Coming out as Grace: Patrick Chen, on the “Out Christ”

In the second instalment of his long essay on Christology, sin and grace at “Jesus in Love Blog”, the theologian Patrick Chen discusses Christ’s incarnation as God “coming out” to the world. This is an idea I first came across in Chris Glaser’s “Coming out As Sacrament“, and which Chen takes as his starting point:

The Out Christ arises out of the reality that God reveals Godself most fully in the person of Jesus Christ.  In other words, God “comes out of the closet” in the person of Jesus Christ; it is only through the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we understand the true nature of God (for example, God’s solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed).  Indeed, the notion of the Out Christ as the revelation of God is supported by Jesus Christ’s description in the Fourth Gospel as the logos or Word of God.

Chris Glaser, the gay theologian and Metropolitan Community Church minister, has written about the Out Christ in his book Coming Out as Sacrament.  In that book, Glaser describes Jesus Christ as nothing less than God’s very own coming out to humanity:  “The story of the New Testament is that God comes out of the closet of heaven and out of the religious system of time to reveal Godself in the person of Jesus the Christ.”

“Sermon on the Mount” (from Ecce Homo) by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

Read the rest of this entry »

Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 2): Why Can’t They Just Keep Quiet About It?

At Boundless Salvation,  Jason Davies-Kildea, took as his second extract from Fr Owen O’Sullivan’s paper on Gay Inclusion a section headed “Why Can’t they Just Keep Quiet?”.

This is a short passage, and an apparently reasonable question – which hides some big and important questions. Fr O’Sullivan’s brief response is summarised even more  briefly in his first two sentences of the passage:

Homosexuality is not a problem; the denial of it is, especially if one denies it to oneself. Good human relationships (or good health) can never be founded on the basis of suppression or denial of the truth.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lutheran Inclusion: Clergy Welcomed in San Francisco

This past summer, the PCUSA General Assembly voted to recognise openly gay and lesbian clergy. Last summer, the ELCA did the same. In neither case, did the decision immediately end the problems of the past. First, ratification was required, which the ECLA have since done, but not yet the PCUSA. That still was not enough.  We can all too easily overlook the long years of hurt inflicted on queer clergy prior to this decision. Changing the law is not enough: hurts must also be healed.

This is why I like this report , of a celebratory admission procedure for seven pastors in the San Francisco area.   Even before the Assembly decision last year, there were many gay or lesbian pastors working in welcoming congregations, but they could not get formal recognition on church rosters. With a change in regulations, it would presumably be a simple matter technically to arrange the inclusion on the roster in a simple, low key way – but that would not address the real problem.

Instead, the ceremony that has been planned will be joyous and festive. In addition to formally welcoming these pastors into full acceptance and inclusion, and making partial recompense for the years of slight, it will also be recognizing the many years of work, across a broad front, that led to the decision.  Chris Glaser and other queer writers on faith have observed that we, as gay, lesbian and trans people in church, have a need for formal ceremonies to mark our own special life transitions – such as coming out- which can be described as truly sacramental. This ceremony is just such a sacramental moment for these San Francisco Lutherans. Let us join with them in giving thanks and sharing our prayers – then extend the work into other faiths which still have further to go.

From the Kansas City Star:

“It’s going to be an extremely glorious and festive ceremony because it’s the culmination of decades of work to welcome LGBT people into the ELCA,” said Amalia Vagts, executive director of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a nonprofit that credentials openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for ministry.

Megan Rohrer, one of the pastors who will participate in Sunday’s rite of reception service, grew up in South Dakota and attended a Lutheran college where she said students tried to exorcise her “gay demons” by throwing holy water on her. Some of those people are now Lutheran pastors in South Dakota, she said.

Rohrer, who is transgender and a lesbian, was ordained by four congregations in San Francisco in 2006, but could not join the ELCA roster until the denomination’s national assembly approved the new policy in August.

“I didn’t really believe the policy was going to change as quickly as it did,” she said.

Rohrer said she is hopeful Sunday’s service will be a “symbol” to young people that the Lutheran church is working toward becoming more welcoming of people of all different backgrounds.

Jeff Johnson, another one of the pastors who will be added to the roster, said the ELCA’s position for years of not accepting the choice of some congregations to ordain gay clergy was painful and disappointing.

“The actions the church is taking on Sunday affirms the decisions of those congregations,” Johnson, pastor of the University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley, said. “The church is respecting our family, our partners, the choices we’re making.”

 

(Read the full story)

Pioneers of Gay & Lesbian Theology: Reversing the Discourse.

Obama’s  officially designated “Pride Month” of June has come and gone, but the season of Pride continues – especially here in the UK, where the major Pride celebrations are in any case held later: in July (London) and August (Brighton). I have no compunction continuing my exploration of pride in church, which was in any case my primary motive in starting here at QTC eighteen months ago. Since then, my concerns have tended to wander, but I now want to return to my primary concern, which I do with a major series,  introducing our notable gay and lesbian theologians

One of the useful developments over the 40 years since Stonewall, has been the emergence of a wide range of writing and scholarship, across many fields, from an explicitly gay, lesbian or trans perspective  – or more generally, a “queer” perspective, or GLBT or GLBTQI , or…. Academics and activists may quibble over terminology, but the bottom line is simple. We no longer have to take all our knowledge straining through a hetero-normative filter.

I still remember the awe, the sense of shock I experienced the first time I saw a range of books displayed which included titles such as “Gay and Lesbian Theology”. The very idea at the time appeared to me welcome, but disorienting. If it was true that “theology” totally disapproved of “homosexuals”, how could it be that there could be “Gay” theology? The simple truth of course is that theology is more than just the official stuff propagated by the Vatican. It is more even, than just the formal, academic material churned out by the professional theologians. At its most basic, “doing theology” is no more than speaking about, and asking questions about, God and God’s place in our lives. This obviously includes consideration of the work that is collectively known as the “Magisterium”, but also a great deal more.

“Formal” (i.e. written by “professionals” ) gay and lesbian theology, queer theology, and even indecent theology has come in many forms, with many emphases and concerns. To guide us through the thicket, I shall begin with a summary of its unfolding by the lesbian Catholic theologian, Elizabeth Stuart, as presented in her book “Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Differences“, which I have been re-reading.  Paradoxically, in spite of her title, Stuart in this book is not promoting but critiquing “gay and lesbian” theology, as she argues that gay and lesbian theology has failed, and needs to give way to queer theology. (Yes, there is a difference). Still, in critiquing the earlier work, she offers a most useful commentary on its historical development and sources, before introducing the newer ideas from queer and indecent theology.

The Pioneers.

It may come as a surprise that books on gay and lesbian theology have been around for over three decades, ever since a trio of titles appeared in the 1970’s. Read the rest of this entry »

Towards a Sound Sexual Ethic

In several recent contributions to the Open Tabernacle comments threads, reader David Ludescher has made the very sound observation that if we reject the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics, what are we to put in its place?  I agreed with him that an alternative, positive view of sexuality is desperately overdue (several senior priests and theologians I know have told me precisely the same thing).  My own history has led me to discard the standard teaching piece by piece, forcing me (in the absence of useful guidance from the Church) to attempt to piece together an ethical framework for myself, based on my own reading, prayerful reflection and spiritual direction. I still have a long way to go, but I do have some sound principles that I work with.

For a long time I have been wanting to share with my readers some of the contributions that I have found useful elsewhere, but like many of the projects that I would like to tackle, this is one I have not yet  begun.  Now, goaded by David’s important observation on the importance of the task, I would like to make at least a start. This is in no way intended to be a formally reasoned exposition, but just a mere listing of some starting principles, together with some preliminary links to outside thoughts. A more coherent presentation will come later.

Given that it is just a set of initial thoughts, I would welcome similar contributions from others. If you disagree with my ideas, please say so – and add your own guiding principles. I do ask, though, that given the purpose of this exercise, you steer away from simply regurgitating the catechism.  For the purposes of this discussion, let us leave aside church teaching entirely, for better or for worse, and concentrate on identifying the moral guidelines for sexual life that you would accept and apply in your own life – not because the Church says so, but because reason or experience have convinced you.

Sexuality – what is it?

I want to begin by making it clear that by “sexuality” I do not mean merely a set of genital acts, with or without another person.  It is a far broader concept, including other forms of touching, non-tactile aspects of our relationships, and awareness of ourselves as bodily beings.  Most of the ethical issues meant by “sexuality”  area bout physical elements, but we should not forget that there are also other dimensions.

Sexuality is good.

Sexuality is given by God, and is inherently good.  In Genesis 2 (the earlier creation story), we read that God said it is not good for man to be alone, and so he created for him a companion. Science has shown that a sound sexual life contributes greatly to both physical and mental health. I take it as fundamental that sound, intimate relationships are given to us for our benefit, and should be seen as positive.  They should emphatically not be seen as somehow second best to a state of celibacy. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding God in Gay Lovemaking

An Erotic Encounter With the Devine” is the title of a post by Eric L. Hays-Strom at Jesus in Love. (Eric has a Masters Degree in Catholic Life and Worship from St. Meinrad School of Theology). In his post, he has a moving account of how deliberate prayer immediately before making love with his husband has led to intensely spiritual experiences – especially on one notable occasion in particular.
kiss

It would be unfair to copy too much of this personal story here, but some things are worth noting.  Eric’s journey in combining the sexual and the spiritual came after listening to some tapes prepared by Michael B Kelly, who is a noted spiritual director and writer, specialising in the contribution that gay men’s erotic experiences can give to the church’s fuller understanding of spirituality: Read the rest of this entry »

Come Out, Stand Proud. (The Catechism Commands It!)

Yes, really – in a manner of speaking. Browsing through the Catechism section on sexuality, which you will find under the sixth commandment, I was struck by two passages in particular:

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)

and

“Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)

Of course, that it is not at all what the Vatican means – the rest of the passage assumes that this can only be done by violating your identity in a heterosexual relationship, which we know from the experts in social science, from the testimony of others, and and from personal experience, is a violation of our identites, not an acceptance.  But then, the Vatican has never been noted for freedom from contradiction.

There are more compelling reasons though, than the Vatican’s mixed messages for coming out, and indeed for coming out in church. For “coming Out Day”, I want to look instead at some of these.

Rereeading Elisabeth Stuart’s “Gay & Lesbian Theologies“, I was struck by the realisation that she puts the start of the formal development of gay & lesbian theology to the early 1970’s.  the first notable text she discusses is Loving Women/Loving Men (eds Sally Gearhard and William Johnson), published as long ago as 1974 -fully 35 years ago this year, and “Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation”, edited by Malcolm Marcourt.

An essential aspect of this early thinking takes its cue from Paul Tillich, and his notion of “the courage to be”. In these terms, it is important to recognise our own experience.

Johnson accuses the church of being over concerned with “intellectual theology”, and  under concerned with the grounding of theology in experience.  It is therefore vital that gay people come out, articulate their experience and reflect theologically upon it, for “we who are gay know the validity of our experience, particularly the experience of our love. That love calls us out of ourselves and enables us to respond to the other. Through our experience we experience the presence of God………..

For Johnson, gay liberation is vital for the liberation of the Church to enable it to better incarnate the Gospel. The essay ends with a call to all gay men in the Church to come out, to  ensure that liberation takes place.” (Emphasis added.)

Previously, I have looked at Richard Cleaver‘s view that coming out is “Wrestling with the Divine” (Know My Name), and Daniel Helminiak‘s that is a “Spiritual Experience” (Sex and the Sacred)John McNeill, former Jesuit theologian and psychotherapist, makes similar points in “Sex as God Intended”.  Today, I want to look at the ideas of  Chris Glaser, who in a full length book presents his view of “Coming Out as Sacrament“. Glaser is one of those treasured writers on gay religion of whom it can said, as with James Alison, Daniel Helminiak and JohnMcNeill, that everything they write is worth reading, and accessible even to non specialists. Glaser writes from a backgroound in the Baptist and Presbyterian faiths, but as a Catholic I find this helpful, in broadening my perspective, rather than getting ini the way of his argument. The starting point for this book was some reflection on the importance of the idea of sacrament to lGBT people, who are so often denied access to the sacraments by mainstream churches.  Talking to a close friend (sympathetic, but not LGBT), this is how his thinking went:

“Having visited our Wednesday night Bible study, she told me that what impressed her most deeply, what she thougth was our sacrament as gay people, was our “ability to be vulnerable with one another” – in other words, to xperience true communion by offering our true selves.  As Christ offers himself in vulnerability,   so we offer ourselves, despite the risks. Being open and vulnerable may be preceivesd as weakness, but in reality it demonstrates our strength.  By sharing our  “brokenness”  – how we are sacrificially cut off from the rest of Christ’s Body – we offer a renewed opportunity of Communion, among ourselves and within the Church as the Body of Christ.”

Later, he added a conclusion that had not occurred to him earlier-

” that coming out is our unique sacrament, a rite of vulnerability that reveals the sacred in our lives – our worth, our love, our love-making, our context of meaning, and our God. “

Later in the opening chapter, he carefully notes the ways in which coming out has deep affinity with not just one, but each, of the traditional seven sacraments of the broader Christian community.  Above all, however, he says there is one where there is an extra special affinity: the sacrament of communion is intrinsic to coming out – it is hardly possible to come out entirely in private.

Coming out in public is important for one’s own mental health, and also for one’s spiritual being.  Doing so in the Church cam help the Church to recognise and proclaim the true Gospel message.  If you possibly can, do it:  quite literally,  for the love of God.

Further Reading:

Barefoot Theologians, Twitching Experience
Homoerotic Spirituality
The Road From Emmaus:  Gay and Lesbians Prophetic Role in the Church
Coming Out As Spiritual Experience
Coming out As Wrestling With the Divine

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


 

Books: Where To Begin?

One of the best ways to prepare oneself for the onslaught of religion-based hostility is to read some of the very many books on the subject that have  emerged over the last thirty years or so. But with such a wealth of titles available, and the field constatnly expanding, the obvious question is where to begin? To which the obvious reply is, where are you starting from?

The question matters. You need to be clear on whether you want a simple introduction, a general but comprehensive overview for playpeople, or a scholarly tome filled with notes, sources and all the necessary qualifications, ifs and buts. Are you looking for approaches rooted in scripture, or Church teaching, or both? From a gay male, lesbian, or trans perspective? All these questions, and more, will influence your choice. In my detailed posts for each book, I have attempted to provide answers to these questions. The labels included in each post will help you to find books on a specific topic. With time, I will be building in thematic lists, a search engine, and other means to access exactly what you personally will find helpful – but all these refinements take time, while I am simultaneously trying to expand the number and range of books included. I crave your patience.

In the meantime, I offer some suggestions of what might be the most useful for specific purposes.

For a very simple, introductory overview of Scripture and Church teaching, I was impressed by “The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality”, by Nicholas Coulton. Written from an Anglican perspective, but is also more widely applicable.

Also tackling both Scripture and Church teaching, but going into more detail, former Jesuit John McNeill’s “The Church and the Homosexual”, was one of the very first and is still a classic. “A Question of Truth” by the Dominican priest Gareth Moore covers much the same ground, and is much more recent.

On Scripture specifically, I think the best for the general reader is “Dirt, Greed and Sex” by the Episcopalian L. William Countryman. For a later, more Evangelical approach to the same subject, read Eugene Rogers, …If you are ready to tackle a more academic treatment bristling with footnotes, then read the chapter on Scripture in the landmark “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality” by John Boswell. (This is also of fundamental importance for gay church history, and the development of theology). If you are put off by the excessive footnotes and Greek & Latin quotations, you will find summaries of his arguments in many of the other books).

The Catholic priest, theologian and psychotherapist Daniel Helminiak has written that McNeill, Countryman and Boswell (noted above) were the three books that nmost influenced his own thinking and understanding. Helminiak’s “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality“. Helminiak’s book is often listed alongside those three.

It is important though not to get bogged down in biblical studies of homoeroticism by dealing only with fending off the oppressive texts of terror.  There are many ways in which we, like all other Christians, can read scripture for its positive inspiration. “Take Back the Word” (edited by Robert Goss) does just that.

An important set of books “from a perspective Catholic and gay” are more difficult to classify. These are the series by the theologian and former Dominican James Alison. These are undoubtedly works of “theology”, but the word is misleading, with its associations of ancient, scholastic tomes. Alison’s books are tightly reasoned, but presented in an informal, chatty style, as a series of reflections on God, and on what it means to be both gay and Catholic. These are all popular and highly recommended. Start with the first in the series: “Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay.”

Faith is incomplete without prayer. The Presbyterian Chris Glaser has several books on prayer for gay men and lesbians. A good one to begin with is “Coming Out to God” – which is a good way to think of starting our queer faith journey.

Finally, two books by Catholic priests which offer a completely fresh, unfamiliar take on the awkward question of sexual ethics: “Sex and the Sacred” by Daniel Helminiak, and “Sex as God Intended”, by John McNeill.

(Note:

I realise that all the above titles are written by men, and have a clearly male focus, although all do also try to cover lesbian relationships as well as gay male. There are good books by women, but I am not aware of any (yet) that I can reommend at this general level. I will make a point of highlighting books written from lesbian, bi or trans perspectives when I discuss some more specialised topics.)

The full introductory list then, is:

Alison, James: Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

Boswell: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

Coulton, Nicholas: The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality

Countryman, William: Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today

Glaser, Chris: Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends

Goss, Robert (ed): Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

Helminiak, Daniel: Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

McNeill, John: The Church and the Homosexual

McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality

Rogers, Eugene:  Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church