LGBT, Sexuality in Church History


“JOSEPH BLENKINSOPP is John A. O’Brien Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Educated at the University of London and Oxford, Blenkinsopp is a past president of the Catholic Biblical Association. He has received the National Religious Book Award for his highly acclaimed Prophecy and Canon” (from

Sexuality and the Christian Tradition
(Sheed & Ward, 1970)

Recommended on Soho Masses website;
Listed by Martin Pendergast;

BOSWELL, JOHN:John Boswell

John Boswell was a noted medieval philologist and historian, with a command of several languages, rising to the prestigious post of chair of history at Yale University, where he also helped organise and found the Lesbian and Gay Study Centre.  His work has always been controversial and has been criticised from both sides of the ideological divide: by gay activists who see him as an apologist for the Church, and by church peole who see him as an apologist for homosexual depravity.

But however much some might disagree with his interpretations, few have ever disputed the facts uncovered in his scrupulous historical church – nor is it possible any more to ignore his arguments.  Boswell needs to be read carefully and cautiously, but should most certainly be read, and re-read.

The 25th anniversary of the upblication of  “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality “, co-inciding with the 10th anniversary of his death, was marked by the publication of an important collection of essays celebrating and evaluating his leagacy.  (See Kuefler, below)

For an on-line assessment of Boswell’s work, see his page in “People With a History”; or the entry in Wikipedia.

Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality:CSTH
Gay People in Western Europe from the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century

(University of Chicago Press, 1980)

Strongly recommended by QTC

“Few books have had

Possibly the most important book in any LGBT faith library, and certainly so in mine, this can be thought of as the text that started it all:  gay church history, queer theology, scriptural analysis of LGBT sexual texts, all trace either their beginning or fundamental early shaping to this book. Highly academic and bristling with footnotes, Greek & Latin quotations,  and copious appendices, it is intimidating to a non-academic, but well worth the effort.  Even if you do not think of yourself as a scholarly type, read it (then re-read it later.)

Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern EuropeSame Sex Unions
(Harper-Collins, 1994)

Strongly Recommended by QTC

If  “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality” created an academic revolution in the history of LGBT history in the church, this was the book that really threw the cat among the pigeons. With scrupulousacademic rigour, Boswell collected strong evidence that not only was ‘gay marriage’ legal and commonplace in classical civilazation, but that the Christian church recognised and blessed them in a formal liturgical rite.  The reaction has been fierce, with counter-arguments that these rites were not about ‘marraige’, but simply about  ‘friendship’.  To make sense of the debate, one has to recognise that in classical times the very concept olf ‘marriage’ as we now understand it, simply did not exist.  If the rite Boswell describes was not “gay marriage”, nor was any other form of marriage comparable to what we now know as “straight marriage”.

However you choose to interpret the institution, it seems that two things are now clear: It is now widely accepted that whatever the interpretation, some form of “same-sex union”  existed and was recognised by lliturgical blessing within the church;  and that academics might disagree with Boswell’s interpretation, but can no longer ignore it.

This book should be compulsory reading for anyone with a serious interest in same- gender relationships in church history.

Rediscovering Gay History:
Archetypes of Gay Love in Christian History

(Gay Christian Movement, 1982.   20 pages)


BERNADETTE BROOTEN, Kraft-Hiatt Professor of Christian Studies at Branddeis university, where she supervises graduate work in the areas of New Testament, Second Temple Judaism, early Christian literature, Hellenistic Judaism, and other branches of ancient Post-Biblical Judaism. She co-directs (with Prof. Reuven Kimelman) the doctoral and postdoctoral Brandeis Seminar on Early Judaism and Christianity

Love Between Women:Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism

from Google Books:

Love Between Women examines female homoeroticism and the role of women in the ancient Roman world. Employing an unparalleled range of cultural sources, Brooten finds evidence of marriages between women and establishes that condemnations of female homoerotic practices were based on widespread awareness of love between women.”

“An extraordinary accomplishment. . . . A definitive source for all future discussion of homoeroticism and the Bible.”—Mary Rose D’Angelo, Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review

“[Brooten’s] convincing analysis . . . not only profoundly reshapes our understanding of the past, but it should also shape the way in which that past, particularly the early Christian texts with their immense normative weight, will be used for the future.”—Anne L. Clark, Journal of Lesbian Studies

Love Between Women gives contemporary debates on sexuality a carefully delineated past. It boldly insists upon a different future, one informed by history but not tyrannized by it.”—Susan Ackerman, Lambda Book Report

“Fascinating, provocative and lucid. . . . Brooten has made a fundamental contribution to women’s and gender studies, gay and lesbian studies, and classics.”—Elizabeth A. Castelli, Women’s Review of Books

Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Studies Book, 1997


Gays & Grays
Lexington Books, 2007

Some modern micro-history, here.  This is the story of St Francis Xavier parish in New York, which has successfully combined particular ministries to two distinct groups – the local LGBT community, and to the local elderly people.

Listed by Martin Pendergast


The Invention of Sodomy in Christian TheologyInvention of Sodomy
(University of Chicago Press, 1997)

(History, Theology, Sexuality)

In this book, Jordan discusses the emergence of the term “Sodomoy” in the late Middle Ages, and its gradual transformation of meaning and the emergence of direct opposition to same sex realtionships by medieval theologians. There is no doubt that this is an important book by a respected expert historian, widely referred to by later writers.  However, I am neither a medievalist nor a theologian, and I found it frankly heavy going.

Still, I struggled through it, and am glad I did.  I continue to refer to it from to time:  but never for bed-time reading.

Listed by Martin Pendergast

The Silence of SodomSilence of Sodom
Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism
(University of Chicago Press, 2000)

A thought provoking  look at the internal contradictions in the church’s stance, it examines the church’s rhetorical and liturgical style,  rather than doctrine, to make its case.  Fascinating and memorable. I was particularly intrigued by Jordan’s argument that there is no point in trying to debate issues with the Vatican, as their rhetorical style is built on simply bludgeoning the opposition into submission by endless repetition of the same “arguments”, rather than reasoned engegement in serious debate.  I also liked his observations on just how much in church practice is clearly of a gay, even camp, sensibility, and on the well-known facts of sexual trysts in Vatican City and elsewhere.

This is a much easier read than “The Invention of Sodomy”, and definitely enjoyable as well as instructive.

From the cover blurb:

”  Jordan gives readers with open minds a better appreciation of the intrinisc homosexual fixation, as well as homerotic imagination, of the Roman Catholic Church.  His scholoarlship deserves serious consideration by faithful Catholics in America”
Chuck Colbert, National Catholic Reporter

”  Jordan has offered glimpses, anecdotal stories, and scholarly pbsrvations that are a  whole greater than the sum of its parts….. If homosexuality is the guest that refuses to leave the table, Jordan has at least shed light on why that is and in the process aade the whole issue, including a conflicted Catholic Church, a little more understandable.
Larry B Stammer, Los Angeles Times

“Jordan knows how to present a case, and with apparanetly effortless clarity he demonstrates the church’s double bind and how it affects Vatican rhetoric, the training of priests, and ecclesiastical protectiveness towards an array of closet cases…. This book will interest readers of every faith.”
Daniel Blue, Lambda Book Report

Strongly recommended by QTC;
Listed by Martin Pendergast


Bob Minor, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas (Reviewed at “Other Sheep”)

Chuck Colbert (in The National Catholic Reporter, reprinted at “Other Sheep”)

Bertand Oliver (Society of St Francis)

KUEFLER, MATTHEW (ed)Boswell Thesis

The Boswell Thesis
Essays on ‘Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality’

University of Chicago Press, 2006  (Scripture, Theology, Sexuality)

From the cover blurb:

“The Boswell Thesis is a timely and remarkably coherent collection of essays that demonstrate the extraordinary impact of John Boswll’s Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality.  Elegantly written, thoroughly researched, and thought-provoking, these papers will be appreciated by anyone with an interest in the history of sexuality, the history of religion, and of course, anyone who found Boswell’s ideas to be such a revelation.”
William N. Bonds, emeritus, San Francisco State University


Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach

Mollenknott shows that many features of God’s incarnation and manifestation to humans, and many practices of the church, fall outside socially approved, binary ideas of gender. She also discusses numerous examples of canonised saints who have defied gender roles.


Sex and the Church

Rudy looks at the historical development of the family, from a feminist perspective.  Her conclusion is that LGBT people are mistaken in looking to mimic heterosexual families, suggesting that urban gay male culture offers a model of human relationships modelled on community. She denies the argument that Christian sexuality needs to be procreative – Christianity reproduces itself not by procreation, but by conversion.  What matters is not whether two people can produce children, but whether they can embrace outsiders – the key characteristic of Christianity.


Strangers & Friends

Vasey argues from an historical presentation of the sexuality and the family.  He points out that far from being the ‘tradtional’ model, the family as idealised  by modern Christians, especially the evangelicals,  is a relatively modern invention.  The gradual development of this model as normative, has largely been responsible for the parallel development of a distinct gay identity, largely in reaction.  (The campaign against the ‘homosexual’ is attacking what it has itself created.) Conversely, the early church idealised male friendship and community life, rather than the familyas now understood.

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