Heed the Message of Christ: Queering Galatians

As we continue to consider the person of Jesus Christ, we must think also of what he expects of us. Above all he sends us out into the world to carry his message. This is what is meant by “apostle” – one who is sent as a messenger. We are all (or should be) apostles, and the world we are to carry the message to is our own, contemporary world, with its modern conditions and circumstances.

It is in this spirit that  Rev Steven Parelli, executive director  of Other Sheep, has posted an adaptation and paraphrase of Paul’s letter to the Galatians., that he prepared in the immediate aftermath of the Equality March in Washington D. C. This is a text that he once memorized in an attempt to fight against his same-sex attraction – but reassessing it in personal, modern terms has given it a very different complexion:

When I was in my freshman year of Bible college, I memorized most of the book of Galatians by heart (and filled five notebooks with personal study notes) ….for the purpose of helping me to overcome my “temptation” to same-sex sex (which I now realise is not a temptation but an orientation).

Last night while on the bus that brought us home from the National Equality March in Washington,  D. C., I went over chapter 1 of Galatians in my mind as well as read it from the NT Bible I had with me. …….Once I queered the very first word “Paul” as “we who strive for the equality rights of LGBT people”, I was off and running. And then the text spoke to me, as many texts from the Bible have spoken to other oppressed peoples of former and present times.

Apostles for Today

Parelli’s queering of Galatians is helpful for the result – but also for the method, as a technique for making scripture more immediately comprehensible and applicable to our lives, today.

I begin with a restatement of the first part of the passage, in the familiar King James translation:

1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the  churches of Galatia: 3 Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us  from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: 5 To  whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

Now, Parelli’s paraphrase for today:

We who strive for the equal rights of LGBT people are sent ones – not because some pro-LGBT organization has enlisted us – but because Jesus Christ – his earthly ministry to the oppressed and marginalized – has called us to do, at this time, what he did then in his day.  We are sent by him and the life-giving Creator with the good news of liberty for all.  2 We are not alone in this mission, for there are many with whom we work and who work with us.  Now, it is to the churches at large in the United States that we write this letter.  3 We begin with this greeting:  Grace and peace to everyone from God the Creator and from Jesus our Lord 4 who lived for the oppressed in society to such an extent that he died at the hands of those who hated his mission; he gave his life in the pursuit of delivering us from a world where men do evil to other men; he died for a just world for all – a world as God originally intended it to be. 5 For this sacrifice we give him the glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

He continues:

8 Now, why would you want to do that?  No, you would not wish to destroy the good news that has come to the marginalized of society even if an “angel from heaven” were to pretend that you should do so.  Even if we ourselves, for some unknown reason, were to ask you to tell forth a message different than what we have been saying right along – that Jesus is the liberator of all the oppressed in society.  If we were to change the “good news,” than by all means tell us that we have corrupted the message. 9You see how important the “good news” is.

10 We are writing not because we need to persuade any one, or even God the Creator, of what we are about.  Both men and God  know:  we are about the good news of setting the captive free, that is the marginalized – the despised and rejected of society.  Obviously this is not about pleasing society who would keep the oppressed in their place.  This is about being the servants of Christ by doing what he did.  11 Yes, indeed, this good news that Jesus came into the world to show us how to live for one another (which we do tell to everyone) is obviously – not at this time – the way of humanity (but it is “the way” of Jesus).  12 Society so often fails to model before us this message of good news, and therefore, we did not receive it from observing society or any institution, but instead learned it from observing Jesus, the one who teaches us to give to others the rights, privileges and freedoms we would grant ourselves.

Like it?  Read the full paraphrase, parallel with the KJ version (no, it’s not my favourite either), at Other Sheep National Equality March

“So be it! Let’s talk about sex”

Having laid down the groundwork by talking more generally about love (not simply love as eros), I will now enter the minefield. That a priest – of all persons – should wish to directly talk about sex is problematic enough. Throw the gay ingredient into the mix and we have a bomb in our hands. So be it! Let’s talk about sex.

The words above are those of my colleague Bart, who uses them to introduce the next post in his series on the challenges facing a gay priest. Following the three initial reflections that have already appeared, the next post (which will appear on Monday) begins to get into the really sensitive, crunch issues. Look out for it, read it, and respond in the comments. I do not propose to anticipate Bart’s own writing, but I do want to stress that Bart’s series here is a serious exercise, an honest and courageous extension of his spiritual journaling, and so part of a process of his discernment, as he continues his journey of honesty and integrity. I feel privileged to be hosting such personal thoughts here – as you are to be able to read them. It is my hope that by responding in the comments, you will be able to give Bart some encouragement, and possible some food for thought.

Continue reading “So be it! Let’s talk about sex”

Put Christ Back Into Christianity: The Body of Christ

Absolutely fundamental to the Christian religion is the belief that God, as the second person of the Trinity, took on human form and became man. Jesus Christ, whose incarnation we celebrate at this time, was fully divine – and also fully human.

I want to stress here that word “incarnation”, not just the nativity, so familiar from Christmas cards and Nativity plays. Yes, like all other humans he began life as an infant – but he lived and ministered as a man, a real man, fully human, with all that entails. We celebrate the incarnation explicitly at Christmas, but also constantly in the life of the Church, and especially in the Mass. At the consecration, we hear the words, “This is my body”, and on receiving communion, “Body of Christ”, to which we reply, “Amen”. But like so much in tradition, this response has shifted subtly over the millenia.The original response carried rather more punch.

In the early church, when the presbyter administered the holy communion to the faithful, saying “Corpus Christi”, the body of Christ, the response was not “Amen”, as we now have it, but “I am”. Do you see how radical that is? You -I- we- are the body of God, in our humanity.

-Fr Bernard Lynch, cited in “From Queer to Eternity

There is another, fundamentally important implication that must follow from Christ’s fully human nature – his sexuality. Outside the realm of speculation, we have no specific knowledge of the nature of his sexual feelings and responses, but as an adult human male, we can be certain that they were there, even if we do not know what they were.

At the heart of Christianity is the astonishing claim that God became fully human in Jesus Christ a nd took on human flesh. With a body, circumcision, erections, ejaculations, sexual attractions. With eyes that noticed beauty, skin sensitive to the massage of oil and the touch of a woman’s hair.  Spittle that he rubbed on the eyes of a man born blind. A taste for good wine and feet that could dance the night away at Cana….Is this not what Jesus took on in the Incarnation?

-Michael Sean Paterson, in “From Queer to Eternity

Does it matter that he was male? Well. Catholic tradition certainly thinks so. That is a major part of the insistence on an exclusively male clergy.  How do we know that Christ had erections and ejaculations? That follows from his male biology. As any man knows, especially young men (and Christ died while still young) the male genital responses can be completely involuntary (even being used in some research studies and government programs to identify orientation).

So why is the Christian Church, and especially the Catholics, so afraid of the body, and of sexuality in particular? Other religions do not fear sex: many celebrate it to some degree  (some religions have even identified divine patrons of homosexual love). The Christian antipathy to the body and sexuality do not come from the Gospel and from Christ himself. The likeliest explanation I have found is that it arises from a combination of a distortion of Greek Stoic philosophy and a belief in the imminent parousia – but as my concern here is specifically with Christology, I will not explore that question further here.

The modern Catholic Church’s extreme resistance to the body has not even been a constant part of its tradition. We know for instance that many of the most celebrated saints and teachers in the mystical tradition of the church used starkly erotic, bodily imagery (including obviously homoerotic imagery).  The same attention to Christ’s physical body was also once evident in the visual arts.

Today, we are so accustomed to the sanitised images of the white male in a flowing white robe, familiar from children’s Illustrated Bible Stories and the like, that it is easy to lose sight of the real, human man behind these images.  The representations we commonly see, whether as pictures or as crucifixes, would typically suggest that he had no genitals at all – and completely obscure the fact that he was crucified, and carried the cross, entirely naked. It was not always so – as the art historian Leo Steinberg has demonstrated, Renaissance artists in their depictions of Christ’s body did not shirk from indicating the genitals, and even the erections he would surely have experienced.  Mark Jordan describes this misrepresentation of Christ’s body as a “corpse” of Jesus created by official Christology.

Much Christian theology claims to be about a divine incarnation. It is also, and perhaps more emphatically, a speech or managing that incarnation by controlling its awkward implications. Some particularly awkward consequences can only be managed by passing over members of the body of God in prudish silence.  Looked at in this way, the history of Christian theology can be seen as a long flight from the full consequences of its central profession. The big business of theology has been to construct alternate bodies for Jesus Christ – tidier bodies, bodies better conformed to institutional needs.  I think of these artificial bodies as Jesus’ corpses, and I consider large parts of official Christology as their mortuary.

In stressing the overwhelming probability that in his humanity, Jesus Christ would have experienced sexual feelings and physical, genital  responses, I do not want to argue that these were homoerotic responses to other men – but they may have been, as some scholars surmise. However, it would also be wrong to assume that his responses were either asexual or necessarily heterosexual.

What does this mean, in practical terms, for our religious practice as gay men (in particular)? I suggest that there are two hugely important consequences. The first is in our practice of spirituality, and our spiritual growth in personal relationship with Jesus. Recognizing his full bodily, male humanity, we should feel free to incorporate this into our prayer. Following the advice of Chris Glaser, we must allow our sexuality to complement our spirituality, not restrict it  – and vice versa. Unlike the official theologians of the Catholic Church, we must not run away from the full truth of Christ’s body. For Catholics, this also means we must take seriously the nature of the Eucharist itself. On this, I close with some words from Gerard Loughlin, in his introduction to “Queer Theology“:

The consecrated bread and wine are not metaphors for the body and blood of Christ, but really God’s body and blood, given for us to eat.  Pope Benedict XVI does not shy away from this when when he acknowledges that the “marriage between God and Israel” is now realized as union with God through sharing in Jesus’ body and blood. Certainly the Eucharist is as intimate as sex – taking another’s body into one’s own – and just insofar as it unites men and women with Jesus, it is gay sex as well as straight sex, gay marriage and straight marriage.

It is thus not possible for Christians schooled in the gospels and traditions to believe that gay people are ordered to an “intrinsic evil,” since all are ordered to God, and those ordered to God through their own sex are ordered as were the two Johns – the beloved and the baptist – who were ordered to Jesus ; a lover who does not discinguish between the sex of his brides, who welcomes all alike. Christ is the lover of both St theresa of Avila and St John of the cross.  …. It is not possible to place gay people outside Christ’s eucharistic embrace, the very space where we learn “the concrete practice of love.” For eucharstic communion “includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn”.

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Building Sexual Theology From the Ground Up

We are all familiar with the established, restrictive views on human sexuality espoused by the Vatican. In my writing on queer faith, I have often expressed views that some find controversial – but my regular readers generally find more helpful.

Some gay Catholics, and some priests, have been led to conclusions even more provocative than my own. One such is “Paul Robert”, who describes himself at his site Enhanced Masculinity as a Catholic “priest trying to put together a new theology of male homosexuality”.  His tone and style are markedly different to mine, but there is a fundamental point of theological agreement here: in the absence of any realistic sexual ethics taught by the nominally celibate men of the Vatican , we have no choice but to find our own path, and build a meaningful framework for sexual ethics from the ground up.

From “Enhanced Masculinity” Front Page

“Robert” says that he was excited when he first started reading theologians like John McNeill. So was I. He has moved a good deal further down the path than McNeill: I have not moved as far as he has, and am constantly reassessing my thinking, to identify what I can clearly accept, and what I definitively reject. As yet, there is not too much in either camp  that I am certain of, and a large range of matters remain for me unresolved questions, on which I will not yet take a position. So, while we both share an objective, to contribute to the development of a sound sexual ethic for gay men, I do not necessarily support everything that he says – but I will be thinking about his thoughts. The value of reading views we may not necessarily agree with, is that they force us to reconsider our own. Ever since coming across “Enhanced Masculinity” with its unabashed celebration of male sexuality, I have found myself constantly reflecting. Just how far do I agree, and where do I draw the line – and, more importantly, why?

I have selected (and edited) some extracts from his opening posts that are worth thinking about. Be warned though, before following any links, that these are not for the faint -hearted.  I noted earlier that he has gone a lot further in his rejection of the orthodox teaching than I have , and the site is quite specifically x-rated. If you do not want to risk being offended, stay away – and reflect instead on the thought behind the points that I reproduce here:

Why this blog

This blog is meant to be an exercise in thinking out a way of integrating my homosexuality, or, as I like to call it, my enhanced masculinity, with my Christian faith.  I call it “enhanced masculinity” because that is what being gay is all about, being fully sensitive to and keyed into masculinity in myself and in every guy I meet.  I know that there are lots of guys out there struggling with this.  I have come up with some new ways of philosophizing on homosexuality that I hope they may find helpful.

More about me and my thoughts

The author of this blog is a religious and a priest in full sacramental communion with the Roman Pontiff. I am gay with a strong tendency towards fetish and kink. This experience of how my own enhanced masculinity speaks to me, and has spoken to me since the onset of human consciousness, is basic to my thinking which pivots round the realization that you cannot philosophize or theologize on homosexuality in parallel with the moral norms for heterosexuality. What happens between a man and a woman is rightly called sex. What happens between two guys needs to be called something else, like enhanced masculinity.

My thinking is fairly simple:

1. Homosexuality is a gift from God. It is men tuned up to the masculine. I recently thought of the term “Enhanced males”. There is nothing evil, nothing wrong with this condition, it is a gift to society.
2. This man for man erotic direction is totally separate in its significance and nature from the heterosexual urge. It is a mistake to think out, philosophize on, mansex in the same framework as heterosex.
3. This gift needs to be integrated into our personal lives and in the lives of Christians and society by being used. We do not have to hide our light under a bushel. God wants to be praised for his gift of masculinity by guys exulting in it, individually and together. This means masturbating….. This perfectly healthy activity should never have been forbidden in the name of religion or decency. It is a puzzle to understand why it was ever so forbidden.
4. I come from a background that talks about chastity, that encourages vows of chastity. All of that tradition has been thought up in the context of a mentality that regards heterosexuality as the uniquely valid way of human sexuality. The spiritual path of union with God that this tradition seeks is equally to be found in living in depth the gift of enhanced masculinity for those who have it.

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