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