Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Reflects the Bigger Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

In the three weeks since I first noted that Presbyterian ratification for the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian clergy looked promising, the prospects have continued to improve.  There are now 13 regional presbyteries that have switched from No to Yes –  compared with just a single one which has switched the other way, from Yes to No. This makes a net gain of 12 – against just the 9 which are needed. It is likely that there will be others too, making the switch in the weeks ahead. Already, the number approving ratification (67) is more than two thirds of the way to the 87 required – just 20 more to go, with 58 votes to still to be held. The opposition, conversely, would need to win 39 of those remaining votes to prevail.

This process is clearly of fundamental importance to lesbigaytrans Presbyterians in the USA, but I believe it has far greater importance for the entire Christian church, worldwide: it is just one, local manifestation of a much bigger process. The ECLA took a similar decision in 2009, and recently 33 retired Methodist bishops called for that denomination to do the same. Three openly gay and partnered bishops have been ordained in the Episcopal and Swedish Lutheran churches, and the German Lutherans have no problem with pastors living with same sex partners. The process extends beyond the ordination of gay clergy. There is increasing willingness in many local churches and (some national denominations) to bless same sex partnerships or even celebrate gay weddings in Church. These are not, as the conservatives claim, simply opportunistic accomodation to secular trends in defiance of Scripture, but are prompted in large part precisely by careful attention to scholarly Biblical study, prayer and attentive listening process. Even Catholic professional theologians are now recognizing what lay Catholics already know – that homoerotic relationships in themselves are not immoral. What is presently unfolding in the PCUSA, why I find it so riveting, is nothing less than a wholesale transformation of Christian responses to homosexuality.

 

 

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Cardinal Pell: All (including gays) Really Are Welcome

Cardinal Pell is not the first name that come to mind when one thinks of welcoming and supporting gay Catholics. However, this report from Australia shows some clear similarities with the clear expressions of support that we in the Soho Masses received last year from Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Bernard Longley.

The background is that the parish of St Joseph’s church in Newtown, Sydney has for some years hosted a monthly Friday Mass with a particular welcome for LGBT Catholics (not an explicitly or exclusively a “gay” Mass). Last year, a very vocal group of opponents made a lot of threatening noises, then seem to have quieted down. This year, responding to a charity appeal raising funds for accommodation for people living with HIV, they moved from threatening disruption to mounting a visible, noisy and intimidating presence outside the Church.

The renewed threat came on February 12 when Acceptance held a fundraiser for Stanford House – a short term accommodation service for people living with HIV – and was faced with people praying across the street.

One Acceptance member, who wished to remain anonymous, told SX “it was intimidating”.

“They were across the road in the shadows praying. I wouldn’t like to be the last person to leave the church,” he said.

– SX News

They no doubt see themselves as loyal defenders of the faith, and so expected support from the Cardinal in their attempts to have the “sacrilegious Masses” halted.

In the weeks preceding the threat, the fundamentalist group stalked Acceptance members taking photographs and video footage, threatening to show the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell.

– SX News

But they had a surprise coming: instead of siding with the objectors, Cardinal Pell wrote a letter affirming support for the continuation of the Masses, which was posted at the back of the Church, for all to see.

Headed ‘Welcome to the Catholic Church’, the letter specifically addressed the regular Friday night mass at the church, which is attended by LGBT members of the Catholic group Acceptance Sydney.

– SX News

I have not been able to find the full text of this letter on – line, but the extracts which were published in the SX report are worth noting:

“The Catholic Church welcomes all to come and pray in the church, particularly during the Mass and other communal liturgies.

“On Fridays at St Joseph’s Parish Newtown, Mass is celebrated for the spiritual benefit of those present and to foster mutual support and encouragement for all.  These celebrations are not sponsored by any particular organisation, but are for all to share.”

It is understood the letter, which outlines rules around receiving communion, was sent to all Parishes.

“Priests recognise that individuals make their own decisions before God on the reception of the Sacraments.”

– SX News

This emphasis on individual conscience over receiving communion repeats the approach of the Dutch Bishop last year which ended the impasse over the refusal of communion to an openly gay Carnival King, and the approach outlined by Archbishop Nichols when he was questioned last year about the (LGBT) Soho Masses:

In a BBC radio interview with Mark Dowd on “The Pope’s British Divisions”, …. he repudiated any suggestion that by allowing these Masses to continue, he was permitting people to receive Communion in a state of mortal sin. The clergy, he said have no business judging the soul of anyone who presents for communion – and anyone who does attempt to judge another should just STFU:

“anybody from the outside who is trying to cast a judgement on the people who come forward for Communion [there], really ought to learn to hold their tongue.”

Queering the Church

It also is the same approach described by Cardinal Mahoney, in a recent LA Times interview on the occasion of his retirement. (Cardinal Mahoney was speaking about pro-choice politicians, not gay Masses – but the principle, refusing to use communion as a weapon to police individual conscience, is the same).

While some of Mahony’s brother bishops appear as if they won’t be happy until they get the chance to deny Communion to elected officials who deviate from church teachings, Mahony has resisted taking that step. Why? Canon law, he notes, puts the responsibility for worthy receipt of the sacrament on the person approaching the Communion rail rather than on the priest.

“It isn’t for us to guess at what’s on someone’s conscience,” he said. Moreover, the cardinal mused, Christ gave Communion to Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper, though the apostle had, that day, committed his betrayal.

“You know, throughout the Gospels, Jesus never appeals to punitive measures to change anyone’s life….

LA Times

I am delighted that Cardinal Mahoney has based his response not only on Catholic teaching on the primacy of conscience, but also on the Gospels themselves. It really is high time that so-called “Catholic” (and other “Christian”) zealots who attempt to impose their views by force on all others, should likewise ask themselves: “What would Jesus do ?

There is nothing remotely Catholic or Christian in trying to drive people away from the Mass, or any other form of worship.

My Related Posts:


The Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

You’d never guess it if your only knowledge of the churches and homosexuality came from Focus on the Family, NOM or California Catholic Daily in the US, or from Christian Voice or the rule-book Catholic blogs in the UK, or from breakaway groups in the Anglican communion worldwide, but we are in the midst of a dramatic, wholesale transformation of the Christian churches’ response to homoerotic relationships. This is clearly leading in the direction of full inclusion in church for queer Christians, and for evaluating couple relationships and their recognition in church on a basis of full equality. This is bound to lead in time to profound improvements in the  political battles for full equality, and in the mental health of the LGBT Christian community.

These are bold statements. Am I mistaken? Am I deluding myself? It is of course possible that this is a case of wishful thinking, that I am misreading or exaggerating the evidence.  It’s possible – but I don’t think so. The evidence is compelling, if not yet widely noted. To substantiate my argument, I want to present the facts, and their implications, in some detail. As there is too much for a single post, I begin today with just a summary, as heads of argument. I will expand on the main sections in later posts, which I have in preparation.

(For now, I have made no attempt to supply detailed substantiation or links – these will follow, as I expand later on each specific theme).

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Image via Wikipedia

 

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Muslim Gay Marriage, UK

Popular speech accepts that “Catholics” oppose homosexuality because that is the publicly expressed view from the Vatican, but completely overlooks evidence from research that most real – life Catholics in fact do not see homosexuality as a moral issue and even support legal recognition for same sex marriage;   ignores the historical evidence that queer relationships have always been a  fact of church life at all levels of the church; and the plainly observable fact that the outwardly homophobic face of the church is belied by an intensely homoerotic culture. In the same way,  the popular perception that Muslims are implacably opposed to homosexuality is also a gross oversimplification, which is contradicted by the facts.

Classical Arab literature is replete with examples of works which celebrate the delights of wine and beautiful boys. In the years when homosexual activity was subject to strong legal sanction in Western countries, wealthy gay men regularly took holidays or even permanent settlement in some Arab cities, where such pleasures could be pursued without legal penalties – and the supply of pliable and available young men abundant. In spite of the public face of Islamic hostility today, private toleration and practice of same sex relationships continues, even today.

A recent BBC report on the story of one lesbian couple who celebrated their marriage in a traditional Muslim form  illustrates this  – and also reminds us that marriage exists and is real, even where there is no legal recognition of it. Here are some extracts from that report: Read the rest of this entry »

Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Looks Promising

Last year, the Presbyterian Church of the USA voted to approve changes in the criteria for ordination of clergy, in terms which do not discriminate against partnered gay or lesbian candidates. The resolution removes a paragraph which includes the requirement

to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness.

and inserts instead:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

In effect, this is a vote for full inclusion of LGBT Presbyterians in the life of the Church. The vote at General Assembly must be ratified by a majority of local presbyteries before it takes effect. 2010 was not the first time that General Assembly voted in favour of inclusion: similar resolutions were passed in 2009, and   and – but failed to secure ratification. This year could be different.

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The GOP/ Evangelical Quiet Revolution on Gay Rights

The Washington Post has a useful analysis of what it calls The GOP’s quiet evolution on gay rights. This has obvious and fundamental importance for gay politics and (marriage equality in particular) in the US. It has wider significance because it is also mirrored in a parallel quiet revolution towards queer inclusion in the Christian churches – a movement that is now becoming visible in some traditionally conservative denominations, as well as the more liberal Mainline Protestants.

In the Evangelical churches, this has sometimes been seen in the emergence of some prominent straight allies speaking up for inclusion on theological grounds, or a handful of openly gay pastors and welcoming churches  – but these remain rare (for now). On the other, there are also some who do not specifically advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian Christians, but are actively promoting a greater degree of dialogue and understanding, a toning down of the rhetoric and virulent homophobia. (This is a trend that I believe to be occurring also in the Catholic and Mormon Churches). Both of these trends are welcome. One of the second group is Philip Yancey, said to be one of the world’s most successful evangelical authors:

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The Presbyterian Path to Inclusion.

At More Light Presbyterians, there is some useful material on the PCUSA’s path to full inclusion for LGBT Presbyterians, which are worth thinking about and celebrating by all, regardless of our particular faith traditions. The time lines and details may differ, but the process is being repeated across all denominations  – change is coming (and yes, that includes the Catholics, Mormons and Evangelicals).

Consider:

It was way back in 1974  that Rev. David Sindt came out as the first openly gay Presbyterian minister in the PCUSA. Since then, there have been many, many more, even in the face of strong opposition.

The opposition has waned in recent years, to the extent that there have been repeated votes at General Assembly to amend the existing ordination regulations – most recently by last year’s Ordination Amendment 10-A. Local presbyteries are now in the process of conducting votes on ratifying  GA decisions.

Encouraging ratification are a steadily increasing number of local presbyteries which are declaring themselves “More Light” churches, openly declaring active support for full LGBT inclusion. First United Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Illinois is just the latest of many, reported by MLP.

Influential Presbyterians are declaring that they have seen the error in past policies, based on a study of Scripture. Rev. Dr. Arlo D. Duba, former director of admissions & Director of Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary, describes his own conversion in a paid advertisement promoting Ordination Amendment 10-A in the current issue of the Presbyterian Outlook..

My mind was changed

I am a life-long conservative Presbyterian.
I never got very excited about the issue of gay and lesbian participation in ministry,
simply assuming that things had been set for two thousand years.
I was so smug that I never explored God’s Word on the matter any further.
Then a study of early baptismal practices led me to Acts 8 and 10. I became aware of a
progression of calls for a broader inclusion in the church beginning in Luke’s gospel.
Luke names Levi among the favored four. He stresses Samaritans, and talks about a
“Good” Samaritan. He stresses the supernatural in Philip and the baptism of the
eunuch. He lays great stress on Cornelius and the Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles.
All of these call for the inclusion of persons formerly excluded.

(More Light Presbyterians has an interview with Dr Duba, where you can read more).

The most interesting part, to a numbers junkie like me, is a spreadsheet MLP have posted, where they are posting the voting results for those presbyteries which have already taken their decisions on ratification. It’s early days yet, but my reading is that in general, there has been a clear shift in favour. (On average across all votes, the percentage in favour of ratification has gone up by 5% on the previous attempt). Is this enough to tilt the balance? Time will tell, but full approval by the  PCUSA of LBGT clergy will surely come.

More denominations will follow.