Scripture As Hope: Romans 15:4-9

For too long, LGBT people have suffered under Biblical textual abuse, with our opponents brandishing a handful of cherry – picked scriptural texts as weapons to accuse and condemn us, It is not surprising then, that so many of our community view the Bible with suspicion, or even reject it entirely, and with it very often, all religious faith and practice. But this abuse is a gross distortion of what scripture is all about, as the second reading for today, the second Sunday of Advent (year A) makes clear:

scripture as hope

“Gospel” derives from “Godspell”, that is “good news” – and the hope and good news apply as much to gay, lesbian and trans Christians as to any other:

Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God. And may he who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all to be tolerant with each other, following the example of Christ Jesus, so that united in mind and voice you may give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you. The reason Christ became the servant of circumcised Jews was not only so that God could faithfully carry out the promises made to the patriarchs, it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy, as scripture says in one place: For this I shall praise you among the pagans and sing to your name.
Romans 15:4-9




Clerical Celibacy: The Beginning of the End?

It’s been rumoured for some time, and now it’s out in the open. Pope Francis could permit the ordination of married priests, at least in the remote Amazon region.

Amazon basin – Wikipedia

The Pope has requested a debate over allowing married men to become priests in the Amazon region of Brazil, a move likely to outrage conservatives in the Catholic Church.

The pontiff took the decision to put a partial lifting of priestly celibacy up for discussion and a possible vote by Brazilian bishops after a request by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, president of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon, Il Messaggero newspaper quoted the sources saying.





Continue reading Clerical Celibacy: The Beginning of the End?

Memo to Cardinal George: “Redefining” Marriage.

re: Your statement on “redefining” marriage :

Everyone has a right to marry, but no one has the right to change the nature of marriage. Marriage is what it is and always has been, no matter what a Legislature decides to do; however, the public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage.

A truly “traditional” Biblical family?
Please check some Church history. This is not the first time that the nature of marriage is being “redefined” – the church itself has done so frequently.
  • In Biblical Israel, marriage was polygamous, arranged exclusively between men (the groom, and the fathers of his wives). The Hebrew patriarch, if he could afford it, would also keep concubines as well as wives.
  • In classical and medieval times, marriage was not a contract between two people based on love to raise children, but a financial and legal arrangement to protect property and inheritance.
  • In the early Christian church, there was no obligation for couples to marry in church – unless the groom was a priest.
  • There was, on the other hand, provision for same sex unions to be blessed, in church, by formal liturgical rites.
  • The idea of marriage as a “Christian Sacrament” came relatively late in Church history. The popular Western understanding of “traditional marriage” is a very modern invention, dating mostly from the nineteenth century.

Recommended Books:

Gay Adoption, Gay Marriage as Moral Obligations: Two Jewish Views

Here’s a refreshing change: instead of the spurious, religious arguments against gay adoption and gay marriage, two more voices (this time, from Jewish perspectives)  speaking out on the positive faith-based reasons in favour of each.

In the first of these, at the Jerusalem Post, the orthodox Rabbi, television host and author of religious books on relationships Shmuley Boteach argues strongly in favour of gay adoption. Last month, he participated with Rosie O’Donnell in a New Jersey public discussion on the subject. In an article published before this event, he reflected on these issues, and especially on an aspect that I see as the most important of all. When a friend he spoke to expressed regret that Rosie’s four adopted children would never have a father (the standard, theoretical argument against gay adoption), Rabbi Shmuley replied with the obvious and important, reality-based response:

that without Rosie they wouldn’t have a mother either.

Gay Couple with child

Image via Wikipedia

 

(The simple, obvious truth is that a child needs parents – period. Two are (usually) better than one, but one is better than none. There is no evidence that two opposite sex parents as a class are necessarily any better than two same sex parents – but even if such evidence did exist, it would be irrelevant, for children are not adopted by a collective class of parents, of any orientation. They area adopted by specific, real people. It is the personal qualities of those particular individuals, not those of a group average, that what matter. Some prospective parents, gay or straight, will make have the qualities to make terrific parents. Others will not).

Rabbi Shmuley goes on to observe that in Jewish tradition, there is no higher moral good than in giving a home to a child that otherwise would have none. Instead of opposing same sex couples (or single gay men or lesbians) who are prepared to make the enormous sacrifices that are required in doing so, straight couples should be commending them. And if they persist in their opposition, the obvious next question is, if you will not approve others adopting, are you willing to make these sacrifices yourself?

But to my fellow straight people I offer the following challenge. You have every right to oppose gay marriage. It’s a free country. We don’t suppress opinions. But aren’t you under a moral obligation to adopt the children in their stead? Surely leaving kids to drown without love is deeply immoral. But to stop others from rescuing them is an abomination.

I am the father of nine children, thank G-d. I have at times discussed with my wife the possibility of adopting a child. Every child is a child of G-d, not only our biological children. They should have a home and we should offer it. But my conversations have never gone past just that, conversations. I stand in awe of all those who actually do it. In my religion, Judaism, there is no higher mitzvah, G-dly deed, than raising a child with no parents as your own. This is G-d’s child and really He should have made provisions for him. But the Creator chooses, for reasons unknown to us, to hide behind the veil of nature and it is we humans who must fill in the seemingly empty spaces. Those who adopt are society’s and religion’s greatest heroes.

Please note, here, the deliberate use of that much maligned word “abomination”. For it is not “homosexuality” that is an abomination, but

leaving a child to grow up in an orphanage where nobody wants him might be an even greater act of sacrilege.

Rabbi Shhmuley here is approaching the issue from a specifically Jewish perspective, with Jewish vocabulary. The essence of the argument though is equally valid for any other faith. (Indeed, it is essentially the same argument that was presented some months ago by a Catholic lesbian adoptive mother. In response to Archbishop Chaput’s exclusion from a Catholic school of some children with two mothers,  I reported on a lesbian Catholic mother who had written at dot Commonweal that it was precisely because of her strong Catholic faith and commitment to Catholic theology, with its emphasis on support for the poor and needy and encouragement of adoption of orphans, that had led her to adopt her children.)

Meanwhile, New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weintraub has contributed to what she calls a “welcome dialogue” in the Jewish Standard on the subject of gay marriage. As a sponsor of the unsuccessful state legislation last year to approve legal recognition for marriage equality, she engaged in serious discussion with orthodox religious leaders on the bill – which was quite specifically named, and intended as, religious freedom as much as it was about marriage equality. While she acknowledged that some orthodox Jews (on religious grounds) were strongly against same sex marriage, others have a different view:

In crafting the Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act legislation, I was compelled to wonder why should the Rabbi leading the congregation to which I belong be prevented from legally sanctioning same gender marriages if he feels they fit into our Jewish religious beliefs, values and commitment to building family?  Any religious group in our country is entitled to practice their beliefs and to not be compelled to do anything they find in contradiction within their houses of worship.

 

Legislatively, I know we respect these differences. Personally, I know I respect the differences within my own Jewish community. But it is sad and hurtful when those differences cause pain and isolation to other members of our community.   Without this conversation we will be contributing to that isolation and pain which has led to the high rate of suicide among gay youth in our nation and in our state.

 

I know that most of our Orthodox Rabbis and some of our political leaders believe that same sex unions are against G-d’s law.  But I also know that many others believe that we are born into our sexual identity and that love and commitment to another human being should be cherished, not isolated.  That making a public commitment to another person should be celebrated and enjoyed on our simcha pages.  I look forward to these differences being acknowledged, but most important accepted, so that we can live comfortably within our religious institutions while recognizing who each of us really is as a distinct human being.

This divergence of the Jewish religious views on marriage is also evident in the Christian churches. (It is the argument that the British Quakers used in arguing for the removal of the restrictions in the UK Civil Partnerships on conducting the procedures in religious premises or with religious language.  The Quakers argued that the established legal principle of religious freedom should mean that they should not be prevented by other denominations beliefs against same sex marriages, from conducting marriages that did not conflict with their own beliefs).

Writing in the Huffington Post, the pastor Candace Chellew-Hodge has yet another religious based argument in favour of gay marriage. She says, let gy people rehab marriage:

perhaps gays and lesbians can be the savior for marriage. Just as many old neighborhoods in my hometown of Atlanta were saved by gays and lesbians buying dilapidated houses and renovating them, why can’t gays and lesbians rehab marriage?

 

Gays and lesbians are clamoring for the right to get married. Obviously, within our community the idea of “’til death do us part” is not a hackneyed phrase or something to be avoided at all costs. We want to walk down the aisle and have our happily ever after. For those gays and lesbians who agree … that marriage is “an institution central to human happiness and flourishing,” we want the ability to flourish together as married couples, and yes, even to raise children together.

The early discussions on gay marriage and LGBT equality mostly pitted “religious” arguments against, matched with secular “civil rights” arguments in favour. This is usually as sterile debate, with the two sides simply speaking past each other. As the public discourse has progressed, it is becoming clear that secular opinion has largely been settled in support, especially among young people, whose support is overwhelming. Simultaneously, the traditional “religious” sentiment against is fragmenting, with increasingly vocal voices speaking up in support of the religious arguments in favour. This greater visibility of the disagreements between people of faith is important: as both Senator Weintraub and the British Quakers have observed, the principle of religious freedom makes it difficult for those who opposed to queer equality to impose their religious views on those of other faiths, whose own religious beliefs lead them to a different conclusion.

The religious arguments for maintaining legal restrictions on equality then become simply indefensible. They will have to go – as they surely will do.

Oz Priest, on the Christian Case for Gay Marriage

“Fr Dave” is yet another Australian arguing strongly in favour of legal recognition. His argument is that it the Christian thing to do: same sex marriage, like any other, contributes broadly to social stability, and provides a stable environment for raising children. (For those who dispute this on the grounds that children need a mother and a father, see the observation by cartoonist David Horsey, at Seattle PI:

Today, a couple of inebriated knuckleheads who happen to be boy and girl can impulsively get hitched any day of the week at a chapel in Las Vegas. A straight man or woman who has repeatedly failed at marriage can try, try again. The moral fiber of America will only be enhanced when two men or two women who have faithfully shared their lives for decades are finally allowed to do the same.

But back to Fr Dave, in Australia:

Why every Christian should be in favour of gay marriage.

Yes, I’m serious.

Yes, I realise that the majority of the world’s Christians are opposed to gay marriage and I recognise that many of those who most vocally oppose gay marriage do so in the name of Christ. Even so, this misunderstanding is easily resolved.

For Christians understand that marriage is an institution with a purpose. Others may believe that it was just a good idea that our forebears came up with on a lonely night, or that it evolved mystically out of our apparent need for soul-mates, but Christians believe that marriage is a God-given institution, designed to serve the good of the community, and this gives us a very straightforward way of assessing the validity of any proposed form of marriage.

Let’s be clear about this: from a Christian point of view, marriage is an institution designed to serve two social needs:

  1. marriage contributes broadly to social stability; and
  2. marriage provides a stable environment for the nurturing of children.

This may seem all very unromantic (as is the case with so much “biblical” thinking) but, in truth, I can’t see many people outside of the self-obsessed, chakra-balancing spiritualist fringe – Christian or otherwise – seriously contesting this, and a brief look at history confirms that it is the social purpose of marriage that is at the core of the institution.

The biblical record, certainly, is unambiguous in this regard. Sometimes marriage was monogamous while at other times multiple partners were involved. Sometimes marriages were arranged and at other times people were free to choose partners for themselves. The form of the institution varied, but the God-given role that marriage plays in the community has remained constant – increasing social stability and providing a safe environment for the nurturing of children.

If this is the case then the only questions Christians need to concern themselves with when it comes to the issue of gay marriage are these two:

  1. Would gay marriage lead to greater social stability?
  2. Would a married gay partnership be likely to provide a more secure environment for the nurturing of the children of a gay couple than an unmarried one?

I think the answer to both these questions has to be “yes”. If marriage entails faithfulness and long-term partnership, then allowing gay persons to marry will have to contribute something in both of these areas, even if the success rate of gay marriages turns out to be as dismal as heterosexual ones.

Now I appreciate that any number of Christian people will object at this point with words like “abomination” and “unnatural” – claiming that the Bible teaches clearly that all homosexual activity (including that between consenting adults) is an obscenity before God. My contention at this point is simply that even if this were true it wouldn’t detract from the value of gay marriage. For the issue here is not whether homosexual activity is desirable or undesirable or morally offensive or anything of the sort. The only questions that should concern Christian people are these two:

  1. Will this form of marriage serve social stability?
  2. Will it make things better or worse for the children involved?

If the answer to these two questions is positive then we Christians have no basis for objecting to gay people having access to the institution of marriage, regardless of how some of us might feel about such people and regardless of whether we judge such persons to be immoral or otherwise.

Personally I think we Christians need to get over what is going on in other people’s bedrooms, but if we are going to make pronouncements on what we deem best for the community, let’s do so on the basis of rational argument and biblical principle.

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The Joy of (LGBT) Family

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation is called “Amoris Laetitia” – The Joy of Love. Written in response to the 2014/15 Bishops Synods’ Assemblies,  it’s not really about love specifically, but about the wider issue of marriage and family, their joys, difficulties and challenges they face – which had been the theme of the assemblies. This is why, to the surprise and disappointment of many LGBT Catholics, there was little attention, in either the assemblies or in Amoris, to the subject of homosexuality – except with reference to families having LGBT people within them.

Seen at Newcastle Pride. (By Ardfern – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41669780)





Continue reading The Joy of (LGBT) Family

Queer Saints 6: Modern Saints, Modern Heroes – A Great Resurrection?

The active persecution of sodomites by the Inquisition gradually gave way to secular prosecutions under civil law, with declining ferocity as the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment and more modern times (although executions continued until the nineteenth century.) From this time on, theoretical condemnation of “sodomites” co-existed with increasing public recognition of some men who had sex with men, and records relating to queers in the church are less prominent than either earlier or later periods.  In the nineteenth century, Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried alongside Ambrose St John does not appear to have aroused any opposition.

In the twentieth century, the increasing visibility of homosexual men produced the horrifying backlash in Germany in the gay holocaust, with its echos of the medieval bonfires of heretics and sodomites – the modern gay martyrs.

Only after WWII did the Vatican begin to seriously address the question of homosexuality, with increasingly harsh judgements and attempts to silence theologians and pastors who questioned their doctrines and practice. (John McNeill, Sr Jeannine Grammick). Other denominations drove out existing gay or lesbian pastors, and refused ordination, or even church membership, to other openly gay or lesbian church members (Paul Abel Chris Glaser, Troy Perry). However, these victims of church exclusion, who can be seen metaphorically as modern martyrs, martyred by the church for being true to their sexual identity,  refused to be silenced. Like St Sebastian before Emperor Maximilian, they found new ways to minister to the truth of homosexuality and Christianity.

Today, these early pioneers for queer inclusion in church have been joined by countless others, who work constantly at tasks large and small, to witness to the truth of our sexuality and gender identity, and to its compatibility with authentic Christianity. In effect, that includes all of who identify as both Christian, and simultaneously as lesbian, gay trans, or other  – and the women who refuse to accept the narrow confines of the gender roles church authorities attempt to place on us.

In recent years, the sterling work of the early pioneers has borne powerful fruit in the decisions by an increasing number of Christian denominations to ordain openly gay, lesbian or trans pastors, and even to promote them to leadership positions as bishops or moderators. In parallel, there are also now many denominations, and local jurisdictions in others, which are now celebrating same-sex weddings in church. Others which are not willing to go that far, are offering as an alternative, church blessings for couples who have entered civil marriage or civil unions. While the Catholic Church has not yet moved on either of these issues, under Pope Francis there is an undoubtedly more gentle tone, at least in pastoral practice, and much of the previously hostile rhetoric and even doctrine has been quietly shelved.

Some years ago, Fr John McNeill wrote that the Catholic Church was entering a “Kairos moment” (ie, a moment ripe for change)  for LGBT people.  He was referring specifically to Catholics, but  with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that his words were prescient, for the Christian community as a whole

November 1st is the day the Church has set aside to celebrate All Saints – the recognition that sainthood is not only a matter of formally recognised and canonised saints, but is a calling to which we must all aspire. For LGBT and queer Christians, it is an appropriate day  to remember not the LGBT saints in Christian history, also but our modern heroes, who in facing and overcoming their attempted silencing are martyrs of the modern church.

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Queer Saints 5: Gay Popes & Others

One of the many paradoxes  in the story of the church’s response to same-sex relationships, is that during the rise of direct, active persecution of “sodomites”, in Europe and in the newly establised colonies, the church included in its highest echelons popes, cardinals and senior bishops who are known to have had male lovers, as well as others who may have done, and also some who did not, but tolerated or protected others who did. These are not in any sense to be regarded as “saints”, but they do present evidence that same-sex adventures or interests, were not always a barrier advancement to high church office.

Among the popes, there is little room for doubt about some, for whom the historical record is clear. There’s the notable and embarrassing death of  Paul II (1464 – 1471) for instance.  Sixtus IV (1471-84) appointed one of the young men he favoured as Cardinal archbishop of Parma, in part on account of his “gifts of the spirit and the body“. , Leo X ( 1513-1521). Julius III (1550-1555) was another who was notorious for having appointed a young lover ( Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte, aged only 17) as cardinal.
For others, such as  Boniface, Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503),  Benedict IX and John XII (r. 955-964), the evidence is less clear.  Julius II (1503-1513) was widely rumoured to have had many homosexual liaisons, Whether or not they were well-founded, what is beyond doubt, is that he commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Julius’s enthusiastic patronage of Michelangelo’s homoerotic depictions of the male figure also indicates that he may have fully appreciated the physical beauties of men.
Among other early popes who notably tolerated or protected people accused of homosexual practices, we should remember Pope Callistus, who was harshly criticized by Tertullian for his failure to condemn sex between men; Pope Leo IX, who implemented many of St Peter Damian’ s proposals for church reform, but rejected the appeals for harsh penalties against clerical “sodomites”, and also rejected appeals to prevent the consecration as bishop of the promiscuous John (or Jean) of Orleans. Later, Paul III (1534 -49) is said to have protected and bestowed honours on his son, Pier Luigi Farnese, who surrounded himself with male lovers, used Roman police to track down a young man who had spurned his advances, and was accused of raping a bishop and other clerics.
A passage from the glbtq archives is fascinating for the very different picture it paints to that prevailing elsewhere, at a time when the inquisition and secular powers were burning between them thousands of men across Europe and in the New World:
The papacy generally revealed in practice a relatively tolerant attitude to sexual “deviation.” Within the Papal States, penalties against sodomy were enforced less rigorously than in many other territories. By the fifteenth century, Rome had developed a vibrant subculture of men who enjoyed sexual relationships with other men. (The situation of women in Rome is less well documented.)
Thus, throughout the early modern era, men found refuge in Rome from the harsh punishment of sodomy, which was more “routine” in northern Europe and which was also vigorously prosecuted in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although popes at least acquiesced in the prosecutions under the Inquisition, the persecution of sodomites probably resulted from local animus and zeal rather than from directives from Rome. Protestant reformers consistently condemned papal toleration of homosexual acts.


Books:

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Queer Saints 4: The Great Persecution (Martyred By the Church)

Symbolically, the great change can be seen as the martyrdom of Joan of Arc – martyred not for the Church, but by the Church, for reasons that combined charges of heresy with her cross-dressing.

A combination of charges of heresy and “sodomy” were also the pretext for the persecution and trials of the Knights Templar- masking the naked greed of the secular and clerical powers which profited thereby. The same confusion of “sodomy” and heresy led to an expansion of the persecution from the Templars to wider group, and  also the expansion of the methods and geographic extent, culminating in the executions of thousands of alleged “sodomites” across many regions of Europe. This persecution was initially encouraged or conducted by the Inquisition, later by secular authorities alone – but conducted according to what the church had taught them was a religious justification. Even today, the belief that religion justifies homophobic violence is often given as a motivation by the perpetrators – and the fires that burned the sodomites of the fifteenth century had a tragic echo in the gay holocaust of the second world war (“Remember the Ashes of our Martyrs“)

This vicious homophobia was exported by the expanding colonial empires, introducing intolerance to many regions of the world where homoeroticism had previously been tolerated, accepted as entirely natural, or even celebrated as bringing particular spiritual gifts.

Yet even at the height of the persecution, there was the paradox of a succession of  popes, who either had well-documented relationships with boys or men (Paul II, Julius III), or commissioned frankly homoerotic art from renowned Renaissance artists, which continues to decorate Vatican architecture (Sixtus IV, Julius II). This period exemplifies the continuing hypocrisy of an outwardly homophobic, internally homoerotic Catholic Church.)

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Queer Saints 3: The Medieval Church

From Rome to the Middle Ages

The early Middle Ages were once known as the “Dark Ages”, a disparaging term, which nevertheless is descriptive of the murky information we have about the saints: some of what is commonly believed about these saints is clearly mythical. Nevertheless, knowledge of the queer associations of saints like Patrick and Brigid of Ireland, George the dragon slayer and “Good King Wenceslas” is simple fun – and literal, historical truth or not, can provide useful material for reflection.

This period is also notable for the widespread use of specific liturgies for blessing same sex unions in Church. Even if these unions are not directly comparable with modern marriage, understanding of this recognition by the church deserves careful consideration, for the guidance it can offer the modern church on dealing with recognition for same sex relationships.

By the time of the High Middle Ages, influenced by increasing urbanisation and greater familiarity with more homoerotic Muslim civilisation, the earlier moderate opposition and grudging toleration of same sex love softened to a more open tolerance, with some remarkable monastic love letters with homoerotic imagery (St AnselmSt Alcuin), a celebration of same sex intimacy in St Aelred of Rielvaulx’s work on Spiritual Friendship, more erotic poetry, and acceptance of open sexual relationships even for prominent bishops (Ralph of Tours, John of OrleansRoger de Pont L’Évêque) and abbots – especially if they had suitable royal collections. Marbod of RiennesBaudri of Bourgeuil, a “Spanish Monk“, and other medieval clerics, like Walafrid Strabo (c. 808-849), Notker Balbulus (c. 840-912), Salamo (c. 860-920) were others from this period who left a legacy of homoerotic literature.

Balancing the male monastics, there were also notable religious women, such as the formidable polymath Hildegard of Bingen and the English mystic, Julian of Norwich.  (If not specifically “lesbian” in any modern sense, both were very clearly of a notably queer sensibility). It was also a time of powerful women in the church, as abbesses who sometimes even had authority over their local bishops. (Hildegonde of Neuss, Saint Walpurga).

Julian of Norwich, as depicted in the church of Ss Andrew and Mary, Langham, Norfolk (Wikipedia)

However, the increase in open sexual relationships among some monastic groups also led to a reaction, with some theologians starting to agitate for much harsher penalties against “sodomites”, especially among the clergy (St Peter Damian, Alan of Lille). Initially, these pleas for a harsher, anti-homosexual regime met with limited support – but bore fruit a couple of centuries later, with disastrous effects which were felt right through to the present day – and especially the twentieth century.

 

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The Homoerotic Catholic Church