Breaking the silence

Gay Priest “Bart” continues his weekly series:

I ended my last post by asking: will our silence [forced as it so often is] be judged as complicity in the Church’s deceptive ways? It’s a question that has been troubling me for quite some time now, not only as a gay priest who is going through a coming-out process, but also in the wider sense, as a member of the Catholic Church. Even as I was grappling with this complex subject, I was informed of a recent documentary shown on BBC’s Channel Four. Entitled Father Ray Comes Out, it presents a very touching account of the coming-out of an Anglican vicar – Father Ray Andrews – to his congregation during a Sunday homily. For the benefit of my readers, I thought of embedding the story here (in 2 parts), before expanding on the subject in today’s post.


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The Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

You’d never guess it if your only knowledge of the churches and homosexuality came from Focus on the Family, NOM or California Catholic Daily in the US, or from Christian Voice or the rule-book Catholic blogs in the UK, or from breakaway groups in the Anglican communion worldwide, but we are in the midst of a dramatic, wholesale transformation of the Christian churches’ response to homoerotic relationships. This is clearly leading in the direction of full inclusion in church for queer Christians, and for evaluating couple relationships and their recognition in church on a basis of full equality. This is bound to lead in time to profound improvements in the  political battles for full equality, and in the mental health of the LGBT Christian community.

These are bold statements. Am I mistaken? Am I deluding myself? It is of course possible that this is a case of wishful thinking, that I am misreading or exaggerating the evidence.  It’s possible – but I don’t think so. The evidence is compelling, if not yet widely noted. To substantiate my argument, I want to present the facts, and their implications, in some detail. As there is too much for a single post, I begin today with just a summary, as heads of argument. I will expand on the main sections in later posts, which I have in preparation.

(For now, I have made no attempt to supply detailed substantiation or links – these will follow, as I expand later on each specific theme).

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Image via Wikipedia

 

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“The Gift of Gay” – The Priest Who Came Out, aged 90!

Father Matthew Kelty, OCSO, was a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where he was the last confessor to Thomas Merton. He also came out as gay at the age of 90.

The full obituary is worth reading at Religion Dispatches – I want to reflect only on the coming out story, and Fr Matthew’s assertion that gay is a gift – especially in the pursuit of monastic celibacy.

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Joseph and His Fabulous Queer Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Sometimes, stories and images are so familiar to us, that we completely fail to see their significance. The story of Joseph and his coat is familiar to us all from childhood Bible stories – and even more familiar as Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Ignore the main story for now, and just focus on that coat of many colours.

In the modern world, colour is everywhere, so much so that we hardy notice it unless it is used particularly well, or until it is unexpectedly absent. It was not always so. In the Biblical world, clothing was mostly drab: dyes of all kinds were costly , brightly coloured cloth of any kind was an expensive luxury. It is not surprising that Joseph’s brothers would have been jealous of the special favour shown by their father, and wished to sell him into slavery.

Joseph sold into slavery, Edward Knippers

But there could be more to the story than first appears: this was not just a coloured coat, but a very specific type – a coat of many colours, in stripes. Just such a coat was typically worn by a specific group of people – a distinctly queer group. Read the rest of this entry »

Christ into Christianity: Essential Self-Giving

There are many aspects to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. However you view the Christian story though, one feature has got to be pre-eminent: the self-sacrifice on the cross and the associated resurrection. It follows then that this comprehensive self-giving is one essential characteristic of the followers of Christ, the Christians. The CDF states, entirely without substantiation, that as gay men and lesbians, we lack this “essential self-giving” that is a mark of Christianity.

When I came across this assertion in “Homosexualitatis Problema”, I was puzzled. Other than self-giving in sex for procreation, I could not see any sense of self-giving that necessarily excluded gay men and lesbians. Research and anecdotal evidence in fact, is the exact opposite gay men typically are far better represented in the altruistic service professions of nursing, teaching, social work, librarianship and the priesthood itself than straight men – and markedly under-represented in the self-centred, greed-based professions of finance and business. Puzzled by the CDF claim, I wrote to several priests and former priests with greater knowledge of the Gospels than I, to see if I have missed something in the Gospels that might justify the CDF statement. I have already reported James Alison’s response (which I repeat below). I also liked the response of the priest who calls himself “Bart” on these pages, for its citing of the Gospel texts that elaborate on the meaning of “self-giving”  – and its demonstration that these simply do not apply in the way that the CDF intends:

 

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St John the Evangelist, the “Beloved Disciple”: December 27th

In the catalogue of “gay saints”, or pairs of supposedly “gay lovers” in Scripture, the coupling of John the Evangelist (the “beloved disciple”)  and Jesus himself is surely the most controversial. Many people, including some of my friends from the LGBT Soho Masses, find the whole idea that this may have been a “gay”, sexually active relationship, highly offensive. Others argue the opposite case.

In an explosive book, “the man jesus loved,  the reputable biblical scholar Theodore Jennings mounts an extended argument that Jesus himself was actually gay and that the beloved disciple of John’s Gospel was Jesus’ lover.  To support this provocative conclusion, Jennings examines not only the texts that relate to the beloved disciple but also the story of the centurion’s servant boy and the texts that show Jesus’ rather negative attitude toward the traditional family: not mother and brothers, but those who do the will of God, are family to Jesus.  Jennings suggests that Jesus relatives and disciples knew he was gay, and that, despite the efforts of the early Church to downplay this “dangerous memory” about Jesus, a lot of clues remains in the Gospels.  Piecing the clues together, Jennings suggests not only that Jesus was very open to homosexuality, but that he himself was probably in an intimate, and probably sexual, relationship with the beloved disciple.

Daniel Helminiak, Sex and the Sacred

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Young Men in the Burning Fiery Furnace: Dec 17th

Last week the church marked the feast of three young men, Shadrack, Mesach and Abednego, the companions of Daniel the prophet.  I missed the opportunity to comment on the due date, which was unfortunate: they are important for highlighting a much neglected group in the church – the transgendered.

We are probably all familiar with the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, and of his three companions in the burning fiery furnace. What they don’t tell us in Sunday School, is that as slaves captured and taken to service in the king’s court in Babylon they were almost certainly eunuchs – castrated males. This was the standard fate of slaves in the royal court, as Kathryn Ringrose has shown, and as anticipated by Isaiah:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

-Isaiah 39:7

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Building a Welcoming Church: Use Our Stories

After a few posts and some readers’ responses on the idea of a “welcoming church”, I thought it worth sharing a reflection on how to go beyond simply paying lip service to the idea, to creating truly welcoming parishes.

This is from the newsletter of Fortunate Families, a Catholic organisation for the families of lesbians and gay men. From my own experience in some parishes, I fully endorse Vicki’s observation that once you have discerned an “open or positive feel” for a specific person inside the congregation, it is perfectly feasible to share with them some details of your personal story. I have always found that the response has been explicitly welcoming, and has eased the way for further sharing later – either at a deeper level with the same person, or in a similar way with others. Judging the appropriate person time and context however, can be tricky. This is, in Vicki’s word, an act of real “discernment”, and not to be rushed. Some people will find it near impossible at any time, many people will find it impossible in specific parishes, but not in others. Still the general approach should be strongly encouraged – the more people there are doing so, the easier it will be for those who follow.

Using Our Stories to Build a More Welcoming Church

By Ron Ohmann

Rev. Vicki Wunsch, an ordained UCC minister – but still a “Catholic at heart” (her adopted daughter was refused baptism because of Vicki’s samesex partnership) – conducted an inspiring workshop on “Strategic Storytelling” at the Fortunate Families gathering Saturday, Oct. 23rd. Her basic premise was that with all the media politics regarding GLBT issues surrounding denominational churchgoers, the most effective way to change attitudes is the organic one of individuals with personal stories engaging others who may share those concerns or at least are willing to listen. Vicki suggested that once you have discerned an open or positive feel for a person, a deliberately planned, well-crafted, and gracefully-delivered story of you as a GLBT person or your loved one’s experience offers the best chance for sharing and integration. It’s about bypassing the cultural barriers of separation and opening hearts and minds in faith communities and society at large.   The story’s telling should be short (3-5 min), sincere, credible, and candid, with emphasis on the positive.  Touch on key specifics to give meaning with minimal detail.  Stay upbeat and avoid painting the portrait of a victim, either yourself or your loved one.  Likewise, avoid stark value judgments which may trigger a negative response.  Finally, let go of any ego tendency or ego demeanor.  As Jesus showed us in telling his stories (parables) in the Gospels, humility and the soft-sell usually work best.


SS Benedicta and Galla: 6th C Roman Nuns – and lovers?

One of the curiosities of the Catholic tradition of honouring our saints and martyrs, is how hagiography seamlessly combines historical biography, myth with collective amnesia. The stories of Saints Patrick and Brigid of Ireland, for instance, are replete with well-known legends that have absolutely no verifiable foundation in historical fact, and the delightful story of St Wilgefortis (aka Uncumber), the crucified bearded woman, turns out to have a much more plausible basis in reality. For many other saints, the distortions of hagiography are not just the accretions that are added by popular imagination, but the important details that are so often omitted in the transmission down the ages. St Paulinus, for instance, is widely honoured for his missionary work and for the impressive quality of his Latin devotional poetry. The standard Catholic sources on the saints, however, discreetly omit any reference to his other poetic legacy – equally fine homoerotic verse addressed to his boyfriend, Ausonius.
The story of Saints Galla and Benedicta of Rome may be another example of this selective memory.

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Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 3): Is It Wrong to Act Gay?

For part 3 of his extract from Fr Owen O’Sullivan’s article on LGBT inclusion, Boundless Salvation deals with the section that tackles the official position of the CDF, as set out in the Pastoral Letter, “Homosexualitatis Problema”: it is entirely natural and morally neutral to have a homosexual disposition, but that homosexual acts are “disordered” and so are morally unacceptable.  That is, It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay.

Fr O’Sullivan is Irish, writing for an Irish magazine, so he uses an Irish analogy to make his point:

Imagine someone saying to a group of Irish people, ‘There’s nothing in itself wrong with being Irish. I’m not saying there is. But that doesn’t mean you may act on it. So, no more Guinness, going to Croke Park, singing rebel songs into the early hours of the morning, waving tricolours, no more craic. Close the pubs as occasions of sin, and, while you’re at it, would you please do something about your accent: it’s suggestive – of Irishness. I’m not asking you to deny your Irishness, far from it, just not to act on it.’ Would you consider the speaker to be nuanced, respectful and compassionate, or pedantic, patronising and arrogant?

This captures the problem precisely – for the Irish. For others, not so much. For them, I have another analogy which is also based in biology, not in culture. Like a homoerotic orientation, left-handedness is entirely “natural”, in the sense that it occurs freely in nature, but is “abnormal” in the purely statistical sense that it is uncommon*. The medical professionals have confirmed that both conditions are not in any way to be seen as “diseased” or requiring treatment. But like same sex attraction, left-handedness has in the past, been popularly viewed with great suspicion. Even our language illustrates this: the words “sinister” (morally dubious) and “dexterity” (denoting skill) are derived respectively from the Latin for left and right. In the past, numerous attempts were made to “reform” the obstinate schoolchildren who perversely insisted in writing with their left hands. Today, thankfully, the world has moved on. Any suggestion that it is OK to be left-handed, but just don’t write left-handed, would be met with derision.

The analogy with sexual orientation is precise – except in orthodox CDF doctrine. Most people today agree that homosexuality, like left-handedness, is entirely natural, and even most Catholics agree that homoerotic relationships and sexual activities are, in themselves, morally neutral. But the CDF continues in its insistence that “It’s OK to be gay, just don’t act gay”.

This assertion leads, Fr O’Sullivan, to contradictions and to enormous cruelty for lesbian and gay Catholics. In particular, it leads them to deny their truth. Sexuality is a fundamental part of the human condition and nature. (Even the Catechism recognizes the importance of accepting and embracing our sexual lives). The Pastoral Letter claims to teach the importance of treating “homosexual persons” with dignity, compassion and respect, but the rest of the teaching, with its impossible distinction between doing and being, makes this impossible.

The distinction between being homosexual and doing homosexual acts is phoney. It’s like saying, ‘Your sexuality is part of you; but you must not be part of your sexuality.’ Have we forgotten that the Incarnation brings matter and spirit, body and soul into one in the human-divine body of Jesus? The Incarnation is God’s answer to dualism.

Being and doing are not as separable in life as they might seem in a lecture hall. But, even in a lecture hall, Saint Thomas Aquinas said, ‘Agere sequitur esse in actu.’ (Summa contra Gentiles, 3.53, 69.) If my Latin is not too rusty that means, ‘Doing follows being in action.’

The tragedy for gay or lesbian Catholics who attempt to live celibate lives strictly within the CDF parameters, is that the practical effect is to deprive them of much more than mere physical erotic attraction. For in the real world of Catholicism, far too often people who are seen to be living in single sex coupled relationships, are simply assumed to be in a sexual relationship. To avoid this suspicion (and also the sexual temptations that might be presented in such a relationship), “faithful” gay Catholics are effectively forced to deny the possibility even of celibate unions with another, to live the lives alone, bereft of the daily emotional support that could help them to cope with the trials imposed upon them by a misguided Church rule.

Homosexuals who try to be faithful to church teaching are in danger of distorting themselves, like left-handed people forcing themselves to use only their right hands; they are in danger of developing a Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality, suppressing what is true about themselves. The statement of the CDF that, ‘Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral’ applies here. (Letter, n.15)

The pastoral rhetoric about respecting homosexuals is meaningless at best when the associated moral rhetoric undercuts a homosexual’s personhood. It means that homosexuals are neither in nor out, neither persons nor non-persons, but tolerated somewhere on the border.

 


(” Heterosexuality isn’t “normal” – it’s just common!” – T-shirt slogan seen at Pride)

 

The full series of extracts from Fr O’Sullivan’s “Furrow” article at Boundless Salvation is:

My previous commentary is at