October 18th celebrates the feast of Saint Luke the Evangelsit, with many notable lessons for modern queer Christians in the readings for the day, both those from the daily Mass, and from the Divine Office. (As I read these texts and their significance for the LGBT Christian community, I do so in the context also of some recent observations of Pope Francis).
Conventionally, when people speak of “Romans 1” in the context of homosexuality, they are thinking in terms of the end of the chapter,verses 26 and 27, with their apparent condemnation. of homoerotic acts. There are two basic flaws with this assumption. As James Alison and others have pointed out, the division of the text into chapters and verses is relatively modern, and arbitrary. It is inappropriate to read these verses in isolation, without consideration of the full context. Reading the whole of Chapter 1, immediately followed by chapter, gives quite a different perspective on the intended lesson – that the passage as a whole, as of the full letter to the Romans, is a condemnation of hypocrisy.in judging others.
In his long interview with the Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica (published in English at America) Pope Francis noted that it is inevitable that Church doctrine will adapt and develop over time, in accordance with changes in human understanding of the world and of our own nature. The observation was immediately met with resistance in some quarters. Matters of discipline, some insisted, could change – but doctrine, never. Pope Benedict XVII regularly included in his writing references to the “constant and unchanging” teaching of the Church. This constant tradition is pure myth, as any look at church history will soon demonstrate.
Not only has it changed, it is inevitable that it will change. In speaking of the inevitability of doctrine constantly evolving, Francis is in good company, with the early fathers of the Church. His Jesuit interviewer noted that Pope Francis’ observations were prompted by a quotation from one of the fathers in his breviary.
He opens to the Office of Readings for Friday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time and reads me a passage from the Commonitorium Primum of St. Vincent of Lerins: “Even the dogma of the Christian religion must follow these laws, consolidating over the years, developing over time, deepening with age.”
Today is that Friday of the 27th week, and so the reading Francis referred to is the second reading in today’s office. Francis has picked out one extract from the passage by the 5th century St Vincent. Right at the beginning of the passage, Vincent puts the question, “Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ?” and replies quite explicitly that “Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale”
The full reading follows, taken from Universalis (with grateful thanks to reader Chris Sullivan, who alerted me to it in an early morning email).
|Second Reading||An instruction by St Vincent of Lerins|
|The development of doctrine|
Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale.
Who can be so grudging to men, so full of hate for God, as to try to prevent it? But it must truly be development of the faith, not alteration of the faith. Development means that each thing expands to be itself, while alteration means that a thing is changed from one thing into another.
The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all, of individuals as well as of the whole Church, ought then to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries, but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.
The religion of souls should follow the law of development of bodies. Though bodies develop and unfold their component parts with the passing of the years, they always remain what they were. There is a great difference between the flower of childhood and the maturity of age, but those who become old are the very same people who were once young. Though the condition and appearance of one and the same individual may change, it is one and the same nature, one and the same person.
The tiny members of unweaned children and the grown members of young men are still the same members. Men have the same number of limbs as children. Whatever develops at a later age was already present in seminal form; there is nothing new in old age that was not already latent in childhood.
There is no doubt, then, that the legitimate and correct rule of development, the established and wonderful order of growth, is this: in older people the fullness of years always brings to completion those members and forms that the wisdom of the Creator fashioned beforehand in their earlier years.
If, however, the human form were to turn into some shape that did not belong to its own nature, or even if something were added to the sum of its members or subtracted from it, the whole body would necessarily perish or become grotesque or at least be enfeebled. In the same way, the doctrine of the Christian religion should properly follow these laws of development, that is, by becoming firmer over the years, more ample in the course of time, more exalted as it advances in age.
In ancient times our ancestors sowed the good seed in the harvest field of the Church. It would be very wrong and unfitting if we, their descendants, were to reap, not the genuine wheat of truth but the intrusive growth of error.
On the contrary, what is right and fitting is this: there should be no inconsistency between first and last, but we should reap true doctrine from the growth of true teaching, so that when, in the course of time, those first sowings yield an increase it may flourish and be tended in our day also.
Gay and lesbian people will be more than familiar with the many sound arguments favour of stepping out of that closet, and openly living a life of sexual honesty and integrity. The process can be difficult and challenging (and in some situations, simply not realistically possible), but where it is undertaken, the benefits can be profound – for the individual, in terms of mental and emotional health, for the community, in building social acceptance and understanding, for younger gay people, by providing a range of appropriate role models, and politically – there is abundant evidence to confirm that people who know openly gay or lesbian friends, family and colleagues are more supportive of equality legislation of all kinds.
What is less well known, is that in precisely the same way, there are enormous benefits in coming out, in church – benefits to the individual, to the community, as providing role models for younger people – and in preparing the way for improvements in pastoral practice, and (longer term), for the inevitable changes in core doctrine that must eventually come. Coming out, in effect, is an important act of faith – which is why the gay theologian Chris Glaser describes it as “sacrament”, devoting an entire book to the theme “Coming Out as Sacrament”.
Just as coming out (usually) represents a time of growth in psychosocial development, with demonstrable benefits for mental and emotional health, many Catholic priests with expertise in both psychotherapy and spirituality, affirm that coming out is also a process of spirtitual growth. John McNeill for example, makes the case in “Sex as God Intended”, Daniel Helminiak in ” Sex and the Sacred”, and James L’Empereur in “Spritual Direction and the Gay Person”.
It is more than simply an opportunity, however. Other writers have observed that it is, in effect, a religious obligation. The Jewish theologian Rebekah Alpert says this is a natural consequence of the emphasis the prophet Micah places on the obligation to “do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God”. Michael Bayley (at The Wild Reed), sees it as a Gospel command, by analogy from Christ’s words to the dead Lazarus, “Come out”. (Many people do indeed, liken the experience of coming out to a resurrection experience, finding themselves fully alive, after a time of emotional near – death).
For Catholics, coming out can even be seen as demanded by the Catechism – which tells us that sexuality is an important part of our human make-up, which must be fully integrated into our personalities. There is of course an immediate contradiction in the Catechism, which goes on to state that this integration can only be done within the context of heterosexual marriage – but states elsewhere that such marriage is not recommended for gay men and lesbians. Also accepting that attempts at conversion therapy to change inherent affectional orientation are also not recommended..Coming out in church, to friends in our parishes. to our pastors and our bishops, will in time help lead the Church to face the simple fact that these contradictions mean the church in effect has no realistic answers on just how LGBT people are to integrate their sexuality into their personalities.
The simplest and most cogent reason for coming out, is that is just a matter of basic honesty and integrity, and honesty is a core Christian value. Ironically, in the CDF letter to the bishops on the pastoral care of homosexual persons, which is otherwise so disordered in its judgements, then Cardinal Ratzinger concludes with a reminder of two important Biblical precepts – “Speak the truth in love”, and “The truth will set you free”. No matter that “speaking the truth” is precisely what the letter does not do, these are important principles for gay and lesbian Christians, of all denominations, to cling to – because speaking the truth about ourselves, in church and in our daily lives, really does have the potential to set us free – emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Conversely, the closet is a place of confinement, and so any deliberate failure to come out where it is realistically possible to do so, is to live dishonestly – and so the closet can be seen as a place of sin.
The challenge is that while the potential is there, in practice there are serious difficulties and challenges, often even greater than those we may encounter in the secular world. For some people, especially those employed by the church and in certain parishes or dioceses, it will be more difficult than for others – and very occasionally, will have real risks associated. Accordingly, I always recommend that people should come out as far as they are realistically able to, in their own circumstances – but no further, until they are ready to do so. Coming out is a process, not an event.
Where and how can the process begin?
The first step must necessarily be simply to come out to yourself – and then, to God, in your prayer life. In doing so, you should be assured that whatever rejection or hostility you may fear meeting from humans, there will be none from God. Chris Glaser writes on just how to do this in another of his books, “Coming Out to God” (and describes in his preface how he found that in his own life, embracing and acknowledging his sexuality enhanced his spirituality – and vice versa).
Once you are comfortable at being out to God, it will become easier to come out to selected humans. Participate actively in a faith community, either one that is explicitly LGBT or LGBT – affirming, or a conventional local parish, and develop friendships with others in that community. With growth in friendship, it will become easier to open up in a degree of honesty about your life and situation, and every inch taken on the road of coming out, makes the next yard easier. When you are ready, confide in your local parish priest or pastor. Most people find that he will be more understanding and sympathetic than they have feared).
And if you really are not able to come out in person, to local people, do it at a remove, by writing to bishops and to the pope, telling your story.
- Cleaver, Richard: Know My Name
- Glaser, Chris: Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends
- Glaser, Chris: Coming out As Sacrament
- Kelly, Michael B: Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith
- Empereur, James L: Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person
- McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended
- For Full Inclusion in Church, Be “Comfortable in Your Own Skin”
- Coming out as Grace: Patrick Chen, on the “Out Christ”
- Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 2): Why Can’t They Just Keep Quiet About It?
- Coming Out as a Religious Obligation: Micah and Justice.
- “Coming Out”: A Gospel Command.
- Coming Out as Spiritual Experience
- Come Out, Stand Proud. (The Catechism Commands It!)
- The Spiritual Gifts of Gay Sexuality
- Finding God in Gay Lovemaking
- Come Out, Stand Proud. (The Catechism Commands It!)
- The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality
- Homoerotic Spirituality
- Pope Francis, on Why and How the Church Must Change
- Will the “Extraordinary Synod on the Family” Consider Queer Families?
- “Messages in a Bottle” : Letters to the Pope (1), Kellie King
- Re-Evangelising the Church: Lapsed (LGBT) Catholics
- A Modern Reformation, for LGBT Christians
- “Some Christians Are Gay. Get Over It”.
- Coming Out As…Christian (advocate.com)
- Reflecting on ‘Coming Out’ to Celebrate National Coming Out Day (Bondings 2.0)
Vida Dutton Scudder is a rare example of a modern lesbian who is a recognized Christian saint (recognized by the US Episcopal Church, not the Roman Catholics). Her work and message are particularly relevant to the twentieth century, as we grapple with an economic crisis triggered in effect by corporate and consumer greed.
Born in 1861, over a long life Scudder was an educator, writer, and welfare activist in the social gospel movement. Much of her thinking has particular relevance to us today, as we grapple with a financial and economic crisis precipitated in effect by a corporate and consumer culture marked by unrestrained greed. Throughout her life Scudder’s primary relationships and support network were women. From 1919 until her death, Scudder was in a relationship with Florence Converse, with whom she lived.
After earning a BA degree from Smith College in 1894, in 1895 she became one of the first two American women admitted to graduate study at Oxford university. After returning to Boston, Scudder Continue reading Vida Dutton Scudder, American Lesbian Saint for Our Times
Opponents of women or gay men as bishops in the Anglican communion, argue that while these might be acceptable to Western “liberals”, they would never be accepted by Christians in the growth regions of the church, in Africa and Asia. This claim totally overlooks the historical fact that in both Africa and Asia, same – sex relationships were part of traditional culture in many parts of both continents before the arrival of Western missionaries – and that before the widely publicized election of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay man elected to the episcopacy in North America, at least two openly gay bishops had been selected in both Africa (Mervyn Castle, in False Bay, Cape Town), and in the Soloman Isles, in the Pacific region.
Similarly, there have been four women recently named as bishops, but only one, from Ireland, has been widely reported. Yet Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya was consecrated Bishop of Swaziland in November 2012 and the Rt Revd Margaret Vertue, for False Bay (adjoining Cape Town in South Africa) in January 2013, and more recently, Rev. Eggoni Pushpalalitha in South India
In addition, the Wikipedia entry on women bishops in the Anglican communion reports that women bishops have been approved, but not yet appointed, in Bangladesh, Brazil, Central America, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, North India, Philippines, Scotland, Sudan, Uganda. and Ugnada. With so many countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America accepting of women bishops, the claim that the “rest of the world” is not ready, simply does not hold water.
A report from Anglican News noted that the recent provincial synod for Southern Africa, attended by the two new women bishops, devoted considerable attention to remaining problems of gender imbalance.
Anglicans Welcome Women Bishops and Wrestle with Gender Justice within the Church
While the Anglican Church of Southern Africa had two women Bishops at its Provincial Synod for the first time, it also passed a motion pressing for better gender balance in its meetings and structures.
The Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya was consecrated Bishop of Swaziland in November 2012 and the Rt Revd Margaret Vertue in January 2013, and were among eight new bishops at the Synod, which has been meeting this week in Benoni, South Africa.
In his address to the opening session of the Synod, Archbishop Makgoba recalled his words at the previous meeting of Synod, ‘Those of you who were here three years ago will remember me admitting I dreamed of consecrating a woman bishop for our Province – by the grace of God, we now have two!’
Nonetheless, participants in the meeting noted that among Synod members, men outnumbered women by more than three to one, and so a motion was passed calling on steps to be taken to work towards a more equal balance particularly in key bodies of the Church.
- Anglican Church of Southern Africa considers Pastoral Response to Civil Unions(thinkinganglicans.org.uk)
- Church of South India elects first woman bishop (thinkinganglicans.org.uk)
- Church in Wales votes in favour of women bishops (thinkinganglicans.org.uk)
- One Reason S.A. Anglicans could never be part of GAFCON(kiwianglo.wordpress.com)
- Has Pope Francis a major blind spot regarding the role of women in the Church?(tabamantia.wordpress.com)
- Patricia Storey to be Bishop of Meath and Kildare (thinkinganglicans.org.uk)
- First females elected to attend House of Bishops (thinkinganglicans.org.uk)