Come Out to Save Lives – Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley

There are many sound religious reason for coming out (which I summarise below).  The Georgia megachurch pastor Jim Swilley, of  “Church in the Now”, by his own example has presented another. He has come out to save lives.

Swilley has hidden his sexuality from his congregation for years, through two marriages (although he was at least honest with his second wife, who in turn encouraged him to be open more publicly). Unlike so many other closeted preachers (Bishop Long, George Rekers and Ted Swaggart, for instance) however, he has never fallen into the trap of preaching against homosexuality to hide his own orientation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Masses: Soho, San Francisco.

Earlier this week, California Catholic Daily carried a piece on San Francisco Pride, and the decision by the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer not to participate. However, the parish did advertise in the Pride pocket guide:
I completely fail to see why a Catholic paper should object to the proclamation of God’s love, but they and their readers were enraged by this. The immediate  trigger was the fact that the publication also included the usual gay ads, like a prominent back page one for a gay hook-up site. Is anyone surprised that some gay men use dating sites? However, it was clear that the real anger was directed at the simple existence of a Mass catering primarily to an out queer community.  I placed a comment – the first in the thread – and for my pains, had a response which suggested that I might be in league with some demon:
Terence Weldon appears on other sites as a rabid perverter of Holy Scripture. If he’s in league with some demon, then it’s a particularly depraved one.
(Relax, it’s not true.) What I found remarkable about the rest of the comments was their complete and utter lack of any thought or understanding, a simple parroting of clichés about the sin of Sodom, and the Sin that Cries Out to Heaven and the like: confirming once again, my firm conviction that what draws a certain type of Catholic to the Church is a simple desire to avoid any need for hard thinking on ethical choices, merely depending on following a rule book and the formulaic repetition of fixed prayers for “Salvation”, or for “favours” to be granted. This form of religion (it hardly counts as faith) is not that far removed from belief in magic.

The Greatest Pride of All?

Last year, there were an estimated 3 million participants – and more, in an overwhelmingly Catholic city. Figures for this year are believed to similar, and 50 % up on just 5 years ago, and 25 times as many as 2ooo. Sao Paulo Pride has only been going since 1987.

In South America, Pride is not just a fun day out: it’s deeply political. Read the rest of this entry »

Out in Church: Summer Progress Expected

Change is coming, of that there can be no doubt. (Sadly, in spite of the suggestion by Cardinal Schonborn, I am not here referring to the Catholic Church, but to others. Just how long Rome can lag behind, is another matter.)

First, consider the progress up to now. The Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ accepted full inclusion some time ago, and have many openly gay, lesbian and trans pastors.  Last year, in a blaze of publicity, the ELCA voted to approve the recognition of lesbian or gay partners in committed and faithful permanent relationships, without the expectation of celibacy, on exactly the same basis as heterosexual marriages. That decision was accompanied by many dire warnings of doom, and predictions that many congregations would secede in protest. There have been some withdrawals, but as far as I can tell, not too many. Meanwhile, life in the ELCA has continued as normal, and the decision came into practical effect earlier this year.

In the Episcopalian/ Anglican communion, things are more complex, with international ties and allegiances also coming into play. The US Episcopalians have now consecrated two openly gay or lesbian bishops, and have nominated but not approved a few others. In the UK, that decision has been highly controversial, but is closely tied up with controversy over women bishops, which (unlike the US) have hitherto not been permitted. British Quakers resolved last year bless same sex couples in church, and were influential in the recent change in the law to permit civil partnerships in religious premises. Meanwhile, the Swedish Lutheran church has also ordained a lesbian bishop, and has agreed to apply the new law on same sex marriage in church as well. The Danish and Icelandic Lutherans are considering following their Swedish counterparts in applying their own countries’ laws on gay marriage when they are approved by parliament.

In the US and Europe, therefore, progress to full inclusion in church is substantial, at least in American mainline Protestant denominations and their European counterparts. Where can we expect the next victories? With the summer assembly season approaching, these are the major things we should be looking for. Read the rest of this entry »

Yet Another Evangelical Conversion

On the Washington Post Faith page, yet another evangelical pastor describes how he came to change his mind on what he calls the “sex question”. What do you suppose was the critical factor in this conversion? Right. Listening to the testimony of real people.

A New Kind of Christianity

Brian MacLaren, described as a leader in the evangelical “Emerging Church” movement, in “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith
“, tells how he no longer sides with the views of his friends and associates of a similar church background:

Most of my good friends sincerely and passionately hold the strict conservative view on homosexuality with which we all were raised. They can’t understand why I don’t stand side by side with them on this issue any more. To some, I’ve become a traitor, to others, a casualty in the culture wars, to others, frankly, a problem and an embarrassment. 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)

Dutch Gay Catholics: Excluded from God’s People?

When I wrote about this incident in the Netherlands earlier in the week, it was just a quick and unconsidered relaying of some not very informative news reports. An important comment by Phillip Clarke showed me that there was a much more serious side to this than I had initially recognised. A report today from Ekklesia gives a better report on last Sundays proceedings, and also shows that the situation on the ground is escalating. The BBC has reported that hundreds of protesters disrupted Mass today.

To recap briefly:

Last week’s events

In the city of Den Bosch, in the Catholic south of the country, an openly gay man was elected Carnival Prince- an office which usually results in the Carnival Prince leading the Communion service for the Mass which follows. The local priest stated in advance that he would not serve communion to an openly gay man. A number of gay supporters let it be known that they would be attending the Mass in sympathy and protest, whereupon the priest cancelled the entire Mass.


Read the rest of this entry »

Outing the Church: Archbishop Wuerl, Homosexual Ministry & Gay Marriage.

Two notable bloggers have  current posts on some bishops’ perceptions of their teaching role: “locking down discussion“, is how William Lindsay at Bilgrimage describes it – even when the dissent comes from fellow bishops.  (Bishop Sample of Marquette has banned Bishop Gumbleton from speaking in his diocese, because he has uncomfortable and “well-known” views on homosexuality and women’s ordination.  Even though neither of these were up for discussion, he appears to be afraid that his colleagues simple appearance might become an occasion for discussion, which it his own responsibility to prevent.

Meanwhile, Fr Geoff Farrow has a piece called “pay, pray and obey,” in which he refers to news stories about Archbishop Wuerl of Washington DC.

Archbishop Wuerl with SC Justice Roberts

Archbishop Wuerl with SC Justice Roberts

The first story from the New York Times of April 1989 , dating back to 1989, tells how he was called in by Pope John Paul II to muzzle a colleague, Archbishop Hunthausen, in Seattle who was seen as having views that were too liberal – amongst others, on gay Catholics:

After criticism of the archdiocese by conservative Catholics, the Vatican named Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, a conservative in church affairs, to share power in Seattle in 1985.

Bishop Wuerl was given control of five areas in which Archbishop Hunthausen was considered lax: ministry to homosexuals, granting of marriage annulments, clergy appointments, liturgy and moral issues of health care.

Most priests and nuns in the Seattle Archdiocese continued to support Archbishop Hunthausen, who called the power-sharing arrangement ”unworkable.”

Another story (at Huffington Post), on the apparently “unstoppable” gay marriage bill in DC includes as a footnote the well-known fierce opposition by Archbishop Wuerl.

With gay issues prominent in both stories, I thought that now might be a good time to haul out a story on Archbishop Wuerl I cam across some weeks ago, with quite a different perspective. 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

The Vocation of Being Caught in the Middle

When I set up this blog several months ago, I reflected on the difficulties we LGBT Catholics and other Christians face as double outsiders.  Others have written on the same theme.

But I have not yet seen a depiction in terms quite as startling, refreshing, and provocative as this one:

“From the perspective of Christian faith, this awkward business of living on the boundary looks very much like vocation – a call from God.  When you answer such a call, you discover the meaning of your life.  God has drawn us to this difficult place in order to reveal God’s grace to us and in us and through uis.  The boundary where we’re living, however inconvenient, is a place rich in spiritual discovery – which means of course, that it is also largely uncharted territory.  No ready  made tradition tells us how to be gay and lesbian Christian.  This is a vocation God has created in our own time to bring about a new enrichment of the gospel.”

Had it ocurred to you that this difficult place you occupy is a place of special grace, that it is aspecial form of vocation to be both gay or lesbian, and Christian?   It seems to me to be well worth thinking on.

Gifted by othernessThe passage quoted comes from the introductory chapter of “Gifted By Otherness”, by William Countryman and L. R. Ritley.

I have long admired Countryman’s Dirt greed and sex, but was not aware of his other writings until I was doing some research for Sergius & Bacchus Books” -where you will find more information.