“Christianity is a Queer Thing” – Elizabeth Stuart

I have been re-reading Elisabeth Stuart’s wonderful “Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Difference“, which presents a ‘genealogy’ of the changing approaches by self-identified lesbian & gay theologians, culminating in the last two chapters with a discussion of “Queer theology”.  It was these latter two chapters that I was particularly interested in.

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As I went through Stuart’s rundown of the leading figures in the development of Queer Theology, I found myself excited by the description of almost all, and planning on adding them to my ‘Wish List’, which I have now done.  I thought I would share with you why.  The notes below are super – brief descriptions of the key ideas that caught my interest, and the books, as reported by Stuart, that hold them.

Strangers and Friends (Michael Vasey)

Vasey argues from an historical presentation of the sexuality and the family.  He points out that far from being the ‘tradtional’ model, the family as idealised  by modern Christians, especially the evangelicals,  is a relatively modern invention.  The gradual development of this model as normative, has largely been responsible for the parallel development of a distinct gay identity, largely in reaction.  (The campaign against the ‘homosexual’ is attacking what it has itself created.) Conversely, the early church idealised male friendship and community life, rather than the family as now understood.

Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of Christian Ethics (Kathy Rudy)

Rudy also looks at the historical development of the family, from a feminist perspective.  Her conclusion is that LGBT people are mistaken in looking to mimic heterosexual families, suggesting that urban gay male culture offers a model of human relationships modelled on community. She denies the argument that Christian sexuality needs to be procreative – Christianity reproduces itself not by procreation, but by conversion.  What matters is not whether two people can produce children, but whether they can embrace outsiders – the key characteristic of Christianity.

Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach (Virginia Ramey Mollenkott)

Mollenkott shows that many features of God’s incarnation and manifestation to humans, and many practices of the church, fall outside socially approved, binary ideas of gender. She also discusses numerous examples of canonised saints who have defied gender roles.

Indecent Theology: (Marcella Althaus-Reid)

Althaus-Reid’s starting point is within the framework of liberation theology, but she points out that this has often proceeded from within a traditional approaches to gender and sexual identity. She “foregrounds a Christ outside the gates who is the eternal Bi/Christ who always gives us something to think about.”

Books: Where To Begin?

One of the best ways to prepare oneself for the onslaught of religion-based hostility is to read some of the very many books on the subject that have  emerged over the last thirty years or so. But with such a wealth of titles available, and the field constatnly expanding, the obvious question is where to begin? To which the obvious reply is, where are you starting from?

The question matters. You need to be clear on whether you want a simple introduction, a general but comprehensive overview for playpeople, or a scholarly tome filled with notes, sources and all the necessary qualifications, ifs and buts. Are you looking for approaches rooted in scripture, or Church teaching, or both? From a gay male, lesbian, or trans perspective? All these questions, and more, will influence your choice. In my detailed posts for each book, I have attempted to provide answers to these questions. The labels included in each post will help you to find books on a specific topic. With time, I will be building in thematic lists, a search engine, and other means to access exactly what you personally will find helpful – but all these refinements take time, while I am simultaneously trying to expand the number and range of books included. I crave your patience.

In the meantime, I offer some suggestions of what might be the most useful for specific purposes.

For a very simple, introductory overview of Scripture and Church teaching, I was impressed by “The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality”, by Nicholas Coulton. Written from an Anglican perspective, but is also more widely applicable.

Also tackling both Scripture and Church teaching, but going into more detail, former Jesuit John McNeill’s “The Church and the Homosexual”, was one of the very first and is still a classic. “A Question of Truth” by the Dominican priest Gareth Moore covers much the same ground, and is much more recent.

On Scripture specifically, I think the best for the general reader is “Dirt, Greed and Sex” by the Episcopalian L. William Countryman. For a later, more Evangelical approach to the same subject, read Eugene Rogers, …If you are ready to tackle a more academic treatment bristling with footnotes, then read the chapter on Scripture in the landmark “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality” by John Boswell. (This is also of fundamental importance for gay church history, and the development of theology). If you are put off by the excessive footnotes and Greek & Latin quotations, you will find summaries of his arguments in many of the other books).

The Catholic priest, theologian and psychotherapist Daniel Helminiak has written that McNeill, Countryman and Boswell (noted above) were the three books that nmost influenced his own thinking and understanding. Helminiak’s “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality“. Helminiak’s book is often listed alongside those three.

It is important though not to get bogged down in biblical studies of homoeroticism by dealing only with fending off the oppressive texts of terror.  There are many ways in which we, like all other Christians, can read scripture for its positive inspiration. “Take Back the Word” (edited by Robert Goss) does just that.

An important set of books “from a perspective Catholic and gay” are more difficult to classify. These are the series by the theologian and former Dominican James Alison. These are undoubtedly works of “theology”, but the word is misleading, with its associations of ancient, scholastic tomes. Alison’s books are tightly reasoned, but presented in an informal, chatty style, as a series of reflections on God, and on what it means to be both gay and Catholic. These are all popular and highly recommended. Start with the first in the series: “Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay.”

Faith is incomplete without prayer. The Presbyterian Chris Glaser has several books on prayer for gay men and lesbians. A good one to begin with is “Coming Out to God” – which is a good way to think of starting our queer faith journey.

Finally, two books by Catholic priests which offer a completely fresh, unfamiliar take on the awkward question of sexual ethics: “Sex and the Sacred” by Daniel Helminiak, and “Sex as God Intended”, by John McNeill.

(Note:

I realise that all the above titles are written by men, and have a clearly male focus, although all do also try to cover lesbian relationships as well as gay male. There are good books by women, but I am not aware of any (yet) that I can reommend at this general level. I will make a point of highlighting books written from lesbian, bi or trans perspectives when I discuss some more specialised topics.)

The full introductory list then, is:

Alison, James: Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

Boswell: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

Coulton, Nicholas: The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality

Countryman, William: Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today

Glaser, Chris: Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends

Goss, Robert (ed): Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

Helminiak, Daniel: Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

McNeill, John: The Church and the Homosexual

McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality

Rogers, Eugene:  Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church

Good News from the Vatican?

Benedict’s Christmas address to the Curia provoked a firestorm of comment – but the important stuff, buried inside, was ignored.

Yes, the implied criticism of ‘homosexuals’, and more direct criticism of gender theory was disappointing. But the media frenzy overlooked a whole lot of stuff to encourage gay catholics. (Read the whole speech at ‘Whispers in the Loggia”). There was a long riff in the theme of the importance of joy as a sign of the Holy Spirit. Now I don’t know about you, but I have certainly experienced a great deal of ‘Joy’ (which Benedict reminds us is a sign of the Spirit) in physical, erotic love. So, by following the papal argument, I can claim to have found God in sex, gay sex. (No, I didn’t need Benedict to tell me what I already know – but it is good to have the Rottweiler agreeing with me for once.)

Benedict XVI

There is also more stuff on how Revelation is a continuing process in the modern world. – so there he acknowledged the possibility (I believe the probability) that theology can change to reflect a change in public understanding of sexuality.

In an open letter to the US bishops, John McNeill (writer, psychotherapist and former priest- letter reprinted at The Wild Reed) has railed against the iniquities done by the established church to gay and lesbian Catholics. But he also wrote of an emerging ‘Kairos moment’ – a moment ripe for change. He could be right – as gay Catholics, we need to encourage each other, and engage with the positive elements in the faith to force this change.

The Vatican: Changing Feet

After the Vatican’s initial statement that it would not support the proposed UN declaration on homosexuality was met by world wide protest, they attempted to calm the opposition by explaining that “of course” they opposed the execution of homosexuals and all other “injustice”, but could not support the declaration because it “could” lead to the enforcement of gay marriage. The declaration, of course, says nothing about marriage.

When this initial response led to still louder protest, a further clarification was forthcoming. The problem now appears to be that the declaration could lead to putting homosexuals on the same statutory “level” as other people, which they point out, not even France, the proposer of the motion, does. This is just opening a collective mouth to change feet.

As with marriage, the declaration is NOT about legal equality – else why would France be proposing a motion they do not comply with themselves? The Vatican’s two responses so far are no more than evasive smokescreens. They have repeatedly made sanctimonious statements supporting “compassion” and opposing “injustice” against homosexuals, but are singularly incapable of translating this into concrete terms. The motion proposed was simply an exploratory declaration. The minimum just response we might have expected from the Vatican would have been a statement of support in principle, coupled with explanations of their reservations. (I leave aside at present the obvious question: why should we not have full legal equality?).

The Vatican has an appalling record on LGBT and other sexual minorities. Their hostility is not justified in Scripture, nor in the practice of the early church. A number of saints are now known to have had same sex lovers, or other intimate companions – as do a significant proportion of clergy, at all levels, today. But during the course of history, an initial acceptance became toleration, to hostility, to outright persecution, leading to prejudice, violence, and murder – directly by burning under the Inquisition, indirectly by feeding a frenzy of public hostility and secular legal oppression.

They have backtracked from these past excesses, claiming to oppose “injustice”. But they still declare the “condition” to be “morally disordered”: a statement which, by completely ignoring plain facts of history, biology and social sciences, is itself morally disordered. Further, for this declaration they continue to align themselves with those countries which even today, still have a death penalty for homosexuals. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Until they can fully and frankly acknowledge and apologise their past iniquities against gay and other minorities, and realign themselves unequivocally on the side of simple justice, we must reject their flimsy excuses, and continue to hold them to account.

Good News for LGBT Catholics

The first time (as a young student) that I came across the title “Good News for Modern Man”, I did not realise it was an unconventional name for a new Bible translation. Later I made the connection, but could not see the relevance. “For Modern Man” I could understand, but in what sense “Good News”? After drifting away from the Church as a young adult, and later facing my sexuality, the description of the Bible as “good” news seemed even less appropriate. After all, ‘everybody’ knew how it was riddled with condemnations of any touch of sexual impropriety, most especially of the shameful sin of ‘sodomy’. There were a sprinkling of liberal churchmen, I knew, who took a more enlightened and tolerant view, but the Catholic Church in which I had grown up was implacable and instransigent. Like birth control, homosexuals were just not acceptable. So, like so many sexual minorities, I stayed outside the Church where I knew I was not welcome.

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Today, after some years’ journey of rediscovery of my faith, I find that the Bible is indeed “Good News”, including and especially for sexual outsiders; The Catholic Church really is the universal, welcoming community implied by that little word ‘catholic’ and LGBT people have an important part to play in it.

As I write, I can picture the jaws of my readers dropping in disbelief. In my experience, there are few people who believe that openly gay people can be accommodated in the Christian family: those of firm religious views reject out of hand the sinful ‘gay lifestyle’ (whatever that is), while people who have worked through the difficulties of coming out, have no desire to collaborate in ‘our oppression’ by religion. But around the world, more and more gay, lesbian and transgendered people are indeed finding that truth, as always, is more subtle and nuanced than the superficial perception, that they can after all find a welcome in a Catholic church, and that they do not have to renounce or compromise their sexual psyche to find it.

Naturally, we have some disagreements, even tensions, with the Vatican and some of our churchmen. The church and church people have inflicted great evils on our community in the past, and some smaller iniquities continue to this day. Likewise, Scripture contains some uncomfortable ‘clobber texts’ we have to come to terms with. But I submit that these texts are not as intimidating as we might fear, and in any case represent just a tiny fraction of the total Bible message. The Church, too, is greater than the clergy, the clergy greater than the Papacy and its attendant Vatican bureaucrats, and the Papacy far greater than its peculiar and disordered pronouncements on ‘homosexuals’.

If you remain sceptical, as I suspect many of you will be, I ask that you suspend your scepticism a little longer, as I share with you some of the experiences and insights that have led me to my transformed view of faith. I hope also to bring to your attention relevant topical news, information and comment.

But I do not wish to do this alone. The catholic church, after all, is above all about community. I have invited several of my associates too, to share their views, news and beliefs. Who knows? You may even find yourself stung into posting a comment or longer contribution.

I hope you do.

Terence.

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A Kairos moment for LGBT Catholics?

Former Jesuit, theologian, psychotherapist and author John McNeill has written an angry open letter to the U.S. bishops. He begins by slamming the bishops for ignoring the call to dialogue made by Dignity 30 years ago, and continues by lamenting “the enormous destruction recent Vatican documents have caused in the psychic life of young Catholic gays, and of the violence they will provoke against all gay people.”Gay Catholics, he says, have had “Enough!” With repeated cries of “Enough! Enough of …….” opening each section, his declaration rises in power and anger to its climax.

Holy Spirit in action?.

To me, the most interesting feature is not the anger or the arguments: these are all too familiar. But at the end of the letter he claims to be sensing a “Kairos moment” – a time ripe for significant change. The last time heard such a claim from churchmen was back in South Africa, in what seemed to the rest of us the darkest days of apartheid. I think it was within just a year or two that aprtheid had been officially disowned, Mandela had been released, and the new democracy was firmly on its way.

Is McNeill right? The point of a Kairos moment is not just to sit back and wait for things to happen – it is a time of potential only. To achieve the realisation of this moment, we need to grasp the opportunity, and force the change that is coming.

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Recommended Books:

John McNeill
James Alison:

Welcome. Come In, and Come Out

Welcome to your world

As gay Catholics, we have often found ourselves double outsiders. As a sexual minority in a world where heterosexuality is routinely taken for granted, and even suffered ridicule, discrimination, violence or worse, we have often felt excluded, left out – or even invisible.  Typically, we have felt even more rejected in the churches than in the secular world, with widespread condemnation of the ‘sin’ of homosexuality.  This hostility from the religious establishment has led to a counter-reaction from many in the LGBT community, who see religion as the architect and driving force behind our ‘oppression’, and consequently refuse to have any truck with organised religion.  The result for gay Catholics is too often, exclusion by both camps.  I have often heard the observation from my gay Catholic friends, that it can be as difficult to be out as Catholic in the gay community, as it is to be out as gay in the world at large.

However, in the secular world at least, things have changed. Ever since Stonewall, may of us have discovered the power of coming out publicly.  At a personal level, affirming, not hiding, our identities has been personally liberating for our mental and even physical health;  at a public level, the increasing visibility of persons of diverging sexual identities has played a big part in breaking down stereotypes, prejudice, and increasingly, discrimination.  For young (and not so young) people who are beginning for the first time to face the idea that they do not fit inside the sexual roles their social conditioning has led them to expect, this increased visibility of public role models also makes it easier for own coming out, than it was for earlier generations.

This increased visibility has not yet significantly reached our parishes, cloisters, or ecclesiastical parishes, partly because so many of those who are most comfortable identifying as gay, refuse to identify as churchgoers.  But in parallel with the secular world, the more we are indeed out in the church, the easier it will be for us, and for those who follow.

So, to all you who are gay Catholics or lapsed Catholics, a plea and invitation:  come in and come out. If you have lapsed, come back in to the Church, and help to make a difference.  If you remain a regular churchgoer, come in deeper – take on more active ministry.  Let there be no doubt of your credentials  as Catholic. Then, cautiously and gradually, come out as gay.  If you can not trust your parish to be accepting, find one which will (welcoming communities do exist.  This site will help you to find one.)  Or, if you prefer, seek out  a special Mass for an LGBT congregation.  These too exist in many bigger cities, even if not on every Sunday. For most people, coming out in the secular world was not easy.  You  probably needed help and support from LGBT friends, and may have deliberately sought out explicitly gay public venues as much for affirmation as for the objective services offered (I know I did.  Why else pay higher prices for a pint in Soho than in your neighbourhood local?)

Coming out in the church will be more difficult, so you will need even more support.  I hope that this site will help you to find a suitable support network for face to face contact and discussion.  But the virtual society of the blogosphere can also represent support of a kind – and that, we definitely aim to provide.

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Recommended Books

Alison, James Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

Alison, James On Being Liked

Alison, James Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in

Alison, James Broken Hearts New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal

McNeill, John The Church and the Homosexual: Fourth Edition

McNeill, John  Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life For Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else

McNeill, John  Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: My Spiritual Journey

McNeill, John  Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends

McNeill, John  Sex As God Intended