Tag Archives: lgbt inclusion in church

Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Reflects the Bigger Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

In the three weeks since I first noted that Presbyterian ratification for the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian clergy looked promising, the prospects have continued to improve.  There are now 13 regional presbyteries that have switched from No to Yes –  compared with just a single one which has switched the other way, from Yes to No. This makes a net gain of 12 – against just the 9 which are needed. It is likely that there will be others too, making the switch in the weeks ahead. Already, the number approving ratification (67) is more than two thirds of the way to the 87 required – just 20 more to go, with 58 votes to still to be held. The opposition, conversely, would need to win 39 of those remaining votes to prevail.

This process is clearly of fundamental importance to LGBT Presbyterians in the USA, but I believe it has far greater importance for the entire Christian church, worldwide: it is just one, local manifestation of a much bigger process. The ECLA took a similar decision in 2009, and recently 33 retired Methodist bishops called for that denomination to do the same. Three openly gay and partnered bishops have been ordained in the Episcopal and Swedish Lutheran churches, and the German Lutherans have no problem with pastors living with same sex partners. The process extends beyond the ordination of gay clergy. There is increasing willingness in many local churches and (some national denominations) to bless same sex partnerships or even celebrate gay weddings in Church. These are not, as the conservatives claim, simply opportunistic accomodation to secular trends in defiance of Scripture, but are prompted in large part precisely by careful attention to scholarly Biblical study, prayer and attentive listening process. Even Catholic professional theologians are now recognizing what lay Catholics already know – that homoerotic relationships in themselves are not immoral. What is presently unfolding in the PCUSA, why I find it so riveting, is nothing less than a wholesale transformation of Christian responses to homosexuality.

 

I have reproduced below my original post on this, showing how the numbers have changed in the past thee weeks, showing the current status as at 17th March:

*****

Last year, the Presbyterian Church of the USA voted to approve changes in the criteria for ordination of clergy, in terms which do not discriminate against partnered gay or lesbian candidates. The resolution removes a paragraph which includes the requirement

to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness.

and inserts instead:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

In effect, this is a vote for full inclusion of LGBT Presbyterians in the life of the Church. The vote at General Assembly must be ratified by a majority of local presbyteries before it takes effect. 2010 was not the first time that General Assembly voted in favour of inclusion: similar resolutions were passed in 2009, and   and – but failed to secure ratification. This year could be different.

An analysis of the votes held so far shows that presbyteries voting in favour of ratification presently lead those opposed by 46 67  (as at 17/03) to 34 48, with just 93 58 presbyteries still left to vote.  While we cannot predict with certainty what those votes will be until they have been concluded, there are useful clues in how they voted previously. My own investigation of the spreadsheet shows that with 46 67 presbyteries having voted in support, only 41 20 more are needed to secure ratification. Conversely, the 40 48 voting against still need to add 53 39 presbyteries to defeat the proposal – a much tougher prospect. While we cannot predict with certainty how the remaining presbyteries will vote, there are clues. For each one, the published spreadsheet shows how it voted on the previous similar measure from General Assembly 2009. If each of them were to vote in precisely the same way as it did last time around, the result would be :

Votes in favour – 86 90; Tie –  2; Votes against –  78 81. Presbyteries with tied votes count as “no”, so the effective result would be  Yes – 86 90, No  –  78 83 – and a win for inclusion.

However, there is no reason to suppose that they will vote the same way as before. Where votes have already been held, there has been a clear increase in support. Just the tiniest movement in favour would tilt at least the two tied votes to yes votes, which would be enough to tilt the balance. The record from the raw votes cast shows than in fact, across all presbyteries the percentage level of support increased by an average of 5%. If that applies uniformly across those presbyteries that have not yet voted, there will be a further 7 switching from “No” to “Yes”, adding to the 9 13  that have already done so. (So far, only one has switched the other way, from support to opposition).  That will lead to:

Votes in favour  – 97;  Votes against –  76, and ratification for inclusion by a clear margin.

The prospects look good.

But, as the folk at More Light Presbyterians constantly remind us, progress doesn’t just happen – it takes hard work and organisation. More Light Presbyterians have a permanent feature in their newsletters advising of local workshops, where participants can learn how to help in influencing their own congregations.

My Related Posts:

 

"Come Out", Do Not Be Ashamed, Filipino Archbishops Tell Gay Catholics

The Filipino website GMA News has an intriguing report that two Archbishops, Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz have urged gay Catholics to “come out in the open”, because they have nothing to be ashamed of.

Their full message does not depart from the formal position of Vatican doctrine, as it repeats the standard distinction between “homosexual persons” and  “homosexual acts”, and repeats the warning that these “acts” because they are “contrary to natural law”, and do not flow from “natural complementarity”. In this respect, they are as offensive as many other utterances from our bishops and the Vatican. (The occasion for this remarks was the Philippines launch of the book ” Homosexuality and the Catholic Church ” by Fr John Harvey, the founder of Courage).   Nevertheless, I see some good news in this report, supporting my belief that there is a gradual and welcome shift of emphasis underway. There are two elements of this shift evident in the bishops’ message.

First, is the suggestion I have put into the headline, that they are encouraging us to come out and be open – including, presumably, open and out in church.  This is significant: the implicit message up to now has been to remain firmly closeted. The CDF argues that there is no need for legal provision to protect us from homophobic discrimination, because the safest way to avoid discrimination is simply to hide our sexuality. There is also an often repeated claim that by coming out we are “identifying” with the gay lifestyle, and so should be discouraged. The simple fact that these two archbishops are now recommending that we should be open is a major new development, which I would like to see more widely endorsed, and followed. If many more gay men and lesbians were to come out in church, it could have significant impact in contributing to understanding and more general acceptance. (There is no need, in being more open, to go so far as to start disclosing details of sexual practice – but that applies equally to all, of any orientation).

 

The second important feature is less remarkable, having been made with increasing frequency in recent years by others. This is the reminder of the neglected part of the Catechism on homosexuality – that we “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity”. This is as much a part of official doctrine as the better known insistence that homosexual acts are sinful- but has not hitherto been heard often enough, and in practice has been widely ignored by many people who really should know better. To my mind, the insistence on “sensitivity” is particularly important. It is impossible to be truly sensitive to marginalized people unless we make a determined effort to understand them. That in turn requires something that has been almost totally absent in the response of the institutional church response to LGBT people up to now – genuine listening to us, as we talk about our lives, experiences, perceptions and expectations. If other Catholics really did attempt to live according to this part of the Catechism as assiduously as they insist we live according to the teachings on the dreaded “acts” themselves, the listening process that would ensue would inevitably also contribute to a softening of the traditional hostility – just as it has already done in the other denominations that have applied formal listening and study processes.

Related Posts:

 

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The Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

You’d never guess it if your only knowledge of the churches and homosexuality came from Focus on the Family, NOM or California Catholic Daily in the US, or from Christian Voice or the rule-book Catholic blogs in the UK, or from breakaway groups in the Anglican communion worldwide, but we are in the midst of a dramatic, wholesale transformation of the Christian churches’ response to homoerotic relationships. This is clearly leading in the direction of full inclusion in church for queer Christians, and for evaluating couple relationships and their recognition in church on a basis of full equality. This is bound to lead in time to profound improvements in the  political battles for full equality, and in the mental health of the LGBT Christian community.
These are bold statements. Am I mistaken? Am I deluding myself? It is of course possible that this is a case of wishful thinking, that I am misreading or exaggerating the evidence.  It’s possible – but I don’t think so. The evidence is compelling, if not yet widely noted. To substantiate my argument, I want to present the facts, and their implications, in some detail. As there is too much for a single post, I begin today with just a summary, as heads of argument. I will expand on the main sections in later posts, which I have in preparation.
(For now, I have made no attempt to supply detailed substantiation or links – these will follow, as I expand later on each specific theme).

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I have been thinking about this transformation for some time, but what really convinced me that this is a major, irreversible development was a result of an invitation I received to lead a session of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s 35th Anniversary Conference. The theme for conference is “Looking back, looking forward”. I will be giving a Catholic perspective on the last 35 years – and the next.
It’s looking at those next 35 years that is challenging. I don’t want to base my thoughts on guesswork, or on simple extrapolation, “if present trends continue“. The one thing we know about present trends, in almost any context, is that they never do continue. Feedback effects can either offset or exaggerate them. In reflecting on what could lie ahead, I considered only the changes that have already happened, the effects of these – and the very limited changes that we know for certain will happen over the next 35 years or so.  I did this initially for the Catholic Church specifically, and then realised that the method applies equally to the broader Christian churches as a whole. I begin by considering this broader church first.
The Past 35/ 40 years
“Out and Proud” Gay Visibility, Queer Families
The years since Stonewall have seen the rapid emergence of openly gay or lesbian, visible public role models far removed from the stereotypes of earlier years. This has included the emergence of well known same sex couples and queer families, in the news, on our screens, and in our neighbourhoods.  This has become increasingly visible over the years, and is now being given legal recognition in the movements for approval of marriage and family equality. The important consequence is that young people today have been raised, and are being raised, in environments where homoerotic relationships are seen to be entirely natural, and every bit as stable (or otherwise) than any other. Many youngsters are seeing this at first hand, in their friends and relations with two moms or two dads (just as others have single parents) – and are unfazed by it. Research evidence shows that young people are far more accepting of LGBT equality than their elders – and this applies within the churches, including even the evangelical churches, as well as in the general population.
Reevaluation of Scripture
Until recently, it was widely accepted that the Bible clearly opposed homosexuality, an assumption that underpinned the automatic denunciation of same sex relationships by most Christian denominations. Over the last thirty years, that has changed dramatically, with a substantial proportion – perhaps the majority – of modern Scripture scholars now agreeing that the evidence from Scripture is at best unclear, and that the traditional interpretations may be flawed by mistranslations or misinterpretations. Conversely, there has been fresh attention paid by some scholars to the specifically gay-friendly and affirming passages that have previously been neglected.
This re-evaluation began as the preserve of academics and specialists (like the growing number of openly gay or lesbian theologians), but is now starting to reach a popular audience as well.
Ordination of Queer Clergy
The re-evaluation of Scripture has underpinned the most dramatic manifestation of the transformation – the accelerating moves to accept for ordination as pastors or even as bishops men and women in public, committed and loving same sex relationships.
Traditionally, the churches could not countenance openly gay clergy, but in the days before Stonewall, when people in any case hid their sexuality, all that this meant was that gay priests and pastors where deeply closeted (just like their lay counterparts). That changed after Stonewall, as some men recognized that in honesty, they could not serve and remain closeted. Initially, the response of the churches was to refuse ordination to candidates who were known to be gay, and in some high profile cases, to remove from ministry priests and pastors who had already been ordained.
This has changed remarkably quickly. Today, almost all Mainline Protestant churches in the US, and the leading European Protestant churches, either ordain openly gay and lesbian pastors, or are seriously considering the possibility. The most recent example is that of 33 retired bishops of the United Methodist Church, who have signed a public statement calling for the full acceptance of ordination for openly gay or lesbian pastors in loving, committed relationships. 33 retired bishops urge end to gay clergy ban. Take careful note – these are retired bishops, not young hotheads, but the elder statesmen (and women) of the UMC. In parallel with this, the Presbyterian Church of the USA is at present well on its way to ratification of last year’s General Assembly resolution to formulate rules for ordination that did not discriminate against gay or lesbian candidates. (In Europe, it’s a dead issue: pastors of all sexual orientations are generally accepted).
Inclusion also applies at the highest levels of the clergy. There are now three openly gay and partnered bishops in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, while others have been nominated, but not ultimately successful.
Gay weddings, in church.
Resolutions to approve ordination of queer clergy have often gone hand in hand with attempts to secure approval for church weddings, or blessing of same sex couples. These have been less successful so far, but I would think this is only temporary. The recognition of partnered gay or lesbian clergy is always qualified by the expectation that theses relationships be committed, faithful and publicly accountable, just as heterosexual pastors are by virtue of their church marriages. The simplest way to make gay partnerships accountable in the same way, is to provide the same structure – a wedding in church.
This is already being done in some churches and localities, but we should certainly expect the practice to spread, especially with more openly gay pastors ordained, and as civil marriage becomes more widely available for queer clergy.
Looking Ahead
These are the key developments affecting the LGBT community and the church over the past 35 -40 years. Looking ahead, I submit that there are only two things we can say with certainty: the past will have consequences that will affect the future; and there will be generational change. Let’s take these in reverse order.
Generational Change
Whatever else may happen over the next 35 or 40 years, the one thing we know with absolute certainty, is that everyone will get older. Benedict XVI will no longer be the Catholic pope, the Roman Curia will have a new set of faces. In the Protestant denominations, the present leaders will also have moved on, either to retirement, or to whatever awaits them in the afterlife. They too will have been replaced,
Who will these new faces be? Generally speaking, they will be the young men (and women) who are presently in training for ministry, who have been recently ordained, or who may even be still in high school. This the generation which is well known to reject the notion that homosexuality is a moral issue, and who are most enthusiastically supportive of gay clergy, gay marriage, and full LGBT inclusion in church.
Contrast them with the present generation of church leaders, who received their own formation for ministry at a time when it was regarded as axiomatic that homosexual acts were necessarily sinful, when the Biblical texts of terror were quoted without question, and when the notion of same sex marriage in church was simply unthinkable.
Can there really be any serious doubt that a future church led by today’s young adults will view homoerotic relationships very differently to that of the present?
The Speed of Change Thus Far
So, let us accept (provisionally) that profound change is on its way. How long will it tale? The generational analysis above suggests that it might not take too long at all – no more than the 35 years framework I adopted, somewhat arbitrarily. This becomes even more plausible when we consider the speed of change up to now, in respect of the spread of civil gay marriage, and of approval for LBGT pastors.
Personal homophobia and prejudice will linger – but institutional discrimination in all forms, whether by church or state, will disappear quite rapidly, exactly as institutional racism disappeared quite quickly in the civil rights era in the US, or following the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.
Some Thoughts on the Catholic Church
Broadly speaking, much of the above also applies to the Catholic Church, especially the implications of generational change, and the fresh examinations of scripture, but there are also some unique considerations as well. Some of these will mitigate against the underlying trend to change, some will complement it.
  • Hierarchical control, and the expectation of obedience would superficially point to the resistance of change – but this expectation is itself becoming rejected.
  • Humanae Vitae and its fierce rejection of artificial contraception has never been widely accepted by the Church as a whole. The resulting recognition that it is permissible to disagree in good conscience with official doctrine on this single issue, has leant support to others who disagree in conscience on others – like choice/ abortion, and on homosexuality.
  • The impact of Vatican II. Although it might appear that the Curia has successfully rolled back the conciliar reforms, sometimes there are effects that take time to become apparent. One of these is what Sr Joan Chittister called the “Ticking Time Bomb” of lay involvement. Another is the dramatic decline in priest numbers since VII,
  • Another ticking time bomb is the remarkable rise of lay theologians. Not that long ago, the formal study of moral theology was something done by priests, for other priests, based on the writings of theologians from many centuries ago, with little input from social sciences, or from people with real life sexual experience. That is no longer the case. Even religious sisters were routinely excluded from theology studies, beyond what they might need to teach school level catechism. The rest of us were simply expected to accept the moral rules as handed down to us from on high.
  • That has changed dramatically. Theology is now widely studied, to the extent that the majority of theologians today are not priests. Some are religious sisters, others are married men and women – or even openly gay or lesbian. Add to the generational process described earlier, that Catholic priests now in training are in some cases being taught their theology by lay people, and we see that the generational shift for Catholic clergy could conceivably be even greater for Catholic clergy than for others.
  • Finally, the sexual abuse crisis has clearly shaken the church to its foundations. The ultimate effects can not yet be clearly seen, but already it is obvious that one result is a greatly increased resistance by lay people to automatic assumptions about authority and obedience, and a corresponding willingness in some quarters to engage in open defiance – as in the womenpriests movement. Inside the institutional church, there are at least some promising signs of an increased willingness to take seriously the concept of the listening church.
Conclusion
Change is clearly on the way – quite possibly, rapid change, across all or most major denominations. It will not be long before openly LGBT clergy, including bishops and other leaders, will be commonplace, in most denominations if not yet in all. There will be church weddings for same sex couples, including the weddings of clergy and their spouses.
With the increasing visibility of partnered gay clergy and bishops, it will become difficult. Even impossible for the arguments that our relationships are necessarily sinful to be taken seriously.
I now believe that under the impact of generational change, this transformation will be rapid – probably with in a generation or two. To those who find this unduly optimistic, I would point to the corresponding death of overt racism, which equally moved from something commonly expressed, and even justified in pseudo religious arguments, to a private weakness, which it is now unacceptable to express in public.
(Note: I am fully conscious that the above analysis applies primarily to the countries of Europe and the Americas, especially North America. I have omitted Africa and Asia where special circumstances apply. But do not believe that including them would seriously affect the main conclusions – except in the matter of timing).

Come Out to Save Lives – Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley

There are many sound religious reason for coming out (which I summarise below). The Georgia megachurch pastor Jim Swilley, of “Church in the Now”, by his own example has presented another. He has come out to save lives.

Swilley has hidden his sexuality from his congregation for years, through two marriages (although he was at least honest with his second wife, who in turn encouraged him to be open more publicly). Unlike so many other closeted preachers (Bishop Long, George Rekers and Ted Swaggart, for instance) however, he has never fallen into the trap of preaching against homosexuality to hide his own orientation.

The tipping point for him came with the rash of recent publicity about the bullying which leads to so many teen suicides. Many of the institutional churches have a double culpability here: their frequent and misguided condemnations of same-sex relationships often lead to feelings of guilt and shame  by gay young people themselves, while too many others use it as an easy justification for bullying. Young bullies may grow into older gay bashers, and later even into adult killers of gay men, lesbians and the transgendered – all supposedly in the name of “religion”.

There have been many reports surfacing on the queer blogosphere about this story – reports that I missed through my personal circumstances last weeks. The best I have seen are those at Bilerico, and at Queerty. Read them yourselves (and watch the on-line videos that have been posted)  – I’m not going to simply quote them here, because from a faith perspective I am more interested in these deeply moving, theologically sound words Swilley posted on Blog in the Now some weeks ago. These do not refer directly to his coming out (they appear to have been written immediately before doing so publicly), but read now they have an obvious and direct bearing on it:

Today I will live in the now! I will live in the now because I have a command to GO into all the world – into every part of the worlds of every man, woman, boy and girl – into every culture and counterculture – into every mindset and philosophy – into every system and network — and preach the good news, without the preferential treatment of anyone!

Today I will embrace the call of Christ. Even though I may be rebuked for my unbelief or hardness of heart as the first disciples were, I have still been mandated to go — to go anyway — in spite of my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable and, regardless of what I have or haven’t done, Jesus is still depending on me to give the inhabitants of His world some good news!

Today I will go to where the people are – not just where they are geographically, but to where they are mentally, spiritually, emotionally and philosophically. I will speak with the tongue of the learned (Isaiah 50:4), becoming all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Today I will make some movement, knowing that my steps are ordered of the Lord and that God blesses whatever I put my hand to.

Today I will not preach religious tradition, or anything that could possibly make people feel alienated from God. My declaration of the Kingdom (“The Kingdom is at hand!”) will make Jesus accessible to those who have been disconnected in their minds. I will go to where the breaches are — and I will repair them!

 

Today I will be a witness, telling my story, finding my voice.

 

Today I will be followed by supernatural signs confirming my words. God will bless my efforts because I believe. My faith will be irresistible to Him today, and today I will live in the now!

Father, help me to get up and get going today. In Jesus’ name, amen.

The “It Gets Better” campaign encourages us all to be open, as our visibility can be a demonstration to young people that we can indeed grow into healthy, mature adults in sound relationships – but does nothing to combat the religious roots of the violence. This is why coming out by people of faith, and especially within the evangelical tradition, is so important. Done on a sufficiently wide scale, it will go a long way to undermine both the religion – induced guilt of young queers, and the excuses produced by the bullies.

Other Religious arguments for coming out.

The political and psychological reasons for coming out are well known – it increases visibility and so improves public acceptance for others, it provides sound role models for young people, contributes to personal mental health and can be seen as a psychological growth experience. The religious reasons are less familiar, but are important for queer people of faith.

Theologian and psychotherapist Daniel Helminiak (Sex and the Sacred) says that alongside the psychological growth, coming out is a spiritual experience. Fellow Catholic therapists and spiritual directors John McMillan and James L’Empereur say much the same thing. Richard Cleaver (“Know My Name”) describes the process as wrestling with the divine. Chris Glaser has devoted a complete book to “Coming Out as Sacrament”.

Many commentators have seen coming out as implicit in Jesus’ command to Lazarus, “Come out!”, and read it as a lesson from the story of Exodus, using the Israelites flight from Egypt as a model for escaping the bondage of the closet. The Jewish theologian Rebeccah Alpert also sees coming out as a biblical command, reading into Micah’s exhortation on justice a requirement alongside living in good relationship with God and with other people, an obligation to live in good relationship with oneself – which is not possible when denying one’s own sexual identity.

In the same way I read coming out as a requirement of the Catholic Catechism, and implicit in the conclusion of the otherwise loathsome CDF document “Homosexualitatis Problema“, which reminds us of the Biblical injunction to “Speak the truth in love”, and “The truth will set you free”.

It is not enough for Christians to speak the truth – we must also live it.

Recommended Books:

Glaser, Chris : Coming out As Sacrament

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: Sex and the Sacred

Kelley, Michael B: Seduced by Grace

L’Emperereur, James : Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person

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

McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

Sweasey, P: From Queer to Eternity

Russian LGBT Christian Conference

It is all too easy for us in the West to forget that no matter how much we feel under pressure as queer Christians, things can be that much more difficult elsewhere  (as illustrated currently by Uganda, and others). Still, there is also progress.

One small piece of news to share is that a conference of LGBT Christians was recently held in Moscow, marking a decided first for Russia.  I know of this only because one of our London Soho congregation is a Russian expatriate, who was a participant (and I think organiser). To support him, we were able to make a (very) small contribution to the travel costs of the event.

We have had a letter of thanks for the help, together with some notes on the success of the occasion, from which I think I can share the following report :

The Conference was a great success – this we already can see from the participants responses, friendships built and creativity unleashed. Our email group for the Conference participants and others interested in the LGBT Christian issues is thriving with reflections, questions and new ideas. The participants from Moscow have started weekly meetings for mutual support. Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who joined the Conference are developing their own ministry, keeping us updated on their activities and encouraging our spirit.

God wills we will see abundant fruits of the Conference in months and years to come.

Transgender in Church

Last SupperWhile helping out at our Catholic stall after this year’s Pride parade through London, I was approached by a woman who put a question that left me totally at a loss on how to respond:  What is the Church’s position on transgendered issues? She told me that her own local parish priest was very understanding and supportive, but she wanted to know more. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I clearly knew less than she did – she at least had been discussing the issue with a priest, but I in effect knew virtually nothing, beyond the harsh words of Benedict XVI in his Curial address last Christmas.

Now, we at the Soho Masses are quite explicit  that we serve(or aim to) the full LGBTspectrum (as well as friends, family and supporters), and one of our key people on the pastoral council speaks openly of her own transition.   The matter was raised in our pastoral planning workshop earlier this year, and since then, we have begun exploring ways to be more explicitly supportive, in particular by making provision for at least fairly basic changing facilities for those who want to use such a facility.  But these are essentially merely symbolic gestures, only just scratching the surface. Beyond taking the easy way out, referring questions to Lorraine, what on earth are we to say to people who are attempting to find a balance between authentic gender expression and living with integrity in the Catholic Church?

Many of us have felt anxious, intimidated or jsut plain terrified at the prospect of coming out as lesbians or gay men- sometimes even to ourselves.  Yet we have an increasingly supportive legal and cultural environment, role models and resources to help us.  Even in our struggles with the churches, the publicity over gay bishops and gay clergy, as well as an explosion of books an web resources, makes it easy to see that we are not alone in the struggle.  How much more difficult must it be to face the much greater challenge of dealing with a readjustment of gender identity, without that same supportive environment?  There  are not the same resources, nor are there the same role models and support structures.

This is why I was  delighted to find this report, in the Regal Courier on a Methodist priest who had the courage to tell his congregation about his earlier transition – and the congregation, who responded to his story with strong applause.:

Congregation embraces transgender minister as his secret is revealed

Rev. David Weekley hopes his story will help change United Methodist Church doctrine

Rev David Weekely and wife (pic: L.E. Baskow, Portland Tribune)

Until now, there has been just one openly transgender Methodist clergyman in the U.S. to retain his ordination (That man, Drew Phoenix, 50, had his ordination challenged by members of the church after coming out publicly in 2007 to his congregation in St. John’s of Baltimore United Methodist Church in Maryland.)

Today, Sunday, Aug. 30, Weekley – who leads the congregation at the Epworth United Methodist Church in the Sunnyside neighborhood in inner Southeast Portland – became the second.

Just months after telling his own children that he was not their biological father, Weekley, who is in his late-50s, came out to his congregation of 221 members.

Standing behind his pulpit, Weekley began his usual worship service. About halfway through, he paused to share a personal message he called “My Book Report.”

He told them that in 1984, just nine years after undergoing extensive sex-reassignment surgeries, he was ordained by the Methodist Church without telling anyone of his original gender at birth.

Following his story, the congregation, who had remained silent throughout his talk, broke into thunderous applause. Church members then proclaimed their support for their pastor.

This is impressive.  The United Methodist Church is one of the least supportive mainline Protestant denominations on lesbian and gay people generally, and despite strong pressure to change, voted against modifying their opposition, the last time this came up for discussion.  The strong support from the congregation shows once again that local communities can be far more supportive of individual people in their midst, than official doctrine suggests.  It is far easier to be hostile to an anonymous group, than it is to those nice guys in the pew next to you, or to an admired pastor in the pulpit.  This is why it is so important that wherever possible, we should try to extend our coming out processes (and they are processes, not single events), into our parishes, as well as to our families, friends, and workplaces.  Every such coming out makes it easier for those who follow:  but let me emphasise those words , “wherever possible“.  Quite obviously, sometimes the conditions are simply prohibitive, especially for clergy.

Footnote:  I have responded to my earlier embarrassed ignorance by attempting to track down more information on transgendered issues in the churches, and have started to compile a transgendered booklist for Sergius & Bacchus Books.  This is far from complete, but it is a start, and will be constantly expanded.  I would be very interested in feedback from readers who know more than I do.

You might also like:
An Authentic, Catholic History of Marriage
“Eternal Bliss” – SS Felicity and Perpetua, March 7th
Catholic and Other Faith Schools and Homophobic Bullying …

Anglicans in South Africa Join the push for LGBT Inclusion

Anglicans in the Archdioces of Cape Town have joined the movement for ecclesiastical support for gay relationships.  Coming hot on the heels of important decisions by the US Episcopalians and Evangelical Lutherans, it adds to the momentum for  acceptance in church for sexual minorities. From Episcopal Life Online:

“The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, meeting in synod August 22, supported a resolution asking the bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to provide pastoral guidelines for gay and lesbian members living in “covenanted partnerships,” whilst “taking due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.”

The synod also resolved to ask Archbishop Thabo Makgoba to appoint a working group, representing church members of varying perspectives, to engage in a “process of dialogue and listening” on issues of human sexuality.”

On the face of it, the actual resolution from St George’s Cathedral is cautious, possibly disappointing.: but one has to understand the context.  The Archdiocese here is much more than just the city of Cape Town, and takes in Anglican commuinities also from the broader Southern African region.  Although South Africa itself has  a proud record in recognising LGBT rights, the neighbouring countries are far less accepting, with many of them still treating any form of homosexual expression as a criminal act.

The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, which includes Anglican bishops from South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Angola, passed a resolution at the weekend asking the church’s bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for gay parishioners living in “covenanted partnerships”.

(from Independent Online)

So the resolution adopted necessarily had to take account of widely differing sensibilities across the region.  Still, it is a move forward. who can doubt that it will end in full support for lesbian & gay unions? The full text:

“This Synod,

Affirming a pastoral response to same-sex partnerships of faithful commitment in our parish families;

Gives thanks to God for:

  • The leadership of our Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and his witness in seeking to handle these issues in a loving and caring manner; and
  • The Bishops of our Province for their commitment to the unity of our Communion and Province, working together seeking God’s way of truth and reconciliation;

Notes the positive statements of previous Provincial Synods that gay and lesbian members of our church share in full membership as baptized members of the Body of Christ, and are affirmed and welcomed as such;

Affirms our commitment to prayerful and respectful dialogue around these issues, mindful of the exhortations of previous Lambeth Conferences to engage with those most affected;

Asks the Archbishop to request the Synod of Bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for those of our members who are in covenanted partnerships, taking due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.”

(From Episcopal Life Online)

This warms the cockles of my heart.  I have very fond personal memories of  St George’s Cathedral, where this decision was taken.  For many years under apartheid, St George’s was known in Cae Town as a bastion of support for the anti-apartheid forces, serving often as a locus for protest, or as a haven and refuge for those seeking sanctuary from the forces of oppression.  I remember many ocassions in my youth when I stood with other students on the steps of the cathedral, ssoter in hand, in silent protest – while security police took photographs.

In later years, after I had started working, I remember a famous ocassion when police fired  tear gas canisters int a group of protesters on the steps.  With wonderful presence of mind, on of those students calmly picked up the canister before it released its fumes, and tossed it right back at the police – who were promptly overcome by their own tear gas.

Much later, St George’s became a focal point for the celebrations of the tiumph of democracy in the years following the unbanning of  the ANC, and the release of Nelson Mandela.

I have often noted that I see a strong parallel between the  struggle for justice and equality in apartheid South Africa.    This decision from St George’s Cathedral Cape Town, for so long a sacred space in the struggle against  apartheid, simply reinforces those parallels.

“The resolution was proposed by St George’s Cathedral clergy, as they said the parish had come to be seen as a “safe space” for gay Christians in Cape Town.”

(from Independent online)

One by one, denomination by denomination, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, the traditional barriers are being eroded.  The fundie arguments are losing credibility.  Gay marraige: coming soon, to a church near you.

St George's Cathedral, Cape Town

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UK Church Takes Action FOR Gay Marriage!

Here in the UK, there has not been a big  push for same sex marriage, as the civil partnership regulations provide virtually the same benefits as full marriage  This includes national benefits (unlike Washington’s proposal),and really is “marriage in all but name” (an important qualification).  Now, according to the BBC, the British Quakers are to take up the issue.

gay_marriage

The proposal to begin performing marriage ceremonies for same -sex couples is expected to pass  by consensus, without opposition, at their annual gathering in York “on Friday”, even though this could bring them into conflict with the law.  They are also expected to ask for the law to be changed.  (Is “Friday” today…..or next week? I don’t yet know, but will investigate).

(UPDATE:  This has now been approved.  See the TIMES ONLINE)

This is the first time that I know of that a church group is taking a lead on the issue – anywhere.

From the BBC, 30th July 2009:

“Quakers ‘to allow gay marriages’

One of the UK‘s oldest Christian denominations – the Quakers – looks set to extend marriage services to same-sex couples at their yearly meeting later.

The society has already held religious blessings for same-sex couples who have had a civil partnership ceremony.

But agreeing to perform gay marriages, which are currently not allowed under civil law, could bring the Quakers into conflict with the government.

…BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the Quakers had been more prepared than other groups to reinterpret the Bible in the light of contemporary life.

Religious commitment

The Quakers – also known as The Religious Society of Friends – are likely to reach consensus on the issue of gay marriage without a vote at their annual gathering in York on Friday.

They will also formally ask the government to change the law to allow gay people to marry.”

The full report from the BBC is here.

***

From TIMES ONLINE, July 31st:

“The Quakers sanctioned gay marriage today and decided to call on the Government to give same-sex couples the same standing as married couples.

Other Christian churches and religious denominations have approved blessings for civil same-sex partnerships but the Quakers have now become Britain’s first mainstream religious group to approve gay marriage.”

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Michael B Kelly: “Seduced by Grace”

Last night’s Mass in Soho was eventful for three different reasons – over and above the Mass itself.  Before Mass, I was interviewed for the first time by a reader, a visiting journalism student from Phoenix, Arizona.  After Mass, we arranged a screening of the powerful documentary movie, “For the Bible Tells Me So”.  I have written of this before (and hope to do so again), but a second viewing was welcome.  This was an entirely new venture, undertaken with some uncertainty whether people would stay for a further 90 minutes after Mass and refreshments, but we need not have worried.  Close on 30 gay men stayed behind – and our token straight woman.  (Where were our lesbian sisters, I wonder?). The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we will undoubtedly repeat the exercise on other occasions.

But we were still not done.  After the screening, were introduced to another visitor, Michael B. Kelly from Australia, founder ofRainbow Sash Australia, a noted retreat director and a writer on spirituality from an explicitly gay male perspective. He is in London to present a paper at an academic conference on spiritualityin which he is to argue (if I understand him correctly) that gay men, by reflecting and sharing on their erotic experiences and using them in their own practice of spirituality, can make a valuable contribution to spirituality in the wider church.  This is a paper that I dearly long to read when I have the chance – and hope to persuade Michael to allow me to post it here.  After a brief meeting at the church, I was determined to continue the discussion, so accompanied Michael and others to supper in Soho, where we enjoyed further lengthy conversation on matters religious and sexual.  I will meet up with him again, and will certainly write more about his work and insights on other ocassions.




What I want to share with you now is some reviews I have come up against of his book, Seduced by Grace.

Seduced by Grace_ Michael Bernard Kelly

I have not as yet had the good fortune to read it for myself, but on the strength of my meeting with him, and the reviews I have read, I would heartily urge you to hunt down a copy and read it for yourself.

From a perspective which is gay, but not Catholic:

“While the dyspeptic (iconoclastic?) Christopher Hitchens is content to go on bashing his straw-man ‘God’ (see God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2007), a more interesting set of insights into that tired, overworked tradition has come from what might seem to be an unlikely source — a self-professed Gay man and, moreover, one who knows from first-hand experience the shortcomings of his Church (specifically, its Roman Catholic incarnation). For Michael Bernard Kelly, as David Marr puts it, has ‘has come out but stayed in’—rather than quitting a homophobic Church in disgust, he is pushing for it to renovate itself from within. A potent collection of thoughtful writings by Kelly, the noted Australian Catholic dissident, Seduced by Grace gathers essays, articles, letters and talks he has produced over almost a decade, from late 1998 to May 2004, that are at once an acutely accurate critique of the shortcomings of the Church and a poignant testimonial to the heroic spirit that has, at times, invigorated it.

Kelly the activist is (in)famous in Australia. He was one of the founders of the Rainbow Sash movement that has been a thorn in Cardinal George Pell’s side, with its public challenge to the Catholic Church’s treatment of Gay and Lesbian people (the movement has been taken up in the United States, also) and in this role, he has become a prominent media spokesperson for Gay Catholics. But as is clear from the opening piece in this collection, “On the Peninsula, alone with God,” Kelly’s activism is grounded in contemplative practice. He has produced a stimulating video lecture series, “The Erotic Contemplative: the spiritual journey of the Gay Christian” (through Joseph Kramer’s Erospirit Institute) and leads Gay spirit retreats at Easton Mountain, in New York State, as well as in Australia and the U.K. His voice reaches loudly and clearly across the once impassable divide between eros and spiritus. Kelly is now working on a doctorate in the field of Christian mysticism and Gay experience at an Australian university.

Raised in an Irish Catholic family in Melbourne and educated in Church schools, Kelly was smitten early with the religious life and served as an altar boy, assisting priests in the celebration of Mass, as all good Catholic sons would do. As a teenager, he was inspired by the life and example of Francis of Assisi —“Who could resist a dancing saint?” he asks in his short piece on the inspiring 12th Century figure. He actually joined the Franciscans at 17, but eventually left the Order, and while remaining celibate, continued to work as a religious education specialist and campus minister in Catholic schools and universities for a further seventeen years, before taking the fateful decision to come out, and to come to terms with his sexuality — a decision which, of course, cost him his job. But he continued his studies in theology (including a master’s in spirituality in San Francisco) and today inspires many men with his revisioning of a spiritual life not predicated on a denial of the body. Kelly says his dick keeps him honest.

More power to him. This is the kind of “real world” starting point that earths his spirituality and renders his positions convincing to those of us who have found more breathing room outside the stifling environs of Christian idealism.”

Read the full review at the White Crane.

Or, for  a perspective which is Catholic, but not gay, go to Catholica Australia:

“By the time I’d finished reading I was convinced that every family with a gay* member should read this book — but I soon corrected that to everyone — full stop! Michael has something very important to say and we do ourselves and society a disservice if we don’t give him a hearing. As Catholics, we pay lip-service to any ideas of ‘compassion, sensitivity and respect’ if we don’t at the very least enter into a dialogue with gay people — which includes truly listening to them — and Michael B Kelly is certainly a worthy spokesperson.

“As a woman I don’t pretend to understand what it must be fully like to inhabit the body and psyche of a man, yet I love men, and particularly my husband and my own son. As a heterosexual I likewise find it extremely difficult to personally understand what it must be like to inhabit the psyche of someone who is sexually attracted to others of their own sex. It’s almost like me trying to imagine what it must be like to have been born black. In the music industry I have worked with many people who are gay, and some of them have become close friends.

Michael’s voice is a prophetic one. It enables us to better understand what it must be like to feel imprisoned as one of the sectors of society who are discriminated against and maligned because of the life circumstances they were borne into and have very little control over. Michael Bernard Kelly is a man who carries himself with great dignity and, in a very real sense, provides leadership not only to gays but to other sectors in society who are discriminated against and maligned unjustly.”

I was intrigued by the reference to Kelly as ‘out’ (as gay), but still ‘in’ (the Catholic Church).  Some of my readers may recall that that was virtually the title of my opening statement when I set up this blog – “Welcome: Come In, and Come Out“.  We clearly share a lot in common.

I repeat:  find this book, and read it.

Marriage Equality & the Church – Sweden

Wedding cake of a same-sex marriage, photo tak...
In the wake of the disappointing, but expected, Californian ruling on Prop 8, it is worth stepping back and reflecting on the gains elsewhere, and especially on the impact on the churches.
It is well known how rapidly legal recognition of same sex marriage has progressed: first in Iowa, by court order, then in rapid succession Vermont and Maine by legislative action. New Hampshire is not quite there yet, but it is likely just a matter of time – as it is in New York and New Jersey.  DC has voted to recognise marriages legally conducted elsewhere, Washington has approved expansion of their civil union regime to ‘everything but marriage’, and in many other states and city jurisdictions, there have been less dramatic, incremental gains.  These have been widely reported and celebrated.




One big advance, and the one that I suspect may be more important for its long term impact on the churches of the world, has drawn remarkably little attention.  The day before the Iowa announcement, and drowned out of the news by the drama of developments in Iowa and New England, The Swedish parliament, with the minimum of fuss or fanfare, and the support of all the major parties, voted to make Sweden the fith country in Europe to recognise same sex marriage.   For those of us in Europe, especially if we are committed to the ideal of ever closer union, this is obviously more significant than the stop-start progress in some minor American states and cities. But I believe that the significance for all of us is substantial, particularly if we are professed Christians.  Why?
In the US, and also here in the UK, the legal provisions for same sex marriage or civil unions/partnerships, where they exist, are quite specifically for ‘civil’ marriage or partnerships.  Indeed, the British legislation specifically prohibits the use of religious language or premises for the ceremony; increasinlgy, US legislators are cradting thier gains by spelling  out the the legislation proposed places no obligations on religious minsters, or even staff.
The Swedish situation is quite different. The legislation quite specifically provides for legal recognition of either civil or church marriage. This has huge implications for the Swedish Lutheran Church, which until recently was the official state church of the country, with special status, even funding, in the legal system.  This has changed, but the informal ties and status remain strong.  So what was the response of the church?   Did they start weeping and wailing and gnashing there teeth? Did they lament the moral decadence of the country?  Did they offer grudging toleration, with ifs and buts to demand a right of opt-out?  None of the above.  a final decision awaits a full synod later in the summer, but the provisional, formal response was that the church would understand and ‘excuse’ any pastor who, as a matter of conscience,  felt s/he could NOT preside over same sex weddings.  That’s right – the specail consideration and understanding goes to those who are opposed:  the default position, buy Sweden’s major church, is to take in their stride same sex marriage conducted in church. Unless I have wildly misread the situation, this is likely to be the standard position after the synod later this year.
This will have important ripple effects, notably elsewhere in the EU.  Pressure for marriage equality will undoubtedly continue to spread across the EU, particularly in Western Europe.  When (not if), equality reaches Germany and Austria, the German Lutheran church, and also the German and Austrian Catholic churches,  will have to consider carefully their position.  All of them have special state recognition and funding.  Even in advance of legislation, just the propect of pressure for marriage, is forcing the churches into hard tactical consideration – faced with an emergin gay marriage lobby, the Portuguese Bishops proposed civil partnerships as a compromise solution – thus embracing the very proposal that there English counterparts strongly opposed a few years back.
In the English speaking world, the troubles caused to the Anglican Communion (which includes the Episcopalians) by disputes over homosexuality are well known. But while skirmishing continues, it is clear that over the longer term view, the tide is clearly turning in the direction of greater acceptance. The continuning expansion of legal recognition of civil marriage across the USA is already forcing more and more individual pastors, and local jursdictions, into fresh consideration of their own stance – and an increasing minority are  coming down on the side of at least blessing, and possibly solemnising, these unions in church.  Every synod season sees new debates on these. Where there is not yet victory, the margins of defeat are generally narrowing.
For me, the most heartening aspect of this, is the increasing number of reports I am seeing of sincere religious clergy of goodwill, who have found themselves prayerfully re-examining scriptures, theology and church history in search of guidance – and concluding that established church strictures against homosexuallity are without scriptural foundation, and misguided. (The recently released survey of ‘mainline protestant clergy’ attitudes to SSM has some fascinating figures on this).
There is no longer any doubt:  marriage equality is spreading steadily across the world, and across the US.  As it does so, the churches will increasingly be forced to grapple with, and re-examine, their own beliefs.  In doing so, many will reverse long-standing opposition to same sex relationships, and see the value of recognising commitment, whatever the orientation or gender of the partners.
The Catholic church will be behind the trend – but will not resist indefinitely.  Here, too, truth will triumph in the end.
Same Sex Marriage:  coming (soon) to a church near you – but not yet to a Catholic parish.
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