“Incompatible With Scripture”: Jeffrey John on Sexuality & Sanity

The news that Jeffrey John is  a leading candidate to be the next Anglican bishop has caused some panic to break out on the conservative religious blogosphere: the inappropriately and misleadingly named “Anglican Mainstream” has called for an urgent day of prayer to forestall this impending calamity. Virtue Online has dredged up and posted an address he gave back in 1998 on the theme of homosexuality in the Anglican clergy. I am grateful to David Virtue. No doubt he thinks he has posted it as some kind of “warning”:  I read it as prescient.  In the dozen years since he gave this address, years before he was first named and then asked to withdraw as bishop of Reading, the Anglican church has moved a long way, here and world-wide. But instead of simply reading the address as dated, I see it as a mirror for the present state of play in the Catholic church: exactly the same allegations of clerical and episcopal hypocrisy apply to the Church of Rome. More interesting, is that when I put this alongside the small, hopeful signs I see of an imminent shift in emphasis by Catholic bishops, I wonder if we in the Catholic church will also be able to look back twelve years hence, and to note some useful changes.

But that is speculation. Far more useful at this stage is just to read and enjoy John’s wisdom – and humour. I loved his story of the run-around he was given years before when first applying for ordination. The church authorities had established from medical records that Johns was possible gay, and had referred him for psychiatric evaluation:

So l had to go and be checked by the ACCM psychiatrist. This was the first time I realized that in seeking ordination I was entering a danger zone. I was furious that it had happened. but I duly trotted down to London from Oxford one Saturday morning and arrived at a remarkably dingy practice in Battersea. It was the sort of place one might imagine a back street abortionist to operate in, a tiny surgery with peeling wallpaper lit by one fly-blown naked lightbulb. This apparently was the Church of England’s psychiatric HQ. But the truly remarkable thing was the ACCM psychiatrist, whom at first I took to be a patient, since he was dressed in a leather jacket with studs and chains, leather boots, tight jeans, very long dark hair, and a cerise chiffon scarf. When he introduced himself as the ACM psychiatrist, I began to wonder if this was some sort of entrapment procedure – perhaps I was supposed to respond to the uniform and try to get off with him, whereupon an ACCM official would leap out from behind a curtain and say ‘Aha. Got you red-handed’

That did not happen. We had a cup of tea instead, and a cosy chat about family and feelings. Nothing at all about sexuality, nor the entry on my medical record, which was the reason I was there. After tea he said, since he realized I was more than a little angry about what had happened, that he would write his report on me right away so that l could see it myself and post it to ACCM on my way home. So he did. He wrote, ‘Dear ACCM Secretary, I have examined Mr John and conclude that he is a good deal saner than those who sent him to me. Yours sincerely,…’. I posted it in the box outside. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming Out as Spiritual Experience (Re-post)

Over 40 years since Stonewall, it has become commonplace to recognise the value of coming out as a growth experience, bringing benefits to mental health, self-esteem and personal integrity. Less widely recognised is the value of coming out as spiritual growth. This idea, which well deserves to be better known, gets extensive treatment in Daniel Helminiak’s book, Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth


(Helminiak is an openly gay Catholic priest with doctorates in both spirituality and psychology, who teaches spirituality in a faculty of psychology – so he is eminently well qualified to write on the subject. For more  on Daniel Helminiak, see his own website, “Visions of Daniel)

Sex and Sacred

In his preface, Helminiak notes that the arguments in the early days of the gay liberation movement were purely reactive & defensive, making the case that homosexuality is NOT a sin, NOT a sickness, and NOT a mental disorder. Read the rest of this entry »

Out in Church: Presbyterian Progress*

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Queer Acceptance in Church: A Review of Progress

In releasing their goals for the next decade, the Religious Institute included a short review of progress over the last ten years for sexual and gender inclusion in church. While much remains to be done, the ten year view is encouraging. Now, I have been given an even longer term perspective. I have started reading Gary Comstock’s book, “Unrepentant, Self-Affirming, Practicing”,  on research into LGBT people of faith, which begins with a useful historical review. It is worth recognising that the present (limited) visibility of queers in church is no flash in the pan, but is part of an established and growing historical movement that now goes back over sixty years.

Breakthrough Publications

The publication of  John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality and John McNeill’s The Church and the Homosexual at the end of the 1970’s are widely recognised as landmark publications at the start of the gay and  lesbian theology movement – but they were not the first. Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Film

I seem to be seeing an awful lot of stories of new documentaries on queer faith. This is great- film is a powerful medium, and lends itself well for use in getting discussion going in parish or other faith groups. (Just this morning, I saw a notice on the web publicizing a screening of “Through my eyes” by a church:

Blessed Family of God Church, 829 Gillespie St., will host a movie night on Jan. 16 at 5:30 p.m. The movie is “Through My Eyes” and is about gay Christians.

When moderate Christians start to listen, think and discuss the issues with an open mind, we see attitudes changing. The use of film in parishes or smaller faith groups is an excellent way to get those discussions going. For queer group, seeing how others have dealt with their struggles in the churches can be a valuable learning experience too.

This is a run down of just some of the films that I have read about recently – and one that I have seen twice, and loved.

Preacher’s Sons

I have just come across this review of “Preacher’s Sons”, which tells the story of the “untraditional” Stewart family: Rev. Greg Stewart, senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, his husband Stillman Stewart, a former social worker and now at-home parent, and their five adopted boys:

In one of the opening scenes of the documentary film Preacher’s Sons, Stillman Stewart sits by a Los Angeles pool with his husband, Greg Stewart. The two white men watch their sons, splashing in the water, five boys of color who call out “Papa” and “Daddy” to Stillman and Greg. Stillman laughs, and recounts a conversation he’s just overheard between two older women at the pool who were observing their family. “Uh-oh,” one woman said. “There must be something wrong here.”
Preacher’s Sons follows the untraditional Stewart family for five years, through four cities. Despite what the women by the pool thought, the film depicts the Stewarts as doing something very right—giving permanent, loving homes to at-risk, hard-to-place children lost in the foster care system.

Between 2000 and 2002, the Rev. Greg Stewart, senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, and Stillman Stewart, a former social worker and now at-home parent, adopted five sons through the California foster care system. Their story attracted the attention of several television networks, which approached them about filming their family. The Stewarts always refused these requests. Things changed, however, when they were approached by two members of the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena, Calif., where Greg was serving as minister of religious education. The Stewarts didn’t believe the networks shared their mission of promoting the adoption of at-risk children. However they trusted fellow church members and husband-and-wife filmmakers Mark Nealey and C Roebuck Reed.

-More from UU World

For Such A Time As This

According to Candace Chellew -Hodge at Religion Dispatches, a filmmaker who has spent three years working on a film to build bridges between evangelical faith leaders and the LGBT community is responsible for Rick Warren’s about turn in making a statement condemning the Uganda hate bill – and her film is not even completed yet.

When Rachel Maddow started talking about Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, or what Maddow called the “Kill the Gays Bill,” on her nightly MSNBC show late last month, Lisa Darden knew she needed to make a phone call.

Darden, a filmmaker and talent agent, had been interviewing conservative evangelical Christian leaders and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the religious right for the past several years, for her soon to be released movie, For Such a Time as This. The documentary seeks to bridge the gap between anti-gay Christians and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. In her travels, she had become fast friends with A. Larry Ross, who serves as Rick Warren’s publicist.

“I knew this was going to break before it did, so I called Larry and told him what was going on and encouraged him to have Rick Warren make a statement against this law, because the silence from evangelical leaders was deafening. I told him somebody needs to stand up and this was an opportunity for Warren to be in front of the story or get run over by it,” she told Religion Dispatches.


The Bible Tells Me So

Directed by Daniel G. Karslake, this film has been around since 2007. It very cleverly uses the stories of five lesbians and gay men, from a range of denominations and social backgrounds, to explore the impact of standard Christian teaching on the lives of individuals and their families. In all five cases, the families were deeply religious and committed to their churches. by the end of the film, all five families described have been moved by their offsprings’ lives to moderate their earlier hostile views: in some cases, dramatically so. Along the way, it introduces cartoons, live footage from church meetings and news events together with commentary to gently unpack the appropriate understanding of Scripture on sexuality from the bigoted and hypocritical abuse by those who prefer to use it as a weapon.

I have seen this film twice. the first time was at a screening by the London Gay Humanist Society, where the largely gay atheist audience were visibly moved by seeing that there are sincere Christians who are willing to speak and act intelligently and sensitively on the Bible and homosexuality. The second was a screening after our LGBT Mass in Soho, where most of those I spoke to were deeply moved. (The few exceptions felt it was either too “American” or too “Protestant”).

(Watch a trailer on Youtube)



Prodigal Sons

I wrote about this a short while ago, (“Transgendered in Church, Again“) noting a news report on the strong positive reception it had at a screening in a church hall. This is how describes it in The Guardian:

The other week, I saw a film I can’t get out of my head. I’m not sure that it’s especially “good” in the sense of being flawlessly made. But it’s a film about inescapable flaws. Sometimes a movie does the simplest thing film has to offer: it shows us something we have never quite seen or felt before; it shows us something that shocks and alarms us – and that doesn’t have to be an ingredient from a horror picture, or something capable of fictional redemption. Horror can live in the mind of the beholder, and it can be an everyday thing. Let me try to describe Prodigal Sons to you.

It’s a family documentary, made by Kimberley Reed. She’s about 40 now, a tall, striking woman who lives in New York and went to film school. But she was a boy once, the star quarterback on her high-school football team in Montana. So it seems to be a documentary about sexual change – except that Kimberley doesn’t dwell on that experience. With her lover, another woman, she goes home to Montana to work out her family history.

Watch a trailer here:


Through my Eyes

This documentary, by the Gay Christian Network, focuses particularly on younger gay Christians. Two Amazon user reviews give something of its importance:

5.0 out of 5 stars Fruit for Dialog, March 10, 2009

“Through My Eyes” is a must-see for all Christians who are serious about living out the Gospel as it paves the way for reflective dialog among those who are seeking to put into practice Christ’s message to “love one another as I have loved you.” In this DVD, over two dozen Christians in their teens and twenties share their stories of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, who happen to have been born gay, and who long above all else to worship God with their entire being and desire that His holy and perfect will be done in their lives.

5.0 out of 5 stars A revealing truth…, March 10, 2009
By (Seattle, WA USA) – See all my review

Through My Eyes is the first documentary I’ve seen that’s only agenda is to ask people to listen. There are no “this is what you should think” or “these people are wrong/right because…” statements. It’s just young Christians, who happen to be glbt, sharing their stories. A must see for any Christian!

However, a dissenting view points out that the perspective is specifically that of a fairly conservative, evangelical branch of “Christian”, and so not necessarily relevant to all.

2.0 out of 5 stars Not so satisfied
I am a gay Christian and I just finished watching this film. I think the reason I was so underwhelmed with it is because, while it involves interviews with multiple people, it only gives one perspective: that of people who are gay and were raised in a very conservative, fundamentalist tradition. And it doesn’t describe itself in that context!

(Watch the trailer on Youtube)



8: The Mormon Proposition

This film, telling the story of the Mormon involvement in California’s battle over gay marriage in Proposition 8, has been widely acclaimed (Huffington Post says it will “knock your socks off“) , and is to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. This mainstream exposure, coupled with the topical subject matter, will bring it the widest and most mainstream audiences of all those discussed here.

(Watch the trailer on Youtube)


Gay Christians – in China?

When we examine the situation and history of gay Christians, it is often too easy to forget how much the facts differ around the world. Uganda has been in the news, for harsh penalties for acts that are already illegal in terms of what was originally colonial era legislation. Indian courts have struck down the criminalization of homosexuality, and the country reverts to the pre-colonial toleration and acceptance of sexual diversity. In China and Japan, history, art and literature show not just a toleration, but even a celebration of male same sex love, which was especially characteristic of the monastic and military classes, as well as (more predictably) poets and actors.

Under the Mulberry Tree

(Image from “Gay Art History“)

The existence of gay Buddhists in modern china is entirely predictable:  organised gay Christian groups are more surprising. But, as this report from Global Times shows,  shows, they exist – the MCC is everywhere.

A documentary about gay Christian and Buddhist groups in China premieres tonight at The Boat.

For those seeking to get into the Christmas spirit, there will be an accompanying party. The film, part of a monthly series on gay and lesbian life in China produced by Queer Comrades, focuses on a visit to China by two pastors from the Metropolitan Community Churches, a gay Christian organization that boasts 250 member congregations in 28 countries.

In the documentary, Pastor Pat Baumgardner says the people who go to the church may be believers, non-Christians, or non-believers. Some may come just to hook up with someone.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” she says. “I think other people come because they’re lonely on many, many levels, and want to connect and find some mean-ing and purpose for their lives.”

The documentary also focuses on a group of gay Buddhists who meet for comfort and spiritual guidance in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

One of them, a student named Wang Xi, remarks, “a master once told me that in the realm of Buddha and Avalokitesvara, there’s no gender difference. I think it’s a bit similar to what we’re advocating.”

In Beijing, there is a gay Christian support group with about a dozen members that meets infrequently.

But generally, religious groups for gays are quite scarce in China, according to producer Xiao Gang. The documentary touches on how gays in other countries face both persecution and get strength from religion.

More Queer Progress in Church*.

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Mormons, Incremental Progress and Wingnut Distress

For years, it was easy for the opponents of gay civil rights under the cloak of religion, by means of an unquestioned assumption that this was “clearly” opposed by Scripture and religious tradition. From this perspective, any suggestion of support for protection from discrimination (let alone actual marriage) was presented as support for sinful decadence, or even as an attack on religion itself.  There have been welcome signs of change in this perspective in recent years.  As social and natural scientists have shown that  a homoerotic orientation  is entirely natural in human and animal societies, as modern bible scholars and theologians have shown that the traditional religious hostility has been based on false assumptions and need revisions, it becomes increasingly more difficult for people of sincere and open-minded religious faith to repeat the old slogans without questioning.  This is why the Episcopalians and Lutherans over the past summer were able to take important decisions supporting the ordination of openly lesbian and gay clergy (including bishops), and to move towards the recognition of church recognition of same sex unions, including (for the Swedish Lutherans) full church weddings. The US Presbyterians and Methodists have not yet gone that far, rejecting similar proposals in their own assemblies, but are clearly moving in the same direction.

Other denominations, most notably the LDS, Catholics and evangelicals, have been more intransigent, but even with these there have been important signs of change. The Catholic official stance has been firmly against marriage rights, as notoriously demonstrated in California and in Maine, but elsewhere has led to some tortured knots. The UK bishops strenuously opposed civil partnerships when they were introduced here some years ago, but the Portuguese argued in favour of such civil unions as an alternative to marriage when this was raised in the Portuguese parliament earlier this year. The bishop of Portland tried after the Maine vote to put out a hand of friendship, claiming (correctly) that church teaching opposes discrimination even as it opposes gay marriage, but the Vatican famously refused to support the UN declaration favouring decriminalization, stating that this would somehow lend credence to marriage rights.  Meanwhile, the faithful as a whole a re way ahead of the power elite in the church. Most US Catholics now support some form of legal recognition of same sex unions, and do not see homosexuality in itself as morally wrong .

I see this confusion and double speak among the oligarchy as encouraging, as evidence that they are finally recognising  that their previous unqualified opposition to all things gay  is no longer tenable, and that they need to find some way to balance their own earlier intransigence against clear dissent from the church at large – tacit recognition that they no longer have the support of the sensus fidelium.

LDS temple, salt Lake City

This week, we saw similar signs from the Mormon church, who were such staunch allies alongside the Catholic establishment in the fight over H8 in California.  Now, in a landmark small but significant step, the elders of the LDS threw their support in favour of an anti-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City, which subsequently passed. Read the rest of this entry »

Church Marriage: Required Only For Priests? *

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Queer in Faith: Some Links

I can say clearly that with Hans Kung I am no longer a Roman Catholic — I am a universal Christian catholic in union with the Holy Spirit. I belong to that union of believers who practice the way of Jesus or Nazareth.

Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. (15/09/09)

Tom-McMahon at 24 Tom McMahon entered a minor seminary aged just 13. At the time this picture was taken:

“I am 24 years old when this picture was taken, ripe for ordination after 12 years of monastic life in St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA. I am as innocent sexually as the day I virginally entered seminary at age 13, pre-puberty. I excelled at sports burning up my newly-discovered testosterone and girls were out of bounds; 60 years later I meet old friends at clerical funerals and some say “you were the catcher on the baseball team when I was in seminary”. Would that I be remembered for more than that six decades later. The boy who entered seminary at 13 was still alive in me when I was ordained at age 25. An innocent boy, even if he wears a Roman collar …..”

Many years later, feeling dehumanised (his word) by the experience of compulsory celibacy, he followed so many other priests out of the presbytery and into marriage. Now over 80, he writes a moving series of reflections on the history of priesthood and his experience of it. Informed by his training in psychology, he uses the series title “The Psychology of Priesthood.” The quotation introducing this post comes at the end of part 11, the one beneath the picture comes from the latest post, part 16.) Unlike Tom, I have never been a priest, although the Christian Brothers once tried to persuade me to enter the minor seminary at a ridiculously young age. (I am eternally grateful that my father would not hear of it). Like Tom, I am a cradle Catholic, and continue to call myself catholic, worshipping in two Catholic parishes, and actively involved in the Soho Masses. I recognise and value the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, but do not accept that teaching authority equates with legislative authority. While I dissent on some specific matters, this is a right protected by standard teaching. I insist on my inclusion by virtue of baptism and participation in the Catholic communion, but also because “catholic” at its most basic level simply means “universal”. While I will not walk away to join another denomination, I feel less and less committed to the “Roman” as opposed to the “catholic” church. As I have been writing here over the months, I have frequently referred to and recommended other lesbian and gay Catholic bloggers. However, I have become increasingly convinced that if we as a group are to make headway in our search for justice, we need to recognise that there are others with whom we should be making alliances: women in the Catholic Church, the global church in their struggles, and other queer Christians. In this spirit, I have been restructuring my web links in the side bar (which were long overdue for a tidy up), removing the distinction between Catholic and other Christian that I misguidedly imposed in the beginning. I have also added some links from other traditions, and hope to add still more. For now, I would like to introduce you (briefly) to some sites that I have found particularly interesting, for one reason or another. (All of these are by or about lesbian, gay or transgender people, but not all have this as their main focus). Read the rest of this entry »