"Coming Out" as Wrestling with the Divine

At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibilty and coming out. (Now the 41st anniversary – this is a re-post)

After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject.  So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome:  Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.

First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society .  For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society.  He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .

 

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix

Read the rest of this entry »

Martha and Mary, Queer Saints

The household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus is well known to us from the Gospels, where they are described as “sisters” and their brother Lazarus. They are also known to us as Jesus’ friends, and their home as a place he visited for some rest and hospitality.  The problem is, that the story is perhaps too familiar: we are so used to hearing of them and their home since childhood, that we automatically accept the words and visualize the family in modern terms, just as we did as children.  To really understand the significance of this family, we need to consider the social context.

 

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, BEUCKELAER, Joachim (1565)

 

Read the rest of this entry »

The “Homosexual Lifestyle”

p style=”text-align: justify;”>A few years ago, I was privileged to be part of the team representing the Soho “gay Masses” in discussions with the diocese of Westminster, prior to the move from our then base in an Anglican church to a new home in a Catholic parish.  One of the opening observations made by Bishop Bernard Longley, for the diocese, listed the “concerns” of the diocese about the gay community: one of these was the “homosexual lifestyle”.  I’m sure you’re all familiar with that “lifestyle”- obsessed with sex, permanently high on drugs and alcohol, and unable to give a moment’s thought to anything more important than new additions to their wardrobe, or booking seats for the opera, ballet or musical.

The stereotype of course, is laughable- as are all stereotypes. It does not describe any of my friends, and probably not yours. But it is not a laughing matter:  this and similar  stereotypes lie at the heart of the animus displayed by the Vatican against gay men and lesbians. In “A Question of Truth”, his useful rebuttal of the CDF “Homosexualitatis Problema”, Gareth Moore shows how the Vatican argument is rooted the idea that “homosexuals” are somehow incapable of genuine Christian love, and that homosexual “activity” reduces still further that limited capacity for love. Yet, as Moore and many other writers have observed, and as is obvious to anybody with more than a passing acquaintance with real gay men,  they are conspicuously well-represented in the caring professions.

I was delighted today to come across David Nimmon’s  “The Soul Beneath the Skin: The Unseen Hearts and Habits of Gay Men“, a book that tackles these false images head-on:  not by arguing with them, but by providing direct, empirical evidence of the reality.

Soul Beneath the Skin

Gay men are mindlessly hypersexual, unethically promiscuous and ceaselessly narcissistic or so the worst stereotypes would have it. Rather than refute these charges by painting a portrait of male homosexuals as just like heterosexuals (except for one small detail), Nimmons, president of New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, radically reinterprets gay sexuality, intimate relationships and self-image. Using a wide range of scientific surveys, anthropological studies, philosophical inquiries and personal observation and anecdotes, Nimmons argues that gay male culture is arranged around highly ethical behaviors that value the needs and health of both the individual and the community. These values, he argues, are enacted through a wide range of sexual practices and unconventional couplings (from one-hour tricks to open long-term relationships), and are manifested in the community-building that has accompanied the AIDS epidemic, as well as the broad range of mentoring relationships between gay men. Noting that “gay relationships are distinct from heterosexual relationships in that they are frequently based on expectations of equality, reciprocity, and autonomy,” Nimmons also examines how gay men’s relationships with women could present a model for heterosexual men as well.

(Read more)

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
By

“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)

 


Lesbians Make Better Parents: Times Online

This will not surprise many  of my readers, or others in the reality-based community (borrowing Pam Spaulding’s phrase), but lesbians make better parents.  The evidence from research has shown this for years, and is now accepted wisdom among professionals in the field.  Here in the UK, the authoritative social attitudes survey has found that a third of British adults now agree that same sex couples  make “at least” as good parents as other couples – to say noting of the comparison with single parents, or with no parents at all.

This all makes intuitive sense: lesbian couples by the very nature of things are most unlikely to have unplanned pregnancies and unwanted children.  Lesbian parenting is generally a carefully thought through, deliberate decision.  The parents themselves will have had to negotiate the difficult process of coming out, which is often a psychological growth experience, and will have had to deal with prejudice, possible discrimination and sometimes outright hostility in their own lives – and have learnt to deal with it. It is to be expected, as research confirms, that

“children brought up by female couples are more aspirational and more confident in championing social justice. They show no more tendencies towards homosexuality than the offspring of heterosexual parents.”

All of this by now should be old hat, hardly worth a second glance. So why do I repeat and promote the story below, from Times Online?

Because too many of the power elite in the Catholic Church and their unthinking claque of supporters, have yet to join the reality based community.  They consistently ignore their own teaching that theology must pay attention to the findings of science and scholarship, and instead condemn even their own experts who state what is widely accepted by professionals, and would rather blackmail civic authorities than countenance the possibility of placing an adoptive child with same sex parents, no matter how sparkling their personal qualities or potential as parents.

 

450px-New_York_City_Proposition_8_Protest_outside_LDS_temple
Protesting child outside LDS Temple after Prop 8, 2008

 

As long as the bishops insist on placing church ideology (it does not even qualify as sound theology) over the welfare of children, we must continue to publicise the findings of research and experts, aiming to build the sound theology, based on science together with faith and reason, that the establishment is singularly failing to do. Read the rest of this entry »

“Coming Out” as Wrestling with the Divine

At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibility and coming out.

After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject.  So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome:  Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.

First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society .  For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society.  He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .

Read the rest of this entry »