Tomorrow November 1st, we honour the acknowledged Christian saints in our history and Wednesday 2nd we remember “All Souls” – the others who have gone before us. For LGBT Christians, it’s important to remember our own saints and martyrs. Fr James Martin SJ has pointed out that among the vast number of recognised saints, some will certainly have been lesbian, gay or transgender. I wouldn’t use quite that terminology: the word “gay” has a particular connotation applicable to the modern world, not necessarily appropriate with reference to those of many centuries ago, and who may have lived lives of sexual abstinence.
However, some of these saints will certainly have had an innate same-sex affectional orientation. Many others can certainly be described as at least “queer” – in the sense of definitely not fitting a conventional heterosexual template. Also, just as there have been martyrs for the church, those who were persecuted and killed in witness to their faith, there are many thousands of undoubtedly LGBT people throughout history who have been martyred by the church – persecuted and killed on account of their sexual or gender identity.
For All Saints Day and All Souls Day, I will celebrate the story in more detail. Today however is the last day of LGBT History Month in the USA – and is also Hallowe’en – the eve of All Hallows Day. For now then, a taster, summarising the story of the queer saints and martyrs in Christian history, and before.
The European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups have announced on their facebook page, that in 2019, the annual conference will be held in London:
The UK-based member groups of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, and representatives of other groups have agreed to host the 2019 European Forum Conference in London from 26-30 June 2019.
The Board is very happy with this offer and wants to encourage you to put the dates of the 2019 conference in your agenda! Welcome!
We wish the London/UK team all the best and a lot of joy preparing the conference. But first: off to Rome (9-13 May 2018).
I attended the initial planning meeting on Saturday, to begin work on the conference. It was encouraging to note that even at this early stage, there are a number of UK LGBT groups, with a diverse range of denominations and interests, coming together to plan this exciting venture.
The groups attending or which had sent formal apologies, included:
LGBT Catholics Westminster·
St Anne’s, Soho
Bloomsbury Baptist Church
MCC North London
In addition to those groups formally represented, there are several more that have shown interest in informal discussions, and yet others that are still to be approached, from right across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The initial business agreed the date and discussed a possible specific venue., and began discussions on more detailed work that will need to be done by sub-groups.
Gay men and women could be excused for feeling more than a little ambivalent about the Song of Songs as recommended reading. On the one hand, it is very emphatically and clearly a frankly erotic love song between two unmarried lovers. It is a celebration of physical love, and an important counter to the common religious view that sexual expression must be confined to procreation. The Song is the strongest possible proof that Scripture does not support that view (there are others, too.)
Through the fog of millenia, foreign language, and unfamiliar cultural contexts, it is easy for Christians in the twenty first century to miss the specific relevance of some passages in Scripture, especially the books of the “minor prophets” in the Hebrew Scriptures, expecially the queer references. When, with the help of suitable guidance, we do explore these, we may find some powerful material for reflection. I have found precisely that in a piece by Michael S. Piazza, “Nehemiah as a Model for Queer Servant Leadership” (In “Take Back the Word” , ed Robert Goss)
The first likely question from those unfamiliar with the background (let alone even the basic story of Nehemiah), is what makes this a “queer” story? The answer depends on appreciating the cultural background, and in turn casts some light on several other passages from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Nehemiah was one of many Hebrews taken to Babylon as a slave, where he was engaged as a “cupbearer” to the Persian king Artaxerxes (the Persians had replaced the original Babylonians as rulers) . The purpose of a cup-bearer was not simply to carry the wine glass – it included the responsibility for tasting and testing all the king’s food and drink, against the possibility of poisoning. As such, it was a position of great responsibility, and personal intimacy – and it was standard practice for slaves in positions of such personal intimacy in the Royal household to be castrated. It is likely, then, that Nehemiah was a eunuch. (According to one historian, cupbearers to the king were always the most attractive men). Living in such close proximity to the king, and sharing in his meals, also meant that he shared in a life of great luxury – almost as much as the king himself.
That’s the background. The point of the story in the Bible, is that some years after the first wave of Hebrew exiles had been allowed to return to Jerusalem, where the temple and the city walls had been destroyed. Without the walls for defence, the city was vulnerable to repeated attacks by its enemies. Nehemiah became convinced that the Lord was calling him, too, back to Jerusalem, to do something about it. Now, remember that Nehemiah was a cupbearer, used to luxury, and not a soldier, a politician, or a religious leader. Nevertheless, he responded to God’s call, and secured permission from the king to return.
When he returned, he was initially ridiculed for his presumption in undertaking such a preposterous task – he, who had not the skills or experience to undertake such a great project. But he set to regardless, and ultimately succeeded.
Michael Piazza, in his reflection on the story, uses it as a metaphor for the task that we as lesbigaytrans people in the church can face. There is asense in which the wider Christian church, having lost its way in rejecting its own people, and placing (possibly mistaken) biblical literalism above the more fundamental lesson of love, can be seen as a church which is broken and in need of rebuilding, just as Jerusalem needed to rebuild its temple.
Like the eunuch Nehemiah, we are sexual outsiders, and can easily be dismissed by the church for our lack of approved skills and insider accreditation as pastors – but we too are called by God to help in rebuilding God’s church. With application, prayer and God’s help, we too can prevail – just as Nehemiah did.
Adding to the power of Piazza’s telling, is his own record with the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, where he is the senior pastor. This was founded in Dallas in 1970 – hardly the most obvious place for a gay friendly church. But in the years since, it has become the world’s largest gay and leasbian megachurch. Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem against the odds, and the Cathedral of Hope defied its location and prospered as as church serving an LGBT congregation.
For Intersex Awareness Day yesterday, the internet was awash with numerous posts on the subject. One that I particularly liked was by Tony Briffa, an Australian writing about “My experience as the world’s first openly intersex Mayor“. Briffa writes candidly about life as an intersex person, one who is “intersex and am therefore not exclusively female or male”, and the difficulties presented by being perceived sometimes as male, sometimes as female. The simple physical fact is, that Briffa was born with some male parts, but a primarily female body. The social facts of living as partly both, is a different matter entirely – not simple at all.
In LGBT groups, we sometimes come across discussions about a possible need to expand to LGBTI, to provide explicit inclusion of intersex people, just as gay groups earlier expanded their own terminology to make explicit inclusion of lesbians, bisexual and trans people. One response to that, is to leave that decision to the intersex community themselves: it is known that many intersex people do not want to be lumped together with the LGBT community, as their problems and issues are of a different kind entirely. (But then, much the same can be said about transgender people – their issues are not about sexual orientation). In this respect, I note that Briffa does write, at one point early in the story, of having “felt very comfortable in the LGBT community, and I could openly discuss who I am and being intersex”.
However, it remains true that the issues are entirely different. It would be completely wrong for me as a gay man to even remotely attempt to describe the experience of an intersex person, and I’m not about to do it.
Read it for yourself, at Intersexday,org – where no doubt you can also find many other useful posts, to learn more about an important but widely misunderstood part of the human population.Y
What the Bible really says, is not what you think!
Whenit comes to sex and your faith, I know that you want to get it right.
Our sexuality is tightly woven into who we are — it’s one part who our soul connects with and one part what our body feels.
And for modern Christians, our sexuality is also a battleground. There are so many people telling us what we should believe and how we should act.
It can be difficult to keep your head on straight when you’re trying to balance what you heard at church once, what you think you’re supposed to think, what your heart desires, what your body craves, what your friends tell you, what you see in movies, and on and on and on …
So let’s cut through all the noise, right? Let’s go straight to the source… let’s take a look at what the Bible says! That will tell us what to think and how to act, right? (Spoiler alert: it won’t)
Bookended by two entirely traditional Catholic prayers, to St Michael the Archangel and the “Hail Holy Queen”, each part of this rosary meditation is accompanied by a suitable picture, as well as words form meditation.
As a taster, here are his notes for the opening meditation, the healing of the centurion’s “boy”:
The Healing of the Centurion’s boy [Mat 8: 5-13; Lk 7:1-10; Jn 4:46-54]
How much the officer loved his young batman. Now, the youth was near death and he was desperate. Perhaps the wonder working Rabbi would help?
But why should a Pharisee condescend to help a gentile and an officer of the Roman Occupation at that? Why should he heal a pagan catamite?
Still, the centurion would do anything for his boy, even if it risked humiliation at the hands of a Jew. Moreover, the Rabbi had a reputation for compassion as well as for miracles.
The God of Israel was just and kind and could not refuse a request made for the sake of love. The Centurion plucked up his courage and decided that he would ask in confidence! “Lord, my boy is paralysed, in terrible distress.”
Touched by the officer’s appeal, Jesus said: “Don’t be upset any more, everything will be all right. I will come and cure him.”
The Centurion, knowing his ritual impurity protested: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but say only the word and my boy will be healed.”
And the Master said: “Truly, I have never met faith like this in the whole of respectable Israel. Go, your boy is healed.”
Now, the prayer of the Centurion is at the heart of the Roman Mass: the prayer of a gay man, whom Jesus commended as having more faith than any other He had met!
Jesus reaches out to the despised and unlovely, the hated and feared: because God loves all that He has made. His arms are open to heal all kinds of his creatures and gather them to His Sacred Heart.
Let us have faith that there is no unlovely part of our lives that His grace cannot touch and sanitize. . Let us only ask in confidence, knowing that He inspires, hears and answers all our prayers.
Lovatt’s interpretation is particularly appropriate for gay men rather than lesbians, but he is not the only one to have developed a rosary for our community. Another version, developed by the Metropolitan Community Church Berkeley, is suitable for both women and men. Eugene McMullan, a Catholic who was teaching a course with the MCC Berkeley, developed a set of “Relational Mysteries” which caused an uproar among conservative Catholic groups when they were described as “Queering the Rosary”. Since then, he has added Prophetic and Incarnational Mysteries, to form what he calls a Peace and Justice rosary. In a comment to my original post on the relational mysteries, McMullen described how he came to develop these, and included a useful link which I included in an update to my original post – but that link is now broken. However, Dignity San Francisco has combined all three of these Justice and Peace mysteries of the rosary with the traditional three (Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious) and the Luminous Mysteries, making a full complement of seven, for the seven days of the week:
SUNDAY: The Glorious Mysteries (1-5 traditional)
1. The Resurrection
2. The Ascension
3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit
4. The Assumption
5. The Coronation of Mary
6. The Wolf Lies Down with the Lamb (Isaiah 11:6)
7. Love Reigns
MONDAY: The Relational Mysteries
1. Ruth’s Pledge to Naomi (Ruth 1:16-18)
2. The Parting of David and Jonathan (I Samuel 20:35-42)
3. Esther Intercedes for Her People (Esther 4:9-5:2)
4. The Raising of Lazarus (John 11:38-44)
5. The Two Encounter Christ on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
6. The Beloved Community Shares All Things in Common (Acts 2:44-45)
7. Love Reigns
TUESDAY: The Prophetic Mysteries
1. The Spirit Moves on the Face of the Deep (Genesis 1:2)
2. The Angel Appears to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-12)
3. The Parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22)
4. Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
5. Jesus’ Action in the Temple (Mark 11:15-17)
6. A New Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation 21:1)
7. Love Reigns
WEDNESDAY: The Joyful Mysteries (1-5 traditional)
1. The Annunciation
2. The Visitation
3. The Nativity
4. The Presentation
5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
6. Jesus Becomes a Man (Luke 2:52)
7. Love Reigns
THURSDAY: The Luminous Mysteries (1-5 traditional)
1. The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan
2. The Wedding Feast at Cana
3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
4. The Transfiguration
5. The Institution of the Eucharist
6. The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40)
7. Love Reigns
FRIDAY: The Sorrowful Mysteries (1-5 traditional)
1. The Agony in the Garden
2. Jesus Is Scourged
3. Jesus Is Crowned with Thorns
4. Jesus Carries His Cross
5. Jesus Is Crucified
6. Mary Magdalene Weeps in the Garden (John 20:11-18)
7. Love Reigns
SATURDAY: The Incarnation Mysteries
1. God Breathes Life into Adam (Genesis 2:7)
2. Moses’ Mother Gives Nurse (Exodus 2:7-9)
3. The Bride Opens to Her Beloved (Song of Songs 5:6)
4. The Word Becomes Flesh (John 1:14)
5. Jesus Feeds the Multitude (Mark 6:30-44)
6. Thomas Touches Jesus’ Side (John 20:24-29)
7. Love Reigns
The Relational Mysteries:
Fidelity—Ruth’s pledge to Naomi (Ruth 1:16-18);
Grief—The parting of David and Jonathan (I Sam 20:35-42);
Intercession—Esther intercedes for her people (Est 4:9-5:2);
Restoration—the raising of Lazarus (John 11:38-44); and
Discipleship—the two encounter Christ on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
Just sometimes, when a baby is born the answer to “Is it a girl or a boy?” the answer is simply, “No”. A small but significant proportion of people have bodies that just do not fit into that binary divide of either male or female. There are few firm estimates of the number of intersex people, because definitions vary. By one narrow definition, the proportion of the population who are intersex is 0.018%. In a world population of 7.6 billion, even this lower estimate is still an awful lot of real people – something like 1.4 million. A broader definition puts the proportion at 1.7%, or as many as 129 million, worldwide.
For Intersex Awareness Day, I share links to some previous posts on intersex. First, there’s the story of How a Woman Became a Dominican Priest, and Teacher of Moral Theology. Sally Gross was assigned male at birth, and as an adult became a Catholic Dominican priest and a teacher of moral theology in England. However, Sally was in fact intersex, with internal organs primarily female. When this became known, it led to a decision to transition – and the forced expulsion from the priesthood. Later, she returned to her native Cape Town, where she founded Intersex South Africa.
With his Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”, Pope Francis has placed great emphasis on the importance of pastoral accompaniment, discernment, and the interior forum for church responses to LGBT Catholics. The document also speaks of the importance of accompaniment and pastoral care for the families which include those LGBT people. But what does this mean, in practice?
The response to Fr James Martin’s book, “Building a Bridge” has shown that there is widespread hunger for this accompaniment – but also reveals the extent of public ignorance. Martin’s book focuses on just one simple part of church teaching, on the need for “respect, compassion and sensitivity”, but quite deliberately does not dig more deeply. There is a dire need for material which does indeed take a broader canvas, suitable for use in parish groups.
Fortunate Families, the USA group for the parents and families of LGBT Catholics, has just such a great “resources” page, structured primarily for the Catholic families and friends of LGBT people, but also immensely valuable for anyone who simply wants to know more about the facts, without the polemics.
One of these valuable resources is an 8 part series, “Let’s Talk About Homosexuality“, which is described as a “Catholic conversation” on the subject, for
• Parents of gay and lesbian children: parents still in the closet, alone with their secret; parents out of the secret; struggling with their questions, their fears, their faith.
• Parents of young children: moms and dads seeking information and insight for their own parenting role as teacher and counselor.
• Family members who may be struggling to deal with the hurtful stereotypes that exist within both society and their Church.
• Gay and lesbian people who may be searching for some sign of understanding from their Church.
• Anyone who is curious about homosexuality and wanting to learn more.
Permission is granted for you to download and print this copyrighted series for your personal use, for parish study groups, for adult education programs, for ministry support, for future reference.
Structured as an adult education program to be placed on a parish website over a period of eight successive weeks, it could equally well be adapted for use in a discussion group meeting weekly (or monthly) – or for personal study, over eight sessions, at any frequency you choose.
Grouped into 3 major parts, the weekly instalments, with their main focus areas, are:
As Australia faces a postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage, we are seeing a steady stream of articles arguing the “yes” or “no” case. Many on the “no” side are prone to citing the Bible or appealing to “biblical values”. But what does the Bible actually say about human sexuality and homosexuality in particular?
What follows represents a summary of critical biblical scholarship on the issue. Critical biblical scholarship draws on a range academic disciplines including literary criticism, archaeology, history, philology, and social science to offer the most plausible, historically grounded interpretation of the Bible. It is not simply a matter of personal belief or citing official church doctrine.
Australian scholars are among leaders in the field when it comes to sexuality and the Bible. William Loader has written several books on the matter and this Anglican collection of essays is also excellent.
When it comes to homosexuality there are, at most, six passages of the Bible that are relevant. So what do these passages say?
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 is well known. This is where the terms “sodomite” and “sodomy” originate, and it has long been associated with biblical condemnation of male homosexual sex. It is, however, actually about gang-rape.
In this story, the men of Sodom seek to rape two visitors (who are actually angels). Their host, Lot, defends them and offers them protection in his house, but offers his virgin daughters to be raped in their place.
It is a deeply problematic and complex story that warrants an article of its own, but what is clear is that sexual violence and rape is harshly condemned, and so God destroys the town with sulphur and fire. Despite the linguistic history of the word “sodomite”, Genesis 19 has nothing to say about homosexuality or mutually consenting adults of the same gender expressing their desire and love.
Two of the laws of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) seem more pertinent. They call a man lying with another man instead of his wife an “abomination”.
We should note first that the imagined scenario is a married man committing adultery with another male. It is not describing what we would understand to be a sexual orientation. We might also note the inherent sexism here: women apparently don’t have the same desire or their sexuality is deemed too insignificant to be worthy of comment.
Again, we need some context. Yes, this verse clearly condemns adulterous homosexual sex in calling it an “abomination” (to’ebah), but here some of the other things also called an “abomination” in the Bible:
Egyptians eating with Hebrews;
having an image of another god in your house;
sacrificing your child to the god Molech;
having sex with your wife when she is menstruating;
taking your wife’s sister as a second wife; and
Banned likewise is wearing mixed-fabric clothing, interbreeding animals of different species, tattoos, mocking the blind by putting obstacles in their way, and trimming your beard.
As you can see, there is quite an assortment of ancient laws, some of which seem to make good sense (such as no child sacrifice) and others of which the majority of Christians no longer keep (such as eating pork and wearing a wool-silk blend).
To claim one set as timeless truths while ignoring the others is patently hypocritical and goes against the grain of the text itself.
These two verses in Leviticus are the sum total of what the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) says about same-sex activities. The remainder of the biblical references occur in the New Testament, written between approximately 50 and 110 CE in the context of the Roman Empire.
The attitudes and norms of Graeco-Roman culture are critical in understanding these texts. In Graeco-Roman society, there was an acceptance that men might be attracted to other men. Even if married (to a woman) and often prior to marriage, a wealthy man might have a young male lover or male partner.
In educational settings, several ancient authors comment on the male-male mentoring that often included pederasty (sex with boys). The main ancient objection to male-male sexual activity was that one partner had to take the “woman’s role” of being penetrated.
In a patriarchal society, to be masculine was to be the active partner, whereas to be passive was deemed feminine and shameful.
These attitudes find their way into the New Testament in various forms. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10 list a wide group of people who will not “inherit the Kingdom” without changing. Paul is using a standard list of vices here to make a wider rhetorical point.
Where some English translations might include “homosexuality” on this list, the translation is not that simple, which is why various English words are used (adulterer, immoral persons, prostitutes).
The Greek word malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 means “soft” or “effeminate” and captures the Graeco-Roman distaste at a man taking a “female” role. In the Bible it is commonly used to describe fancy clothing, and outside the Bible was a term for cult prostitutes.
The word arsenokoites is rarer. Scholars have debated whether it refers to male prostitution or pederasty or something else. To translate it “homosexual” is problematic for two reasons: it is unlikely Paul had any concept of sexual orientation and he was certainly not describing a committed adult relationship.
In Romans 1:26-27, Paul condemns people swapping out their usual partner for one of the same gender. He claims this is a result of idolatry and uses is as part of his argument for why one should only follow (his) God.
It is typical of the strong “them and us” rhetoric of the ancient world, serving a larger argument and is not a statement on sexuality per se. As New Testament scholar Sean Winter summarises:
Paul shares a stereotypical Jewish distrust of Graeco-Roman same sex activity, but is simply not talking about loving partnerships between people with same sex orientation.
We need to put all this in perspective. These are six verses out of more than 31,000 verses or roughly 0.016% of the text. In contrast, the Bible contains more than 2,000 verses about money (and related issues of greed, wealth, loans, and property), and more than 100 specifically on one’s obligation to care for widows.
In other words, monitoring and proscribing human (homo)sexual activity is not a particular concern of the Bible when compared to the overarching demand for justice, economic equality, and the fair treatment of foreigners and strangers. For certain Christian groups to make this the decisive Christian issue is simply a misreading of biblical values.
Lest readers think the Bible is against sexuality generally, there is an entire biblical book devoted to celebrating human sexual desire. Written in the style of a Mesopotamian love poem, the Song of Songs (sometimes called Song of Solomon), speaks positively of both female and male sexual yearning.
Serious Christians cannot ignore the Bible. They can, however, make sure that they interpret it with all the tools available to them, that they examine their own biases, and stop over-simplifying the issues.
The Bible offers a wide variety of marriage arrangements, many of which we no longer condone. It never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly.
It does, however, give us an ethic to guide how we treat one another: an ethic based upon God’s generous love and a profound concern for justice.