"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

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Gay Masses: Soho, San Francisco.

Earlier this week, California Catholic Daily carried a piece on San Francisco Pride, and the decision by the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer not to participate. However, the parish did advertise in the Pride pocket guide:
I completely fail to see why a Catholic paper should object to the proclamation of God’s love, but they and their readers were enraged by this. The immediate  trigger was the fact that the publication also included the usual gay ads, like a prominent back page one for a gay hook-up site. Is anyone surprised that some gay men use dating sites? However, it was clear that the real anger was directed at the simple existence of a Mass catering primarily to an out queer community.  I placed a comment – the first in the thread – and for my pains, had a response which suggested that I might be in league with some demon:
Terence Weldon appears on other sites as a rabid perverter of Holy Scripture. If he’s in league with some demon, then it’s a particularly depraved one.
(Relax, it’s not true.) What I found remarkable about the rest of the comments was their complete and utter lack of any thought or understanding, a simple parroting of clichés about the sin of Sodom, and the Sin that Cries Out to Heaven and the like: confirming once again, my firm conviction that what draws a certain type of Catholic to the Church is a simple desire to avoid any need for hard thinking on ethical choices, merely depending on following a rule book and the formulaic repetition of fixed prayers for “Salvation”, or for “favours” to be granted. This form of religion (it hardly counts as faith) is not that far removed from belief in magic.

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 »

Un-Catholic at Pride: Protest the Pope, or Ignore Him?

While walking down Oxford Street with other gay/lesbian Catholics, I suddenly found myself faced with a BBC television camera and reporter. “What,” she asked, “do you think of the pope’s UK visit?”

This has become highly topical, and highly emotional here. Even today, there are some permanent tensions which have their background in the historical development of the Anglican church, and the subsequent suppression of the Catholic faith, when Catholicism was seen as a form of treason (and incidentally, lumped  together with heresy and sodomy as the greatest of sins against religion. Today, traces of the legal restrictions remain in the unequal status of the “established” Anglican church and the others, while deep suspicion lingers in some quarters about the Catholic (and other) faith schools, about the regular interventions by Catholic bishops in political debates on abortion legislation,  civil partnerships / gay marriage, gay adoption rights, and most recently about the successful attempts to thwart parts of recent equality legislation intended to prevent discrimination by church employers. The stories of clerical abuse and inadequate church response over the past year have simply added to the hostility of a small anti-Catholic minority, and a wider anti-papal/ anti-Vatican feeling of some others (including many progressive Catholics). What has really added fuel to the fire, is that this is to be treated as a state visit, with substantial cost to the British taxpayer, at a time when the new government is announcing plans to slash expenditure across a wide front. No wonder some people are angry.

This particularly includes the LGBT community, and so there was a strong anti-papal presence at the London Pride parade, with a banner, and leaflet distributors. The reporter in front of me was clearly preparing a program not on Gay Pride specifically, but a broader current affairs program on the papal visit, with gay and gay Catholic reactions just one element. Read the rest of this entry »

London Pride, PCUSA Assembly

I’m on my way into London for Gay Pride. As I walk down Oxford Street and Regent Street towards Trafalgar Square, part of my thoughts will be elsewhere, with the US Presbyterians, who have already announced that they are ready to celebrate progress towards LGBT equality, even before the crucial decisions to be taken by the Assembly, which starts today. They have reason to celebrate: while there is much to do still, there has been clear measurable progress already. The signs are good: National Assembly has already voted (last year) to approve ordination of gay and lesbian pastors. Only the failure to secure ratification from enough local congregations has prevented the decision taking full effect. This year is likely to see the proposal pass with a wider margin, and activists are continuing to gain further support at local level. Queer Presbyterians will also be encouraged by the venue – the same hall where the Lutherans tool their own ground-breaking decisions last year.

This report from Ekklesia has more:

Presbyterian advocates of equality for all members of the church, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), are announcing they are ready to celebrate continuing progress at the upcoming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) which takes place from July 3–10, in Minneapolis.

“We have come so far toward fully including everyone in the denomination, we have reason to celebrate, even as we work for fuller inclusion. As we move forward, we will continue to lift up our core belief that we are all created in the image of God. We know that the church is living into a future that allows Presbyterians to follow their God-led consciences as they consider each candidate, rather than requiring exclusion,” said the Rev Tricia Dykers Koenig, National Organiser of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

As the denomination gathers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, many are aware that in the same hall, one year earlier, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American voted to allow ministers in partnered same-sex couples to be listed on the official roster and to serve the church. All requirements to limit participation were dropped and Lutherans are living into the new policies by receiving clergy back into the church.

Lisa Larges, head of That All May Freely Serve, said, “Faith traditions are moving toward a new understanding of God’s diverse creation. The time for policies based on our love of God and call to serve has come. Churches are learning to affirm gifts for ministry rather than reject ministers because of whom they chose as a life partner.”

“Worshipping in a Hate Crime?” A Catholic Straight Ally Disagrees.

Our straight allies are invaluable, and constantly growing in number, inside the churches as well as in the secular world. Without them, we would not have seen the progress towards equality and inclusion that I am constantly pleased to report on. I have written before of some specific evangelical allies, and of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who have spoken out publicly for us. One of the most prominent and hardest working members of our team at the Soho Masses is a straight woman. Every year, she spends most of the day at London Pride manning our information table, marching alongside us, or both. She will be there again today. I am certain that other queer worshipping communities elsewhere have similar valuable allies. Usually though, the people who speak up are identified church leaders. I found the story below, from a Catholic woman speaking up for her personal  motivation, inspiring.

A Catholic Presence at Minnesota Pride, 2008

A Catholic Presence at London Pride, 2007

Michelle Somerville, writing at Huffington Post, acknowledges the hurt that the institutional Catholic Church has inflicted and continues to inflict on its LGBT members, as it does on women.She points out however, that “the church”, which is much bigger than just its designated spokesmen in the “hierarchy”, does respect all comers, and that the church is capable of healing. It is to be part of this healing that she participates in her parish’s active LGBT ministry, including a stint manning a table at Pride. Here are some extracts:

A reader of my essay “Sex and the City of God” wrote the following in the Huffington Post comment field in response to my speculation on what might happen if every gay Catholic abandoned the Church for a month:

If every gay church worker, closeted or otherwise — music directors, nuns, priests, and lay ministers — were to call in sick for a month, Or just quit the RCC and join a church that respects them.

“Devon Texas” has a point, but like many women who remain in a church governed by misogynists, many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people believe they are part of a church that that can be healed — a church that belongs as much to them as to any of its members. While it is true that the Church hierarchy does not respect homosexuals, many gay men and women know that the people of the Church — who are the Church — do, for the most part, respect them. Read the rest of this entry »

Out in the Forces: UK Version

Over the last year or so there have been many notable anniversaries of landmarks on the way to LGBT equality: 40 since Stonewall (June last year), 40 years since the first gay liberation march (June this year); 20 years since the first civil unions in Denmark (last year),10 years for those in Vermont (June this year), 5 years for the first full marriages in Massachusetts. Here’s one that passed me by – possibly because it’s more difficult to pin it down to a specific date in th year, possibly because it will have been missed by the American media that so dominate our news cycle.

2010 marks ten years of openly gay and lesbian members serving in the British armed forces. Read the rest of this entry »