Tag Archives: Homosexuality

Sex and Catholics: the Problems in Natural Law (1)

(Guest post by Christopher Morley)
Something called ‘Natural Law’ sets the ground rules for all Catholic teachings about sex. Natural Law means the only Catholic approved sex is vaginal intercourse that can lead to procreation, and only when it is between a married woman and man couple. Any other sex at all is prohibited as ‘unnatural’ and the Church usually says it is a mortal sin. Many people search their informed conscience and disagree with both teachings and sinfulness. The common use of ‘artificial’ contraception within most Catholic marriages in the developed world is just one example of this.
Ancient origins of Natural Law

The Natural Law rules about sex for Catholics are truly ancient: mostly they come from St Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), and he got a lot of his ideas from ancient Greeks like Plato and Aristotle, around 1,500 years earlier, a few hundred years BC. Interesting fact: ancient Greek texts had just come to Christian Europe’s attention because they were rescued from oblivion by Islamic scholars.

Aquinas and his homosexual deception

Another little known fact – Aquinas cheated and bent what Aristotle said about innate, natural homosexual behaviour, to help justify his and the Church’s condemnation of all homosexual behaviour. Aquinas, instead of talking of innate behaviour, said homosexual behaviour was something people acquired which then becomes ‘second nature’ to them – in other words Aquinas made it something people choose, instead of being born with. A choice is deliberate, so his twisting of Aristotle’s facts and reasoning helped the Church to call homosexual behaviour a deliberate sin, and Aquinas made it the particularly grave sin of ‘unnatural vice’. We’ll examine exactly how Aquinas performed this deception trick in Part Four of this series of posts on Natural Law.

St. Thomas Aquinas thinking as he writes in a book

Challenges to Natural Law: cracks in the dam

It is no surprise that something so ancient and so strict about how humans may sexually express our love is being seriously challenged in the 21st century. The Natural Law dam that is Catholic sex teaching is showing some serious cracks. Because Catholic Natural Law bans any lesbian and gay sexual expression, lesbians and gay men in particular have been asking tough questions about how sound the Church’s teaching really is. Many of us are not convinced at all by the Church’s wobbly defence of its Natural Law basis. Heterosexual women and men too have disputed the contraception ban especially, since the 1960s. Altogether there’s very many frustrated and unhappy Catholics who are urging a major sexual morality rethink, including expert Catholic moral theologians and ethicists. Outside the Church, even secular natural law theorists are struggling to hold the creaking Natural Law sexual morality edifice in one piece. It’s past its sell-by date.

Natural Law explored and tested : Part One of Four

This is the first of four posts, and the series will investigate the strange and unfamiliar world of Catholic Natural Law. We’ll find out why its rules about sex are so strict. We’ll reveal its male viewpoint and discover that significant things about women’s bodies, needs and ideas are simply ignored by the Church. All kinds of experts and thinkers have been turning inside out the Catholic teachings on sex and Natural Law, and very few are convinced by what they find. Catholic teaching on sex and relationships is a mess and a lot of senior people now realise this. Changing the Church’s sexual teaching is inevitable, but won’t come easily or quickly. But there are signs that change is on its way.

Catholic moral theologians’ ideas explored

This ‘Natural law’ and sex series ties in with posts from Terence about Catholic moral theologians discussing lesbian and gay sexuality. We’ve heard about the ideas of:

Dr James B Nickoloff, is an openly gay Catholic theologian who tells it straight. It’s not lesbians and gay men who are ‘intrinsically disordered’ but Catholic sexual teaching on lesbian and gay relationships. He tells us his idea of what the path ahead looks like for lesbians and gay men in the Church.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson tells us the teaching for heterosexuals must change before it can change for lesbian and gay people. He wants the Church to shift the sexual rules from an obsession with sex acts, to focusing on the people, relationships and doing no harm.

James Alison is a priest and theologian who is openly gay and keen to help the Church get out of its rut of inexcusably blaming lesbians and gay men.

There are also heterosexual Catholic ethicists writing on similar themes: Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler, who wrote ‘The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology’, and
Sister Margaret Farley, author of ‘Just Love: a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics’, among other moral ethicists.

This homophobic tweet about Natural Law got a San Antonio coffee shop into trouble

‘Disordered’, wrong teachings, in need of significant review

Each of these experts in their own way have criticised the Church’s teaching on sexual morality as ‘disordered’, wrong, and badly in need of thorough updating and review, for everyone, heterosexuals and lesbians and gay men.

Aquinas: ‘Doctor of the Church’

The Natural Law and theological influence of St Thomas Aquinas, who is a ‘Doctor of the Church’, gives his ancient work particular authority in the Church canon and tradition. His contribution and the high esteem in which he is held by the Church is a major reason why it is especially slow and reluctant to review and change traditional teaching and interpretations of scripture on sexual morals. You have to be pretty brave to say St Thomas got things wrong, when he has a title of distinction for getting theology right. But that’s what more and more experts, and lay people, are doing.

Every time the Pope or Bishops talk about lesbian and gay sexuality and gay marriage as ‘unnatural’ or ‘intrinsically disordered’ in Pastoral letters, Vatican documents and the Catechism, that’s a reference to Natural Law. Why is most contraception called ‘artificial’ contraception by the Church (no doctors use that phrase)? That’s because using contraception is ‘unnatural’ according to the Church, it’s against Natural Law, because it blocks natural procreation.

Natural Law

St Thomas Aquinas on Law

Natural law is deductive, based on the idea that everything in the world has its own natural purpose, and that we can work out the purpose of things through observing, reasoning and deducing things, like a detective. Thomas for example says, about the sex that is permissible:

Wherefore it is no sin if one, by the dictate of reason, makes use of certain things in a fitting manner and order for the end to which they are adapted, provided this end be something truly good.

Natural law deduces that fulfilling the proper natural purpose of our human design is the only ‘good’ use of our human faculties, and any misuse, contrary to their natural purpose, will be against natural law. Noses are for breathing and smelling things like roses, not for snorting cocaine.

So our moral rules are derived from the nature of the world and the nature of human beings. Since humans are by nature rational beings, we should behave in ways that conform to our sensible, rational nature. Thus, Aquinas and the Church derive natural law and moral rules from the inherent nature of human beings.

Homosexuality in nature

However defenders of orthodox interpretations of Natural Law insist that it does not mean everything “as found in nature”. So the same sex behaviour that is widely seen in all kinds of creatures in the natural world is not proof that this is natural for some humans too. Some even contend that ‘homosexuality in animals is a myth’, such as the conservative Dr Antonio Pardo, a Spanish professor of Bioethics. He argues that there is no such thing as homosexual behaviour in nature, and while some animal behaviours just look homosexual, these can all be explained by dominance and the strong sexual urge. Few bioethicists who’ve studied the phenomenon share his opinion.

biological exuberance book cover

His contention that all animal same sex behaviour is explained by dominance and the sex urge, simply disregards the breadth and depth of the available zoological evidence and the diversity of reasons why different creatures engage in a huge variety of non-procreative sexual behaviours, and why same sex animal couples raise young. Only some of the animal diversity of sexual exuberance can be characterised as homosexual, and ‘dominance’ is clearly not the real explanation. See this detailed, illustrated discussion, by Terence last week.

Another favourite dismissive argument is that (to use human behaviour labels) incest, cannibalism and rape are also found among animals, and those are immoral for humans and so too must be all homosexual behaviour. That’s a weak argument because it ignores the reality of the very specific all-encompassing Catholic prohibition on all sex, including among heterosexuals, which is not strictly marital vaginal penetration open to procreation. However we know very many human societies, including historial and current Christian societies, have or had no such taboos on other heterosexual behaviours, and some human societies find no problem in homosexual expression. Most people can see a clear category difference between causing harm to others (rape, cannibalism), and taking irrational risks of genetic abnormalities appearing in the longer term (incest), and the mutual loving of chosen life partners (homosexuality).

Arguing humans can only enjoy a one dish sexual menu (marital vaginal penetration for procreation only) because that is all that can be justified from the evidence of nature and ‘right reason’ is just bizarre. Different human societies in different places and times have their individual sexual moral codes of behaviour, all much more varied. These are all part of natural human social diversity. Attempting to exclude homosexual expression as uniquely transgressive for all humans makes no logical sense. Even Aristotle did not exclude homosexual expression as unnatural in law.

Khnumhotep and his male partner Niankhknum approx 2500BC

This bar on homosexual expression and all heterosexual sexual activity that is not marital vaginal penetration for procreation, is all the creation of Aquinas and his successors, using reasoning that is directed to a series of ends found by reference to pre-existing misinterpretations of Old and New Testament scripture and of Church tradition.

The evidence was selected, sometimes twisted from Aristotle’s original, and Thomas’s reasoning happened to suit particular and preferred Catholic conclusions.

English translations of Thomas’s writings on sex

First in these translations of Aquinas is what he has to say on ‘unnatural vice‘; this is much broader than simply lesbian and gay sexual expression, and includes heterosexual sex that is “not observing the natural manner of copulation, either as to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial manners of copulation,” and masturbation and bestiality. These are all grave sins in Aquinas’s mind. Few people these days can accept that masturbation is in the gravest category of sins. If that’s OK, what does that mean for the rest on Aquinas’s grave list?

The key passage dealing with lesbian and gay sex, masturbation, bestiality and unnatural heterosexual sex is this:

As stated above (A6,9) wherever there occurs a special kind of deformity whereby the venereal act is rendered unbecoming, there is a determinate species of lust. This may occur in two ways: First, through being contrary to right reason, and this is common to all lustful vices; secondly, because, in addition, it is contrary to the natural order of the venereal act as becoming to the human race: and this is called “the unnatural vice.” This may happen in several ways. First, by procuring pollution, without any copulation, for the sake of venereal pleasure: this pertains to the sin of “uncleanness” which some call “effeminacy.”[=masturbation] Secondly, by copulation with a thing of undue species, and this is called “bestiality.” Thirdly, by copulation with an undue sex, male with male, or female with female, as the Apostle states (Rm. 1:27): and this is called the “vice of sodomy.” Fourthly, by not observing the natural manner of copulation, either as to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial manners of copulation. [=non-procreative heterosexual sex acts]

The second is about sex in general, including fornication, incest, adultery, rape etc.

The key passage about permissible heterosexual sex is here:

I answer that: A sin, in human acts, is that which is against the order of reason. Now the order of reason consists in its ordering everything to its end in a fitting manner. Wherefore it is no sin if one, by the dictate of reason, makes use of certain things in a fitting manner and order for the end to which they are adapted, provided this end be something truly good. Now just as the preservation of the bodily nature of one individual is a true good, so, too, is the preservation of the nature of the human species a very great good. And just as the use of food is directed to the preservation of life in the individual, so is the use of venereal acts directed to the preservation of the whole human race. Hence Augustine says (De Bono Conjug. xvi): “What food is to a man’s well being, such is sexual intercourse to the welfare of the whole human race.” Wherefore just as the use of food can be without sin, if it be taken in due manner and order, as required for the welfare of the body, so also the use of venereal acts can be without sin, provided they be performed in due manner and order, in keeping with the end of human procreation. [= vaginal penetration open to fertilisation]

Aquinas's cure for sorrows

Ancient Greek misreadings of nature

Scholars like James Boswell and other academics clearly trace Aquinas’s ideas back to Aristotle’s own misreadings of the sexual behaviour of animals. Other scholars point to Aquinas’s misrepresentation of Aristotle’s findings on human homosexual expression.

Ignorance of evolution and the female perspective

The ancient Greek roots of Natural Law and Aquinas’s contributions in the 13th century mean none of them knew anything about the processes of evolution which influence sexual behaviour throughout nature, and they also all saw things solely from a male perspective. We’ll come back to their ignorance of evolution and the male-only perspective later, because these are the origin of some big cracks in the natural law moral dam.

Aquinas, Creation and God

While Aristotle didn’t believe in any creation by a god (he believed the world had always existed) and simply used reasoning from observation of nature and form to deduce everything’s purpose, Aquinas believed in God’s creation. For Thomas the creator God was involved in designing the natural purpose of all things and the Bible helped him decide that natural purpose. So Catholic Natural Law is an odd mixture of nature’s supposed purposes, with the addition of Bible and God, whenever Aquinas needed to import these to buttress a version of Natural Law to suit him and the Church.

Body Parts decide the natural law of human sexuality

In considering human sexuality, the starting point is the purpose of various body parts. The purpose of eyes is to see, and you can deduce this from close examination of their parts and connections to the brain. The purpose of lungs is to breathe air and so oxygenate the blood and then expel waste carbon dioxide.

In this natural purpose design view, the penis has a dual purpose, excretion and procreation. In procreation it is designed to penetrate the vagina and deposit semen, in order to fertilise a woman’s egg.

medieval manuscript sex illustration

Any other usage of the lungs than to breathe would be unnatural and irrational, and therefore morally wrong, as this is not part of God’s creation design for the lungs. Using the lungs to sniff glue to get high, or to smoke, or depriving the lungs of fresh air for the risky thrill of asphixiation, are neither natural nor rational, not part of their design purpose.

By the same token, using the penis purely for pleasure as in masturbation, or for penetration of other orifices, as in oral or anal sex is, in the Church’s strict conception of the natural purpose of things, neither natural nor rational. The Church teaches that natural and rational sexual faculty use is strictly intended by God only for procreation. Church teaching that limits sex to procreative vaginal sex within a married couple is tradition and scripture-based, with a Natural Law cloak of simplistic use of interlocking body parts. It wilfully ignores widespread natural human and animal sexual behaviours that are clearly not for procreation. It ignores Aristotle’s uncritical words about the sexual activities of innately homosexual men.

A Guilt Free CD

God and the Bible imported into natural law

Although it is called natural law, because God was the creator / designer of everything, Aquinas and the Church often import God and the Bible into nature to buttress their natural sexual morality conclusions, to justify excluding some uses of our sexual faculties which they designate as ‘unnatural’. It would be more honest for the Church to say unprocreative non-marital uses are un-Godly or un-Biblical, rather than un-Natural, against ‘natural law’. The fusion and confusion of natural and doctrinal, makes challenging the Church’s version of ‘natural law’ frustrating.

St Thomas Aquinas was in at least one key instance a naughty deceptive moral theologian, because he buried and distorted some key passages in Aristotle to suit the Church and his own anti-gay hostility, in order to render homosexual activity ‘unnatural’.

Slippery as eels

The deliberate blurring of the boundaries between what humans can reason solely from nature, and God’s presumed intentions for his human creation, makes the Church’s so-called ‘natural law’ limits on sexual behaviour problematic. God and interpretations of the Bible are imported to justify some behavioural rules that can’t be inferred by reason alone from observing nature and through pure reasoning to decide what would be ‘right conduct’. But the Church nonetheless calls this fusion ‘natural law’.

Art of Shapeshifting book

The Church does not use or recognise a 21st century scientific understanding of the natural world and evolution, but sticks with a Bible-infused 13th century conception of nature. This makes a rational discussion of sexual morality with the Church a problem, because ‘nature’ keeps shapeshifting between a quasi-scientific natural world view, and a theological, bible-based conception of the world of nature. In the middle of a piece of nature-based natural law, suddenly the Bible or God are produced out of a hat. The Aquinas model of natural law with added Bible and God means the Church sets the rules and so tries to win every argument, because whenever it is losing on nature grounds, it calls on its traditional interpretation of the bible and theology to rescue it.

What’s next in Part Two?
Next time, we will consider how the Church’s sexual teachings are distorted because they only look through male eyes.

We will carefully consider male and female sexual body parts which Aquinas and the Church ignore, and contemplate Natural Law through women’s eyes, for a really fresh perspective. It’s very satisfying seeing things differently.

More about Aquinas and Natural Law ethics

Natural Law and Homosexuality in the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Farley, Margaret. “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” Continuum, 2006

 

Robinson: Hetero/Homo, Catholic Sexual Teaching Stands (Or Falls) Together

In his address to the New Ways Ministry Conference last week,  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson dared to say on the record what no other has done before,   but what an unknown number of other bishops are thinking or saying privately, many theologians and priests are saying publicly, and the majority of Catholics are doing, anyway.  He said in effect, that the entire construct of Catholic sexual teaching, from top to bottom, is a nonsense and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

He was speaking to the New Ways Ministry conference,  From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships. For an audience of primarily lesbians and gay men, what they probably most wanted to hear was something specific to them (and got it), but first, there was a lot more. Before moving on to LGBT relationships, he spent a major part of his text on the fundamental problem in Church teaching that underlies and undermines its entire structure of sexual doctrine: a grievously flawed understanding of the “purpose” of sex. He notes, correctly, that there is no possibility of a change in teaching on same -sex relationships until the Church has first confronted the failings in heterosexual relationships.

The thesis of his paper is in three parts:

  1. There is no possibility whatsoever of a change in the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject of homosexual acts unless and until there is first a change in its teaching on heterosexual acts;
  2. There is a serious need for change in the Church’s teaching on heterosexual acts;
  3. If and when this change occurs, it will inevitably have its effect on teaching on homosexual acts.

I will be commenting on this important address in a series of posts throughout this week. Today, I just want to cover the importance of his first statement:

There is no possibility whatsoever of a change in the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject of homosexual acts unless and until there is first a change in its teaching on heterosexual acts.

I have often heard the argument that Church teaching is not discriminating against lesbians and gay men in denying them licit sexual expression, because it asks of us no more than it asks of anyone else: no sex outside of marriage, or which is not open to procreation. Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that the Church does not allow us to marry, we can equally well turn this on its head: the Church is as unjust in its treatment of all unmarried Catholics, or those who are married but not yet ready to start a family.

There are three core components of Catholic sexual doctrine that all rest on one basic assumption, that sex is only licit when it serves to fulfil the dual purpose of expressing love between two persons, and is open to new life. That’s the foundation upon which all else rests – but in the real world, outside of Vatican ivory towers, hardly anyone actually believes it. Masturbation, contraception, and homosexual relationships are all clearly prohibited by the requirement of procreation.  Other elements of teaching, like the prohibition on sexual intercourse before marriage, or outside of it, follow as a matter of course. Without contraception, there must be no risk of pregnancy outside of marriage.

If the premise is sound, then it becomes impossible to reject any one of these three pillars of  Church teaching. Conversely, if any one of them is formally reversed, then the premise is automatically rejected, placing in doubt the validity of the other two. Yet we know that the overwhelming majority of ordinary Catholics either condone or practice at least one of the three. The obvious conclusion is that either the vast majority of Catholics, those whose understanding of sex comes from those with real world experience of love, sex and relationships are at best in error, or even in a state of grievous sin, or that the ivory tower theologians, those whose sexual understanding comes from abstract reasoning based on theology manuals, are the ones in error – and the premise, and the entire sexual teaching, is unsound.

This is how Robinson puts it in the introductory section of his address:

The constantly repeated argument of the Catholic Church is that God created human sex for two reasons: as a means of expressing and fostering love between a couple (the unitive aspect) and as the means by which new human life is brought into being (the procreative aspect). The argument then says that the use of sex is “according to nature” only when it serves both of these Godgiven purposes, and that both are truly present only within marriage, and even then only when intercourse is open to new life, so that all other use of the sexual faculties is morally wrong .

If the starting point is that every single sexual act must be both unitive and procreative, there is no possibility of approval of homosexual acts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church indeed deals with the question with quite extraordinary brevity: “(Homosexual acts) are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.”

If this is the starting point, there is little else to be said. There is no possibility of change concerning homosexual acts within this teaching, and it is futile to look for it, for homosexual acts do not possess the procreative element as the Church understands that element. If teaching on homosexual acts is ever to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must first change.

The full text is posted on his own website. Later, I will discuss the rest of it.

The Conversion of St Paul

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the conversion of St Paul. Just in that title, there is encouragement for LGBT Christians: just as Saul of Tarsus, scourge of the early Christians found God and became instead a great champion of their cause, it is possible that the institutional churches, which are so widely seen by the queer community as their persecutors, could likewise meet God and undergo a similar change of heart, to become our champions – turning to what Jenni at Queering the Church described a few days ago as a “preferential option for the queer“. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem: there has already been a most extraordinary transformation of religious responses to homoerotic relationships over the last half century, and an increasing number of influential churchmen and women are becoming enthusiastic straight allies, champions of our cause.

I am working towards an extended post on this theme (which will be the basis of an address I will be giving to the Quest annual conference in September), so will not go over the evidence here. Meanwhile, in honour of Paul, I reproduce below a post I wrote in 2010.

*********

There is much that is paradoxical in the figure of Paul. In his dual persona as Saul / Paul, he is renowned as both a one-time feared persecutor of Christians, and as the greatest of all the early missionaries, who spread the word far beyond it s original geographic compounds, and author of by far the most influential Christian texts outside the Gospels themselves. In the same way, as the author of the most infamous New Testament clobber texts, he is widely regarded as strongly condemning homoerotic relationships – and yet  Paul Halsall lists him in his Calendar of LGBT Saints:

There is considerable debate over those anti-gay “proof -texts”, but whatever the conclusions, there is much, as Anglican Bishop of Newark John Spong has pointed out, which leads one to suspect Paul might have been “queer” in some way. The fact he was never married, unusual for a Jew of his time, his companionship with a series of younger men, especially St. Timothy, his mention of an unnamed “thorn in the flesh”. and, possibly, his disdain for some types of exploitative homosexual relationship in his period, all raise questions, questions which cannot be answered it must be admitted, about his sexuality.

What are we to make of this?

Conversion of St Paul
(Andrea Meldolla, more often known in English as Andrea Schiavone or Lo Schiavone c. 1510/1515)

First, let us dismiss the idea that Paul’s writing is anti-gay: it isn’t, and further, much of his message is precisely the opposite, arguing for full inclusion of all. For a counter to the standard view of Paul as anti-gay, anti-sex, see Reidulf Molvaer, Sex & St. Paul the Realist

St. Paul was, in many ways, an ascetic and happy to be so, but he refused to make asceticism a general model or ideal for Christians – most people cannot live by such principles, especially in the area of sex. In the seventh chapter of his first letter to Corinth, he rejects any appeal for his support of sexual abstinence as ethically superior to active sexual relations. He sets limits, but does not limit legitimate sexual relations to marriage. In his day, it was commonly believed that homosexual practice, more easily than heterosexual relations, could bring people into harmony with the unchangeable nature of God. This Paul strongly rejects in the first chapter of his letter to Rome. Otherwise he does not write about “natural” homosexuality. In fact, it is a logical inference from the principles he sets forth in his letter to Corinth that loving, lasting homosexual relations are ethically as valid as heterosexual relations. Dr. Molvaer maintains that insight into contemporary ideologies can be a help to understanding what the New Testament says about these matters. Today, as in the early Church, extraneous influences in these areas can easily distort genuine Christian moral concerns as they are stated by Christ and St. Paul.

Then, consider his person. Astonishingly little is known for certain of Paul the man, but Bishop Spong is not the only one to have suggested that Paul may have had same close same -sex relationships  of his own. Gay Catholic blogger Jeremiah Bartram, who recently spent time on a pilgrimage “in the footsteps of St Paul” has reflected deeply on the life and writign of Paul, and concluded that on balance, the suggestion is sound.

In the absence of hard evidence, personally I am happy to leave this discussion to others with greater scholarship and expertise behind them. My interest in the queer saints is in the lessons they hold for us today, and here I think there is one clear message, which lies in the best known story of al about Paul, his conversion on the road to Damascus. This has entered language as a “Damascene Conversion”, and therein lies hope. For if Saul, the renowned persecutor of Christians, could undergo such a complete change of heart and become instead active as the most famous proselytizer,  so too is there hope for the religion -based persecutors of sexual minorities today. Not only is there hope, but there is already abundant evidence from the very many Christians in the modern world who have experienced just such Damascene conversions, going from direct, outright condemnation of same sex relationships, to actively advocating full inclusion in church.   These changes of heart, usually coming after intensive study of Scripture and extensive discussions with gay and lesbian church members, have already been responsible for changes of policy in several denominations, and a more welcoming atmosphere in many local congregations. This process will continue.

For those Catholics who like to pray to the saints, you can freely include St Paul in you prayers. This is not because he was queer (although he may have been), but because his own conversion experience provides a useful model for all those modern day conversions that we need among the bigots who use religion as a cloak for prejudice and discrimination.

Catholic Revolution Gaining Momentum: Germany, Ireland

Within hours of my post earlier today on the Catholic silent revolution, came news of a dramatic corroboration, with a solid band of German academic theologians in open revolt.

In September this year, Pope Benedict will make his first papal visit to Berlin. This will be worth watching: there have been numerous indications that the German Church has been transformed by public anger and disillusionment following the abuse scandals. Well in advance of the visit, prominent German Catholics are preparing for the visit by making public calls for reforms in the Church.

Reuters has a call by a sizeable number of Catholic theologians, said to represent fully one third of all the theologians in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, for far-reaching, radical reforms of the Catholic Church.

English language reports have concentrated on the call to ordain “older” married men, which intriguingly appears to mirror a similar call made right back in 1970 by – Fr Joseph Ratzinger.

Supporters of a married priesthood caused a stir late last month when they unearthed a 1970 appeal to ordain older married men signed by nine German theologians including the then Father Joseph Ratzinger, the present pope.

An end to celibacy though is not the only reform that is needed, nor the only one demanded by the German theologians.  They have also asked for the ordination of women, lay participation in the election of bishops, and greater inclusion for those who have remarried or are in homosexual partnerships.

The English language reports do not carry a great deal of detail, so I am currently attempting to wrestle with the German language originals. I will have more later, once I have done with my labours, but already I have gleaned enough from the German to add two encouraging snippets to the brief English reports. The team of eight who initiated the move say they would have been content to get 50 signatories – but ended with 144.

“It looks like we struck a nerve,” said Judith Könemann a professor from Münster and one of 144 signatories of the declaration.

The professors said that they no longer wanted to stay quiet in the face of child sex abuse scandals that came to light last year and plunged the Catholic Church into an unprecedented crisis.

– from Deutsche Welle

I also have confirmation of a guess I made earlier, that there were many others who made clear their agreement with the text, but were unwilling to sign.

Signatories include theologians from a diverse set of backgrounds, including veterans of previous calls for reform, but also younger people and even some usually regarded as “conservatives”. Part of the appeal included a call for the bishops to begin a process of “dialogue”. It is encouraging that the bishops have agreed to discuss this appeal at a meeting in mid-March. They will need to: Germans have been leaving the Church in droves, while estimates are that by 2020, in less than ten years, as many as two-thirds of German parishes will not have their own priest.

These are all fundamental reforms, for which the need seems to be obvious and urgent. The demands, however, will not be met – not yet. Patience is required, but the simple fact that such a high proportion of theologians can be saying these things publicly is highly significant. With so many speaking up publicly, there are many more who may agree privately, but are wary of rocking the boat publicly, for fear of endangering their careers. We can be sure that the total number desiring reform is much higher than those who have gone public, and that these sentiments are also shared in other parts of the world, even if not in quite the same numbers. We can also be sure that the demand for reform will grow in the years ahead, and surely cannot be resisted indefinitely.

Over 140 Roman Catholic theologians in Germany have urged the church to embrace far-reaching reforms to end priestly celibacy, ordain women, welcome same-sex couples and let lay people help pick their bishops.

The proposals reflect liberal positions in deep disfavour at the Vatican. While they have no hope of being adopted, the fact that 144 theologians backed them meant Benedict’s third trip to Germany since his 2005 election could be his most difficult.

The latest appeal said the scandal-hit church needed a new start to win back Catholics who had left in protest last year.

“The church needs married priests and women in church ministry,” it said. Catholicism should also not “shut out people who live in love, loyalty and mutual support as same-sex couples or remarried divorced people.”

It criticised Benedict’s stress on bringing back older practices in Catholic worship, saying “the liturgy must not be frozen in traditionalism.”

-Reuters

This is the second such German appeal for reform in two weeks. A group of prominent Catholic politicians urged the bishops last month to ordain older married men in response to the worsening shortage of priests.

Meanwhile, in another encouraging development, the Church in Ireland has embarked on a “listening process” to hear the views of Catholics, as part of the extended response to the crisis in that country precipitated by the Ryan and Murphy reports. This listening process is thus triggered by the abuse problems, but it is to be hoped that those participating do not restrict their contributions to that topic alone. The abuse problems did not arise in isolation, independently of wider problems of Church governance and leadership arrogance. Discussion of one must also include discussion of all the others.

On Wednesday night, Bishop Noel Treanor visited the Good Shepherd Church, Belfast, to begin the project and choose the group of facilitators who will document the views of Church members.

In an earlier letter to parishoners, Bishop Treanor extended an invite to “all whose experience has caused them to become angry or disaffected with the Church” to take part in the two month project.

“The purpose of this Listening Process is to give a voice to the People of God – parishioners, clergy, religious and those who live the monastic life – in regard to the ways in which we celebrate, pray and live the Christian faith,” the Bishop explained.

“As we address the need to renew our response to the Word of God in the life of the Church and in society, it is vital that parishioners have an opportunity to express their views and be heard.”

What I particularly like about this, is the news that the process will culminate in a diocesan synod, which will be convened in 2013. We need many more of these diocesan synods, with participation from all strata of the church, in every diocese, every country. Where the bishops fail to convene them, the rest of us should consider doing so ourselves – as the people of the Twin Cities did last year, in the Synod of the Baptized.

See also:

 

Pope Questions Celibacy? (ncregister.com)

Catholic Church ‘listens’ to followers (U TV)

“So be it! Let’s talk about sex”

Having laid down the groundwork by talking more generally about love (not simply love as eros), I will now enter the minefield. That a priest – of all persons – should wish to directly talk about sex is problematic enough. Throw the gay ingredient into the mix and we have a bomb in our hands. So be it! Let’s talk about sex.

The words above are those of my colleague Bart, who uses them to introduce the next post in his series on the challenges facing a gay priest. Following the three initial reflections that have already appeared, the next post (which will appear on Monday) begins to get into the really sensitive, crunch issues. Look out for it, read it, and respond in the comments. I do not propose to anticipate Bart’s own writing, but I do want to stress that Bart’s series here is a serious exercise, an honest and courageous extension of his spiritual journaling, and so part of a process of his discernment, as he continues his journey of honesty and integrity. I feel privileged to be hosting such personal thoughts here – as you are to be able to read them. It is my hope that by responding in the comments, you will be able to give Bart some encouragement, and possible some food for thought.





Continue reading “So be it! Let’s talk about sex”

Indian Protestant, Orthodox Churches Support Gay Rights.

Still another grouping of churches has now come out clearly on the side of gay rights, declaring that homosexuality is “a natural or genetical reality”.

Last month, the US Episcopalians gave the go ahead to the appointment of gay & lesbian Bishops, and to the church blessing of same-sex unions. (Since then, two dioceses have named four lesbian or gay candidates to the episcopate in Los Angeles and Wisconsin_. Last week, the British Quakers agreed to begin performing religious marriage services, as opposed to mere blessings, for same sex couples, and to formally request the UK government to change the relevant legislation – the first major religious grouping to take a lead on the issue.

Now, in India, there is another church taking a stand in favour of equality. A gathering of protestant and orthodox church leaders has declared that as a homosexual orientation is natural, it is “unscientific” and contrary to human rights to condemn people for something over which they have no control. They have also urged other churches to rethink their position, called for a reinterpretation of Scripture, and said there is a need for a rethink in christian theology on homosexuality .

This follows a court decision to legalise homosexual relationships, which had been criminalised under colonial legislation. My impression is that the court decision has not been widely welcomed, and has been strongly criticised in some conservative circles, so it is encouraging to see that here too, churches are willing to take a lead. Indeed, the declaration makes clear that they believe they have an obligation to teach their countrymen on the issue, proposing a series of workshops in every Indian state to inform and educate ordinary people on the rights of people with a same sex orientation:

“A forum of Protestant and Orthodox churches in India has said homosexuality is “a natural or genetical reality”, adopting a radically different stand from other influential Christian denominations across the world.”

“The National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), which represents around 1.3 crore Christians in the country, also said the rest of the Christian world needed to “rethink’’ its stated position that homosexuality is a sin against God.”

“The NCCI said it wanted the Church to take a more “open’’ view. “Homosexuality traits in a person could be genetical, hence natural. It is unscientific to throw stones at some people because of their natural instincts over which they have no control,’’ said Rev. Christopher Rajkumar, the secretary of the Justice, Peace and Creation Commission of the NCCI.”

The NCCI has also issued a document urging its member churches to “accompany the People with Different Sexual Orientation (PDSO) in their journey” and to protect the human rights and dignity of such people. The forum proposed “re-reading and re-interpreting scriptures from the PDSO perspective”.

According to Rev. Rajkumar, it is the duty of the church to inform the common people that homosexuality is a natural process. “Blind opposition to homosexuality amounts to human rights violation,” he said, adding that a rethink is needed in Christian theology to embrace the homosexuals into its fold.

From the Telegraph, Calcutta( emphasis added)

I have noted before that every step forward by one major church grouping puts pressure on the others, as we have already seen in the letter of complaint from some English Bishops to their Swedish Lutheran counterparts. Meanwhile, we are still waiting on the US Evangelical Lutherans (meeting in Minneapolis 17th -23rd August) , who are due to take important decisions on gay ordinations and gay marriage.

The Methodists, it is true, have disappointed by failing to change existing regulations against admitting “homosexuals ” to their congregations – but at least they discussed the issue.

Others will be forced to do the same in the next few years, again and again, until change has come across a wide front.

(See also: Gay clergy making small strides)

 

My Homoerotic Retreat: Six days that changed my life.

(In offering the story below, I do so with some trepidation.  I know that many readers will be sceptical or cautious, may even find it ridiculous. I myself, given my particular background in faith and religious temperament, would have been made distinctly uncomfortable if any of my friends had asked me to take such a story seriously. Still, I think it is time to share it.  I leave you to decide for yourself:  was this a genuine mystical experience, as my eminently well qualified spiritual directors believed?  Or was I just suffering from some kind of spiritual delusions of grandeur?  Make up your own mind.)

During Advent of 2002, I underwent a 6 day directed retreat which turned out to be the most extraordinary spiritual, even mystical, experience of my life, which in certain key respects fundamentally changed my outlook on faith.

Background & Context

As the experience really was remarkable, sounding like an account that I myself would previously have dismissed as ramblings from the sentimental / superstitious wing of Catholicism, I want to begin by setting out my prior religious / spiritual background, as well as the context in which I began my retreat.  This will provide both context and contrast for what followed.

After drifting away from the church during my twenties as a married man, I later came out as a gay man.  Ironically, it was only after setting up in a committed long gay relationship that I was moved to return to the church.  The parish I then joined was led by Jesuit priests, and in time I began to explore the Ignatian approach to spirituality, by way of increasingly heavy involvement in the CLC – “Christian Life Community”.  In spite of this involvement, I did not see myself as particularly “religious” (a word I detest), nor “spiritual”, with all its connotations of “piety” and mysticism.  I simply knew that I enjoyed profound satisfaction in setting aside time for quiet reflection on my life.  My take on all matters of faith was primarily cerebral. (I was distinctly uncomfortable with the more ostentatious displays of images and relics, of novenas and special prayers “guaranteed” to bring results, or of mystical voices and apparitions.)  I did, however, find value in the Jesuit emphasis on balancing the promptings of head and heart, and on the value of paying attention to experience.  I became of convinced of the truth that Prayer is not just about speaking to God asking for favours, but also of attempting to listen.  I knew that by proper attention to the discernment of spirits within, one could, with care and imperfectly, hear the voice of the Lord speaking directly to us.

The context for this retreat was that after a long period of careful discernment, my partner and I had taken the important decision to leave South Africa, the only country I had ever known, to take up teaching posts in the UK – a country which I had never even visited. This was to be my final Christmas in South Africa, and the decision lay heavy on my mind.  I was also reoccupied with the nature of my gay relationship.  I had repeatedly considered the issue of homosexuality in prayer and under spiritual direction, and was comfortable that there was nothing immoral or reprehensible in our relationship.  Still, I was just a little bothered by the possibility that perhaps after all, I was fooling myself, making excuses and rationalising away some inner doubt.  So I was looking for final reassurance on two key questions in my life:  the decision to emigrate, and my status as a sexually active gay man in the church.




monstrance

Image via Wikipedia

The Retreat Experience

The setting for the retreat, which had been set up by our CLC team, was a Franciscan house and retreat centre on the banks of South Africa’s Vaal River. On arrival the first evening, we had a very simple liturgy, and were allocated to one of the two directors, with first appointments set for the morning.  During the first meeting with my director, I shared some of my preoccupations, and was advised to reflect among other readings, on the Song of Songs, and on the passage of Moses and the burning bush.

I knew of course that the Song of Songs was written as a love poem, wit the lover serving as a metaphor for god, but had never really looked at it closely before.  Approaching it afresh, I was struck by the clear eroticism, and also by how easily it could be read as two male lovers. (I later found that it may well have been written with that plain intent, but did not then know that). This reading, as homoerotic love poetry, was in case the way I read it, and found myself intensely moved and frankly aroused.

Later, I went out of doors under the shade of the riverbank trees, enjoying their cool and protection from the December African sun. I turned now to the story of the burning bush, which I had encountered before as a graphic illustration of how the Lord, in certain circumstances, speaks to us directly.   After reading and reflecting on the text a few times, I set aside my bible, and looked up at a bright blue sky through the dappled shade of the foliage.   Quite specifically and consciously I put a direct request to the Lord:  “Speak to me, Lord”, I said.  I am convinced that for the next 5 days, he did, in the most direct and unsettling terms.

I did not immediately realise what was happening, but later realised that I was gradually being drawn into an increasingly intense relationship with the human person of Jesus Christ, something that had previously always seemed remote and inaccessible from my faith experience.  During the Eucharistic adoration that ended the first day’s formal programme, I became totally absorbed in every second of the experience, fully involved and rapt from start to finish, with never a moment’s loss of concentration, nor any discomfort from my position sitting cross-legged on the floor for the full hour.  I was also completely self-aware of the intensity of the experience, so conscious of the intensity, far exceeding anything I had previously known, that I would not have been surprised to find myself levitating.  At the end of the exposition, I found myself in agony that my precious time of intimacy had ended.  I followed the group who removed the Sacrament to its place in the chapel, and then stayed behind for a couple more hours totally lost in the presence in front of the tabernacle.

So it continued for the rest of the retreat:  every morning I was up early, and into the chapel for an hour before the 8:00 Mass which began the formal programme, at intervals during the day, and for a long period before going to bed. During these times, was quite literally not just in conversation with Jesus Christ as a friend, but with Him as a lover, and with Mary during frequent rosaries as the mother of my boyfriend.

The intensity continued to increase. On the following day, I remembered the well-known image of the “Bride of Christ”, an image that was clearly inappropriate to me as a man.  But thinking in terms of gay marriage, I imagined myself as the “groom of Christ”, which took my moments of intimacy with my “lover” to an entirely new level:  ever more intense, and frankly erotic. By extraordinary synchronicity, the following morning I was in a disused room of the retreat house, where I came across some old magazines that had once been art of the library.  Among these were some copies of a journal of spirituality. Picking one up at random and glancing at the contents, the first title I saw was something like “The Groom of Christ:  a Reflection for Men.”  This turned out to be a variation on the old metaphor, but from a male perspective. Recognising that most men would have difficulty imagining themselves as brides, the writer proposed instead turning the image on its head, imagining Christ as the bride. This seemed to me equally implausible, and I was grateful that as a gay man, I had not needed to make this distortion of gender to benefit from what is a perfectly good and powerful meditation just as it is.

I deliberately pass over the impact of direct reflection on the Passion, which came later, and move immediately to the sequel.

I remember one morning leaving my room with the clear intention of going to visit “my pal, my lover” Jesus in the chapel.  But while my definite intention was to turn left, my body was pulled right.  I knew I was being deliberately pulled aside, and tried to argue.  “I’m going to meet you in the chapel”, I said. The answer was clear:  “But I want you this way.”  There was clearly no point in arguing, so indeed I turned right, not knowing where I was headed.  This turned out to be the monastery’s private graveyard, leading to further deep reflection, in that Advent season, on life and death. But then I was pulled on further, to a large open field.  Around the perimeter were erected a series of almost life sized wooden crosses (about 8 feet high), each with a caption for a station of the cross.

Stations of the Cross

As I approached the first station, I was suddenly filled with powerful, uncontrollable emotion and fell to my knees, sobbing out loud. (This was out in the open, and in full public view not just of the retreat centre, but also of anybody passing in the street alongside.  I paid no attention)  It took quite some time before I could regain enough composure just to get back on my feet and move on – to the next station, where once again, entirely outside my control, the full emotional spectacle was played out once again.  And again, and again, over the full 14 stations.

After an experience so intense, so outside the experience of one previously so reserved in religious matters, as sceptical and cautious about the demonstrative, almost superstitious Latin / Mediterranean brand of Catholicism, where cold I go next?  In fact, the only way was to ease out of it.  I had of course been reporting on my increasingly intense experiences daily to my retreat director, who now advised me to ease off.  A day earlier than normal, she started to lead me through some gentler meditations to ease me gradually back to a point where I could re-enter the real world outside.  So the last two days were largely filled with riverside nature walks, and meditations through art, including a simple painting of a monstrance, as I remembered it so vividly from the Eucharistic adoration.

In my final debriefing with my retreat director, she warned that would I had experienced had been unusually intense, even mystical, and would need to rounded off with my regular spiritual director, a senior Jesuit priest.

The Aftermath

When I did meet up with Fr Mike, I was fully expecting him to agree that the experience should be taken seriously.  I was not prepared though, for quite how seriously he took it.   He too described it as “mystical”, and said that encounters of such intensity were “blessings, rarely bestowed on just a few.”  He thought long and hard, and continued by saying that in his experience, where such encounters were given, it was usually in preparation for exceptionally difficult times ahead, a way of storing up spiritual strength as sustenance for the dry periods to come.  Thinking of my pending emigration, I laughed, and said that I well knew the years ahead would be tough.  “No”, came the response, I mean really tough.

So it proved.  Within weeks of arriving in the UK, my partner of nearly 20 years concluded he had made mistake in coming, and soon returned to South Africa.  I in turn was even more convinced that I needed to be here – that indeed, in Ignatian terms, I had been “sent” on mission, and so I stayed.  So began several years of serious difficulty, including emotional trauma, financial and professional difficulties, uncertainty over my immigration status, and recurrent bouts of depression, some of which remain problems to this day, 6 years later. Throughout all of this, at all the darkest times, I do exactly as Fr Mike anticipated:  I look back on that retreat on the riverbank, once again drawing on spiritual reserves to carry me through.

It would be good to say that I have remained in some kind of exalted, mystical or advanced spiritual plane – but it would also be completely untrue.  Indeed, removed from the firm structure of my closely bonded CLC group, my conscious practice of deliberate prayer and spiritual practice has moved somewhat behind where it used to be back in Johannesburg, and needs to be deliberately revived.

Two things, though, I have taken away from away from the retreat with unshakable conviction. First, given the context of the start to the retreat, with a specific question about sexuality and some clearly homoerotic reflections, I have never since entertained even a moment’s doubt about the validity of a gay sexual life in faith.  Second, after I was given such a strong preparation for the difficulties around my emigration, I am more convinced than ever that the move was chosen for me as mission.  Indeed, I am firmly convinced that the specific reason why I was called here was to live openly as gay and as Catholic, and to help others to do the same.

Why He should have called me in particular, is completely beyond my understanding.  I claim absolutely no special training in these matters, no great wisdom and certainly no holiness.  But He moves as we know in mysterious ways, and sometimes chooses the most unlikely people to do His work.

Related Posts at QTC

The Perversion of Heterosexuality.

Theologian Sally Gearhart has written:

“Exclusive heterosexuality has to be understood as a perversion of [humanity’s] natural state.  We very quickly rob infants of their health and wholesomeness.  We require them from birth to fall into one of two widely differing and oppositely valued caegories:  girls and boys.  We require them to obliterate half their loving nature so as to become lovers only of members of the opposite sex.  It is as if at birth without our knoweldge or consent we are injected with a heavy addictive drug that will assure our limitation to  one sex role and to exclusively heterosexual realtions.   We’re hooked early.  We’re heterosexual junkies.  When we become adults, we push that drug ourselves, not just on the adults and children but on every newborn infant.  To kick the habit is near impossible.”

And later




“In this light it is not the Lesbian or the Gay man who is “unnatural” but rather the heterosexual person.  The Gay relationship moves toward expression not because it is conditioned from birth to do so or because it is approved by society or because it is given any positive reinforcement whatsoever.  Clearly the opposite is true. The motivating energy of the gay relationship flows rather from inside the persons themselves, from sources that are far more authentic than are responses to external programming”.

(from Sally Gearhart. “The Miracle opf Lesbianism“, in Loving women/loving men;: Gay liberation and the church, and quoted in Richard Cleaver, “Know My Name“, 1989.)

Health warning:  I freely acknowledge that these quotations are taken entirely out of context, of which I have no knowledge whatsover. Nor do I have any knowledge of the rest of Gearhart’s work.  The words, however, I think are thought – provoking and worthy of consideration just as they stand.

I also stress that Gearhart is writing about exclusive heterosexuality. Across history, there have been numerous ancient societies, and modern non- Western cultures, in which it was expected that most people would experience some degree of sexual expression with either gender, thus avoiding exclusive heterosexuality.  Of these, the Greeks and Romans are just the best known.

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The Return of the (Gay) Prodigal
 
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LGBT Clergy: Presbyterian Ratification Just 3 Votes Short!

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Clobber Texts: A New Reading of Leviticus

As I continue to investigate the issues around faith and sexuality, I am constantly in search of reliable information and analyses to set against the misinformation, selective quotations and misinterpretations that masquerade as the conventional wisdom on the subject. Recently, I was delighted when three different readers brought my attention to two useful sources, which between them contain some important, thoughtful material that deserves to be taken seriously.

The first of these that I want to introduce to you is an article by Renato Lings called “The Lyings of a Woman: Male-Male Incest in Leviticus 18:22”, in the peer review journal “Theology and Sexuality”. This journal, edited by the renowned theologians Gerald Loughlin and Elizabeth Stuart, carries an impressive range of scholarly articles, many in the fields of gay and lesbian theology, and of queer theology. (A second article in the same issue is on “Queer Worship”, which I have scheduled for publication tomorrow).





It was the well known and highly respected theologian James Alison, (who writes “from a perspective Catholic and gay) who referred me to “The Lyings of a Woman.” He wrote to me that he considered it an important article, and suggested that I get a suitable person to write a full review of it, for publishing here at QTC. I agreed fully with his assessment, and plan to publish a couple of such reviews shortly – one by John McNeill, and one by an Old Testament specialist from the Pacific Centre for Religion. I will publish these commentaries as soon as I receive them) .

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Many people in the past have assumed that these two verses from Leviticus present a clear condemnation of all forms of homosexual activity. More recently, more careful analyses have shown variously that the passage is situated in the context of the Jewish purity laws, and so represent not so much a statement of sin as of transgressions of Jewish ritual purity, with only limited relevance to Christians; or refer only to sexual penetration, with no wider application to other forms of erotic activity; that the intended meaning is not against homoerotic relationships, but is tied up with the practice of male cult (or temple) prostitution; and apply only to males.

Lings’ analysis, based on close study of the specific Hebrew words and the broader context of the passage, argues that the apparent agreement among the standard translations hides the complexity and opacity of the original Hebrew. Specifically,he suggests that the translators have erred with the phrase “as with a woman”, which is central to the conventional modern understanding. He states that there is no equivalent in the Hebrew text to the words “as with”, which distort the original meaning. To recover some sense of what that original meaning might be, he provides a close analysis of the specific Hebrew words as used elsewhere, and of the more extended context of the two verses in the full chapters that contain them.

These two chapters, he shows, are about different forms of incest. The conclusion that follows, is that the sexual activity that is prohibited is sexual relationships with males who are close relatives ! Two possible translations he suggests are:

(a) You shall not lie with close relatives, whether male or female;

(b) With a male relative you shall not engage in sexual relationships prohibited with female relatives.

Concluding, Ling paraphrases these as

You shall not commit incest with any close relative, male or female.

I hope this has whet your appetite. Look out for more formal evaluation later, from commentators better qualified than I. However, the article as a whole deserves to be read in full. Unfortunately, it is not possible to carry it here, so you would need to get hold of a copy of Theology & Sexuality from the publishers.

Remember, in all of the Old Testament, there are precisely three texts which even appear to condemn homoerotic relationships. The passage from Genesis 19, telling the story of Sodom, quite clearly has nothing to do with sexual relationships, which leaves only these two twin texts from Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:13. Lings’ analysis, combined with the other modern interpretations as described above, at the very least shows that whatever else the precise words may mean, they do no exclude all forms of loving relationships between men – as long as they are not incestuous, not done as part of temple or cult rituals, non-penetrative, and not between Jews.

That leaves open quite a lot of possibilities, then

See also:

For a Quaker view of this paper, see the discussion at Friends World Committee on Consultation

Recommended Books:

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

Countryman, William : Dirt Greed & Sex

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

Helminiak, Daniel What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Spirit at Work? – James Alison

In a penetrating article on his website, noted theologian James Alison examines the recent furores in the Church over matters gay, and reaches what he calls a ‘suprising’ conclusion.    There is a huge amount of meat in here, which requires long and deliberate chewing (as always with Alison), so I cannot attempt to cover it all, certainly not after just one read.  It is though, an important and hopeful post, so I do want to share what seem to me to be some of the most important issues.

Being the thoughtful theologian that he is, Alison has deliberately avoided the temptation some of us fell into of responding in the heat of the moment to the flurry of apparent slights to the LGBT community in the closing weeks of last year and early this year.  Instead, he has given the issues time to settle, and responded only after careful (and no doubt, prayerful) reflection.  His conclusions are all the more important for this. Note, by the way, that he has entirely ignored the latest kerfuffle over SPXX – the dust is still settling on that one, and it is in any case only incidentally an issue of the church and homosexuality, which is Alison’s sole focus.

In examining the widely publicised curial address before Christmas, Alison notes (as others have done), that homosexuality is not directly mentioned at all – although he concedes that there is some reference to social constructions of gender, he finds that ” in the end, I don’t know what he was referring to. Not for the first time, his style tends to leave hostages to fortune.” For him, the importance of the address does not lie in any “donnish sideswipes” at homosexuality or gender issues, but at the deeper core of the message and four points on the workings of the Holy Spirit (of which the fuss was about just half of one of these points).  In drawing attention to the holy Spirit, Alison finds grounds for encouragement:

“If the Roman Curia, which he was addressing, regularly understood its task as responding to the Spirit rather than applying laws, we would certainly be a better Church.”




This is just the point I made (with far less insight and clarity) in my own response to the full text, but which I have not yet seen elsewhere.   The importance of this for LGBT persons, he elaborates in further reflection on how Benedict sees his role in the Church as the representative of Peter.  To make sense of this, I must first refer to two other recent incidents – one widely, but inaccurately, reported, the other not reported at all in the popular press.

Referring to the outcry over the document on seminary training, and the popular outcry at the time over its claims about ‘homosexual’ activities in seminaries, Alison notes that this document in fact barely mentions the subject.  The main focus lay elsewhere entirely, and much of the popular commentary focused on quotations that simply did not appear in this recent document .  I will not go into how this misreporting arose: what is important is to contrast the tone of this recent document with an earlier one, of  2005. In this, Alison finds evidence of retreat from the earlier hostility:

“My take on it is that it is transitional, as though a new team at the Dicastery for Catholic Education were trying to move on from the hole into which Cardinal Grocholewski and the 2005 document forbidding gay people to enter the priesthood had got them.”

The other important event was completely bypassed in the popular press, but is probably the most significant of all. This is an article  from the January 7th 2009 edition of Avvenireby Vittorino Andreoli:

“The article, one in a long series about priesthood, is about priests and homosexuality, and its author is a respected mainstream doctor and psychiatrist. While making the usual appropriate acts of reverence to the teaching authority of the Church in moral matters, and the right of the Church to choose whomsoever it wants for its presbyterate, what is striking about the article is that its author is perfectly clear and straightforward that he does not consider it to be scientifically acceptable to regard homosexuality as a form of sickness.” (This please note, not in a newspaper like the Guardian, but in the official organ of the italian Bishops’ Conference. )

“The first two documents in Church history to try to say something professional about homosexuality … both sought to define homosexuality in such a way that it could not be regarded as something neutral. ….And yet now, quietly, and without much fanfare, it rather looks as though it is perfectly possible publicly to maintain the opposite position in a properly Catholic context without fear of immediate retribution. Proper discussion has broken out.”

From this, together with his lengthy and tightly reasoned reflections on the earlier events, Alison appears to conclude that the Holy Spirit is presently at work in the Church, guiding  Benedict as the representative of Peter on earth, together with some other infulential figures, to prepare the Church for a gradual recognition of the past errors on matters of homosexuality, and to bring it into the modern world.

I have drawn attention previously to other notable theologians who are discerning signs of just this current action of the Holy Spirit transforming the Vatican.  Alison is the latest of several, but he is the first I have come across to reason the case so tightly, with such clear presentation of the evidence.

There is much else in this article that is worth taking on board:  a poignant reflection at the beginning,  on the pain inflicted by the church on its LGBT people; a  fascinating observation  that in their divergent approaches to the emerging issue of same sex marriages or civil unions in so many countries across the world, many national bishops’ conferences are taking positions directly in conflict with the Vatican’s own directive; the interplay of awareness by the Vatican press corps of the closeted gay lives of certain prelates, and those prelates’ own awareness of that knowledge .   All these have a fascination of their own.

The overriding message of this article though, appears to be a simple one:  Benedict has recognised, or is coming to recognise, that past hostility to ‘homosexuals’ has been misplaced, and is leading the hierarchy through a process of downplaying past condemnations, which will lead in turn to an increasing recognition of the need for a new theology of homosexuality.  This is a development, says Alison, that he has long anticipated, but it is occurring sooner, and more subtly, than he had expected.

It is this perception that explains the second part of his title :    “The Pain and the Endgame: Reflections on a Whimper.”

I have not remotely covered all that is important in this article:  I hope I have shown you that is worth going to for yourself.  To quote Josephus on Salus Animarum, who drew my attention to it:

Tolle, lege! (Take up and read!)

Thank you, James Alison