Centre & Margins: Anglican/ Episcopalian Distortions on Gay Bishops, Gay Marriage

Over the past week there have been some notable postings and responses at Bilgrimage about the margins and the centre in the church, and on attempts to control public discourse from the right. This is a powerful theme, which can stand a great deal of further analysis, and on which I have been reflecting a lot ever since.  For now, though, I just want to point out how this same pattern of misappropriating and misrepresenting decisions and history in the church has played out in the Anglican/Episcopalian Communion in much the same way.

Ever since Gene Robinson’s consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, and the Episcopal Church’s decision this year to suspend the moratorium on further consecrations of gay bishops, we have become accustomed to howls of outrage (on the “right” ) and regretful cluckings (from the “centre”) about how the US Episcopalians have thrown the Anglican communion into crisis by their actions, in ignoring earlier decisions of the church and so forcing schism.  This meme has become so commonplace, it has become widely accepted without question.  There is however, one important difficulty with this story, as popularly reported:  it just isn’t true.  Gene Robinson was not the first openly gay bishop.  The departure from earlier decisions came not from the Episcopalians, but from those  opposed to the recognition of same sex partnerships.

Read the rest of this entry »

Transgendered in Church, Again.

I was moved by this story of the reception given to screening in a church hall of a documentary by an out, trans film maker about her experience and that of her family:

“This is the very first time our film has been in this community, ”  said Carol McKerrow, the mother of the three children portrayed in the movie. “In absolutely every way, the reception has been supportive and embracing and absolutely overwhelming.”

To understand the concerns one must understand the movie.  The screening of “Prodigal Sons“, directed and co-produced by Reed, follows a family of three children.

The oldest, Marc, suffered atraumatic injury in a car crash and has struggled ever since with mental illness. The youngest son, Paul, is gay while the middle child, formerly Pat McKerrow – a star quarterback for the 1975 Helena Bengal football team – returned to Helena as a woman after attending film school at the University of California Berkely. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Church Takes Action FOR Gay Marriage!

Here in the UK, there has not been a big  push for same sex marriage, as the civil partnership regulations provide virtually the same benefits as full marriage  This includes national benefits (unlike Washington’s proposal),and really is “marriage in all but name” (an important qualification).  Now, according to the BBC, the British Quakers are to take up the issue.


The proposal to begin performing marriage ceremonies for same -sex couples is expected to pass  by consensus, without opposition, at their annual gathering in York “on Friday”, even though this could bring them into conflict with the law.  They are also expected to ask for the law to be changed.  (Is “Friday” today…..or next week? I don’t yet know, but will investigate).

(UPDATE:  This has now been approved.  See the TIMES ONLINE)

This is the first time that I know of that a church group is taking a lead on the issue – anywhere.

From the BBC, 30th July 2009:

“Quakers ‘to allow gay marriages’

One of the UK‘s oldest Christian denominations – the Quakers – looks set to extend marriage services to same-sex couples at their yearly meeting later.

The society has already held religious blessings for same-sex couples who have had a civil partnership ceremony.

But agreeing to perform gay marriages, which are currently not allowed under civil law, could bring the Quakers into conflict with the government.

…BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the Quakers had been more prepared than other groups to reinterpret the Bible in the light of contemporary life.

Religious commitment

The Quakers – also known as The Religious Society of Friends – are likely to reach consensus on the issue of gay marriage without a vote at their annual gathering in York on Friday.

They will also formally ask the government to change the law to allow gay people to marry.”

The full report from the BBC is here.


From TIMES ONLINE, July 31st:

The Quakers sanctioned gay marriage today and decided to call on the Government to give same-sex couples the same standing as married couples.

Other Christian churches and religious denominations have approved blessings for civil same-sex partnerships but the Quakers have now become Britain’s first mainstream religious group to approve gay marriage.”

A Church for Saints and Sinners

The Guardian Newspaper has drawn attention to an article which it claims shows that the Holy See is warming to Oscar Wilde.  This is a little over the top – what the newspaper did, was to praise a review of a book about Wilde:

“Despite the Catholic Church’s condemnation of practising homosexuality, the newspaper has now run a glowing review of a new book about the famously doomed lover of Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was “one of the personalities of the 19th century who most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects”, wrote author Andrea Monda in a piece about Italian author Paolo Gulisano’s The Portrait of Oscar Wilde.

In an article headlined “When Oscar Wilde met Pius IX”, Monda wrote that Wilde was not “just a non-conformist who loved to shock the conservative society of Victorian England”; rather he was “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false”.

“Wilde was a man of great, intense feelings, who behind the lightness of his writing, behind a mask of frivolity or cynicism, hid a deep knowledge of the mysterious value of life,” he said.”

Nevertheless, it is true that both in the review and in publishing an earier collection of aphorisms, the Vatican has commented a pprovingly on the wisdom behind many of Wilde’s wittty remarks: in particular, that the Catholic Church is a  place “for saints and sinners alone” – and not for respectable people or conformists.

“The Holy See started its unlikely love affair with the Irish playwright and author two years ago when it published a collection of his quips in the book Provocations: Aphorisms for an Anti-conformist Christianity. Wilde’s famous comments “I can resist everything except temptation”, and “the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it” were included in the book, edited by Father Leonardo Sapienza.

Wilde was baptised into the Catholic Church shortly before he died. L’Osservatore Romano said that the “existential path” which the author trod “can also be seen as a long and difficult path toward that Promised Land which gives us the reason for existence, a path which led him to his conversion to Catholicism, a religion which, as he remarked in one of his more acute and paradoxical aphorisms, was ‘for saints and sinners alone – for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do’.”

This is profoundly true.  The heart of the Gospel is precisely that it is about to reaching out to all  – saints and sinners alike – and not to the rich and respectable, unless they discard those riches and respectability.  Indeed, many of our most revered saints today were at one time or another either clear “sinners”, or viewed with great suspicion or outright hostility by the Vatican establishment.

In a useful comment on the article, Martin Pendergast, well-known in the UK for his outstadning work behind the Soho Masses and the RC Caucus of the LGCM, notes the many reasons why this should not be a surprise, arguing along lines simlar to those used by Mark Jordan in “The Silence of Sodom.”

“Why should anyone be surprised at the Vatican’s official newspaper lauding Oscar Wilde? Its marbled halls are strewn with the finely sculpted, muscular youths of Michelangelo’s erotic fantasies. The erupting sexuality in the Sistine Chapel’s frescos are likewise testament to Wilde’s assertion that the Catholic church is “for saints and sinners alone” and that “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.”

What might have attracted Oscar Wilde to Catholicism? At one level it might have been the camp ultramontanism of 18th and 19th century liturgy and music. This attracted so many converts of the era, lingering into the early 20th century, with leading figures of the Oxford Movement and later Anglo-Catholic revivals turning to Rome. Cardinal Newman, his beloved Ambrose St John, the hymn-writing Father Faber, and Robert Hugh Benson, were all aesthetes to varying degrees. Was there something in the harshness of Victorian society that encouraged them to seek out alternative values in the Catholic church of those times?


Wilde’s sexual life, which today might be described as exhibiting patterns of sexual addiction, gave him deep insight into what was good, and beautiful, and true, in himself and those whom he loved, from Constance Lloyd to Alfred Douglas. The Vatican newspaper is not romanticising Wilde but noting his real insights into the human condition, its vulnerability and its immense creativity. Wilde’s De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol are as valuable spiritual and theological classics as Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, or the latter’s passionate letters on the death of Ambrose St John.”

Saint or Sinner:  which are you?

For the full Guardian article, read it here;

For Martin’s commentary, read it here.

News Roundup

A rundown of recent headlines from my LGBT Religious  News page:


From The Catholic Register (Canada), 9th July: BISHOP FACES HUMAN RIGHTS COMPLAINT


From Queers United, 8th July: STANDING ON THE SIDE OF LOVE – New Campaign by the United Universalist Church

From the website DNA India, 8th July:


From the Irish Emigrant (US), 9th July: IRISH GAY CATHOLICS CALL FOR DIALOGUE

From the Minnesota Independent, 6th July: LUTHERANS TO DEBATE GAY MARRIAGE, SAME_SEX UNIONS

For more details, links, and (brief) comment, see the full news page

QTC at Pride

Here I am in front of our Trafalgar Square stall after the London Pride march last week.  (I’m on the left, with a goofy grin and holding a bright yellow copy of Martin Pendergast’s gay catholic reading list).

me at pride stall 2009

And from last year, along with our Joe Stanley, chair of our Soho Masses Pastoral Council.   This was also at our Trafalgar Square stall, after the march- (which is why I was thirsty).

me at pride 2008

This Morning’s Web Reads.

This Morning’s Reading:

At The Wild Reed, Michael has a lengthy article on Sufism.  This is a subject on which I know almost nothing, but a first reading suggests there is a lot to be gained by rereading and longer reflection.  Have a look.

“Censor Librorum” at Nihil Obstat prints an article by Ned O’Gorman which goes to the heart of what this blog is all about: “There is a place where even the liberal Catholic press fears to tread. The relative lack of serious discussion about homosexual desire casts into spiritual darkness a tribe of believing Catholic men and women who must fend for themselves in their quest for a serene emotional life, for companionship, and for the comfort of sexual love. For “the teaching church,” the subject is untouchable”.

For someone living in the UK, it is embarrassing to have to go to a US site,  Colleen at Enlightened Catholicism, to learn about an important Scottish battle over adoption rights.  This is an issue about which I feel strongly.  I know from my own experience, and the example of my two very healthy and well-adjusted daughters, that LGBT men & women can be entirely adequate parents.  (Robynn, a regular reader of these pages,  has gone into print in the past to say she feels privileged to have had two fathers).

Colleen’s web links led me to New Catholic Times Sensus Fidelium, and a press statement by the Interfaith Alliance on “Recent Vatican Events”.  It is not the specific content though that intrigued me, but the very nature of the site, with a tight focus on that ‘sensus fidelium’.  This is a subject that too many Catholics know noting about – I myself had not heard of the words until quite recently – but it is essential that we take ownership of the concept, and insist on its application, if we are to restore a proper balance in the Church. I recommend regular visits to NCT.

See? Four important and thought provoking pieces, all deserving careful thought, reflection and response – and I ahven’ even mentioned J.S. O’Leary on Buddhist spirituality, nor have I dared look at the religious pages of more general LGBT websites, nor considered looking at secular news.

And I still have a pile of stuff of my own waiting to be written.  One thing one can say about gay Catholicism – there is no shortage of material.

Maledict Does It Again!

I am so angry I am ready to spit.

This week marks the completion of one month blogging on this site – my first, very tiny milestone.  In the much bigger scheme of things, this week also marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.  For both of these reasons, I was anxious to return to the original spirit I promised in launching – to ‘celebrate’ our place in the church, and to focus on the Good News inherent in Scripture, and in the rest of the Christian tradition.

Indeed there is good news, and I will return to it the rest of the week – but for now, I have to express my anger at the latest affront from the Vatican.  (Until I have had time to calm down though, I will not attempt comment of my own – just present the bare facts, and link to flesh out the story. ) In the  week of the Vatican II anniversary, in a move clearly timed to coincide with it, Benedict has chosen to mark the occasion by reinstating 4 Lefevrist bishops, one of whom is so off-the-wall right wing it makes one’ s hair stand on end. Oh, and the timing gets better:  not only were the Vatican rebels welcomed back with open arms to co-incide with the 50th Anniversary, but the rehabilitation of the holocaust denier was done just days before the rest of the world remembers international Holocaust Memorial Day.

Lifting the ban on these wingnuts, whose original fall from grace was based on their opposition to Vatican II, follows hard on the heels of the silencing of more progressive voices:

There is a lot more I would like to say on both of these, but will wait until I have calmed down.

I hope to have more positive material later.

Uproar on Oprah: God’s Gay Gift

I was going to list this originally as just an oddball news item, but in fact it raises some big issues, so I held back, gave it some serious reflection, and can now comment.

First, the bare facts.  A little while ago, Oprah hosted a panel discussion with a group of religious leaders.  During the Q & A, one of the panellists, Rev Ed Bacon, commented that “Being gay is a gift from God”.  Oprah, obviously surprised by the line,observed that she had never before heard that said by a minister of religion.   Oprah’s legions of loyal visitors were more than surprised, they were outraged.  The show’s website quickly swelled with comments from shocked viewers, almost unanimous in the response that ‘nowhere in the bible’ does it say that, and quoting repeatedly the good old clobber texts.

There is a happy ending:  Rev Bacon has now been invited back to expand on his remark.  What was just a throwaway line as part of an answer to a question, will now become the focus of a more extended discussion.

So:  Why is this important?

Well, my first reaction to the original story was one of surprise, even shock, that so many people should have found this observation so scandalously new. I was particularly disappointed that Oprah herself should find it such a new concept:  her show could not have the viewership figures it does, if she did not have an excellent set of antennae out there, feeding her with information on what people are thinking, and what is worth talking about.

I was surprised by the ignorance, because the idea is one that I have become so familiar with, that to me it seems ‘obvious’.  But nothing is obvious util you have seen it for the first time.  The more I reflected, the more I realised there was a time when I did not recognise the concept – and how revelatory, and profoulndly important the idea was to me, when I did first encounter it.   What was once new to me, will certainly be new to others. So it is worth repeating and restating the argument.

First, recall (if you are old enough) the old penny catechism:

Question 1: “Who made you?”
Answer, “God made me.”

Next, reflect on the findings of science – sexual orientaion is not a ‘lifestyle choice’, but something innate and fixed within our physical and mental make-up – probalby before birth.  If this is how we are made, and God has made us, it follows that this is how God made us.

Now consider that God does not mistakes – so, this is how we were made, quite deliberately, by God.  Our make-up is deliberately given to us.

Finally, if we accept that God is good, then we must also accept that this is not given as a joke, nor as a punishment on the innocent young child.  Rather, it is given fully and deliberately as a precious gift.

Now, many people may wonder in what sense this gift may be ‘precious’ when it often brings such oppostition from society, and especiallly in the church.  This is a topic that requires rather more expansion than I can go into now.  However, part of the answer is that precisely because we sit so outside the mainstream, outside the conventional pattertns, we are in fact closer to the heart of the Gospels.  Christ and the apostles no more fitted standard stereotypes of family than do modern gay men and women.