Equality and inclusion advancing, worldwide.

In the US, the recent mid-term elections have brought some setbacks and disappointments, with extensive gains for Republicans and victories for some high profile social conservatives, and corresponding losses by some notable congressional allies. At the same time, the flipping of some state assemblies has dimmed the prospects for marriage equality in those states, and may have increased the prospects of new constitutional bans in others. Set against this, several observers have noted that there were also some counter-balancing gains. Prospects for full marriage have distinctly improved in Rhode Island and possibly Maryland, and for civil unions in Hawaii and possibly in Illinois. The election of a record number of openly LGBT people to state and local offices will also have an important beneficial effect on the legal environment at local level.

Elsewhere in the world, queer progress often goes relatively unnoticed in the blogosphere. This is unfortunate, as there is a great deal of progress in many countries, on many fronts: in parliaments, in the courts, in the arts and culture, and in society. To counter the American gloom, here is a run-down of some current news stories that have caught my eye:

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

Image via Wikipedia

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The End Is Not In Sight – But the Journey Has Begun.

In a piece from Wasilla, Alaska at the Wat-su Valley Frontiersman, the evangelical pastor Howard Bess laments that in the struggle for gay inclusion in church, the end is not in sight:

“is the end in sight of all discrimination and rejection of people because of their sexual orientation?” I feel strongly about the subject. I ask the question because it has played a major role in my professional life as a minister. There are some hopeful signs, but I confess I do not see the end in sight.

Now,  reading quickly as we tend to do, you may have missed the significance of this statement. I repeat it, with some added emphasis and notes.

In a piece from Wasilla, Alaska (that’s right, Wasilla, home of you know who), at the Wat-su Valley Frontiersman, the Baptist pastor Howard Bess (not a trendy Episcopalian, and also not himself gay) laments that in the struggle for gay inclusion in church, the end is not in sight.

The end? He’s right, of course, but many people would be surprised that the journey has even begun, so convinced are they that homoerotic sexuality is inherently and “obviously” sinful. Of course the end is not in sight – but I prefer instead to note how rapidly we are making progress. The simple fact that somebody like Howard Bess could be writing on this theme from Alaska, and that others should be discussing the church and gay marriage in Utah, is a striking example of this in itself. The end is not in sight, but the journey has at least begun.

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DADT – in Church

Two recent events have crystallized in my own mind a fundamental problem with the Church’s approach to ministering to gay and lesbian Catholics – and I am thinking here of ministry specifically, not to doctrine. These two events were the recent publicity about Rainbow Sash, and also the return to the news of the saga of the gay Canadian altar server.

Church doctrine is clear. Homosexual people are welcome, homosexual acts are not. I want to consider today only the question of the people, and the church’s ministry to them. For some gay Catholics, the wearers of the Rainbow Sash are taking a courageous stand in prophetic witness, to others they are  a sacrilegious and irresponsible bunch who are hurting our cause by turning the sacred Eucharist into a political protest. This is highly charged and emotive territory. To step outside of the emotion, I want to avoid all use of the charged words like protest and demonstration and even to turn away, briefly from the wearing of the sash. Instead, I want to consider first, NOT wearing it, and its implications.

To understand why not wearing a sash has implications of its own, I want to go back to an academic article I discussed once before, and one element of that specifically, which has left me distinctly uncomfortable ever since I first read it. In this article, Lisa considers the difficulties around the question of inclusion in church. One simple answer of course is simply to ensure acceptance by not disclosing anything – by remaining fully closeted in church, while being fully out elsewhere. This amounts  to “passing” for straight- but is it ethical? Personally, I find offensive any suggestion that I am welcome only as long as I hide my sexuality. However, if one takes the view that it is important to be honest about one’s life in church, as elsewhere, how far can or should one go? Then, if outright hostility is encountered, how should one respond?

Now, before getting back to the Rainbow Sash, I want to consider again that Canadian altar server. After a small band of parishioners protested to the parish priest that he was supposedly contravening church law because he was openly living with a man, he was suspended from altar service. After the man took the matter to a legal tribunal, the case was eventually resolved with the bishop preaching a sermon of “tolerance ” – but he has not been returned to altar service duty.  Note though, that he insists that he and his partner have a celibate relationship.

There is absolutely no actual evidence that he is in any way contravening Vatican rules, beyond a simple assumption that two gay men living together cannot possibly be celibate. It would seem that to satisfy Church authorities that he is living within Church sexual norms, a gay man must not only be celibate, he must demonstrate it by living alone. What other groups of Catholics are expected not only to live in accordance with church teaching, say on contraception, or on masturbation, but also to demonstrate it? For them, it appears to be innocent, unless proved guilty. For us, it is guilty unless we can demonstrate (or feign) innocence.

Now, I return to the Rainbow Sash,but consider not the wearers, but the celebrants. If the celebrant refuses to administer the sacrament, precisely what is he objecting to?  We assume it is not simply to the wearer being gay: Vatican rules are clear that homosexual persons are to be accepted, only the acts are wrong. Is the celebrant making an assumption, without any evidence that the wearer is sexually active? That too, should surely be wrong in terms of standard rules. Perhaps the objection, shared by many gay Catholics, is that the Sash is an obvious  political statement, and so is defiling a sacrament. That is a reasonable objection – which I would find more acceptable if the same standard were applied to the many bishops who make their own political statements in publicly withholding the sacrament from pro-life politicians. The entire political element of the problem could be easily defused, as the Dutch bishop did a few months ago, be publicly stating in advance church teaching on sexual ethics (including heterosexual activity), reminding people that to be admitted to the sacrament, people need to be in a “state of grace”, and to leave the decision on that state to personal conscience, not public judgement.

I fear that the real problem is much simpler. The lesson from the Canadian altar server, as it is from Catholic responses to the Rainbow Sash, is that it is not enough, for gay Catholics, just to refrain from sexual acts. They must also hide any evidence of their sexuality. As long as you don’t disclose, the bishops appear to be saying, and we will look the other way.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The Shower of Stoles Project.

As battles rage in many denominations over the ordination of gay, lesbian or trans pastors, or (the Catholic Church) even over their admission to seminaries, we too easily forget that gay men and women have been active in ministry from the very beginnings of Christianity. In recent centuries, public hostility has meant that the millions of such GLBT pastors have found it politic to remain discreet and closeted, but over the last half century, that has changed: more and more people are declaring on the side of honesty.

In some denominations and local congregations (thankfully, an expanding number), people have found that they are able to declare and continue to serve. In others, simple honesty has led to exclusion, to great personal trauma and suffering. Read the rest of this entry »

Bishop James Jones: Another Evangelical Ally?

When the Anglican Church appeared set to ordain an openly gay bishop back in 2003, one of those vocally and aggressively opposed was Bishop James Jones, of Liverpool. However, he later apologised for this aggression, and undertook to listen more to other views on sexuality. As I have noted before, when people can be persuaded to listen with an open mind, views begin to change. Earlier this week I wrote about the conversion journey of the US Presbyterian theologian Dr Mark Achtemeier, who describes himself as both conservative and evangelical (“And Grace Will Lead Me Home“). In his case, the conversion was complete, and now argues actively in favour of full inclusion in church, including same sex marriage and ordination.

Bishop James Jones

Bishop James, who is associated with the evangelical wing of the UK Anglican Church, does not seem to have gone quite that far (not yet), but he does now argue for recognition that differing views and interpretations of Scripture are possible. He recently voted in favour of a decision to grant pensions to civil partners of gay clergy. With the formal confirmation of the USA’s first openly lesbian bishop expected within weeks, he is encouraging his fellow evangelicals not to overreact to this. He has also said that he is “in sympathy” with the House of Lords amendment this week which will allow religious premises to be used for Civil Partnerships.

The evidence is clear. Difficult as it is, we need to find ways to speak to those who are so opposed to us. Many will not listen, and will remain rigidly wedded to their preconceptions. But where we can engage a few, we must. In listening, they will modify their own views. Thereafter, they will help to modify the views of others. The Holy Spirit is clearly working in this matter to “renew the face of he earth”. She deserves our help.

Some extracts from “Ekklesia”:

The Bishop has not explicitly abandoned his longstanding view that same-gender sexual relationships are unethical. However, he appeared concerned not to condemn same-sex couples when, in his words, “in a world of such little love, two people sought to express a love that no other relationship could offer them”.

Jones’ stance on religious same-sex partnerships is markedly different from certain other conservative Anglican bishops.

The amendment recently approved by the House of Lords will give churches the freedom to host same-sex partnership ceremonies if they choose, but will not require them to do so. However, Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester, has been widely criticised for suggesting that the law will allow clergy to be sued for refusing to carry them out, a claim inaccurately reported as fact in parts of the media.

In contrast, James Jones’ comments are in tune with those evangelicals who have shifted their position on homosexuality in recent years. There are now several evangelical organisations which accept the validity of same-sex relationships.

In a particularly controversial section of his remarks, Jones challenges the notion that sexuality is a matter of choice, saying instead that it is a “given”.

The Bishop compared the Church’s divisions over sexuality with its ability to accommodate a variety of attitudes to war. “On a number of major moral issues, the Church allows a large space for a variety of nuances, interpretations, applications and disagreements,” he said.

“The day is coming when Christians who equally profoundly disagree about the consonancy of same-gender love within the discipleship of Christ will in spite of their disagreement drink openly from the same cup of salvation,” he added.

Colin Coward of the pro-inclusion group Changing Attitude gave a warm welcome to Jones’ comments.

“This is both a strong affirmation of gay relationships and a confirmation of Anglican tradition,” said Coward.He added that Anglican tradition meant that “differences in attitude to homosexuality are not church-dividing and that Christians can live together in one church community respecting each other’s convictions”.

(Full report here)

More Queer Progress in Church

The progress to acceptance in the ECLA and Episcopalian churches is well-known: both were all over the news back in the summer. There is progress across the board though, low-key and incremental rather than large-scale and dramatic – but progress just the same. This is evident even in some evangelical churches, which are usually seen as the harshest foes. We must not allow the fundies’ argument that “Christians” necessarily oppose homoerotic relationships to take hold: it’s just not true. Take a look at these recent news reports:

Evangelical church opens doors fully to gays

DENVER — The auditorium lights turned low, the service begins with the familiar rhythms of church: children singing, hugs and handshakes of greeting, a plea for donations to fix the boiler.

Then the 55-year-old pastor with spiked gray hair and blue jeans launches into his weekly welcome, a poem-like litany that includes the line “queer or straight here, there’s no hate here.”

The Rev. Mark Tidd initially used the word “gay.” But he changed it to “queer” because it’s the preferred term of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people invited to participate fully at Highlands Church.

Tidd is an outlaw pastor of sorts. His community, less than a year old, is an evangelical Christian church guided both by the Apostle’s Creed and the belief that gay people can embrace their sexual orientation as God-given and seek fulfillment in committed same-sex relationships.

(More from Washington Post)

In Michigan, there is an organiZed program by faith-based LGBT Christians to promote inclusion in churches: Read the rest of this entry »

Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate, on Sexual Justice.*

During the difficult years leading to the final collapse and dismantling of apartheid, Bishop Desmond Tutu, then the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and leader of the Anglican Church in South Africa, was an inspirational figure.  He was clear and forthright in his unequivocal condemnation of the evils of the apartheid regime, but also clear in his condemnation of cruelties inflicted in the name of the resistance. ON more than one occasion, he put his own life at risk to protect vulnerable people who had been set upon by mobs accusing them of collaboration with the authorities.  Without his intervention, some of these people would surely have been murdered I particularly gruesome fashion – by being burned alive in the infamous (“necklace” method).

After the arrival of democracy, he gained still further in stature by his wise and compassionate chairing of the “Truth & Reconciliation Commission”, which did so much to smooth the path towards national healing. (That healing has not yet been achieved, but is assuredly closer than it would have been without the commission’s work).  Since then, he has not been afraid to criticise the new, black politicians who have come to office when they in turn abuse their new power in pursuit of personal or group advancement.

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Good News for LGBT Catholics

The first time (as a young student) that I came across the title “Good News for Modern Man”, I did not realise it was an unconventional name for a new Bible translation. Later I made the connection, but could not see the relevance. “For Modern Man” I could understand, but in what sense “Good News”? After drifting away from the Church as a young adult, and later facing my sexuality, the description of the Bible as “good” news seemed even less appropriate. After all, ‘everybody’ knew how it was riddled with condemnations of any touch of sexual impropriety, most especially of the shameful sin of ‘sodomy’. There were a sprinkling of liberal churchmen, I knew, who took a more enlightened and tolerant view, but the Catholic Church in which I had grown up was implacable and instransigent. Like birth control, homosexuals were just not acceptable. So, like so many sexual minorities, I stayed outside the Church where I knew I was not welcome.

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A Kairos moment for LGBT Catholics?

Former Jesuit, theologian, psychotherapist and author John McNeill (The Church and the HomosexualFreedom, Glorious FreedomBoth Feet Firmly Planted in MidairTaking a Chance on God and Sex as God Intended) has written an angry open letter to the U.S. bishops. He begins by slamming the bishops for ignoring the call to dialogue made by Dignity 30 years ago, and continues by lamenting “the enormous destruction recent Vatican documents have caused in the psychic life of young Catholic gays, and of the violence they will provoke against all gay people.”Gay Catholics, he says, have had “Enough!” With repeated cries of “Enough! Enough of …….” opening each section, his declaration rises in power and anger to its climax.

Holy Spirit in action?. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome. Come in, and come out.

Welcome to your world

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As gay Catholics, we have often found ourselves double outsiders. As a sexual minority in a world where heterosexuality is routinely taken for granted, and even suffered ridicule, discrmination, violence or worse, we have often felt excluded, left out – or even invisible.  Typically, we have felt even more rejected in the churches than in the secular world, with widespread condemnation of the ‘sin’ of homosexuality.  This hostility from the religious establishhment has led to a counter-reaction from many in the LGBT community, who see religion as the architect and driving force behind our ‘oppression’, and consequently refuse to have any truck with organised religion.  The result for gay Catholics is too often, exclusion by both camps.  I have often heard the observation from my gay Catholic friends, that it can be as difficult to be out as Catholic in the gay community, as it is to be out as gay in the world at large. Read the rest of this entry »