John McNeill: Homophobic Abuse and Distortion of Scripture

Guestpost:

Gay theologian, psychotherapist and former Jesuit, Dr Fr John McNeill has sent me this commentary on Renato Ling’s interpretation of Leviticus 18:22:

John McNeill

The recent effort of evangelical pastor Martin Ssempa under the tutelage of American Evangelicals to pass a “kill the gays” bill in the Uganda parliament and the extensive persecution of GLBT people throughout eastern Africa is based primarily on a questionable interpretation of a passage in Leviticus 18: 22.

The words of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Vatican Council II deal with the interpretation of Sacred Scripture:

“Since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in a human fashion, the interpreter of sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words”

This cautious investigation of the intention of the human author is especially called for in dealing with the biblical passages which traditionally been accepted as dealing with homosexual activity. We are keenly aware that back in the days of slavery, slave owners regularly quoted passages from scripture to justify keeping slaves as God’s will. There is a real possibility that the homophobia of the translators and their culture has led to a distortion of the meaning of scripture.

The best way to arrive at an understanding of what the author means by this verse is to read it within the overall context of Leviticus. “Just as the overall aim of Leviticus is to ban incestuous heterosexual practices. Lev. 18.22 may well be there to ensure that homosexual incest is added to the list of proscriptions

This understanding of Leviticus frees us from making the assertion that God wills the death or imprisonment of all those humans that God created gay.

John McNeill’s Books:


John McNeill’s Books:

The Church and the Homosexual

Freedom, Glorious Freedom

Both Feet Firmly Planted in mid-Air

Taking a Chance on God

Sex as God Intended

John McNeill’s Websites:

johnmcneill.com

mauriceblondel.com


Modern Heroes 1: The Priest With the Pink Triangle.

For the first post in my “queer modern heroes” series, I begin with someone most people have never heard of. (I’m not sure anyone even knows his name.) I begin with him because he represents a double martyrdom, martyred for his orientation, and also martyred for his faith. I choose him also precisely because he is anonymous,  reminding us that in our own way, we are all called to our own  heroism in the face of persecution, all called to be “martyrs” in the true, original sense – as witnesses to truth. I read this story in John McNeill’s “Taking a Chance on God“: McNeill got the story from Heinz Heger.  These are McNeill’s words:

“I would like to end this reflection on the mature life of faith with the eyewitness account of a gay priest who was beaten to death in a German concentration camp during World War II because he refused to stop praying or to express contempt for himself. The story is recounted by Heinz Heger in his book “The Men With the Pink Triangle“, in which he he recalls what took place in the special concentration camp for gay men in Sachsenhausen (Sachsenhausen was a “level 3” camp where prisoners were deliberately worked to death):

 

“Homosexual” prisoners in Sachsenhausen

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“Homosexuality & Civilization”: on Reading Louis Crompton.

There are many good books available on homosexuality in history, and thank God for that. These have a range of approaches, including scholarly, specialist tomes, more accessible pen-portraits of single notable people, or of single eras or regions. There is after all, an awful lot of history, containing an awful lot of queers.

For any historian, trying to make sense of the full sweep of history is an impossible task – there is just too much of it.  Try to be too inclusive, and the reader will drown in the detail. Try to provide an intelligible, rounded account of particular periods in particular places, and far too much will be omitted. Louis Crompton goes for the latter approach, and provides a valuable, immensely readable book – but with some unavoidable but notable gaps (about which more below).

Homosexuality and Civilization

I prefer to begin by reflecting on the strengths, of which there are many.  Reputable experts have been enthusiastic in their praise, so I make no attempt to assess its value as historical analysis.  Instead, I will comment only on my personal reaction, as a general reader with some prior knowledge, but no specialist expertise.

Crompton has done a fine job of negotiating a careful balance between inserting too much detail for the specialist, and the superficial for the casual reader. The result,  is a book that reads easily, with vivid, lively prose, but is always informative and thought-provoking. Read the rest of this entry »

Selective Magisterium: Reflections on Brooten

BernadetteBrootenI have just finished reading (for the first time –  I will re-read) Bernadette Brooten’s “Love Between Women”, which has been a stimulating, enriching experience. Now, I totally lack the academic credentials to offer a formal review. 6000 miles from home, I am also without some of my standard books that I would normally consult to check the contents of my memory, further limiting any scope for accurate statements of fact.. However, in a former life I worked professionally as a market research analyst, presenting and interpreting research data for marketing managers at leading grocery manufacturers.  I regularly told my clients that I didn’t claim to have all the right answers, but I hoped to find the right questions. Brooten’s book certainly raised a lot of good questions for me, and it is in a similar vein that I now share with you some thoughts.

First, the key purpose, methods and findings of the book. The purpose, of course, is clear from the subtitle: “Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism” – with a clear emphasis on “female”.  In this, it is the first such investigation, and represents an important complement to John Boswell, who in practice focuses heavily on male history. Like Boswell, she precedes her discussion of specifically Christian responses with a general survey of attitudes and practices in the wider Mediterranean world. Her methods are innovative, as she goes beyond the standard classical texts, adding to them records from magic, astrology and medicine.  These are useful, because the standards texts, by an educated male elite, tend to focus on a male elite, with far fewer references to women.  But magical binding spells to attract demonstrate the existence and public visibility among non-elites of female homoerotic desire, astrological writings show that the astrologers at least believed that sexual orientations of all kinds were determined at birth, and medical treatises showed a belief that some orientations were seen as diseased.

The two most important conclusions, though, which apply to both Christian and pagan perspectives were that the important distinctions in sexual partners were not on gender itself, but on the appropriate gender roles (that is, as the insertive or receptive partner in sexual penetration), and that there was a marked asymmetry in attitudes to male and female homoeroticism. Read the rest of this entry »

The Queer God: Thoughts on Confessors, Confessants and Ecclestiastical S/M

What kind of book do you choose to read on a flight?  For my midnight, 10 hour flight from Paris to Johannesburg this week, I settled on Marcella Althaus-Reid, “The Queer God”. Read the rest of this entry »

The Fun of Being Caught in the Middle

The problem with being  “caught in the middle”, and writing about it, is that it is all too easy to get caught up in the seriousness, the difficulties of it all.  Fortunately, there are people who clearly recognise not only the problems and dilemmas, but also the ironies, and help us to laugh at ourselves.  One such example is Scott Pomfret, who joyously and hilariously shares his story in “Since my Last Confession”

Since My Last Confession Read the rest of this entry »

The Vocation of Being Caught in the Middle

When I set up this blog several months ago, I reflected on the difficulties we LGBT Catholics and other Christians face as double outsiders.  Others have written on the same theme.

But I have not yet seen a depiction in terms quite as startling, refreshing, and provocative as this one:

“From the perspective of Christian faith, this awkward business of living on the boundary looks very much like vocation – a call from God.  When you answer such a call, you discover the meaning of your life.  God has drawn us to this difficult place in order to reveal God’s grace to us and in us and through uis.  The boundary where we’re living, however inconvenient, is a place rich in spiritual discovery – which means of course, that it is also largely uncharted territory.  No ready  made tradition tells us how to be gay and lesbian Christian.  This is a vocation God has created in our own time to bring about a new enrichment of the gospel.”

Had it ocurred to you that this difficult place you occupy is a place of special grace, that it is aspecial form of vocation to be both gay or lesbian, and Christian?   It seems to me to be well worth thinking on.

Gifted by othernessThe passage quoted comes from the introductory chapter of “Gifted By Otherness”, by William Countryman and L. R. Ritley.

I have long admired Countryman’s Dirt greed and sex, but was not aware of his other writings until I was doing some research for Sergius & Bacchus Books” -where you will find more information.

The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality

I would expect that most of my lesbian & gay readers have known the liberating growth experience of coming out:  at least to themselves and to close friends, or (where realistically appropriate), to family and colleagues.  But how many, I wonder, have found the even greater joy of coming out to God? I mean here not just superficially, but fully and frankly, taking your sexuality deep into your prayer life, giving thanks for the joys and satisfactions, even the exhilaration of orgasm; sharing the pain of the frustrations and disappointments; even building the Lord into your sexual fantasies, or turning your fantasies into prayer?

This appears to be heretical, sacrilegious, but is not.  It is an old idea, going back at least to the Song of Songs, and to the great mystics: St John of the Cross, St Theresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich.  Modern writers who have discussed this idea from a gay perspective include Daniel HelminiakMichael B Kelly and John McNeill.  (Jim Cotter and Jack Dominian are just two I know of who have done so from a more traditional heterosexual perspective).

Now I have come across another who has done so directly – Chris Glaser, who has put together a prayer collection under the title “Coming Out to God.”

Coming out to God

I first heard of this book when it was recommended to the congregation by the celebrant during Sunday Mass – so it has the warm approval of at least one Catholic priest in good standing.  Looking into it, I was particularly impressed by the powerful and moving writing of the introduction.

Glaser shares with us his own early struggle, torn between his innate sexuality and spirituality, which he believed, like most Christians, to be in some kind of conflict.  Using a striking metaphor, picturing each of these two as strangers wary of each other at a dance, he tells how they first put out tentative feelers, then began cautiously to dance, each struggling for dominance and attempting to lead – before finding true partnership, and allowing the dance to lead them:

Leather Dancers

“When my sexuality began to emerge,  my spirituality froze in fear, then nearly ran out of the room.  But then it noticed other souls dancing gracefully, and realised it was missing their grace. My spirituality wondered if the lack of grace had something to do with rejection of the stranger on the other side of the room, my sexuality.

Timidly, one invited the other to dance.  At first, they scarcely looked at each other… they were lousy dancers. Then they cast furtive glances at each other, sometimes angry or resentful, sometimes flirtatious and seductive….Finally they found times when the dance led them, and for brief moments they became perfect dancers, full of grace, true to each other.  They danced together as my soul.”

He also draws an important parallel between sexuality and spirituality, stating that they are both routes to intimacy in relationships:  sexuality builds intimacy in human relationships, spirituality does in our relationship with the Lord.  This equivalence thus makes them natural partners.

“Sexuality and spirituality are not opposing  forces, as is frequently supposed today.  Instead, both draw people into relationship. Sexuality draws us into physical relationships: touching, hugging…… kissing and intercourse.  Spirituality draws us into relationships that both incl ude and transcend bodies because it includes and transcends that which is visible……Both our sexual and spiritual powers are holy, and therefore both my be profaned. At their holiest, these powers lead to love in all its many expressions.  At their most profane, they may lead to apathy or hate. The integrity of both sexual and spiritual powers is called the soul.”

The final observation that struck an enormous personal chord with me, was his statement that when we come out to God,  we allow God to come out to us:  to enter more fully into our own lives, which is the best defence we can develop against the homophobic bigotry that masquerades freely under the name of religion:

“In prayer, coming out to God as sexual-spiritual beings opens us up, I believe, to God coming out to us in the dance of Substance and Sensuality, spirituality and sexuality.   Prayer becomes a place wherein the choreography of the dance of spirituality and sexuality gets worked out.  When we allow the Lord of the Dance to lead, sexuality becomes responsible and spirituality becomes responsive.”

For more details, and extracts from the introduction, see “Coming out to God”.

See also:

Homoerotic Spirituality

Coming Out as Spiritual Experience

At The Wild Reed:

Making Love, Giving Life

Song of Songs – The Bible’s Gay  Love Poem


 

“Queering the Church” Expands

My regular readers may be wondering why I have been so quiet this week.  Fear not, dear blog, I have not been neglecting you, but have been doing some important backroom work.

First up, I know and am grateful that some of you at at least have found my ramblings helpful and valuable.  That being so, I have been trying to take my writing to a wider audience, cross-posting some materials to other sites (notably “Daily Kos”, but also others) . I know that a good number of the Kos readers have followed me here, thus further expanding my already growing readership.  This is good – there is little point in producing useful material if there is not a reasonable audience for it. HELLO & WELCOME, KOSSAKS!

I have also been preparing several posts whcih have been giving me some trouble to get right, but do exist in draft. These should be ready to put up over the next few days, so watch out for further instalments in my clerical abuse series (How we are all victims“, and also “How we are all guilty“) and more on sexuality and spirituality, among others.

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Books Update

As my books coverage has been expanding, I have been revising the organisation of these pages. Rather than trying to organise simply in terms of my personal preferences, I am now attempting to provide more comprehensive listings, with indications from reviews or other sources as a guide to usefulness for the titles I am not personally familiar with. For ease of access and handling, I have thus subdivided the complete list into thematic subdivisions. I am also attempting to build up dedicated pages and sections for the authors and books that I have found the most useful of all. Read the rest of this entry »