Coming Soon: John McNeill & “Taking a Chance on God”, On Film, On-Line.

For some time, I have been reading reports of a documentary film on the life and ministry of the pioneer gay theologian, John McNeill, in production by Brendan Fay, one of the producers of “Saint of 9/11”, on the life and death at the World Trade Towers of Father Mychal Judge, the gay Franciscan chaplain to the NYC fire department,By way of a comment he has placed here today, I can now pass on the good news that a trailer for the film, which takes it title from one of John McNeill’s books, will shortly be available on-line:

Just wanted to inform all that in a few days a trailer to the documentary on my life and ministry will go on-line, at  “Taking a Chance on God”. (http://www.TakingaChanceonGod.com.) The complete documentary will be premiered in December.

McNeill's Book of the Same Title

 

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“Holy Mother” Church: Time for Frail Care?

Writing about John McNeill earlier this week left me reflecting on his ideas of mature faith as reflecting a mature relationship with our parents. McNeill’s thesis, simply put, is that when we are young children, we assume that our parents are always right. If they reprimand or punish us, we assume, even if the evidence points to the contrary, that they are right and that we must be wrong – because our “perfect” parents have said so. As we mature, we are able to recognise the fallibility of our parents, even as we continue to love them. We recognize that they too are human, and that they too can and do make mistakes, and can be wrong. In the same way, we in the church begin by accepting without question the idea that the “church”, as represented by the Pope and bishops are necessarily right in their teaching, and that if we differ, it must be we who are wrong. By analogy with a mature relationship with our parents, McNeill argues that in a mature relationship with the Church, we should similarly recognise the possibility of fallibility.

My thoughts on this were triggered too, by a recent homily I heard which expounded on the image of “Holy Mother” the Church, an image that I find increasingly irritating, for its implied portrayal of us as children. Then, putting this together with McNeill’s conception of the parental image, I took the idea further. After reaching an adult relationship with our parents, we and they continue to grow and age. Sadly, this inevitably leads to a point where our parents’ health begins to fade, and if death does not first overtake them, they may may become frail, or suffer from some form of dementia, losing their grip on simple understanding or their own past and the world around them.

Is this what is happening to the institutional Church? Is “Holy Mother” Church in need of frail care?

It certainly seems that Alzheimer’s has set in. Gone is any connection to Christ’s ministry as one of unbounding love, compassion and inclusion. Gone is any memory of the important place of women in the early church, whether as the early apostle and disciples Junia, Priscilla and others, or as powerful medieval abbesses; gone is any acknowledgement of the many prominent saints, clergy, bishops and popes with openly homosexual relationships, which did not prevent their ordination or elevation to high office; gone is the memory of liturgical rites for blessing same sex couples in Church, or the burial of some such couples in shared graves in honoured church tombs, exactly as married couples.

Gone, in other words, is any connection to any history which does not conform to the distorted understanding of the modern institutional theologians.

Perhaps it is time for us, as adult and mature lay Catholics, to recognize the weakness of our frail and ageing mother, the Church, and nurse here through her slow demise.

Related articles

John McNeill’s Theology of Sex as Play

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In my post yesterday about Elizabeth Stuart’s commentary on the gay and lesbian theology pioneers, I included some brief references to the early books of John McNeill. In his latest book, “Sex as God Intended“, McNeill substantially expanded his ideas about the theology of sex as play. Read the rest of this entry »

John McNeill’s Theology of Sex as Play

In my post yesterday about Elizabeth Stuart’s commentary on the gay and lesbian theology pioneers, I included some brief references to the early books of John McNeill. In his latest book, “Sex as God Intended“, McNeill substantially expanded his ideas about the theology of sex as play. At his blog, “JOHN MCNEILL SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION”, he has a pair of posts up sharing these ideas for an on-line readership.

In part one, he reminds of quotations by two great early theologians. St Ireneaus taught ” Gloria Dei, homo vivens. (The glory of God are humans fully alive). That includes being sexually fully alive.  St Augustine (who is so often interpreted incorrectly as a key originator of homophobia in Christian theology) wrote “Ama! Et fac quod vis! (Love and then do whatever you want!)”, to which McNeill adds “Exactly! Because what ever a lover wants will be in complete harmony with the spirit of God!”.

The key Scripture text of course for sex as play is the Song of Songs, but what I found most intriguing in this discussion was a consideration of the nature of play. The key lies in play as a total and complete focus on the moment:

But what makes sex play? The human experience of play, like love, is indefinable. We know what play is when we experience it, but we cant define it. Sociologists observe that a disturbed child ceases to play when it experiences the absence of love. Tht child can be freed to begin to play again only when it feels the security of uncondiional love. Simlarly, we adults are free to play only if we feel loved. Ultimately it is the human experience of God’s unconditional love that frees us to totally indulge the spirit of play all our lives. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Heterosexual Acts, Loving Homoerotic Relationships.

One of the nastier tricks of Vatican rhetoric, especially as displayed in “Homosexualitatis Problema”, is the uneven manner in which (approved) heterosexual relationships are described in terms of “conjugal love”, while (condemned) homosexual relationships are simply not mentioned, and the word “homosexual” is used only in terms of homosexual persons, “acts” (assumed to be genital), and “condition”.

The unfairness and lack of validity of this could be  quickly and easily demonstrated simply by reversing the procedure. How easy it it would be to lament the condition of the heterosexual male, intent only on self-indulgent sensual gratification, as demonstrated in the ubiquity of prostitution and pornography. Or, we could consider the one-sided nature of the institution of traditional marriage, marked by patriarchal domination, an expectation that male sexual needs should always be met, a disregard for the need (or sometimes even the possibility) of female sexual pleasure, and sometimes even domestic violence and marital rape.

Domestic Violence: Heterosexual Acts?

It would be easy, but I’m not going to go there. I am quite willing to accept that there must be many sound heterosexual relationships really are founded on genuine loving partnerships, based on equality of the partners. Logically, I am sure it is quite as possible for heterosexual marriages to be as emotionally healthy for both partners as homoerotic relationships.

Instead, I want to look at the other side of the comparison, at the quality of the love found in so many male couples, love which the Vatican resolutely fails to acknowledge. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Modern Heroes 2: John McNeill*

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

John McNeill’s Message of Hope for Queer Catholics.

In an aside in my post “Some Heartss Close to Cracking: What Gay Catholics HAVE Done”  I noted that the question of what gay priests have done is rather different and trickier one.  For the rest of us, many people have used expressions like “exile” to describe their position. For priests, this exile can be extreme, very directly threatening their livelihoods and even the emotional support structures of friends and colleagues.  Still, exile is threatening but not deadening.  Many of those who speak of exile couple it with words like “grace” and “hope”.  So it is too, with many of the priests who have embraced their own exile. The intriguing thing to me, is the possibility (no more than a glimmer, at present) that the exiles from the institutional church are forming a new community, one which could well grow and flourish while the formal structures shrink from lack of interest, undermined by scandals and internal resistance to the medieval culture. If so, the possibilities for restructuring are fascinating.

Read the rest of this entry »

Come Out, Stand Proud. (The Catechism Commands It!)

Yes, really – in a manner of speaking. Browsing through the Catechism section on sexuality, which you will find under the sixth commandment, I was struck by two passages in particular:

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)

and

“Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)

Of course, that it is not at all what the Vatican means – the rest of the passage assumes that this can only be done by violating your identity in a heterosexual relationship, which we know from the experts in social science, from the testimony of others, and and from personal experience, is a violation of our identites, not an acceptance.  But then, the Vatican has never been noted for freedom from contradiction.

There are more compelling reasons though, than the Vatican’s mixed messages for coming out, and indeed for coming out in church. For “coming Out Day”, I want to look instead at some of these.

Rereeading Elisabeth Stuart’s “Gay & Lesbian Theologies“, I was struck by the realisation that she puts the start of the formal development of gay & lesbian theology to the early 1970’s.  the first notable text she discusses is Loving Women/Loving Men (eds Sally Gearhard and William Johnson), published as long ago as 1974 -fully 35 years ago this year, and “Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation”, edited by Malcolm Marcourt.

An essential aspect of this early thinking takes its cue from Paul Tillich, and his notion of “the courage to be”. In these terms, it is important to recognise our own experience.

Johnson accuses the church of being over concerned with “intellectual theology”, and  under concerned with the grounding of theology in experience.  It is therefore vital that gay people come out, articulate their experience and reflect theologically upon it, for “we who are gay know the validity of our experience, particularly the experience of our love. That love calls us out of ourselves and enables us to respond to the other. Through our experience we experience the presence of God………..

For Johnson, gay liberation is vital for the liberation of the Church to enable it to better incarnate the Gospel. The essay ends with a call to all gay men in the Church to come out, to  ensure that liberation takes place.” (Emphasis added.)

Previously, I have looked at Richard Cleaver‘s view that coming out is “Wrestling with the Divine” (Know My Name), and Daniel Helminiak‘s that is a “Spiritual Experience” (Sex and the Sacred)John McNeill, former Jesuit theologian and psychotherapist, makes similar points in “Sex as God Intended”.  Today, I want to look at the ideas of  Chris Glaser, who in a full length book presents his view of “Coming Out as Sacrament“. Glaser is one of those treasured writers on gay religion of whom it can said, as with James Alison, Daniel Helminiak and JohnMcNeill, that everything they write is worth reading, and accessible even to non specialists. Glaser writes from a backgroound in the Baptist and Presbyterian faiths, but as a Catholic I find this helpful, in broadening my perspective, rather than getting ini the way of his argument. The starting point for this book was some reflection on the importance of the idea of sacrament to lGBT people, who are so often denied access to the sacraments by mainstream churches.  Talking to a close friend (sympathetic, but not LGBT), this is how his thinking went:

“Having visited our Wednesday night Bible study, she told me that what impressed her most deeply, what she thougth was our sacrament as gay people, was our “ability to be vulnerable with one another” – in other words, to xperience true communion by offering our true selves.  As Christ offers himself in vulnerability,   so we offer ourselves, despite the risks. Being open and vulnerable may be preceivesd as weakness, but in reality it demonstrates our strength.  By sharing our  “brokenness”  – how we are sacrificially cut off from the rest of Christ’s Body – we offer a renewed opportunity of Communion, among ourselves and within the Church as the Body of Christ.”

Later, he added a conclusion that had not occurred to him earlier-

” that coming out is our unique sacrament, a rite of vulnerability that reveals the sacred in our lives – our worth, our love, our love-making, our context of meaning, and our God. “

Later in the opening chapter, he carefully notes the ways in which coming out has deep affinity with not just one, but each, of the traditional seven sacraments of the broader Christian community.  Above all, however, he says there is one where there is an extra special affinity: the sacrament of communion is intrinsic to coming out – it is hardly possible to come out entirely in private.

Coming out in public is important for one’s own mental health, and also for one’s spiritual being.  Doing so in the Church cam help the Church to recognise and proclaim the true Gospel message.  If you possibly can, do it:  quite literally,  for the love of God.

Further Reading:

Barefoot Theologians, Twitching Experience
Homoerotic Spirituality
The Road From Emmaus:  Gay and Lesbians Prophetic Role in the Church
Coming Out As Spiritual Experience
Coming out As Wrestling With the Divine