Queer Gods, Demigods and Their Priests: The Middle East

(For a proper understanding of the place of homeroticism in Jewish and Christian history, it is instructive to contrast it with its place in other religions. I have described previously how many religions not only accept a recognized and important place for same sex love, but even identify specific patrons of homosexual love. I now propose to consider the many other gods and goddesses who either took same sex lovers themselves, or were served by sexually or gender non-conforming priests  and priestesses. I begin, as any account of the development of civilization must do, in the Middle East.)

Same sex love is a common theme in world religion and its literature, and is even present at the very beginning of literary history. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the world’s oldest work of literature – and includes a central theme of love between two men. The hero Giligamesh was the king of Uruk, described as two thirds god and one third man, and a giant in size and strength, with a prodigious sexual appetite. He routinely used his strength and royal power to take advantage of both young men, taking them from their fathers, and young women, taking them from their husbands. To protect their sons and wives from the kings lust, the people turn to their gods, and in particular the creator goddess Aruru, pleading with her to send Gilgamesh a companion on whom he can expend his energies. Aruru responds, and sends to Gilgamesh a man, Enkidu, who is massive in size, inspiring in physique, hairy like an animal, and with luxuriant tresses of hair “like a woman”.


Gilgamesh's Grief at Enkidu's Death

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The End Is Not In Sight – But the Journey Has Begun.

In a piece from Wasilla, Alaska at the Wat-su Valley Frontiersman, the evangelical pastor Howard Bess laments that in the struggle for gay inclusion in church, the end is not in sight:

“is the end in sight of all discrimination and rejection of people because of their sexual orientation?” I feel strongly about the subject. I ask the question because it has played a major role in my professional life as a minister. There are some hopeful signs, but I confess I do not see the end in sight.

Now,  reading quickly as we tend to do, you may have missed the significance of this statement. I repeat it, with some added emphasis and notes.

In a piece from Wasilla, Alaska (that’s right, Wasilla, home of you know who), at the Wat-su Valley Frontiersman, the Baptist pastor Howard Bess (not a trendy Episcopalian, and also not himself gay) laments that in the struggle for gay inclusion in church, the end is not in sight.

The end? He’s right, of course, but many people would be surprised that the journey has even begun, so convinced are they that homoerotic sexuality is inherently and “obviously” sinful. Of course the end is not in sight – but I prefer instead to note how rapidly we are making progress. The simple fact that somebody like Howard Bess could be writing on this theme from Alaska, and that others should be discussing the church and gay marriage in Utah, is a striking example of this in itself. The end is not in sight, but the journey has at least begun.

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GLAAD’s Religious News Round-up: Highly Recommended

I thought I kept a reasonably close watch on the significant news stories on queer religion, but my eyes have been opened wide by the “Religious News Round-up at GLAAD“, which includes a wealth of links to relevant stories, many of which were new to me. Some of the stories I had not seen before are:

The extracts below give an idea of the flavour of the digest. There’s also more on specific denominations, on welcoming congregations, and on international news.

Spirit Day actions across the country raised consciousness about the harmsof anti-gay speech and bullying. Religious leaders in Arkansasstudents at Baruch College and people of faith in “It Gets Better” videos urged churches to be accepting.  Bishop Mark Hanson, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, made history by saying gay people are “The people God created them to be” and should not be bullied.

Still, people of faith are standing up in the face of bullying. Local Lutherans are working hard to keep their church from breaking away from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which now has inclusive policies. Jewish leaders decried bullying, and Episcopal presiding bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori spoke out for core values such as love rather than hate.  Christians joinedJewish and other inter-faith leaders for marriage equality.  Gay couples celebrated faith and their marriages.

Faith leaders committed to social justice are getting prominent positions, and local churches are coming out to welcome GLBT members. A Presbyterian man in Madison, Wisconsin, is seeking ordination as an openly gay pastor, and the video “The Way God Made Me,” about a Presbyterian minister who is transgender, made news.

I have no idea how often  Ann Craig, GLAAD’s Director of Religion Faith and Values, plans to update this invaluable resource, but I hope and pray that it will be frequently.

“Very Insightful Blogposts on LGBTQ Spirituality” – Theology Degrees On-Line.

Theology Degrees On-line has an intriguing list of “50 Very Insightful Blog Posts on GLBTQ Spirituality“. Introducing the list, there is this important statement on the proliferation of sites available that write on matters of faith and queer sexuality:

At first glance, one would assume that religion and spirituality gels little with the GLBTQ community and their associated quest for Civil Rights. Considering the very vocal opposition by many prominent religious figures and marginalization of ANY members who do not conform to very regimented expectations, that mindset is certainly understandable. However, polls have shown a growing acceptance of GLBTQ individuals in different houses of worship – and the numbers only continue to climb. The more one researches the subject of the relationship between homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, transgender and religion, the more one unearths a diverse number of opinions, meditations, hardships and practices…no difference from heterosexuals, really. The following blog posts provide some excellent insight on how these men and women have approached their religious beliefs in order to find solace, peace of mind and acceptance. Contrary to popular belief, it can be done.

Top of the list is a post on Black lesbian prayers and art from Jesus in Love Blog, about which the writer says “Almost the entirety of the Jesus in Love Blog could fill up this list“. Congratulations to Kitt Cherry, who runs this useful site.

Personally, I was flattered to be included with two entries – one from “Queering the Church” at number two (on coming out as a Catechism command), and at number eight, a post on James Alison’s thoughts on growing up gay and Catholic.

The full list includes a fascinating array of reflections from a diverse range of faith backgrounds, both traditional and modern. Some sites are familiar to me, many others are new – and some of I welcome as worth following regularly. I recommend exploring the list for the specific posts selected, and also for the full sites from which they are drawn.

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On Pope Benedict’s “Boyfriend”.

For years there has been some sotte voce speculation about the relationship between Pope Benedict and his secretary, Georg Gänswein – speculation which has ratchetted up several notches since the publication of the book, “The Pope Is Not Gay!“. (For a stunning reflection on this, see the essay by Colm Toibin at the London Review of Books)

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The Decline of Religion Based Homophobia.

I have frequently written about (and celebrated) assorted pointers on the road to lesbitransgay inclusion in Church. There is an obvious corollary to that though, that I have not spelt out before: the steady decline of religion – based homophobia.

Perhaps we are so used to the publicity given to the extremist bigots that we have not noticed this decline, but it is most certainly a clear, unambiguous trend.  Not only are our straight allies in faith finding an ever stronger public voice in support, and the silent majority increasingly recognising the importance of tolerance for conflicting views, but the most vociferous opponents are a dying breed. I first recognised this in a report from Sacramento Pride:

Biggest news at Pride? No anti-gay protesters!

I wonder if it means something that the perennial “Sodomy is Sin” people decided to skip this year’s Pride Festival? I’d grown used to locating the parade by the presence of that big, yellow sign, but it was nowhere to be found in last weekend’s revels.

Something else I noticed, perhaps because I took so many photos. By far,the majority of organizations marching were religious in nature.

Yeah, I know; the common wisdom is that religion and gay people don’t mix,or at least that’s what you’d think if all you did was listen to the press. But I saw groups from all the major denominations: Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, Unitarians, Jews … and there were even representatives from the Quakers (Society of Friends) and Seventh Day Adventists. (Yes, that’s right—the Seventh Day Adventists! Knock me over with a feather …) That’s the Elk Grove United Methodist Church, one of two groups of Methodists in the march.

Time to re-examine the meme that organized religion is opposed to anything gay. Apparently, it’s just not true. Read the rest of this entry »

Mormons, Incremental Progress and Wingnut Distress

For years, it was easy for the opponents of gay civil rights under the cloak of religion, by means of an unquestioned assumption that this was “clearly” opposed by Scripture and religious tradition. From this perspective, any suggestion of support for protection from discrimination (let alone actual marriage) was presented as support for sinful decadence, or even as an attack on religion itself.  There have been welcome signs of change in this perspective in recent years.  As social and natural scientists have shown that  a homoerotic orientation  is entirely natural in human and animal societies, as modern bible scholars and theologians have shown that the traditional religious hostility has been based on false assumptions and need revisions, it becomes increasingly more difficult for people of sincere and open-minded religious faith to repeat the old slogans without questioning.  This is why the Episcopalians and Lutherans over the past summer were able to take important decisions supporting the ordination of openly lesbian and gay clergy (including bishops), and to move towards the recognition of church recognition of same sex unions, including (for the Swedish Lutherans) full church weddings. The US Presbyterians and Methodists have not yet gone that far, rejecting similar proposals in their own assemblies, but are clearly moving in the same direction.

Other denominations, most notably the LDS, Catholics and evangelicals, have been more intransigent, but even with these there have been important signs of change. The Catholic official stance has been firmly against marriage rights, as notoriously demonstrated in California and in Maine, but elsewhere has led to some tortured knots. The UK bishops strenuously opposed civil partnerships when they were introduced here some years ago, but the Portuguese argued in favour of such civil unions as an alternative to marriage when this was raised in the Portuguese parliament earlier this year. The bishop of Portland tried after the Maine vote to put out a hand of friendship, claiming (correctly) that church teaching opposes discrimination even as it opposes gay marriage, but the Vatican famously refused to support the UN declaration favouring decriminalization, stating that this would somehow lend credence to marriage rights.  Meanwhile, the faithful as a whole a re way ahead of the power elite in the church. Most US Catholics now support some form of legal recognition of same sex unions, and do not see homosexuality in itself as morally wrong .

I see this confusion and double speak among the oligarchy as encouraging, as evidence that they are finally recognising  that their previous unqualified opposition to all things gay  is no longer tenable, and that they need to find some way to balance their own earlier intransigence against clear dissent from the church at large – tacit recognition that they no longer have the support of the sensus fidelium.

LDS temple, salt Lake City

This week, we saw similar signs from the Mormon church, who were such staunch allies alongside the Catholic establishment in the fight over H8 in California.  Now, in a landmark small but significant step, the elders of the LDS threw their support in favour of an anti-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City, which subsequently passed. Read the rest of this entry »