malley and Christine Gregoire are acting against the strongly expressed opposition of their church’s bishops.

As Catholics who are involved in lesbian and gay ministry and outreach, we are aware that many people, some of them Catholics, believe that Catholics cannot faithfully disobey the public policies of the church’s hierarchy. But this is not the case.

The Catholic Church is not a democracy, but neither is it a dictatorship. Ideally, our bishops should strive to proclaim the sensus fidelium , the faith as it is understood by the whole church. At the moment, however, the bishops and the majority of the church are at odds. A survey published in September by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 52 percent of Catholics support marriage equality and 69 percent support civil unions.

Those numbers shouldn’t surprise people who are familiar with the Catholic theological tradition. For example, Catholic thinking dictates that we should use the evidence we find in the natural world to help us reach our conclusions. Many Catholics have reflected on the scientific evidence that homosexuality is a natural variant in human sexuality, and understand that lesbian and gay love is as natural as heterosexual love.

 -full reflection at  The Washington Post.

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