Our Stories As “Sacred Texts”.

Our stories, in their simple unadulterated truth, offer the best defence we have against the lies that are the fragile foundation of formal Vatican teaching on same sex relationships. These plain lies are manifold, from the claim that our sinfulness is demonstrated in the story of Sodom (not so),  or the claim that it is “indisputable” that Scripture disapproves (immediately contradicted by the many theologians who have so disputed), or the bland assertion that homosexual “acts” are purely self-indulgent self-gratification. This last assertion, based on absolutely no evidence, is perhaps the most egregious of all.

Even conservative Evangelical theologians, grounded in their own personal experience of how a personal, sexual relationship can lead both partners through mutual self-sacrifice closer to God, have recognised that precisely the same process can work in same sex couples. Vatican bureaucrats, starved in their own lives of this particular path to the divine, fail to recognize it in others.  Yet basic mathematics has a simple remedy: to disprove a proposed universal rule or law, all that is required is a single counter-example.

In my own life, I have already provided that counter example. My own experience was that the attempt to live strictly within Vatican rules on sexual ethics led me to drift away from the church. Living honestly as gay led me back  in.  Of  course, the counter argument could be that the proposition was never intended to be universal, just a general norm: then we need more than a single counter-example. We need a mass of them, all testifying and bearing witness to the error in the teaching.

The Vatican itself, in “Homosexualitatis Problema” urges us to remember the Biblical injunction to “Speak the Truth in Love“, and “The Truth Will Set You Free“. There are both theological and political reasons for telling our stories: there is a clear biblical instruction to do so, and doing so will go a long way to undermine the bland, entirely unjustified assumptions underlying Vatican hostility. Destroy the foundation, and we can pull down the entire edifice. This  Saturday, 12th June, I shall be going in to London for a meeting of the RCC of the LGCM (“Roman Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement”), where this precise idea, of telling our stories. is the major theme for the day.

The principle, as I have summarised it above. is one I have long promoted. Duigan McGinley,   in “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies As Sacred Texts“, goes one step further. He says that  telling our stories is not merely helpful, it is sacramental. The tales that we tell, he says, deserve to be taken seriously, as sacred texts.

“For too long, gay Catholic lives have been shrouded in the secrecy advanced by official Catholic teaching. For many gay Catholics, the “closet” remains a powerful metaphor for the secrecy and shame which keep many of us to keep our sexual identity hidden. At times, the decision to remain “in the closet” is carefully calculated and deliberate. At other to,es, the closet is forced upon us from outside. Yet it is in this context that gay Catholic must reconcile their sexual and spiritual lives.  Gay Catholic autobiographical acts reveal the delicate interplay between  sexuality, spirituality, and the many other components of identity which make a person unique.These acts of self-disclosure – of confession – stand as revelations of God’s intervention and actions in hay Catholic lives.  I offer an interpretation of Matthew 10:27, on open and fearless confession:

What I say to you in the dark,  tell in the daylight. What you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.

When a gay Catholic takes the risk of narrating his gay identity, transforming what was once secret and publishing it for public dissemination, his public act becomes a “whisper from the housetop”.

So, I say unto you…….

Obey the voice of Scripture, obey the clear command of the Church: tell it like it is, even if (especially if) in this respect, it is not what the ivory tower Vatican moralists want to hear.

Wrestling With God: The Sacrament of Irony

Last week I re-posted an earlier piece on Richard Cleaver’s conception of coming out as wrestling with the divine.  Kevin J Calegan, writing in one of several pieces that made up an NCR cover story on gay and lesbian Catholics for Sep 2 1994, says it’s not just coming out that is wrestling with God, but the full gay experience “wrestles with God in an embrace that calls me to a new identity“.  Here are some extracts:

Recently I had the opportunity to see a performance of Tony Kushner‘s, “Perestroika,” Part 2 of his tour de force, “Angels in America.” In his play, Prior Walter, a 31-year-old man living with AIDS, is visited by an angel who declares him a prophet and tempts him to forgo the suffering ahead and find peace in heaven.


Borrowing the story line from Genesis 32, Prior wrestles with the angel, saying, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me!” The angel refuses, incredulous that Prior still wants to live. “Who demands: More life?/When Death like a Protector/Blinds our eyes, shielding from some tender nerve/More horror than can be borne.”

“Bless me anyway,” Prior replies. “I want more life. I can’t help myself. I’ve lived through such terrible times, and there are people who have lived through much worse, but …. You see them living anyway.”

The metaphor of angel-wrestling has helped me make some sense of my relationship to God, to myself and the world. In the dark of night, I, like both Jacob and Prior, find myself in mortal combat with mysterious figures: angels, demons, viruses.

I just can’t seem to let go.

Finally, after an all-night battle, the combatants release me — not just with a blessing but with a whole new name and identity, a new Israel, “one who strives with God.” I have been in many a wrestling match — political, theological, medical. I have wrestled with God, with God’s ostensible representatives, with sisters and brothers — often in a sweaty, straining, forceful embrace that calls me and those with whom I contend to new identities and new relationships. The fight becomes an act of love.

……..

We who “strive with God” prove those well-meaning but frightened folks wrong every time we jump onto the mat to fight for our rights — our civil rights and the rights of our baptism.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our church when the courage and willingness to go to the floor on the issues that count, to speak the truth when it hurts, is cause for oppression and contempt (see the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith‘s two recent documents on homosexuality, 1986 and 1992). What continues to amaze me is that God’s powerful grace is so palpable precisely where the hierarchy denies it can be. I call it the “sacrament of irony.”

The Church constantly reminds us of the fundamental importance of truth. Even the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger concluded “Homosexualitatis Problema” with a reminder to “Speak the Truth in Love”. So indeed there is profound irony that those who control the Church condemn and even penalize gay and lesbian Catholics in their moments of greatest honesty (as with the Canadian altar server, or by withholding communion from Catholics who wear a rainbow sash to declare publicly their orientation, or by driving out priests and religious women who speak honestly about sexuality). Yet, in the same document which preaches the importance of speaking the truth, their own case is based on falsehoods, half-truths, and rhetorical sleight of hand. To counter the lies, it is essential that we take the injunction seriously, “Speaking the Truth in Love”, telling and disseminating our stories as they are, not as the Vatican would like them to be: just as Kevin Calegan has done.

In all those times of wrestling with the tough issues, with church leaders, with each other, with disease, I have been pinned down and squeezed, touched, massaged, embraced, cuddled and, yes, pleasured by a challenging and everloving God. I have been transformed and reconciled. No longer frightened or ashamed, I am learning to confide in God’s love and the love of my fellow wrestlers. And after the match is over, I look forward to walking humbly with my God, even if it is with a limp.

(Read the full reflection)

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Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites

For the month of Gay Pride (in church), it would be great if we could simply celebrate a list of unambiguously gay popes – but we can’t. This is not because they don’t exist (there were undoubtedly several popes whom we know had physical relationships with men), but because of the inadequacies of language, and the weakness of the historical record over something so deeply personal, especially among the clergy. Both of these difficulties are exemplified by Mark Jordan’s use of the phrase, “Papal Sodomites”.  In medieval terms, a “sodomite” was one of utmost abuse, which meant far more than just the modern “homosexual”. It could also include, bestiality, or heresy, or withcraft, and (in England, after the Reformation) “popery”, which is deeply ironic, and hence treason.

So in the years before libel laws and carefully controlled democratic institutions, accusations of “sodomy” were a useful slander for the powerful to throw at their political enemies. Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites

For the month of Gay Pride (in church), it would be great if we we could simply celebrate a list of unambiguously gay popes – but we can’t. This is not because they don’t exist (there were undoubtedly several popes whom we know had physical relationships with men), but because of the inadequacies of language, and the weakness of the historical record over something so deeply personal, especially among the clergy. Both of these difficulties are exemplified by Mark Jordan’s use of the phrase, “Papal Sodomites”.  In medieval terms, a “sodomite” was one of utmost abuse, which meant far more than just the modern “homosexual”. It could also include, bestiality, or heresy, or withcraft, and (in England, after the Reformation) “popery”, which is deeply ironic, and hence treason.

So in the years before libel laws and carefully controlled democratic institutions, accusations of “sodomy” were a useful slander for the powerful to throw at their political enemies. Read the rest of this entry »

Speak the Truth in Love: Write Your Bishop.

The Lord Jesus promised, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (Jn. 8:32). Scripture bids us speak the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15). The God who is at once truth and love calls the Church to minister to every man, woman and child with the pastoral solicitude of our compassionate Lord.

-CDF, “Homosexualitatis Problema”

“Speak the truth in love”, advice which the institutional church singularly fails to follow itself. (See “Excluded From God’s People”, for a description of this failure). The advice, however, remains sound. Vatican teaching on sexuality has the remarkable characteristic of being distantly removed from any grounding in the facts of real human lives. This is especially so for gay, lesbian and trans lives, but is hardly surprising, given the ivory tower manner in which Catholic theology is developed and preserved. Yet it should not be so. The Church claims to be a listening church, and pays at least lip service to the place of reason, science, and the continuing revelation by the Holy Spirit, speaking to us through experience, in developing Church teaching. But this of little value unless there are voices speaking from that real experience to which the Church may listen.

 

The Road to Emmaus

The gay Catholic theologian Michael B Kelly has argued convincingly that for many, possibly most, lesbian or gay Catholics it may be necessary to leave the church, literally, or figuratively, for a time. Thereafter, he says, we need to return and speak to the church in prophetic witness to the truth of our lives. We must, he says, take the road to Emmaus, away from the established rulers, but after meeting the risen Christ take the road back again. (One of the ways he is doing this himself by conducting research on gay men’s erotic experience as a path to spirituality, and writing about what this experience can teach the wider church about spirituality.) Read the rest of this entry »

Dutch Gay Catholics: “Welcome”, After All.

Now, why couldn’ t the Church have adopted this approach in the first place? An agreement following discussions between gay activists and church authorities puts the decision on whether to accept communion firmly in the hands of the individuals concerned, as long as they first confess “serious sin”.

This decision is in clearer accordance with orthodox teaching (overall) than the previous knee jerk refusal. The Church recognises the primacy of conscience, and the obligation to follow conscience over other authority where they are in conflict. (I fully accept the standard proviso that the conscience must be an informed one). Only the individual can identify the conclusions of that conscience. The need to confess serous sin is an important qualification, but it is the responsibility of the individual to conclude, in the light of conscience, whether sin is in fact present. In adopting this approach, the Church is simply applying the best of Catholic teaching on conscience, and doing so in a manner which parallels the established guidelines on contraception.

Pray now that the authorities stick to their guns in the face of the probable howls of outrage from those who would prefer to keep the double standard.

From Dutch News:

Wednesday 03 March 2010

Gay Catholic activists and the church authorities in Den Bosch have reached a compromise deal over communion, the Volkskrant reports on Wednesday.

The deal means it will be up to gay Catholics themselves to decide whether or not they should accept communion, the Volkskrant says. ‘Serious sins’ should first be confessed, the agreement states.

Officially, the Catholic church regards homosexuality as a sin.

The compromise follows a row over the refusal of a local priest to give communion to the openly homosexual carnival prince – a traditional part of the pre-Lent festivities.

Last weekend
, a service at the St Jan church in Den Bosch was disrupted by activists and the communion celebration cancelled.

 

(It is worth noting that this landmark decision has come about after first angry protest, then discussion between the two sides. It’s not always easy, or even possible, to talk to the church authorities about matters of orientation, but it is important to keep trying.)

See the earlier report on this:

Dutch Gay Catholics: Excluded From God’s People?

Dutch Gay Catholics: Excluded from God’s People?

When I wrote about this incident in the Netherlands earlier in the week, it was just a quick and unconsidered relaying of some not very informative news reports. An important comment by Phillip Clarke showed me that there was a much more serious side to this than I had initially recognised. A report today from Ekklesia gives a better report on last Sundays proceedings, and also shows that the situation on the ground is escalating. The BBC has reported that hundreds of protesters disrupted Mass today.

To recap briefly:

Last week’s events

In the city of Den Bosch, in the Catholic south of the country, an openly gay man was elected Carnival Prince- an office which usually results in the Carnival Prince leading the Communion service for the Mass which follows. The local priest stated in advance that he would not serve communion to an openly gay man. A number of gay supporters let it be known that they would be attending the Mass in sympathy and protest, whereupon the priest cancelled the entire Mass.


Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Film: “Saints & Sinners”

With thanks to reader  Ross, who says of  it :

I cried most of the way through this film the first time I watched it – but then I cry through a lot of movies. Seriously, it is a touching movie and well worth watching.

From Amazon:

“After living together for seven years in a seemingly accepting community in New York City, Edward DeBonis and Vincent Maniscalco decide to get married. But unlike many other gay couples who formalize their relationship in a domestic union, Vincent and Edward, both devout Catholics, will settle for nothing short of the “Holy Sacrament of Marriage.” The couple’s request to The New York Times to announce their wedding in the weekly “Styles” section throws the newspaper into disarray. Publishing the first Catholic gay wedding announcement presents the editors with numerous controversial questions: Is a gay priest a real priest? Can a gay union be called a wedding? Can a gay couple be considered Catholic? As America stands on the verge of legal acceptance of gay and lesbian unions, Saints and Sinners explores the social, political and religious aspects of same-sex marriage and examines its effect on American society.”

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Listening Parents: “Fortunate Families” Need Help

We as lesbians, gay men and trans people know from our own experience the difficulties, confusions and pain that may accompany the process of facing and dealing with our identities. This is further compounded by the difficulties of dealing with the Church and its hostility.  But we are not the only ones who find the process difficult – so do our parents and families.

Once they have come around to an understanding of us, parents can be our staunchest allies. In the various debates around gay marriage, there have been many valuable and articulate voices raised by parents who have insisted that they want to see their gay sons and daughters able to access the same rights and respect, from Church and from state, that their straight children receive. The challenge to us is, how do we help them to reach that place of acceptance and understanding in the first place?

Fortunate Families is one organisation specifically addressing the needs of Catholic parents of gay or lesbian children.  Their current newsletter has a report on a listening service that strikes me as worth promoting: Read the rest of this entry »

The Church in Four Dimensions: Part 2.*