One of the curiosities of the human psyche is that we tend to pay more attention to bad news to good. – a phenomenon well known to newspaper editors. Here, I have to plead guilty myself. Especially in the current extraordinary saga surrounding clerical abuse in the Catholic Church, there is an awful lot of bad news that regrettably needs airing. For gay, lesbian and trans people in the churches, we also have to face the very visible opposition by some in the church, and those highly visible opponents of LGBT equality and inclusion, who claim to be speaking for the church. It is not surprising then, that so many queers and others are convinced that the Christian churches are uniformly hostile, and only the high-profile bad news is reported – with a few exceptions for the major events, like the election of openly gay bishops.
The truth, however, is far more complex, and includes a lot of encouraging features that are seldom reported. This becomes strikingly clear is you read just a little way back into recent history, as I have been doing. Two books I have been reading, Gary Comstock’s “Unrepentant, Self-Affirming, Practicing” and Michael Vasey’s “Strangers and Friends“, both date from just fifteen years ago, but in their telling of then current events, they read as if they were much older. For instance:
In 1988, in the UK the notorious “section 28” of the local government act,( which prohibited the promotion of the teaching (in schools) of homosexuality, or the acceptability of the homosexual as a “pretended family relationship”) was used to prevent a lesbian poet appearing in a council sponsored poetry reading.
Today, the UK has an openly lesbian poet laureate, Carol Anne Duffy, whose poems (some of them gay love poems), are widely studied in schools, and gay family units are routinely recognised in British law and practice.
Inside the Anglican church, the 1987 debates in the Anglican synod helped to create a profound climate of fear for homosexuals. one of the key rabble rousers, Tony Higton, argued for the exclusion from ministry not only for gays, but also for any ordained person who refused to support his strong opposition.
Today, the UK church has not gone as far as the US Episcopalians and Swedish Lutherans in ordaining openly gay or lesbian bishops, but there is open discussion, and that day is fast approaching. It is also widely acknowledged that in practice, a high proportion of Anglican clergy are gay – and are not necessarily celibate, as nominally required by church law.
In the US, Comstock wrote especially about the widespread exclusion of gay candidates from ministry – but the ECLA has already reversed that decision, and while the Presbyterians and Methodists are preparing to do the same (in the interim, several of the individual candidates who had been turned away in the past, have since been welcomed back, and re-ordained by more welcoming congregations, or for special ministries).
So it is that I was delighted, late last night, to find an email in my in-tray from the theologian John McNeill, with a copy of a recent post for his blog, “Spiritual Transformations”
As it is short, I post it here in full, but I urge you to go across also to McNeill’s site itself, and read the many useful things he has posted. In a long career writing about gay theology, John McNeill has already produced a substantial body of profoundly influential work. We should be grateful that even now, he continues to produce regular material for our attention and consideration.
For many years now I have observed a reluctance on the part of gay leaders to acknowledge and welcome the support gay liberation receives from faith communities. A striking example of that occurred at the 25th anniversary of Stonewall in New York city. Three major gay religious events occurred that day. The first was an event sponsored by Integrity, the Episcopal gay group at the Cathedral of St. John The Divine. (The cathedral kept an AIDS memorial with the names of all the thousands who dies of AIDS in New York City.) Over four thousand gay believers gathered that morning to pray for gay and lesbian liberation. The preacher was Bea Arthur who ended her sermon singing “I’ll be seeing you”! There was not a dry eye in the Church.
That afternoon, Dignity, the gay and lesbian Catholic group, held a service at St. Bartholomew’s church on Park Avenue. There were several thousand in attendance. The preacher was lesbian theologian Mary Hunt, who foresaw the day when a woman would be pope. That evening Metropolitan Community Church, a gay friendly church which is the fastest growing Christian Church in the world today, held a service at Lincoln Center. Again over a thousand people attended this gay church service. Troy Perry preached a very charismatic sermon on self love and self acceptance.
The next day the newspapers and the gay press showed pictures of the more provocative paraders and exhibitionists, etc., but not a word about the many thousands who attended these services. In fact, throughout the years the vast majority of people marching in New York’s annual gay pride parade have been the religious groups.
- Francis DeBarnardo: “The Church is Better Because of the Presence of LGBT People” (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- Taking a Chance on God (gaymystic.blogspot.com)
- “Speaking the Truth” on Catholic LGBT Inclusion (queering-the-church.com)
- Gratitude to the Holy Spirit! (johnmcneillspiritualtransformation.blogspot.com)
- The Futility of (Attempted) Church Censorship: Minnesota, Ireland. (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)