Tag Archives: lgbt

We’wha of Zuni: Two-spirit Native American remembered on Columbus Day

We’wha of Zuni: Two-spirit Native American remembered on Columbus Day
“We’wha of Zuni” by Br. Robert Lentz OFM, TrinityStores.com

We’wha was a two-spirit Native American Zuni who served as a cultural ambassador for her people, including a visit with a U.S. president in 1886. She and other Native Americans are remembered here today for Columbus Day. We’wha is honored by many, including Native Americans and LGBT people.

Almost all Native American tribes traditionally recognized third and sometimes even fourth genders for people who mixed male and female characteristics. “Two spirit” is one of the many and varied Native American terms for alternative genders because one body housed both feminine and masculine spirits. From a Western cultural viewpoint, the two-spirited people have been seen as gay,lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer.

We’wha (pronounced WAY-wah) was the most famous “lhamana,” the Zuni term for a male-bodied person who lived in part as a woman. Lhamanas chose to specialize in crafts instead of becoming warriors or hunters.

We’wha (1849-1896) was a skilled weaver and potter who helped Anglo-American scholars studying Zuni society. In 1886 We’wha traveled from her home in New Mexico to Washington DC, where she met president Grover Cleveland. She was welcomed as a celebrity during her six months in Washington. Everyone assumed that the 6-foot-tall “Indian princess” was female.

-continue reading at  Jesus in Love Blog

The Gospels’ Queer Values

 

Jesus & Family
Jesus & Family                              (Stained glass Image, Tiffany Glass Company)

The opponents of gay same-sex marriage and of the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is), like to claim that their opposition is rooted in traditional family values, “as found in the Bible.”   This claim is so completely spurious, is is remarkable how seldom it is challenged.  Just a little thought and reflection shows not only how the Gospel values have little to d with modern Western conceptions of the “traditional” family, but they are so far removed from it, that the real values espoused can certainly be described as “queer”,if not quite as specifically gay.   Continue reading The Gospels’ Queer Values

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.

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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.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

and inserts instead:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The prospects look good.

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

My Related Posts:

 

Building Sexual Theology From the Ground Up

We are all familiar with the established, restrictive views on human sexuality espoused by the Vatican. In my writing on queer faith, I have often expressed views that some find controversial – but my regular readers generally find more helpful.

Some gay Catholics, and some priests, have been led to conclusions even more provocative than my own. One such is “Paul Robert”, who describes himself at his site Enhanced Masculinity as a Catholic “priest trying to put together a new theology of male homosexuality”.  His tone and style are markedly different to mine, but there is a fundamental point of theological agreement here: in the absence of any realistic sexual ethics taught by the nominally celibate men of the Vatican , we have no choice but to find our own path, and build a meaningful framework for sexual ethics from the ground up.

From “Enhanced Masculinity” Front Page

“Robert” says that he was excited when he first started reading theologians like John McNeill. So was I. He has moved a good deal further down the path than McNeill: I have not moved as far as he has, and am constantly reassessing my thinking, to identify what I can clearly accept, and what I definitively reject. As yet, there is not too much in either camp  that I am certain of, and a large range of matters remain for me unresolved questions, on which I will not yet take a position. So, while we both share an objective, to contribute to the development of a sound sexual ethic for gay men, I do not necessarily support everything that he says – but I will be thinking about his thoughts. The value of reading views we may not necessarily agree with, is that they force us to reconsider our own. Ever since coming across “Enhanced Masculinity” with its unabashed celebration of male sexuality, I have found myself constantly reflecting. Just how far do I agree, and where do I draw the line – and, more importantly, why?

I have selected (and edited) some extracts from his opening posts that are worth thinking about. Be warned though, before following any links, that these are not for the faint -hearted.  I noted earlier that he has gone a lot further in his rejection of the orthodox teaching than I have , and the site is quite specifically x-rated. If you do not want to risk being offended, stay away – and reflect instead on the thought behind the points that I reproduce here:

Why this blog

This blog is meant to be an exercise in thinking out a way of integrating my homosexuality, or, as I like to call it, my enhanced masculinity, with my Christian faith.  I call it “enhanced masculinity” because that is what being gay is all about, being fully sensitive to and keyed into masculinity in myself and in every guy I meet.  I know that there are lots of guys out there struggling with this.  I have come up with some new ways of philosophizing on homosexuality that I hope they may find helpful.

More about me and my thoughts

The author of this blog is a religious and a priest in full sacramental communion with the Roman Pontiff. I am gay with a strong tendency towards fetish and kink. This experience of how my own enhanced masculinity speaks to me, and has spoken to me since the onset of human consciousness, is basic to my thinking which pivots round the realization that you cannot philosophize or theologize on homosexuality in parallel with the moral norms for heterosexuality. What happens between a man and a woman is rightly called sex. What happens between two guys needs to be called something else, like enhanced masculinity.

My thinking is fairly simple:

1. Homosexuality is a gift from God. It is men tuned up to the masculine. I recently thought of the term “Enhanced males”. There is nothing evil, nothing wrong with this condition, it is a gift to society.
2. This man for man erotic direction is totally separate in its significance and nature from the heterosexual urge. It is a mistake to think out, philosophize on, mansex in the same framework as heterosex.
3. This gift needs to be integrated into our personal lives and in the lives of Christians and society by being used. We do not have to hide our light under a bushel. God wants to be praised for his gift of masculinity by guys exulting in it, individually and together. This means masturbating….. This perfectly healthy activity should never have been forbidden in the name of religion or decency. It is a puzzle to understand why it was ever so forbidden.
4. I come from a background that talks about chastity, that encourages vows of chastity. All of that tradition has been thought up in the context of a mentality that regards heterosexuality as the uniquely valid way of human sexuality. The spiritual path of union with God that this tradition seeks is equally to be found in living in depth the gift of enhanced masculinity for those who have it.

Recommended Books (Queer Spirituality):

Coming Out as a Religious Obligation: Micah and Justice

When I was reading some biographical notes recently about the Argentinian theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, I was interested to note that she began her career working for the church among the poor of Buenos Aires, applying the techniques of liberation theology to the “option for the poor”. Later, she applied those same techniques in slum communities in Scotland, before starting to apply the same techniques to the situation of the equally marginalized communities within the church itself, its sexual minorities.

I have never been engaged full time in this work, not worked directly with the poor, but in South Africa I did get involved as a volunteer in some of the activities of the Catholic Church Justice & Peace Commission, and attended several meetings and training workshops on the subject. A standard Scripture verse to open those meetings was the well-known words of the prophet Micah:

Do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God

-Micah 6:8

I clearly remember one major workshop at which these words were elaborated as a paradigm for the very concept of justice, as as set of three related relationships: relationships with God, relationships with others, and relationship with oneself.

The Jewish lesbian theologian Rebeccah Alpert expands on this idea in her contribution to Robert Goss’s “Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible”, and emphasises an implication to this injunction that I believe is a key to resolving the difficult choices facing us as lesbian, gay or trans people of faith – the importance of coming out.

To make this point, Alpert begins with the last of Micah’s exhortations, and elaborates on their meaning in Hebrew tradition – a meaning that has relevance also for people of other faith traditions. This phrase, “walk modestly with God” (hatznea lechet im eloha) Alpert interprets as about the way a person sees her place in the world:

Walking with God is a metaphor for the way each person approaches her own life. It is a way to conceptualize one’s innermost feelings and thoughts. …. To see oneself walking with God requires a vision of God as the most important value in life, that which is with the individual always and everywhere. … We can only walk with God if we know and accept who we are. Walking with God begins with self-acceptance and requires that we tell ourselves the truth about ourselves. This stance describes coming out, declaring oneself as lesbian, as a necessary prerequisite to walking with God.

Walking with God requires self-acceptance, and this in turn requires coming out. Initially this is in private, to oneself, but this is not enough. Coming out privately, she says, should be followed by coming out to friends and family, and ultimately also to the wider world. This may bring personal hardship, she admits, but will also bring wider benefits to the LGBT faith community as a whole – it is politically important. But this not the only reason for doing so. Coming out i public, she argues, is implicit in the same part of Micah’s injunction.

“Hatznea lechet” also requires us to be honest people: honest with ourselves about our sexuality and honest with others in our lives. Coming out publicly keeps us from having to lie – to doctors whom we sometimes do not visit because we do not wish to tak about our sex lives, to coworkers to whom we omit pronouns when referring to our partners, to acquaintances who want to introduce us to men. The lies we tell may be small ones, but they inhibit our ability to live openly and lead us into patterns of lying incompatible with walking with God. And they draw nonlesbians into our lie as well, requiring them often to deny what they see.

This obligation to being publicly honest about oneself is a personal obligation, which does not require the outing of others. However, it is important also to meet up with others in collectively out communities, such as the gay and lesbian Jewish Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST), and its counterparts in other faiths. These congregations and their relationships with wider faith communities raise difficult questions, but they are important as public witnesses to a collective honesty.

Coming out then, privately, publicly and collectively, is a religious obligation implied by the requirement to “walk with God”. It is also a pre-condition for the fulfilment of the rest o Micah’s three-part injunction:

It is only those who come to self-acceptance, including a sense that they are loved by God and by the Jewish community, who can begin to work towards creating a world of love and justice.

The second part of the injunction is to “love well” (ahavat hesed), or forming right relationships with friends, family and community. She observes that this is often difficult for Jewish lesbians, who are faced with strong expectations and pressures from family and community to make a conventional marriage and raise a traditional family – but sound relationships must be formed nevertheless, and can only be done in honesty. How else can one deal, for instance, with issues like invitations to weddings or other family celebrations?

None of us lives in isolation. We all need community, to share in our joys – and for support during our trials. This is especially important at times of bereavement, when our faith communities are particularly important. We cannot provide proper support to others in their time of need, nor receive it in ours, if we have not established these relationships in honesty.

…… ahavat hesed requires hard work. In order to love well, we must take our responsibilities to others seriously and give careful consideration to the contribution we want to make that will enable the Jewish and lesbian communities to thrive. And in order ultimately to love well within the Jewish community, we must receive ahavat hesed from the community in return.

And so, after discussing the commitments to walking humbly with God, and to loving well, Alpert turns to the first part of the verse from Micah, the commitment to justice, asot mishpat. These three though, while treated separately, are not independent of each other but interconnected.

We cannot make a choice between accepting ourselves, caring for our circle of loved one, and doing justice in the world. These efforts must be woven into our framework.

We cannot begin to envision such a world (i.e., a world of justice)unless we have created the possibilities within ourselves and our community to work towards this plan. We begin with the idea that to walk with with decency with God is measured by our self-acceptance and willingness to be visible. This is the beginning of justice. For only if we speak out about who we are, can we create the opportunity for justice for ourselves.

But this alone is insufficient: love is also a prerequisite to justice. In relation to justice ahavat hesed means respect not only for those that we love particularly but for all humanity.

The search for justice is double-edged: we must seek justice for ourselves – but must also work together with others, to seek justice for those suffering other kinds of oppression.

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Alpert’s reflection is quite explicitly from the perspective of a Jewish female, but I found no difficulty or sense of it being inappropriate in applying it equally to my situation as a gay man. I first began to prepare the above summary of it several weeks ago, and have been intermittently reflecting on it ever since, without quite getting to setting it out in full. I have been spurred into doing it now, because several other topics that I have been struggling with recently, including the question of a response to the problem of gaybullycides, and the question faced by gay Catholics in particular: to stay fully inside the Church, to form gay worshipping ghettos, to leave completely – or (as recommended by Dignity) to return and vigorously challenge the status quo, seem clearer to me when I think of Alpert’s reflection on coming out as an obligation imposed by Micah:

Do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God.

Related articles

The Raising of Lazarus and the Gay Experience of Coming Out (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
“Speaking the Truth” on Catholic LGBT Inclusion (queertheology.blogspot.com)

“Coming Out” as Wrestling with the Divine

At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibility and coming out.

After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject.  So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome:  Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.

First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society .  For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society.  He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .

To do so, he points to the well-known costs of not coming out:  psychological self-oppression,  increased suicide risk (especially in the young), and the arrests for sexual activity in restrooms / cottages of men who are usually married or otherwise closeted.  Against that, he contrasts the personal rewards of coming out.  After speaking the truth to ourselves, the next stage, of meeting with others like ourselves,

“is generally even more of a transforming moment than the private recognition and acceptance of our gayness….Coming out publicly (a continuous process, not a single  event) brings a sense of freedom that must be experienced to be believed.  Coming out is one of our many seasons of joy.”

This is a sentiment which, from my own experience, I heartily endorse, and to which I would add the observation that  “Joy is an infallible sign of the Holy Spirit.”

He then turns to some possible costs of coming out: active discrimination, including in employment; difficulties in securing adequate access to children; a misguided steering into inappropriate marriage, in the expectation of a ‘cure’;  and finally the hostility or even misguided interference of the churches.  This leads to a stinging repudiation of the Church’s involvement:

“It is no surprise that whether we leave or stay, we react to the church with suspicion.  Something about what the church is teaching, something about how the church conceives itself, is not right.  In the case of the church’s relation to gay men and lesbians, we can dissect out two particular explanations for this suspicion.

First, the church has allowed itself to subordinate the commandment of love to the demands of heterosexist culture, defying Paul’s injunction, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (Rom 12:2) ……It is.. the result of the church’s long-standing obsession with sexual activity, which leads to a reduction of the lives of lesbians and gay men to the realm of sexual experience.”

“This brings me to my second suspicion about the church, which is why it is willing to accommodate itself to the mind of the age, to compromise with bourgeois culture:  it hopes to maintain its authority and thus its institutional power in society by preventing lesbians and gay men from speaking about their own experiences. The institution benefits.. from a theology that permits it to hand down decisions without any data even being collected, let alone examined“.  (Emphasis added).

To which I add once again that this is why I am convinced we need to be out and visible in the church.  As long as we remain closeted and out of sight, as long as we refrain from speaking of our own experiences, we are complicit in our own oppression.

Cleaver then goes on to discuss several well-known Gospel stories, drawing from them important lessons for us in the LGBT community.

Reflecting on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, he avoids some of the better known observations, and makes two other  points.  He notes that while recognising her sexual noncomformity, Jesus notably does not admonish or condemn her, nor does she express repentance.

“Jesus is no welfare caseworker… his goal is to transform society, not to ‘fix’ those who suffer injustice so that the existing social order may run more smoothly.“

The second point is that after the initial exchange, the woman proceeds to put to Him some “theological” questions on worship.  The story, notes Cleaver, is not about promiscuity at all, but about “who is capable of doing theology” .

This point on doing theology is made again when he looks at the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10).  While Martha works, Mary sits and listens to Jesus speak.  Mary complains, but the reply is that Mary  “has chosen the better part”. In Jewish society, women were expected to do the domestic work, only the men participated in religious study or debates, and the sexes sat apart when guests were present for meals.  It would have been unheard of for women to participate in religious discussions, yet Christ not only condones this, he commends her for it.  Jewish women and other social outcasts were expected to be invisible:  but for the Lord, no-one is invisible, all are welcome to join in making theology.

In telling of the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19 -31), Cleaver compares Lazarus with the LGBT community “outside the door” of the church, while the rich man is compared with the institutional church, which even by its indifference  contributes to our oppression.

His final biblical reflection is an extended discussion of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel at Peniel (Gen 32:  22-32). For Cleaver, there are two important themes in this story:  the wrestling itself, and the act of naming. From this he reflects on the importance to us of naming honestly our oppression.  Noting that

“We learn to name our oppression by struggling with it”,

he insists that we should present ourselves in full frankness and honesty, implying that we should resist the temptation to mimic conventional patterns of morality out of a mere desire to avoid offence:

“The strategy of putting forward only “acceptable” images of ourselves is doomed to failure… We should be forthright about who we are.”

For me, the 3 key lessons from Cleaver, all of which I endorse whole-heartedly, are:

In spite of the obvious dangers and costs, coming out publicly is invigorating, liberating and life-giving;

We need to extend the  “coming out” process into our lives in the Church, where we should expect to be fully visible, and to speak out frankly and honestly of our views and experiences;

and that by doing so, we will be exercising our right to share in making theology, in spite of the efforts of the institutional church to exercise a monopoly.

“We must speak with our own voices, in all their imperfections, when responding to God’s overtures.  Moses stuttered;  Israel limped.  What matters is not image but integrity.  If God calls, we must know who answers. We answer to our true names, because these are the names God calls us by.  The cost of learning them is wrestling with the divine.”

Amen to that.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate, on Sexual Justice.

During the difficult years leading to the final collapse and dismantling of apartheid, Bishop Desmond Tutu, then the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and leader of the Anglican Church in South Africa, was an inspirational figure.  He was clear and forthright in his unequivocal condemnation of the evils of the apartheid regime, but also clear in his condemnation of cruelties inflicted in the name of the resistance. ON more than one occasion, he put his own life at risk to protect vulnerable people who had been set upon by mobs accusing them of collaboration with the authorities.  Without his intervention, some of these people would surely have been murdered I particularly gruesome fashion – by being burned alive in the infamous (“necklace” method).

After the arrival of democracy, he gained still further in stature by his wise and compassionate chairing of the “Truth & Reconciliation Commission”, which did so much to smooth the path towards national healing. (That healing has not yet been achieved, but is assuredly closer than it would have been without the commission’s work).  Since then, he has not been afraid to criticise the new, black politicians who have come to office when they in turn abuse their new power in pursuit of personal or group advancement.

For Desmond Tutu, the struggle against apartheid was more than just a fight for a disadvantaged group, one that he belonged to himself, but for the more abstract principle of justice for all.  As such, he has continued to be outspoken in his criticism of injustice perpetrated against all other persecuted groups – including against injustice inside the church. The passage below is taken from his introduction to the book “In the Eye of the Storm”, by his colleague Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire – and the controversially, the first openly gay bishop to be elected in the Anglican Communion.  (I will write separately of my thoughts on Robinson’s book.)

“For me, the question of human sexuality is really a matter of justice; of course I would be willing to show that my beliefs are not inconsistent with how we have come to understand the scriptures.  It is not enough to say the “Bible says………….”, for the Bible says many things that I find totally unacceptable and indeed abhorrent.  I accept the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, but I remember that the bible has been used to justify racism, slavery and the humiliation of women, etc.  Apartheid was supported by the white Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, which claimed that there was biblical justification for that vicious system.

Many of us were engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle.  Apartheid, crassly racist, sought to penalize people for something about which they could do nothing – their ethnicity, their skin colour.  Most of the world agreed that that was unacceptable, that it was unjust.

I joined the many who campaigned against an injustice that the church tolerated in its ranks when women were not allowed to be ordained.  They were being penalized for something about which they could do nothing, their gender.  Mercifully, that is no longer the case in our province of the Anglican Communion, and how enriched we have been by this move.

I could not stand by while people were being penalized again for something over which they could do nothing – their sexual orientation.  I am humbled and honoured to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who seek to end this egregious wrong inflicted on God’s children.

May I wholly inadequately apologise to my sisters and brothers who are gay, lesbian bisexual, or transgendered for the cruelty and injustice that you have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of us, your fellow Anglicans, I am sorry.  Forgive us for all the pain we have caused you and which we continue to inflict on you.

Cape Town, South Africa 2008.

When, do you suppose, the Catholic church will produce leading bishops able and willing to speak the truth as clearly and passionately?

Exodus International, ex-gays: Way Out, or In? Cure, or Disease?

Ex-gays, “cures” for homosexuality and the possibility of change in orientation are back in the news, with the APA conference now under way in Toronto.  One study, due for presentation this morning, is said to present evidence that contrary to the conventional view over the past few decades, “change” is indeed possible. This paper, by an openly evangelical Christian, was a longitudinal study of men who had undergone change therapy with Exodus .  The study was funded by Exodus, but results, he says, were not influenced by them. These showed that although the program was not successful in all cases, it was so with some of the subjects.Are you surprised?

Exodus Billboard
Exodus Billboard

Now, I am not particularly bothered by claims that change is “possible”.  Some LGBT commentators get worked up at the very suggestion, but I do not.  After all, it is fairly clear that we are not all uniformly “homo” or “hetero” -sexual:  most people sit somewhere on a spectrum.  Just a quick look at the very many out gay & lesbian people who have been married, and become parents, shows that it is at least possible to function in the hetero role. Change is possible in many areas of human behaviour.  Meat eaters routinely become vegetarians – and sometimes back again.  Lifelong couch potatoes can acquire an enthusiasm for the gym. And many people routinely change religious faith.  Christians become Muslims, Jews become Catholics, Catholics become Evangelicals, Evangelicals give up religion all the time.

And yes, even heterosexuality can be cured!

So I am not at all surprised by claims that there can be change in sexual practice.  Where I take strong exception, though, is with the idea that this can be called “therapy”, or is even desirable.   In fact, it is quite the reverse. The evidence from neutral psychotherapists, those with neither a religious nor sexual axe to grind, is that the best route to mental health is to live within your natural, primary orientation.  The evidence from personal stories of millions of gay men and lesbians around the world who have come out, confirms this. Nor is sexual “conversion” good for one’s spiritual health. Even within the Catholic tradition, theologians who are also professional psychotherapists confirms this. (See, for instance, Daniel Helminiak and John McNeill).   Exodus International is mistaking  the disease for the cure.  What is particularly scandalous in my mind, is the name they have chosen.

Moses Crossing Red Sea - Sistine Chapel
Moses Crossing Red Sea  (Cosimo Roselli, Sistine Chapel)

The Biblical story of the Exodus is one of liberation from slavery and oppression.  ”Let my people go” was a slogan taken from Exodus, freely adopted by the American civil rights movement, and by early black nationalists in South Africa.  Many LGBT commentators have proposed that gay Christians should use the book of Exodus as a theme for regular prayer and reflection in our own struggle against oppression by church and state and in our continual, endless process of coming out. (“Ex-odos”  is from the Greek for “way out”). More, in standard theology one of the primary tasks of the church is to take the “prophetic role” – that is , to speak up against evil and injustice. During my involvement with the Catholic Justice & Peace Commission back in South Africa, two texts that were endlessly repeated were  from Luke, and from Micah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Yet here we have a so-called Christian organisation appropriating the name to lead us not away from the oppression of the closet, but back into it.   If coming out is a spiritual experience, what words are appropriate for being led back in?

Am I going too far in suggesting “diabolical”?

Recommended Books

Daniel Helminiak: Sex and the Sacred

John McNeill: Taking a Chance on God

John McNeill: Sex and the Sacred

Richard Cleaver:Know My Name

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The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality

Homoerotic Spirituality

Truth Wins Out Leviticus International Peter Toscano (Quaker, queer, and ex ex-gay)

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)