Queer in Faith: Some Links

I can say clearly that with Hans Kung I am no longer a Roman Catholic — I am a universal Christian catholic in union with the Holy Spirit. I belong to that union of believers who practice the way of Jesus or Nazareth.

Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. (15/09/09)

Tom-McMahon at 24 Tom McMahon entered a minor seminary aged just 13. At the time this picture was taken:

“I am 24 years old when this picture was taken, ripe for ordination after 12 years of monastic life in St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA. I am as innocent sexually as the day I virginally entered seminary at age 13, pre-puberty. I excelled at sports burning up my newly-discovered testosterone and girls were out of bounds; 60 years later I meet old friends at clerical funerals and some say “you were the catcher on the baseball team when I was in seminary”. Would that I be remembered for more than that six decades later. The boy who entered seminary at 13 was still alive in me when I was ordained at age 25. An innocent boy, even if he wears a Roman collar …..”

Many years later, feeling dehumanised (his word) by the experience of compulsory celibacy, he followed so many other priests out of the presbytery and into marriage. Now over 80, he writes a moving series of reflections on the history of priesthood and his experience of it. Informed by his training in psychology, he uses the series title “The Psychology of Priesthood.” The quotation introducing this post comes at the end of part 11, the one beneath the picture comes from the latest post, part 16.) Unlike Tom, I have never been a priest, although the Christian Brothers once tried to persuade me to enter the minor seminary at a ridiculously young age. (I am eternally grateful that my father would not hear of it). Like Tom, I am a cradle Catholic, and continue to call myself catholic, worshipping in two Catholic parishes, and actively involved in the Soho Masses. I recognise and value the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, but do not accept that teaching authority equates with legislative authority. While I dissent on some specific matters, this is a right protected by standard teaching. I insist on my inclusion by virtue of baptism and participation in the Catholic communion, but also because “catholic” at its most basic level simply means “universal”. While I will not walk away to join another denomination, I feel less and less committed to the “Roman” as opposed to the “catholic” church. As I have been writing here over the months, I have frequently referred to and recommended other lesbian and gay Catholic bloggers. However, I have become increasingly convinced that if we as a group are to make headway in our search for justice, we need to recognise that there are others with whom we should be making alliances: women in the Catholic Church, the global church in their struggles, and other queer Christians. In this spirit, I have been restructuring my web links in the side bar (which were long overdue for a tidy up), removing the distinction between Catholic and other Christian that I misguidedly imposed in the beginning. I have also added some links from other traditions, and hope to add still more. For now, I would like to introduce you (briefly) to some sites that I have found particularly interesting, for one reason or another. (All of these are by or about lesbian, gay or transgender people, but not all have this as their main focus). Read the rest of this entry »

Homoerotic Spirituality

Jesus Christ, in His recorded words, said nothing at all about sex.  Indeed, He spoke against adultery – which in Jewish eyes was a sin against a man’s ‘property’ (as women were viewed), not against sex.  He spoke against lust – at least, against lusting after another man’s wife; and He spoke against divorce.  But as far as we know, He never spoke a word against sex itself:  not inside marriage, not before marriage, not between unmarried partners, not between men, not between women. Nothing.  Zilch.

How is it then, that the Christian Church, and  Catholicism, in particular, have become so firmly linked in the public mind with the idea of sex as sin? For Catholics, all sex outside marriage is officially taboo.  Even inside marriage, sex is viewed with suspicion unless it is open to the possibility of procreation.  It is only recently that grudging recognition was given to the unitive value of sex – even inside marriage.  Yet it is clear to all that few Catholics pay any more than lip service to the official catechism on sin.  Whether as jerking – off schoolboys (or girls, or adults), as horny teenagers, engaged couples, cheating spouses, as faithful loving couples choosing to limit their families, as lonely divorcees, as gay men and lesbians, or as priests and other religious ignoring their vows of celibacy, the overwhelming majority of us are, in one form or another sexual transgressors in the eyes of the Church.

Is it any wonder that in the public mind, the equation “sex=sin” goes hand in hand with another:   “Catholicism = Guilt”?

The Confessional


But I do not want to dig deeper into the unpleasantness today.  (There is time for that later.  I will return to it soon, as part of my continuing series on clerical abuse.)

Other faiths do not make the same connection between sex and sin.  Judaism, for all that it has extensive purity laws and complex moral and legal codes, unequivocally supports and praises the unitive value of  sex, at least within marriage.  Part of the obligation of the spouses is said to include offering each other sexual satisfaction.   Muslims take a similar view:  part of the supposed motivation for suicide bombers in our day is the prospect of a martyr’s reward in heaven:  1000 virgins to satisfy their male needs.   Hindus celebrate sex as part of spiritual practice, with the promotion of tantric sex, the Kama Sutra, and famed erotic images on temple walls.  Many pagan religions employed temple prostitutes (of either gender) to heighten the spiritual experience of worshippers.

Hindu Temple art

It is useful, then to recognise the increasing signs that more and more people are recognising that sexual expression is not only not necessarily sinful, but can be a positive expression of the sacred, and has a close association with spirituality. With great synchronicity, this message was brought home to me from four different sources over the past week.

At the Wild Reed, Michael Bayley has a great piece on this theme.

Shocked? Well, get over it.

Anyway, it’s really not such an outlandish idea – even for Catholics (actually, especially for Catholics!). I mean, if you’re going to dismiss what I’m suggesting, then you’d better be willing to also dismiss any number of saints and their highly erotic experiences of the sacred.

Erotic experiences of God?! (Okay, if you’re still shocked maybe this blog isn’t for you.) But seriously, I appreciate the perspective of Jean Houston, who points out that: “Eros has a mission with the soul. Without Eros, the soul cannot grow; the psyche remains infantile. Eros gives psyche its yearning, its impetus, its desire for the fullness of life.”

Much of the great tradition of mystical writing in the Catholic Church is expressed in clearly sensuous, even erotic language (see, for instance, St Theresa of Avila). Michael  quotes in particular St John of the Cross, whose wonderful mystical poetry is also frankly and explicitly homoerotic:


Nude couple profile

“Of course as a gay man, (Michael writes) the thing that appeals to me most about John’s poem is that it depicts his lover as another man:

(from ) On a Dark Night



“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

Go ahead, cross to The Wild Reed and read the full poem, with Michael’s commentary.


Gay Spirituality

Gay Spirituality

At Nihil Obstat, Censor Librorum has posted without comment two versions of the ad campaign for “Catholics Support Condoms”.  Leaving aside (for now) the issue of the condoms, what caught my attention was the first two lines in the copy:

“We believe in God.
We believe that sex is sacred.”

Indeed.  So it is, so it is.


Essential Gay Mystics

While doing some bibliographical research yesterday for my expanding book pages, I was struck by the number of worthwhile books I came across on the topic, from Catholic perspectives and other traditions, from gay, lesbian, transgfendered and other perspectives .  Thes will soon be added to the Book Club (a small selection are highlighted alongside this post).

Last Sunday afternoon, I was privileged to join a dozen other people from our Soho Masses group to hear Michael B. Kelly, writer ofSeduced by Grace“, discussing his paper Unlikely Prophets of an Erotic God.” Michael has forged a career as a spiritual director and academic specialising in the erotic, and specifically gay men’s erotic experience, as a valuable pathway to the spiritual. He is currently in the United states for an extended visit.  If any of my US readers have a chance to meet or hear him – grab the opportunity.)


Seduced by Grace

Seduced by Grace: Michael B Kelly

He too pointed to the rich vein of the erotic in traditional mystical writing, referring also to St Theresa and St John of the Cross in particular , using as illustration the same poem as that posted on the Wild Reed.   He also discussed the obvious fact that far too much of the Church’s writing and teaching on sex has been done by “celibate men in frocks”, who self-evidently either had no practical experience, or were unable to disclose any that they had. To counter this, it is important that we as laity need to speak much more frankly about sex. There was much more, but I will not go into the rest in this post:  he deserves a full analysis later, which I am working on. I do, though, want to point out his central point: while it is clear to many that erotic experience (including gay men’s experience) is valuable in spirituality, this has received limited recognition or scholarly attention.  He is currently engaged in doctoral research, using personal stories as raw material.  He urges us all to speak out openly and frankly of our own experiences, to bring the truth to wider attention.  This is a sentiment I heartily endorse.  I have promised to send to Michael my own stories, and urge my readers to do the same.  (If you want to take me up on this offer, just post a brief comment, and I will send you an email address, if you do not have an alternate access)


In the same spirit of openness, I have posted on my personal page on this site, a deeply personal story of my own homoerotic retreat experience. (Health warning:  if you are squeamish or sceptical of claims about ‘mystical’ experiences, by all means stay away.  I would once have reacted in the same way.  But if you are more open – minded, take a look and make up your own mind.  I simply tell it as it happened.)  Read the story at  “6 days that changed my life” .

More  books on lesbian & gay spirituality:

Boisvert, Donald L: Out on Holy Ground: Meditations on Gay Men’s Spirituality

Glaser, Chris: Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends

Glaser, Chris: Coming out As Sacrament

Harvey, Andrew:  Essential Gay Mystics

Helminiak, Daniel: Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

Books Update

As my books coverage has been expanding, I have been revising the organisation of these pages. Rather than trying to organise simply in terms of my personal preferences, I am now attempting to provide more comprehensive listings, with indications from reviews or other sources as a guide to usefulness for the titles I am not personally familiar with. For ease of access and handling, I have thus subdivided the complete list into thematic subdivisions. I am also attempting to build up dedicated pages and sections for the authors and books that I have found the most useful of all. Read the rest of this entry »

The Perversion of Heterosexuality.

Theologian Sally Gearhart has written:

“Exclusive heterosexuality has to be understood as a perversion of [humanity’s] natural state.  We very quickly rob infants of their health and wholesomeness.  We require them from birth to fall into one of two widely differing and oppositely valued caegories:  girls and boys.  We require them to obliterate half their loving nature so as to become lovers only of members of the opposite sex.  It is as if at birth without our knoweldge or consent we are injected with a heavy addictive drug that will assure our limitation to  one sex role and to exclusively heterosexual realtions.   We’re hooked early.  We’re heterosexual junkies.  When we become adults, we push that drug ourselves, not just on the adults and children but on every newborn infant.  To kick the habit is near impossible.”

And later Read the rest of this entry »

Gospel Reflections

Numerous writers have excellent Gospel reflections – fewer write specifically from an LGBT perspective.

I would recommend that you develop your own personal ones – but this is not so easy if you are new to it.  To get you going, I will be putting together a list of syggestions prepared by others.

On-line, Jeremiah at Gay Gospels has  started a new blog with a strong emphasis on Gospel reflections from a gay perspective. Follow the links to sample his writing: Read the rest of this entry »

Sharing our Stories

The descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of t...

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In Redemptive Intimacy, Dick Westley argues persuasively that revelation is constantly being unfolded for us by the Holy Spirit, and that one way that the church can interpret this continuing revelation for our times is by listening carefully to our personal experiences, as revealed by honest and frank sharing in trusting small faith communities.  When I first encountered this idea, it hit me like a bombshell, but it is one I have come to hold dear (and I have since discovered is a completely orthodox notion).

It was very much in that spirit that I launched this site 6 months ago, so I was delighted earlier today to find a comment posted by Jeremiah, with some kind words, but also noting:

“…as Jim Alison teaches, we are NOT manifestations of a ‘disorder’; and therefore, our insights, our experience, our unique and gay approach to the Gospel have great value.

In that gay spirit I’ve just launched a site for shared reflections and experience.”

I have since had a look at Jeremiah’s site, “Gospel for Gays”,  which I found impressive.  It is technically polished, with great starting content.  I was particularly pleased to see how neatly it complements this site, with a strong emphasis on Gospel reflection, which I have long recognised as a glaring weakness on Queering the Church.   (Go ahead, take a look for yourself)

Read the rest of this entry »

The Gospels’ Queer Values.

Jesus & Family

Jesus & Family

The opponents of gay same-sex marriage and of the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is), like to claim that their opposition is rooted in traditional family values, “as found in the Bible.”   This claim is so completely spurious, it  is remarkable how seldom it is challenged.  Just a little thought and reflection shows not only how the Gospel values have little to d with modern Western conceptions of the “traditional” family, but they are so far removed from it, that the real values espoused can certainly be described as certainly “queer”, if not quite as specifically gay.  In reaching this conclusion, I have been reading and reflecting on the social context of the ‘family’ as experienced in Jewish society and the broader social environment, at Jesus’ own ‘family’ in childhood and maturity,  at His actions, and at His words. Read the rest of this entry »

Uproar on Oprah: God’s Gay Gift

I was going to list this originally as just an oddball news item, but in fact it raises some big issues, so I held back, gave it some serious reflection, and can now comment.

First, the bare facts.  A little while ago, Oprah hosted a panel discussion with a group of religious leaders.  During the Q & A, one of the panellists, Rev Ed Bacon, commented that “Being gay is a gift from God”.  Oprah, obviously surprised by the line,observed that she had never before heard that said by a minister of religion.   Oprah’s legions of loyal visitors were more than surprised, they were outraged.  The show’s website quickly swelled with comments from shocked viewers, almost unanimous in the response that ‘nowhere in the bible’ does it say that, and quoting repeatedly the good old clobber texts.

There is a happy ending:  Rev Bacon has now been invited back to expand on his remark.  What was just a throwaway line as part of an answer to a question, will now become the focus of a more extended discussion.

So:  Why is this important?

Well, my first reaction to the original story was one of surprise, even shock, that so many people should have found this observation so scandalously new. I was particularly disappointed that Oprah herself should find it such a new concept:  her show could not have the viewership figures it does, if she did not have an excellent set of antennae out there, feeding her with information on what people are thinking, and what is worth talking about.

I was surprised by the ignorance, because the idea is one that I have become so familiar with, that to me it seems ‘obvious’.  But nothing is obvious util you have seen it for the first time.  The more I reflected, the more I realised there was a time when I did not recognise the concept – and how revelatory, and profoulndly important the idea was to me, when I did first encounter it.   What was once new to me, will certainly be new to others. So it is worth repeating and restating the argument.

First, recall (if you are old enough) the old penny catechism:

Question 1: “Who made you?”
Answer, “God made me.”

Next, reflect on the findings of science – sexual orientaion is not a ‘lifestyle choice’, but something innate and fixed within our physical and mental make-up – probalby before birth.  If this is how we are made, and God has made us, it follows that this is how God made us.

Now consider that God does not mistakes – so, this is how we were made, quite deliberately, by God.  Our make-up is deliberately given to us.

Finally, if we accept that God is good, then we must also accept that this is not given as a joke, nor as a punishment on the innocent young child.  Rather, it is given fully and deliberately as a precious gift.

Now, many people may wonder in what sense this gift may be ‘precious’ when it often brings such oppostition from society, and especiallly in the church.  This is a topic that requires rather more expansion than I can go into now.  However, part of the answer is that precisely because we sit so outside the mainstream, outside the conventional pattertns, we are in fact closer to the heart of the Gospels.  Christ and the apostles no more fitted standard stereotypes of family than do modern gay men and women.

“Christianity is a Queer Thing” – Elizabeth Stuart

I have been re-reading Elisabeth Stuart’s wonderful “Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Difference“, which presents a ‘genealogy’ of the changing approaches by self-identified lesbian & gay theologians, culminating in the last two chapters with a discussion of “Queer theology”.  It was these latter two chapters that I was particularly interested in.


As I went through Stuart’s rundown of the leading figures in the development of Queer Theology, I found myself excited by the description of almost all, and planning on adding them to my ‘Wish List’, which I have now done.  I thought I would share with you why.  The notes below are super – brief descriptions of the key ideas that caught my interest, and the books, as reported by Stuart, that hold them. Read the rest of this entry »

The Kairos Moment

fresco at the Karlskirche in vienna (by Johann...

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I reported earlier on John MCNeills’ closing remarks about a ‘Kairos Moment’ at the end of his angry letter to the US bishops. This thought has stuck with me ever since, so last week I wrote to him, asking  for further commentary.  His reply referred me to his book “Freedom, Glorious Freedom“” for a full explanation.  This I have not read – but based on his summary remarks, and on the excitement with which I am currently reading McNeill’s earlier book, “Taking a Chance on God,”  I look forward to doing so. From McNeill’s summary remark in his email:

“I see the Catholic Church as being transformed from a Church based on obedience to external authority to a Church based on obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit which speaks to us from within ourselves and our experience…”

Hal..le ..LUJ..jah to that!  This is a theme to which I will return frequently as the site develops.

“Freedom Glorious Freedom ” now moves to the top of my wish list.  (And this is NOT just because he writes that he is “excited” by my project. So am I, John, so am I.)