You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.
To this we could add, no more distinctions between gay and straight, between cis and trans – all are one in Christ Jesus.
At this time of year, Christians can do well to look back, Janus like, at the past year, and simultaneously to look ahead. We look back on the calendar year, and the great advances in secular marriage equality symbolized by the USA Supreme Court judgement and the Irish popular referendum success, and to the Catholic Bishops’ Synod Assembly on marriage and family. That synod did not do anything concrete to improve the position of lesbian and gay Catholics directly, but in what was not said, and in the tone of the discussions, it is clear that as we look ahead at the start of the calendar year, improvements in pastoral practice are clearly on the way, at least in some parts of the world. Those improvements in turn will spread, and in time lead to a continuing evolution in doctrine itself.
Against this background, the words from Isaiah for the first reading of the Christmas midnight Mass have profound relevance and resonance for us.
The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.
For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.
For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
and consumed by fire.
For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.
A conservative Catholic blogger is gleefully reporting that “This cardinal sees no reason to expect the Family Synod to be outside Church teaching”.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. There’s never been any serious suggestion, from any side, that changing teaching was even up for discussion. (Change in teaching must and will come, later – but not yet). For now, a change in teaching is just not what the Synod is about. What it is about, is a more sensitive pastoral application of that teaching, a different matter entirely.
But there’s a more serious problem with this report, and Cardinal Raúl Vela Chiriboga’s words. I quote:
“The Church is the depository of the faith, and that faith is the teaching of Jesus: we can’t go against his commandment,” the emeritus Archbishop of Quito explained Aug. 14 to CNA in Piura, where he was participating in Peru’s Tenth National Eucharistic and Marian Congress as an envoy of the Holy Father.
“There are fundamental truths” that will not change, Cardinal Vela said, even “by more news outlets stirring things up by saying things contrary to, or wanting to misinterpret, what the Lord commands.”
Do you see the problem? He’s assuming that because “the Church” is the depository of the faith, then it’s teaching is the teaching of Jesus. However – the “Church” is much, much more than the Vatican bureaucrats who define Church doctrine. It should be patently obvious to anybody who cares to look, that what the Vatican pronounces, on masturbation, on sex before marriage, on remarriage after divorce, or on loving and committed same – sex relationships, is simply NOT what ordinary, faithful and practicing Catholics believe. To claim Vatican doctrine on sexual ethics as what “the Church” teaches, is an unjustified leap.
He is right, though, in his insistence that we cannot change fundamental truths, as taught by Jesus. The problem for him and his ilk, is that what they are fighting so hard to protect at the Synod, have nothing at all to do with what Jesus taught.
The most contentious matter before the synod, is that of communion for people who have remarried after divorce. The conservative argument is that marriage is forever, that Jesus was against divorce, and so on. Agreed.
However – even the Vatican accepts that there are circumstances in which marriages may end – which it terms “annullment”, not divorce. That’s a matter of semantics. But the argument is not whether divorce / annulment is legitimate or acceptable. All sides agree on that. The dispute is about communion after divorce and remarriage – and on that, Jesus said nothing whatever. The Catholic rule preventing communion for those who have remarried after divorce, is a matter of pastoral practice, which can be changed – not one of doctrine, and still less the teaching of Jesus Christ. When he said at the Last Supper, “Do this, in commemoration of me”, he did NOT add the rider, “as long as you’ve not divorced and remarried”.
The second controversial matter before the synod, is the one that most concerns us – a welcome for LGBT Catholics. Again, nobody is yet suggesting that the Synod is about to change it’s own doctrines on same – sex relationships – even though it is now abundantly evident that it should. That will happen, but later. All that is being asked, is that the leaders of the Church take seriously the message of Jesus Christ (and indeed, of Pope Francis), that “all are welcome”, and that the Church should be a “field hospital for the wounded”. On lesbian and gay people, Jesus had not a single word in opposition, and quite a lot that could be read as supportive.
The cardinal is absolutely correct that we cannot change the teaching of Jesus. The problem for him, is that it is he and his sympathisers, not those seeking more sensitive pastoral care, who are trying to do that.
Evangelicals are starting to change their minds about gay marriage. In recent months, three large evangelical churches – EastLakeCommunity Church in Seattle, Washington, GracePointe Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and City Church in San Francisco, California – have announced that they no longer believe all same-sex relationships are sinful. Leading evangelical ethicist David Gushee changed his position on the issue in a landmark speech last fall, and celebrated pastor Campolo did the same in a statement on his website earlier this month.
This new pro-gay movement among evangelicals is still a minority, and staunch conservatives have been pushing back. But bit by bit, the number of American evangelicals who support marriage equality continues to rise.
A new poll released by evangelical research firm LifeWay Research in April demonstrated this shift. True, it showed that 66 percent of American evangelicals, fundamentalists and born-again believers say that same-sex relationships go against God’s will. While that is a super- majority, it is a substantial decline from just three years ago, when the same poll found that 82 percent held this view.
In part, that shift can be explained by the same forces that have changed much of the rest of American society. More evangelicals have openly gay friends and loved ones and, according to LifeWay, those who do are nearly twice as likely to support marriage equality as those who don’t.
But relationships alone are rarely sufficient to change conservative Christians’ minds on issues that are both political and theological. After all, evangelicals have based their opposition to gay rights on the Bible since the LGBT movement began. For years, even many sympathetic Christians have felt unable to embrace the LGBT community because of Scripture.
But while the Bible doesn’t change, interpretations of it can.
This is fun. Mark Lambert, referring to the transfer of the old Soho Masses congregation from Warwick Street to Farm Street, writes:
However, it became very obvious, very quickly, that Cardinal Nichols had no intention of stopping the Masses, he simply moved the venue. What about dealing with the Pastoral issue? Surely he did that? Well, the Masses are followed by a “social” organised by LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council. Their lack of fidelity to Christ and His Church is written all over their Facebook Page here. These are people who self-identify as LGBT, who think the Church is wrong in what it teaches, and who want to change the Church to suit their own sexual predilection.
The Catholic Herald cover the story of the Mass here. Of course, the Cardinal’s spokesman is very careful to articulate that the Mass was not specifically “for gay Catholics”, but for all Farm Street parishioners.
Regardless, the most revealing comments are made by the people the Mass was aimed at. Terence Weldon runs the blog Queering the Church, the title of which disturbs me greatly in itself and speaks to its agenda.
In Genesis 9:8-15,the first reading for the first Sunday of Lent (year B), we learn how God described the rainbow (his “bow in the sky”)as a covenant between God and all God’s creatures:
‘Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth. When I gather the clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the Covenant between myself and you and every living creature of every kind.
There is nothing in there to suggest that the Covenant applies only to opposite – sex couples in church – approved marriages. It is fitting, then, that in this image of the ark by Paul Richmond, the homophobes and bigots opposed to inclusion and equality are left to drown in the flood waters. Continue reading God's Rainbow Covenant for ALL!→
This passage, the third in the English bishops’ suggested texts for reflection on marriage as part of the consultation process for the Rome Family Synod 2015, is the familiar story of the Annunciation, Mary’s subsequent visit to Elizabeth, and her song of praise, the “Magnificat”. (The text may be read here, at Bible Gateway)
The text describes how Abraham was called by the Lord to leave his country, his kindred and his father’s house, and journey to a new land – a call which he dutifully followed, together with his household. This passage from chapter 12 is only part of the story. The continuation in the opening of chapter 18 describes how as a result of his hospitality to three strangers (angels in disguise), he is given a promise that Sarah will conceive a child, in spite of their advanced age. Then in chapter 21 the child, Isaac, is born,
The phrases / verses that “speak” to me:
3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abraham is the one in this passage who is called by the Lord, but in fact we are all called to holiness. Just as the Lord says to Abraham that he will bless all who bless him, and curse all those who curse him, we should understand that we too are addressed in the same way, if we follow that call. As gay men in the Church, we know what it is to be cursed by those who assume that “gay Christian” is an oxymoron, an impossibility. The Lord promises that such curses will themselves be cursed. But many of us have also experienced a welcome in church, “blessed” by welcoming parishes and other groups. Those too, will be blessed.
9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
Just as Abraham embarked on a journey to the promised land, we too are on a journey to full inclusion in the Church. Just as his journey was conducted in stages, so we too must understand that our own journey to inclusion will not be concluded in a single step, but will take many stages, some of them difficult.
Here are the bishops’ questions, with some responses:
What does it mean for Abram to ‘have faith’? How does Abram listen to God? How does God challenge? What does God promise? How do the family respond? What are their hopes?
What hopes do you have for your family?
My hopes for my family are the same as others – that we can continue to flourish, enjoy each others’ achievements and celebrations, and support each other in times of difficulty or sadness.
In addition, we hope for something other families do not think about – that we can be treated by society, and especially by the Church, with the same dignity and respect as other, more conventional families.
What are the ways in which your family ‘listen to God’?
In the past, my partner and I participated together in a CLC (Christian Life Community) group, meeting weekly and sometimes in formal retreats to reflect on where we have God in our lives, and using techniques from Ignatian spirituality to discern the path He was wanting for us.
In addition to numerous valuable insights we found about our daily lives, we also found through these evenings and weekends of prayer together, profound affirmation of the value of our relationship
What ‘impossible’ things happen in families? In our families, how do we show our ‘trust’ in God and in one another in tough times?
Sometime after my (formal) marriage had broken down, and I had started a new, same – sex (informal) marriage, my ex – wife began to make it extremely difficult for me to see my children, and absolutely impossible to see them in the company of my partner. In this, she was egged on by her family, who were convinced by Catholic teaching that our relationship was obviously sinful, and so I would be a morally unsuitable influence on the girls. As any father will know, to be deprived of access to one’s children is extremely painful, as it was to me.
The outcome however, was the reverse of what mother and her family had intended. As the girls grew older, they insisted on not just access to myself, but even asked to come and live with me – and my partner – , instead of with their mother (which at different times, each of them in fact did, for a period). Today, they and their own children both have far stronger relationships with me and my partner, than they do with their mother.
As for the fears about my supposedly “poor moral influence”, I take immense pride in the conclusions of my younger daughter. While living with us for some of her high school years, she compared the example she was seeing in our relationship, with what she observed in her classmates’ families . Looking back later as a young woman, she concluded that the grounding in morals and values she had received from our same – sex relationship, was in fact superior to that of many others raised in more conventional families. On that basis, she has stated in print and on-line that “Gay parents? I recommend them” , and has told me that when she sees a young child out with two dads, her instinctive response is “lucky kid”.
What does having children, or not having children, bring to a family?
More important that what “having” children brings to the family, is what “raising” children does.
What promises do we make to each other in families?
Through this story, what can we know and believe about the promises God makes to us in our own family lives, whatever our circumstances?
The key questions to draw the conversation together:
How does this story ‘speak’ to us about our ‘call’ to be a family?
How does it speak to our ‘journey’?
How does it speak to us about our ‘purpose’ or ‘mission’ as a family?
What support do we need from the Church?
For queer families, what we need above all is simple: acceptance and appreciation that same – sex couples can and do, make as good a job as others in raising children. Even though such couples are obviously not capable of creating babies, they are definitely capable of the more challenging task or raising and guiding them to maturity. Many such couples are successfully engaged in that task, either with the biological children of one partner, or with adopted children.
It is hurtful and offensive to those parents, and especially to those who are sacrificing their lives to raise children whose own biological parents have failed them, that the Church opposes gay adoption and claims, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, that children are somehow harmed when raised by gay parents.
For the sake of the children, It is essential that the Church should now end its hostility to gay adoption.
What is already available? What needs to be developed?
From our family life experience, what do we offer that could enrich the life of the Church?
As preparation for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and Family, the Bishops of England and Wales have invited their people to make submissions on their experience of the institution. In their invitation, “The Call, the Journey and the Mission”, they pose six questions to be answered:
What are your joys and hopes of marriage and family life today?
What are your struggles and fears of marriage and family life today?
How can we better understand marriage as a vocation?
How does your marriage enrich you?
How does your family life enrich those around you?
In what way, through the abiding presence of God, is your family “salt of the earth and light to the world,” and a place of and for handing on our faith?
We could simply go directly to the questionnaire, and dash off some replies. However, they ask that we first reflect on a selection of scripture passages (the links in the headings go to the sections of the bishops’ website, where they suggest specific questions for reflection. The links following the references go to the actual texts at Bible Gateway, NRSV Catholic edition):