Hunter Flournoy’s “Erotic Body of Christ”

In the modern Western church, we have developed an unfortunate tendency to think of the person of Jesus Christ as definitely male, but also decidedly sexless, neutered. This is patently ridiculous. As one who was fully human, he will most certainly have possessed sexual attributes, physical and emotional. Fortunately, modern theologians are rediscovering this – as earlier Christians understood, and the Eastern churches still do.

Kittredge Cherry is an ordained MCC pastor, and a published writer  whose novel “Jesus in Love” considers the erotic attachments that may have existed in Christ’s life. At her blog, Jesus in Love, she posted an interview early last month with Hunter Flournoy, a psychotherapist and shamanic healer who teaches “Erotic Body of Christ” workshops for gay and bisexual men:

Based in North Carolina and New Mexico, Flournoy has been leading workshops and ceremonies in awareness, creativity, healing, passionate living and personal freedom for 19 years. His next Erotic Body of Christ workshop will be March 17-20 at the Kirkridge Retreat Center in Delaware Water Gap, PA. He has just launched a new website, eroticbodyofchrist.org, full of valuable resources for uniting sexuality and spirituality.

Others have also written of the value of incorporating the erotic into spirituality, either as professional theologians and spiritual directors, or from personal experience. In doing so, they are returning to the earlier tradition of the church, in which the great mystics did not shirk from the erotic, but incorporated erotic imagination into their spiritual lives and writing.

Here are some extracts from Kittredge Cherry’s interview with Hunter Flournoy:

Kittredge Cherry: Who is “the erotic Christ”? How does the “erotic Christ” relate to the “historical Jesus” of scholarly research, the gay Jesus or black Jesus of liberation theology, and the traditional Jesus of churches?

Hunter Flournoy:

We are Christ, the anointed one, and His Body is our own, as individuals, as a community, and as a world. At one point, the New Testament says, Christ had only one body – the body of Jesus – but he poured out his Spirit on the World, anointing us all, making us His body. That body, in the eastern traditions of Christianity, is a passionately erotic one; our erotic experience is the place we encounter God most directly, and the energy of Eros — our sensuous experience of pleasure, desire, ecstasy and union . . . is the fuel for our journey of Theosis, or union with God. Eros transfigured through our act of giving ourselves and receiving each other completely, becomes agape. The erotic body of Christ is not a scholastic conceptualization of Jesus – it is a visceral experience of God through our bodies, individually and collectively, modeled by Jesus, lived by the erotic Christian mystics throughout the ages, and felt directly in our own experience.

KC: When and how did you first get involved with the idea of the erotic Christ?

HF: My first intimation of Christ as a living reality in my body goes back to my earliest communion at about age ten. My whole body thrilled when I knelt at the altar rail and the priest’s hand brushed against my own as he pressed the wafer into my palm and lifted the chalice of warm, sweet wine to my lips. I felt that it was Jesus there before me and in me, in everything, penetrating everything and taking it all into him. As I matured, that experience only deepened; every sensation seemed to be infused with a passionately loving presence, and sometimes I would see an astounding light shining out of other peoples’ eyes, kindling bliss in my whole body.

I tried to suppress this unsettling experience for years, since the Christianity of my youth had no room for it. I didn’t realize what a deeply Christian experience it really was until I discovered a small eastern orthodox monastery in New Mexico. There I learned that Christianity had once been something very different: experiential, sensuous, mystical, and profoundly grounded in the sacredness of our bodies and our world. Though many of the eastern churches have more recently become mired in a frightening cultural conservatism, they kept a breathtakingly erotic, incarnational Christianity alive for two thousand years.

KC: Many LGBT people have been wounded by the false teaching that homosexuality is a sin. What message does the erotic Christ have for them?


HF: Our sexual energy is the most powerful tool we have to shatter the illusion of separation, which is what the original Christians meant by “sin.” The essential question we must ask ourselves is, am I using sex to bring myself alive, to overcome separation and incarnate the divine, or am I using it to medicate or avoid my own experience of being alive? This was the original understanding of chastity: it calls us to the highest possible relationship with our own sexual energy. All sexual experience can break down the boundaries and defenses we use to separate ourselves from each other and from God – we become one body, one being. Sex can also teach us how to give ourselves totally (kenosis) to each other, how to receive each other completely (plerosis), and how to surrender to the transfiguring power of our own erotic experience. As LGBT people, we also have an innate understanding that our erotic experience, our pleasure, desire, ecstasy, and union, can serve a purpose other than reproduction. Our erotic joy is a source of profound creativity, deep empathy, and a wild ecstasy that can take us out of who we are into a far greater sense of being.

(Read the full interview at Jesus in Love)

Related Posts at QTC

Related Posts Elsewhere;

Recommended Books (Queer Spirituality):

The Catholic Laity/Bishops Disconnect on Sexuality, Homosexuality

The evidence of a gulf in thinking on homosexuality (and sexuality more generally) between the formal position of Vatican orthodoxy and the  real beliefs of ordinary Catholics is clear. To make sense of this. we need to consider two key questions: the compelling, established evidence that such a gulf exists, and the more tentative evidence that the oligarchy is starting to catch up.

In this post, I simply present a summary of the main findings on the belief of real Catholics, with some commentary and supporting links. Later, I will report on commentary elsewhere, and expand on the signs of the change that must come from the bishops’ oligarchy – and is just starting to do so.

The extent and growth of the Catholic / Oligarchy disconnect on homosexuality

Several major opinion polls have demonstrated the existence of this disconnect, with last week’s Washington Post/ABC poll on gay marriage just the latest of several. (see for example, here and here). Most of the time, the views of the Catholic subsample get just a line or a paragraph, but now we have a much more detailed analysis from the Public Religion Institute, digging into the detailed data from earlier research, and released as a report called Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues.

These were the key findings:

Catholics are more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than members of any other Christian tradition and Americans overall.

Nearly three quarters of Catholics favour either allowing gay and lesbian people to marry (43%) or to form civil unions (31%). Only 22% say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.

This really should not surprise. Catholic tradition is strongly supportive of families. There is no reason at all why Pope Benedict’s recent address on this theme cannot be applied to all families, in keeping with the firm commitment of Catholic orthodoxy to inclusion and justice for all marginalized groups. Going back into older Catholic history, there was also an established tradition of liturgical rites for blessing same sex unions, and recognition of the spiritual value of what St Aelred of Rievaulx called “spiritual friendship” between male couples.

Defining same-sex marriage as a civil marriage dramatically increases support among Catholics.

If marriage for gay couples is defined as a civil marriage “like you get at city hall”, Catholic support for allowing gay couples to marry increases by 28%, from 43% to 71%. A similar pattern exists in the general population, but the Catholic shift is more pronounced.

Catholics have a strong commitment to marriage as a sacrament, based on its connection with raising children, and do not see civil marriage as having any validity in the eyes of the Church. On that basis, the only significant difference between same sex and opposite sex civil marriages is the gender of the participants – a clear case of discrimination. There can be no valid religious argument for opposing what the Church itself sees as a purely legal  arrangement between two people.

Beyond same-sex marriage, Catholic support for rights for gays and lesbian people is strong and slightly higher than the general public.

Nearly three quarters of Catholics favour laws that would protect gay and lesbian people in the workplace; 63% of Catholics favour allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military; and 6 in 10 (60%) of Catholics favour allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt.

There are really two distinct issues here – discrimination, and adoption. Even formal Catholic teaching is opposed to what it describes as “unjust” discrimination against LGBT people. The problem is only that the CDF gets itself into an eggdance over attempting to present some discrimination as “just”, and opposing legal protection against discrimination, on the spurious grounds that we can all avoid discrimination by simply hiding our orientation – by remaining in the closet. In this, they are contradicting their own reminder that we should “speak the truth in love”, and that “the truth will set you free”.

Adoption is not a matter of discrimination against gay or lesbian people, but one of the rights of children. The only issue of importance should be, what is best for the child in need of adoptive parents. Frequently, the best available parents for some kids will be gay. To exclude such potential parents on arbitrary grounds limits the possibilities for the full flourishing of that child.

(See also: Catholics Support Gay Adoption.The Fallacy of the Church Push Against Gay Adoption)

Compared to the general church-going public, Catholics are significantly less likely to hear about the issue of homosexuality from their clergy, but those who do are much more likely to hear negative messages.

Only about 1 in 4 Catholics who attend church services regularly say their clergy speak about the issue of homosexuality, but nearly two-thirds of this group say that the messages are negative.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important characteristics of Catholicism are not matters of sexual puritanism, but a commitment to justice and service on the one hand, and to developing a personal relationship with the Lord, through prayer and sacramental practice, on the other.

Compared to other religious groups, Catholics are significantly more likely to give their church poor marks on how it is handling the issue of homosexuality.

Less than 4 in 10 Catholics give their church top marks (a grade of either A or B) on its handling of the issue of homosexuality.

How can it be otherwise, on this or any other matter of sexuality, when the teaching is developed and disseminated by those who are not supposed to have any practical experience of loving sexual relationships, to those who do?

Seven in ten Catholics say that messages from places of worship contribute to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

In Catholic tradition, suicide is one of the gravest of sins. How grave a sin is it to lead another to suicide, either by promoting ideas of self-contempt, or by indirectly promoting or condoning youthful bullying?

Catholics overwhelmingly reject the idea that sexual orientation can be changed.

Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) of Catholics disagree that homosexual orientation can be changed. Less than 1 in 4 (23%) believe that it can.

The majority Catholic view here is in fact close to generally accepted Catholic orthodoxy, which teaches that we must pay full attention to the findings of science. These findings, as reflected in the determinations of professional bodies in the fields of medicine and psychology, and in numerous field studies in animal behaviour, are that for some individuals and for some animal species, homoerotic sexual attraction and expression is entirely natural. Formal Catholic teaching has not yet grasped this nettle, but sooner or later it surely must.

A majority of Catholics believe that sexual relations between two adults of the same gender is not a sin.

Among the general population, less than half believe it is not a sin.

Of course such relations, in themselves, are not necessarily a sin – any more than sexual relations between any two adults are necessarily sinful. That rather depends on the context. Many theologians, and what appears to be an increasing number of bishops, now recognize that what matters is the quality of the relationship. If this is committed, permanent and faithful, then the sexual relationhip is no more sinful than that within marriage.

Even the orthodox position, which insists unambiguously that even within such a loving same sex relationship sexual expression is a grave sin, nevertheless agrees that this is not so in every case. There is always recognition of the primacy of conscience. Where gay or lesbian couples in sexual relationships do so after a full process of conscience formation on the matter, and have reached a decision in conscience that their relationship is not sinful – then there is no sin.

My Related Posts:

True Catholic Belief.

Gay Marriage: Coming (Soon?) to a Church Near You.

Say It Again, Loud and Clear This Time: CATHOLICS SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE!

Catholics Support Gay Marriage; Homosexuality “Not a Moral Issue”

http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/new-report-catholic-attitudes-towards-lgbt-issues#comment-199262

http://www.publicreligion.org/research/?id=509

http://www.publicreligion.org/objects/uploads/43/Catholics_and_LGBT_issues_2011_FINAL.pdf

Lest We Forget: The Ashes of Our Martyrs

For Ash Wednesday, I reminded readers here that the season of Lent is also a “joyful” season, an aspect that should not be ignored.  We should never forget though, that it is also a solemn time, above all a time for repentance and renewal, individually and collectively.

So it was entirely appropriate and welcome ten years ago, that at the start of the season Pope John Paul spoke of the horrors that had been perpetrated by the church in the past, apologised for the evils it had done to .    and asked for forgiveness. This was important and welcome:  I do not wish to belittle it in any way.  However, there is an important category of offence which was omitted from the list, for which he did not apologise, and for which there has never been any apology: the persecution of “sodomites”.

For the first thousand years of its history, the Church was disapproving of homoerotic relationships, as it was of all sexual expression, but showed varying degrees of tolerance, culminating in what John Boswell described as a flowering of a gay sub-culture in the high medieval period.  During the 11th century,  Burchard, the Bishop of Worms in Germany,

classified homosexuality as a variety of fornication less serious than heterosexual adultery. He assigned penance for homosexual acts only to married men. In civil legislation regulating family life in the diocese of Worms there is no mention of homosexual behaviour

In 1059, the Lateran synod accepted all of the reforms for the church proposed by St Peter Damian – except for his proposal for harsher penalties against monks engaged in homosexual affairs.

All that changed within a few decades. In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts.  Although this  penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.

Templars

Historical research to date has been patchy, and in many places the records have not survived. Even so, the evidence from the modest research we do have is horrifying.  In the largest scale, and best known, single incident, over 400 hundred Knights Templar were burned in the early 14th century. This is usually discussed in terms of trials for “heresy”, but in fact the charges were of both heresy and sodomy.  (These terms were often associated and confused at the time, but much of the evidence in the templar trials made it clear that specifically sexual offences were meant).

To modern researchers, it is clear that the trials were deeply flawed, with the procedures seriously stacked against the accused.  In marking the 700th anniversary of the trials in 2007, the Vatican explicitly cleared those killed of the charges of heresy – but said never a word about the charges of sodomy.

Elsewhere, the trials and punishments were of individuals, or of small groups – but with equally flawed judicial procedures. (Typically, the prosecutor was also judge; torture was widely used to extract confessions;  and church and state benefited by sharing the property of those convicted).  These were sometimes under the auspices of the Inquisition, sometimes of the state – but always inspired by church preaching against the “sodomites”.

The severity of the pursuit and punishments varied from place to place.  Venice was one of the harshest, with several hundred executions from 1422, until the persecution finally ended. In Spain, it was calculated that in total there were more burnings for homosexuality than for heresy. Executions also applied in the New World – in both North America (where some of the colonists were accused and convicted) and South (where it was the indigenous locals who suffered for the Spanish prejudices) .  Altogether, it is likely that executions in Southern Europe, either by or with the collaboration of the Church, amounted to several thousand men.

Protestant Europe

After the Reformation, the practice of burning homosexuals spread to Northern Europe and some of the new Protestant territories, where the practice was sometimes use as a pretext to attack Catholic clergy: in Belgium, several Franciscans were burnt for sodomy, as was a Jesuit in Antwerp (in 1601).

The persecution finally began to ease from the late 17th century, when some “softening” became evident by the Inquisition in Spain. Nevertheless, some executions continued throughout the eighteenth century, to as late as 1816 in  England. The statutory provision for the death penalty was not removed in England until 1861.

Obviously, the Catholic Church cannot be held directly responsible for the judicial sentences handed down by secular authorities in Protestant countries.  It can, however, be held responsible for it part in fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred in the early part of the persecution, using the cloak of religion to provide cover for what was in reality based not on Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but on simple intolerance and greed.

It is important as gay men lesbians and transgendered that we remember the examples of the many who have in earlier times been honoured by the Church as saints or martyrs for the faith.  It is also important that we remember the example of the many thousands who have been martyred by the churches – Catholic and other.

 

Sources:

 

“Practicing Safer Texts”: The Bible and Sexuality, Homosexuality

As gay men, we all know about the importance of practicing safe sex. When it comes to the Bible and sexuality, especially homosexuality, Ken Stone says we must practice safe texts, too. I regret that I have not yet had a chance to read this book and cannot comment personally on its quality, but the advice in the title is sound. We must read and respond to isolated Bible verses with extreme care. Failure to do so can be dangerous to our mental, emotional and spiritual health. “Everybody” knows that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as an abomination, goes the popular wisdom, which in turns fuels the opposition to LGBT equality and gay marriage, and at worst encourages prejudice, discrimination, bullying – and even murder. The popular wisdom is wrong.

At Newsweek, Lisa Miller introduces her discussion of two new books by Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan with an important reminder: the Bible devotes an entire book to a clear celebration of human sexuality, without any consideration of procreation or even permanent commitment and fidelity:

The poem describes two young lovers aching with desire. The obsession is mutual, carnal, complete. The man lingers over his lover’s eyes and hair, on her teeth, lips, temples, neck, and breasts, until he arrives at “the mount of myrrh.” He rhapsodizes. “All of you is beautiful, my love,” he says. “There is no flaw in you.”

The girl returns his lust with lust. “My lover thrust his hand through the hole,” she says, “and my insides groaned because of him.”

This frank Biblical erotica has too often been overshadowed in religious discussion of biblical sexuality by the modern puritanical perceptions of biblical sexual ethics.  These modern perceptions are a severe distortion. Miller writes:

What does the Bible really say about sex? Two new books written by university scholars for a popular audience try to answer this question. Infuriated by the dominance in the public sphere of conservative Christians who insist that the Bible incontrovertibly supports sex within the constraints of “traditional marriage,” these authors attempt to prove otherwise. Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan mine the Bible for its earthiest and most inexplicable tales about sex—Jephthah, who sacrifices his virgin daughter to God; Naomi and Ruth, who vow to love one another until death—to show that the Bible’s teachings on sex are not as coherent as the religious right would have people believe. In Knust’s reading, the Song of Solomon is a paean to unmarried sex, outside the conventions of family and community. “I’m tired,” writes Knust in Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, “of watching those who are supposed to care about the Bible reduce its stories and teachings to slogans.” Her book comes out this month. Coogan’s book God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says was released last fall.

Some conservative commentators are outraged. “You cannot selectively twist the Bible to suit your purpose” is a common response – which completely overlooks the fact that this is precisely what the defenders of “traditional marriage, as found in the Bible” are doing all the time. The popular conception of “traditional marriage” is a relatively modern invention, very far removed from sexual ethics of the bible – as found in the actual text, and not in some befuddled pseudo-religious imaginations.

To really get to grips with biblical views on sexuality, “practicing safer texts”, requires proper study and reflection. Scholars who have done this have been reconsidering the traditional presentation for decades. Jennifer Knust (a professor of religion and an ordained Baptist pastor) and Michael Coogan (who trained as a Jesuit priest) have taken what is now common parlance among some academics, and made it more accessible to a wider audience.

For those who have followed the re-evaluation of  the bible’s supposed pronouncements on homosexuality in particular, it is easy to recount the counters to the half-dozen or so clobber texts, or “texts of terror”, on Robert Goss’s phrase. What I like about the accounts of these books, is that they move beyond the arguments around specific verses, and on to a more holistic view of Scripture as a whole, and approaches to its overriding message – strictly in accordance with the Pontifical Bible Commission guidance on biblical interpretation, with its emphasis on context – of the passage and the entire bible, as well as the historical conditions, the modern context, and with a careful eye to linguistic accuracy and literary conventions :

The Bible contains a “pervasive patriarchal bias,” Coogan writes. Better to elide the specifics and read the Bible for its teachings on love, compassion, and forgiveness. Taken as a whole, “the Bible can be understood as the record of the beginning of a continuous movement toward the goal of full freedom and equality for all persons.”

It is a discussion of the literary conventions that produces the greatest surprise for me: Coogan’s claim that Biblical language may use the term “foot” as a euphemism for genitals. This recognition leads to some completely novel and surprising perspectives on familiar passages:

When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”

However, it can also lead to some dangerous traps for the unwary:

When he is teaching to college students, he writes, someone inevitably asks about the scene in Luke, in which a woman kisses and washes Jesus’ feet—and then dries them with her hair. Is that author speaking about “feet”? Or feet? “As both modern and ancient elaborations suggest,” Coogan writes, “sexual innuendo may be present.” Scholars agree that in this case, a foot was probably just a foot.

Newsweek, What the Bible Really Says About Sex

We all know that “The Bible” is widely used as a cover to oppose legal protections for LGBT equality, or for full inclusion in church. Too often, as Candace Chellew Hodge points out, these arguments are made by people who have not actually read the bible, or if they have, they have, they have made not attempt to understand it with due consideration of its meaning, in the full scriptural, literary and historical context.

Over at Focus on the Family’s Citizen Link, blogger Jenny Tyree isn’t surprised at Ms. Bush and Ms. McCain’s support for marriage equality. “It’s rather easy for 20-somethings—or millennials—to jump on the very tidy-looking ‘rights’ bandwagon that proponents of same-sex marriage have made marriage to be,’ she writes, rightly observing that the majority of people aged 18-29 support marriage equality.

What these darn kids are missing, Tyree says, is a real appreciation of biblical marriage. Instead, they’ve grown up “breathing air thick with a cultural disregard for marriage. Experiencing the personal benefit of having a married mom and dad doesn’t change what they witnessed—willful divorces and the suffering of the children of divorce. The result is a generational embrace of sex as a right and marriage as one of many lifestyles, rather than as the best family structure for children and a stabilizing force for society.”

-Candace Chellew-Hodge, Religion Dispatches

Chellew-Hodge goes on to point out (quite correctly )that what these people are proposing is emphatically not the supposed destruction of marriage and family, but its strengthening – by extending its protection and coverage to all families.

She also goes on to report on a Knust’s book, saying that it beautifully counters the tired argument that same-sex marriage undermines “biblical marriage”. Marriage in the Bible takes many forms. Which variety, exactly, are the defenders of “traditional” marriage thinking of?

When one actually reads the Bible (something a majority of “traditional marriage” supporters have obviously not done), one finds a myriad of models for marriage—most of them involving one man and many women—and all of those women are property of the man they are married to. Women were subservient to men in every way and had no voice or rights of their own. By the time we arrive at the Christian scriptures, we find Jesus openly discouraging marriage for his followers, requiring them to leave their families and follow him exclusively.

“From Jesus’ perspective, then,” Knust writes, “the family is made up of fellow believers, not kin with formal ties outsiders might recognize.”

Saying that one supports “biblical marriage” then is to say that one supports polygamy, or owning women, or leaving one’s family altogether and dedicating one’s life exclusively to following Christ. What millennials like Ms. Bush and Ms. McCain understand is that the tradition of marriage has evolved into a more inclusive institution encompassing mixed race marriages, and non-procreative marriages. Marriage today is not a matter of familial arrangements to enlarge land holdings or status. Marriage today is about the love and commitment between two people—as well as the government perks bestowed on the couple. Adding gays and lesbians to the mix does nothing to weaken marriage—it’s simply another evolution away from “biblical marriage” that was more about property rights than love.

Biblical marriage, according to Knust, looked like this: “women belong to men; male honor is tied, in part, to how well men supervise the women in their care; and men demonstrate their wealth and success by the number of legitimate wives and children they are able to acquire.”

Actually, given religious right preaching about how men are the head of the household and women are subject to the rule of the man, perhaps the religious right does believe in “Biblical marriage” after all.

At CNN, Jennifer Knust herself elaborates on the bible and homosexuality in particular, rebutting a key argument against gay marriage – that God created two distinct sexes. In fact, she points out, in the earliest versions of the creation story, it was accepted that the original human was androgynous:

We often hears that Christians have no choice but to regard homosexuality as a sin– that Scripture simply demands it.

As a Bible scholar and pastor myself, I say that Scripture does no such thing.

“I love gay people, but the Bible forces me to condemn them” is a poor excuse that attempts to avoid accountability by wrapping a very particular and narrow interpretation of a few biblical passages in a cloak of divinely inspired respectability.

Truth is, Scripture can be interpreted in any number of ways. And biblical writers held a much more complicated view of human sexuality than contemporary debates have acknowledged.

In Genesis, for example, it would seem that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny, not sexual differentiation and heterosexuality.

Genesis includes two versions of the story of God’s creation of the human person. First, God creates humanity male and female and then God forms the human person again, this time in the Garden of Eden. The second human person is given the name Adam and the female is formed from his rib.

Ancient Christians and Jews explained this two-step creation by imagining that the first human person possessed the genitalia of both sexes. Then, when the androgynous, dually-sexed person was placed in the garden, s/he was divided in two.

According to this account, the man “clings to the woman” in an attempt to regain half his flesh, which God took from him once he was placed in Eden. As third century Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman explained, when God created the first man, God created him with two faces. “Then he split the androgyne and made two bodies, one on each side, and turned them about.”

When the apostle Paul envisioned the bodies that would be given to humanity at the end of time, he imagined that they would be androgynous, “not male and female.” The third-century non-canonical Gospel of Philip, meanwhile, lamented that sexual difference had been created at all: “If the female had not separated from the male, she and the male would not die. That being’s separation became the source of death.”

From these perspectives, God’s original plan was sexual unity in one body, not two. The Genesis creation stories can support the notion that sexual intercourse is designed to reunite male and female into one body, but they can also suggest that God’s blessing was first placed on an undifferentiated body that didn’t have sex at all.

Jennifer Knust, CNN Religion Blogs

I do not propose that my readers should simply adopt the views expressed above simply on the strength of some third-hand reports of books that I have not yet had the opportunity to read myself. Biblical exegesis is a tricky matter for those of us without proper training. As the critics of these books are quick to point out, we do need to be guided in our interpretations of the texts by reliable scholarship. What the critics overlook though, is that scholarship itself is no longer supporting the traditional interpretations.

Ever since the early pioneers like Canon Derrick Sherwin Bailey, scholars who have re examined the evidence with an open mind have found that the traditional assumptions about the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality are unfounded. Bayley was followed by the historian John Boswell, with a chapter on scripture in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, and the detailed analysis by the Episcopal theologian William Countryman. This early trickle of works demonstrating the flaws in the traditional misinterpretations has become a flood, so that those denominations which have set up formal study programs have agreed that there is at the very least substantial room for disagreement. This is why we are now seeing a strong movement towards accepting even the ordination of openly gay or lesbian clergy, and even same sex weddings, in the US Mainline Protestant and European Lutheran churches. This re-evaluation by scholars and religious professionals, however, has not yet reached the popular mainstream, not in any significant numbers.

These latest additions to the range of available titles are welcome, and deserve to be widely read and reflected on.

 

Books:

Bailey. Derrick Sherwin: Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century

Coogan, Michael: God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says

Countryman, William L: Dirt, Greed and Sex

Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

Knust, Jennifer WrightUnprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire

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

Stone, KenPracticing Safer Texts: Food, Sex and Bible in Queer Perspective

Thelos, Phil: Divine Sex: Liberating Sex from Religious Tradition

 

My Related articles

Related articles elsewhere




Put Christ Back Into Christianity: The Body of Christ

Absolutely fundamental to the Christian religion is the belief that God, as the second person of the Trinity, took on human form and became man. Jesus Christ, whose incarnation we celebrate at this time, was fully divine – and also fully human.

I want to stress here that word “incarnation”, not just the nativity, so familiar from Christmas cards and Nativity plays. Yes, like all other humans he began life as an infant – but he lived and ministered as a man, a real man, fully human, with all that entails. We celebrate the incarnation explicitly at Christmas, but also constantly in the life of the Church, and especially in the Mass. At the consecration, we hear the words, “This is my body”, and on receiving communion, “Body of Christ”, to which we reply, “Amen”. But like so much in tradition, this response has shifted subtly over the millenia.The original response carried rather more punch.

In the early church, when the presbyter administered the holy communion to the faithful, saying “Corpus Christi”, the body of Christ, the response was not “Amen”, as we now have it, but “I am”. Do you see how radical that is? You -I- we- are the body of God, in our humanity.

-Fr Bernard Lynch, cited in “From Queer to Eternity

There is another, fundamentally important implication that must follow from Christ’s fully human nature – his sexuality. Outside the realm of speculation, we have no specific knowledge of the nature of his sexual feelings and responses, but as an adult human male, we can be certain that they were there, even if we do not know what they were.

At the heart of Christianity is the astonishing claim that God became fully human in Jesus Christ a nd took on human flesh. With a body, circumcision, erections, ejaculations, sexual attractions. With eyes that noticed beauty, skin sensitive to the massage of oil and the touch of a woman’s hair.  Spittle that he rubbed on the eyes of a man born blind. A taste for good wine and feet that could dance the night away at Cana….Is this not what Jesus took on in the Incarnation?

-Michael Sean Paterson, in “From Queer to Eternity

Does it matter that he was male? Well. Catholic tradition certainly thinks so. That is a major part of the insistence on an exclusively male clergy.  How do we know that Christ had erections and ejaculations? That follows from his male biology. As any man knows, especially young men (and Christ died while still young) the male genital responses can be completely involuntary (even being used in some research studies and government programs to identify orientation).

So why is the Christian Church, and especially the Catholics, so afraid of the body, and of sexuality in particular? Other religions do not fear sex: many celebrate it to some degree  (some religions have even identified divine patrons of homosexual love). The Christian antipathy to the body and sexuality do not come from the Gospel and from Christ himself. The likeliest explanation I have found is that it arises from a combination of a distortion of Greek Stoic philosophy and a belief in the imminent parousia – but as my concern here is specifically with Christology, I will not explore that question further here.

The modern Catholic Church’s extreme resistance to the body has not even been a constant part of its tradition. We know for instance that many of the most celebrated saints and teachers in the mystical tradition of the church used starkly erotic, bodily imagery (including obviously homoerotic imagery).  The same attention to Christ’s physical body was also once evident in the visual arts.

Today, we are so accustomed to the sanitised images of the white male in a flowing white robe, familiar from children’s Illustrated Bible Stories and the like, that it is easy to lose sight of the real, human man behind these images.  The representations we commonly see, whether as pictures or as crucifixes, would typically suggest that he had no genitals at all – and completely obscure the fact that he was crucified, and carried the cross, entirely naked. It was not always so – as the art historian Leo Steinberg has demonstrated, Renaissance artists in their depictions of Christ’s body did not shirk from indicating the genitals, and even the erections he would surely have experienced.  Mark Jordan describes this misrepresentation of Christ’s body as a “corpse” of Jesus created by official Christology.

Much Christian theology claims to be about a divine incarnation. It is also, and perhaps more emphatically, a speech or managing that incarnation by controlling its awkward implications. Some particularly awkward consequences can only be managed by passing over members of the body of God in prudish silence.  Looked at in this way, the history of Christian theology can be seen as a long flight from the full consequences of its central profession. The big business of theology has been to construct alternate bodies for Jesus Christ – tidier bodies, bodies better conformed to institutional needs.  I think of these artificial bodies as Jesus’ corpses, and I consider large parts of official Christology as their mortuary.

In stressing the overwhelming probability that in his humanity, Jesus Christ would have experienced sexual feelings and physical, genital  responses, I do not want to argue that these were homoerotic responses to other men – but they may have been, as some scholars surmise. However, it would also be wrong to assume that his responses were either asexual or necessarily heterosexual.

What does this mean, in practical terms, for our religious practice as gay men (in particular)? I suggest that there are two hugely important consequences. The first is in our practice of spirituality, and our spiritual growth in personal relationship with Jesus. Recognizing his full bodily, male humanity, we should feel free to incorporate this into our prayer. Following the advice of Chris Glaser, we must allow our sexuality to complement our spirituality, not restrict it  – and vice versa. Unlike the official theologians of the Catholic Church, we must not run away from the full truth of Christ’s body. For Catholics, this also means we must take seriously the nature of the Eucharist itself. On this, I close with some words from Gerard Loughlin, in his introduction to “Queer Theology“:

The consecrated bread and wine are not metaphors for the body and blood of Christ, but really God’s body and blood, given for us to eat.  Pope Benedict XVI does not shy away from this when when he acknowledges that the “marriage between God and Israel” is now realized as union with God through sharing in Jesus’ body and blood. Certainly the Eucharist is as intimate as sex – taking another’s body into one’s own – and just insofar as it unites men and women with Jesus, it is gay sex as well as straight sex, gay marriage and straight marriage.

It is thus not possible for Christians schooled in the gospels and traditions to believe that gay people are ordered to an “intrinsic evil,” since all are ordered to God, and those ordered to God through their own sex are ordered as were the two Johns – the beloved and the baptist – who were ordered to Jesus ; a lover who does not discinguish between the sex of his brides, who welcomes all alike. Christ is the lover of both St theresa of Avila and St John of the cross.  …. It is not possible to place gay people outside Christ’s eucharistic embrace, the very space where we learn “the concrete practice of love.” For eucharstic communion “includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn”.

Related Posts at QTC

Recommended Books:

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):

“The Last Judgement”, and the Homoerotic Spirituality of Michaelangelo.

One of the great paradox’s of queer church history is that a period of extreme persecution of “sodomites” by the Inquisition, directly at their own hands or indirectly by secular authorities at their instigation, largely coincided with a remarkable series of popes who had sex with men, who protected family and friends who did so, or spent vast sums commissioning major works of homoerotic art. Of these, the most obvious and best known of these is Michaelangelo’s magnificent frescoes for then Sistine Chapel, which remains one of the must see attractions for any tourist visiting Rome. (Pope Paul III who commissioned these works for the chapel, also commissioned an obviously homoerotic theme, the Rape of Ganymede, for his bedroom.)

For the thousands of daily visitors, this is a powerful depiction of the second coming of Christ, and so a source of religious inspiration – but may have been based, in part, on scenes of male and female prostitution the artist saw in the Rome of his day.

A new study claims that the huge painting is also based on the seedy scenes the 16th-century artist witnessed at Roman public baths which doubled as brothels for male and female prostitutes.

“The figures descending to hell and ascending to heaven are inspired by the virile, muscular manual workers and porters Michelangelo would have seen during his visits to the baths, which are well documented,” said Elena Lazzarini, a researcher at the University of Pisa and the author of the study. “It was here he defined the build of the working man as the ideal physique.”

The public baths which proliferated in Rome at the time offered steam rooms, massages and basic medical treatments with leeches, “but also rooms offering scenes of promiscuity and prostitution, both male and female”, she said.

Lazzarini pointed out that in the painting, which spans an entire wall of the chapel where papal conclaves are held, one of the damned is being dragged down to hell by his testicles while men heading for heaven hug and kiss “in an ambiguous fashion”.

-Guardian

In what sense is this image of men kissing “ambiguous”?

So, there appear to be two paradoxes here. One is the historical anomaly of open male prostitution and papal tolerance or encouragement of homoeroticism while simultaneously executing thousands of Sodomites, often by burning at the stake. The other is the apparent anomaly of placing erotic art,  homoerotic and otherwise, in a papal chapel.

On the historical anomaly, I do not want to go further here. On the spiritual / erotic element, there is no contradiction at all. Eroticism, and especially homoeroticism,  frequently goes together with spirituality. As Chris Glaser notes in his introduction to “Coming out to God”, sexuality and spirituality can support and reinforce each other. They are not in conflict. Outside the Christian tradition, many religions have explicitly embraced sexuality in religious worship, from Hindu erotic temple art, to male and female temple prostitutes in the Middle Eastern ancient world. Many societies even recognize a specific association between spiritual gifts and homoerotic attraction or cross-dressing, as seen in the American berdache, African sangomas, and Asian hijras – or even the “skirts” worn by many Christian male clergy, and the high proportion of gay Catholic and Anglican clergy. The history of Christian spirituality is filled with examples which use male erotic imagery, such as John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila, or images of male friendship -such as Aelred of Rievaulx’s “Spiritual Friendship”.

The homoerotic content of Michaelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel and elsewhere, is self-evident: all one has to do is to look at it. But this is not only erotic – it is also powerfully, deeply spiritual. Indeed, when the painter Veronese defended himself before the Holy Tribunal on charges of “inappropriate” imagery in his Last Supper, he cited The Last Judgement as precedent – and the Tribunal responded that Michaelangelo’s work was excused because of its great spirituality.

For most casual visitors today, the spiritual content of the “Last Judgement” is obvious: an inspiring image of the resurrection, and the prospect of everlasting life.  For observers of his own day, the message would have been more terrifying – a reminder of the danger of eternal damnation, and hence of the necessity of redemption through the Church. The frequent commissions by the church of scenes of the Last Judgement, Michaelangelo’s among many others, would thus have been a means for the church to remind the faithful of its own importance, and so consolidate its power over their minds. Robert Baldwin elaborates on this idea, and also observes that Michaelangelo himself, by showing his own self-portrait in a flayed skin held by st Bartholomew, sees himself as a victim of the Church’s obsession with control.

So, where is Michaelangelo’s spirituality to be found? I suspect that the clue comes in looking not just at his art, but at the man as a whole. His contemporary biographer Ascanio Condivi wrote that

Michelangelo ‘loved not only human beauty but universally every beautiful thing: a beautiful horse, a beautiful dog, a beautiful landscape, a beautiful plant, a beautiful mountain, a beautiful wood and every place and thing beautiful and rare after its own kind.. .’

-George Bull, at Catholic Ireland

This love of beauty was expressed not only in painting, but also in poetry, in sonnets (some of which are also clearly homoerotic in content).

A sonnet written when he was in his early seventies began with the declaration that every beautiful thing passed through his eyes instantly to his heart along a path open to thousands ‘of all ages and sexes’.

-George Bull, at Catholic Ireland

In his Mass to celebrate the restoration of the Sistine frescoes, Pope John Paul II had this to say of them:

‘The frescoes that we contemplate here introduce us to the world of Revelation. The truths of our faith speak to us here from all sides… The Sistine Chapel is precisely – if one may say so – the sanctuary of the theology of the human body. In witnessing to the beauty of man created by God as male and female, it also expresses in a certain way the hope of a world transfigured, the world inaugurated by the risen Christ, and even before by Christ on Mount Tabor…in the context of the light that comes from God, the human body also keeps its splendour and its dignity. .. If it is removed from this dimension, it becomes in some way an object, which depreciates very easily, since only before the eyes of God can the human body remain naked and unclothed, and keep its splendour and its beauty intact…’

-quoted by George Bull

In his praise for the paintings as presenting the “theology of the body”, John Paul is careful to select the representations of male and female, but the work itself also celebrates another element of beauty in the human body: that of male and male.

Recommended Books (Queer Spirituality):

“Finding God in the Erotic”: Fr Donal Godfrey SJ

The Christian faith in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, are widely perceived as being inherently anti-erotic, and hostile to the idea of sexual pleasure, of sex outside of procreation. The perception is well-founded in historical fact. Some early theologians praised virginity as an ideal even inside marriage, at a time when the expectation of the imminent parousia created a belief that humanity had no need to procreate. Later, the insistence on clerical celibacy arose in part from an idea that sexual intercourse the night before celebrating Mass was inappropriate, as somehow defiling and unclean. The imposition of compulsory clerical celibacy in turn led to a distinct two-caste system within the Church, with the celibate clergy seen as more “pure” than those laity living normal sexual lives.

The perception is soundly based in history, but not in Scripture, or even in Catholic theology. There is nothing in Scripture that is inherently hostile to sexual love, and much to celebrate it, notably the Song of Songs. Notable mystics such as St John of the Cross,Theresa of Avila and numerous others have described their prayer in notably erotic (even homoerotic) imagery. Since the Reformation, Protestant theologians have recognised that the value of sexual love within marriage. Even the Vatican overturned centuries of tradition with Humanae Vitae, recognizing for the first time that sexual intercourse has a unitive as well as a procreative value.

Ecstasy of St Teresa (Bernini)
 Increasingly, theologians (Catholic as well as Protestant) are going beyond this to acknowledge that there can also be a specifically spiritual dimension to the erotic: the Presbyterian Chris Glaser, for instance, has written movingly on how the attempt to deny either the sexual or the spiritual in life impoverishes the other, while by embracing both, each strengthens and enriches the other.

Yet there remain vocal lobbies within the Church which continue to howl in protest whenever any churchman dares to speak of sexual pleasure in anything but negative terms, or to say publicly what so many people know from experience. So it is that the California Catholic Daily can hardly hide its glee that Fr Donal Godfrey is no longer serving as executive director of University Ministry at the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco: among the black marks the CCD holds against Fr Godfrey is a homily he once delivered on this theme, which was later published at Gay Catholic Forum (where it is still available on-line).I am grateful to California Catholic Daily for this: as so often when they squeal most loudly about something they find objectionable, I took care to seek out the text that upset them, and was glad that I did. (I am equally grateful to them for drawing my attention to another useful homily by Fr Godfrey,“The Call to Come Out”, which  likened Jesus’ calling Lazarus to come out of the tomb to same-sex attracted persons “coming out of the closet.” That homily was also published in the “Gay Catholic Forum.”

Fr Godfrey’s homily on the erotic was based on the Gospel passage in which the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce. As he points out, this was an attempt by the Pharisees to trap the Lord in a controversial question about sexuality and quotations from Scripture – but Jesus does not see sexuality in the clinical, impersonal terms of the Pharisees. His message is much gentler. This leads on to a more extended reflection on the value of eros in our spiritual lives.
Here is the opening of the homily:
The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”  They were testing him.  He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”  They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”  But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
In the house the disciples again questioned him about this.  He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”   (Mark 10:2-12)
Jesus, in this morning’s Gospel is caught up in a religious conflict about sexuality and some people who quote scripture at him. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
And so it is interesting to see how Jesus deals with this situation.
Jesus wasn’t a biblical conservative. But he wasn’t a biblical liberal either.  He expected something important from the scriptures, he expected to be challenged and surprised by God and he also expected that when you are challenged and surprised by God some of the details in the sacred scripture will have to go, because they will be revealed as concessions to our hardness of hearts.
Read the full text at Gay Catholic Forum

Come Out, Stand Proud. (The Catechism Commands It!)

Yes, really – in a manner of speaking. Browsing through the Catechism section on sexuality, which you will find under the sixth commandment, I was struck by two passages in particular:

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)

and

“Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)

Of course, that it is not at all what the Vatican means – the rest of the passage assumes that this can only be done by violating your identity in a heterosexual relationship, which we know from the experts in social science, from the testimony of others, and and from personal experience, is a violation of our identites, not an acceptance.  But then, the Vatican has never been noted for freedom from contradiction.

There are more compelling reasons though, than the Vatican’s mixed messages for coming out, and indeed for coming out in church. For “coming Out Day”, I want to look instead at some of these.

Rereeading Elisabeth Stuart’s “Gay & Lesbian Theologies“, I was struck by the realisation that she puts the start of the formal development of gay & lesbian theology to the early 1970’s.  the first notable text she discusses isLoving Women/Loving Men (eds Sally Gearhard and William Johnson), published as long ago as 1974 -fully 35 years ago this year, and “Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation”, edited by Malcolm Marcourt.

An essential aspect of this early thinking takes its cue from Paul Tillich, and his notion of “the courage to be”. In these terms, it is important to recognise our own experience.

Johnson accuses the church of being over concerned with “intellectual theology”, and  under concerned with the grounding of theology in experience.  It is therefore vital that gay people come out, articulate their experience and reflect theologically upon it, for “we who are gay know the validity of our experience, particularly the experience of our love. That love calls us out of ourselves and enables us to respond to the other. Through our experience we experience the presence of God………..

For Johnson, gay liberation is vital for the liberation of the Church to enable it to better incarnate the Gospel. The essay ends with a call to all gay men in the Church to come out, to  ensure that liberation takes place.” (Emphasis added.)

Previously, I have looked at Richard Cleaver‘s view that coming out is “Wrestling with the Divine” (Know My Name), and Daniel Helminiak‘s that is a “Spiritual Experience” (Sex and the Sacred)John McNeill, former Jesuit theologian and psychotherapist, makes similar points in “Sex as God Intended”.  Today, I want to look at the ideas of  Chris Glaser, who in a full length book presents his view of “Coming Out as Sacrament“. Glaser is one of those treasured writers on gay religion of whom it can said, as with James Alison, Daniel Helminiak and JohnMcNeill, that everything they write is worth reading, and accessible even to non specialists. Glaser writes from a backgroound in the Baptist and Presbyterian faiths, but as a Catholic I find this helpful, in broadening my perspective, rather than getting ini the way of his argument. The starting point for this book was some reflection on the importance of the idea of sacrament to lGBT people, who are so often denied access to the sacraments by mainstream churches.  Talking to a close friend (sympathetic, but not LGBT), this is how his thinking went:

“Having visited our Wednesday night Bible study, she told me that what impressed her most deeply, what she thougth was our sacrament as gay people, was our “ability to be vulnerable with one another” – in other words, to xperience true communion by offering our true selves.  As Christ offers himself in vulnerability,   so we offer ourselves, despite the risks. Being open and vulnerable may be preceivesd as weakness, but in reality it demonstrates our strength.  By sharing our  “brokenness”  – how we are sacrificially cut off from the rest of Christ’s Body – we offer a renewed opportunity of Communion, among ourselves and within the Church as the Body of Christ.”

Later, he added a conclusion that had not occurred to him earlier-

” that coming out is our unique sacrament, a rite of vulnerability that reveals the sacred in our lives – our worth, our love, our love-making, our context of meaning, and our God. “

Later in the opening chapter, he carefully notes the ways in which coming out has deep affinity with not just one, but each, of the traditional seven sacraments of the broader Christian community.  Above all, however, he says there is one where there is an extra special affinity: the sacrament of communion is intrinsic to coming out – it is hardly possible to come out entirely in private.

Coming out in public is important for one’s own mental health, and also for one’s spiritual being.  Doing so in the Church cam help the Church to recognise and proclaim the true Gospel message.  If you possibly can, do it:  quite literally,  for the love of God.

Further Reading:

Barefoot Theologians, Twitching Experience
Homoerotic Spirituality
The Road From Emmaus:  Gay and Lesbians Prophetic Role in the Church
Coming Out As Spiritual Experience
Coming out As Wrestling With the Divine

James Alison: Discovery of “Gay” = Good News for the Church

Wherever the Catholic sun does shine,
there’s love and laughter
and red red wine
at least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino*

– Hillaire Belloc.

Matisse Dancers
Not many people today would readily associate the above words with the modern Catholic Church, especially not lesbian gay, transgendered and other sexual minorities – i.e. in the eyes of the church, most of us.  But James Alison is one who clearly would agree with the sentiment.  In a fascinating and stimulating new article, James argues that thee “discovery” in recent decades of homosexuality as an orientation, part of the natural order of things rather than a lifestyle choice or pathology, should rightly be seen as Good News for heterosexuals and for the Catholic Church as a  whole.  For lesbigaytrans Catholics, this is likewise obviously good news – but it is much more.  It is an opportunity, he argues exuberantly, for fun and delight in the Church.
What I would like to share with you is a sense of fun. I think being Catholic is huge fun. A huge roller-coaster ride into reality propelled by God, borne up on safe wings, gestated by the loving self-giving of Our Lord in his crucifixion, watched and smiled over by his Holy Mother, played into being like a virtuoso first performance of an unknown masterpiece by the adventurous coaxing of God’s Holy Spirit.
 
And right now one of the best places from where we can get a rich sense of how much fun this adventure is, is by looking at matters gay and their incidence in the life of the Church. 
james-alisonThis will be a novel and unexpected perspective for most of us, so used to seeing (and experiencing) our position in the Church in terms of accusations, lack of welcome or even outright rejection, often leading us to question our own inner selves.  This will be a hard sell for James, we think reading these introductory words, but James Alison is on his familiar ground of “delight”, and well up to the task.  In his previous writing, he has frequently emphasised the joy and delight of being catholic, and of being gay as well as Catholic.  Part of the key in retaining that joy, he believes, is to avoid the trap of responding to the Church opposition to us with an antagonistic relationship to the hiearchy.  Rather, he argued, it is healthier to approach the Church with an attitude of Ignatian indifference (an attitude I now aspire to of, but cannot always achieve) .  In this article, he expands on what others, notably John McNeill, have described as an emerging Kairos moment in the church, here thinking specifically of an impending transformation of the theology of sexuality, with gay sexuality at the centre.  (Kairos Moment:  from the Greek for a “an appropriate time, an opportune moment.”)
First, though he needs to prepare the way by establishing a frame of reference, and an analogy.
The frame of reference he applies is the “discovery” of sexual orientation as innate and natural.
So, to my first point. In the last fifty years or so we have undergone a genuine human discovery of the sort that we, the human race, don’t make all that often. A genuine anthropological discovery: one that is not a matter of fashion, or wishful thinking; not the result of a decline in morals or a collapse of family values. We now know something objectively true about humans that we didn’t know before: that there is a regularly occurring, non-pathological minority variant in the human condition, independent of culture, habitat, religion, education, or customs, which we currently call “being gay”. This minority variant is not, of course, lived in a way that is independent of culture, habitat, religion, education and customs. It is lived, as is every other human reality, in an entirely culture-laden way, which is one of the reasons why it has in the past been so easy to mistake it as merely a function of culture, psychology, religion or morality: something to get worked up about rather than something that is just there.

The analogy he draws is with the impact on human consciousness following the discovery of America at the end of the 15th century, and specifically the impact on map making.

And a richer example still: just think of the hugeness of what happened when Europeans made landfall in theAmericas in the late fifteenth century. The sheer vastness, otherness, of what they had stumbled across by mistake, while looking for a fast trade route to China and Japan, would take decades, even centuries, to sink in. Every single feature of the way Europeans saw themselves underwent a radical shift of perspective in the light of the geological, anthropological, botanical, zoological and cultural “thereness” of something that had of course “always” been there, but of which Europeans had previously had no knowledge at all. But that shift of perspective didn’t happen immediately.

So why is this Good News, and for whom?

Well, first of all, obviously, for us as lesbian and gay people.  Recognising that we are an entirely “natural” part of creation, albeit a minority part, frees us from any sense of guilt or shame at being who we are.  We are clearly part of god’s creation, just as God intended us to be.  An important  corollary follows:

Each person finds their good by adherence to God’s plan for them, in order to realise it fully: in this plan, each one finds their truth, and through adherence to this truth, becomes free (cf John 8,22). To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.”

Following this train of thought, the above words logically lead to the conclusion that gay people have not just a right to defend themselves, but an obligation to come out, to bear witness to their truth and to articulate it.  These are positions I have frequently publicised and argued here on QTC.  So which radical gay or lesbian theologian produced those words?  Benedict XVI himself, in the recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate”.  Of course,  in writing them, he wasn’t thinking specifically of the dreaded “homosexuals”, but that is precisely the point.

In the years immediately following Columbus’ voyage, it took a while for the knowledge of this new world to sink into consciousness, and for people to begin to understand the implications.  Alison is arguing here that at the time of writing the infamous Hallowe’en letter on the “fundamentally disordered” nature of a homosexual orientation, the understanding of the discoveries by scientists and anthropologists had not yet sunk it.  The church at that time was still working with maps that had not yet been redrawn accurately to show the full extent of the discovery.  As it becomes better understood, as the maps improve, the number of people who benefit will expand.  After the LGBT community itself, the next to benefit will be their families, but later also all straights.

Again, the discovery is rather obviously good news for the parents and families of those who are gay and lesbian, since it means that the false guilt trips which have been laid on them can be shrugged off……………..


We are only now beginning to be able to tell what are some of the knock-on effects of having discovered that what we call being “straight” or “heterosexual” is not the normative human condition, but a majority human condition. ……And this has important consequences for understanding the relation between the emotional, the sexual, and the reproductive lives of those who are heterosexual. If there are some humans in whom, as a normal and non-pathological minority variant, the emotional and the sexual elements of their lives are not linked to any possible reproductive element, then the link between the possible reproductive element and the emotional and sexual element in those in whom these elements are linked is of a somewhat different sort than was previously imagined. We are talking about something within the sphere of the free, the intentional and the deliberate rather than the mechanical and the fated. The relationship between that which is simply “biological” and that which is available to be humanised has changed.

Alison argues from this that the “discovery of gay” thus creates circumstances of greater freedom for the straights as well as for the rest of us, by offering more choices, and removing the fear of being considered “gay”. Bit the really interesting and exciting part is where he goes on to spell out the implications for the church as a whole, and for gay Catholics in particular.

Where I would like to take this further is in the really very interesting field of how this is affecting, and going to affect, the Church. So, let’s look at the alterations in the map of the world which the discovery is producing.


There was a time, in the not too distant past, when loud voices from Rome, along with their local amplifiers, would tell people like us that the only acceptable form of discussion about, or pastoral work with, gay and lesbian people was one that was strictly in accordance with the truth, and that truth was properly set forth in the teaching of the Roman Congregations. This truth, as it turned out, was that “although the homosexual inclination is not itself a sin, it constitutes a more or less strong tendency towards behaviour which is intrinsically evil, and thus the inclination itself must be considered objectively disordered”


But curiously, the very Church whose apparent “truth” in this area I’ve just recited for you, teaches very strongly ……that there is such a thing as something that is true independently of the perspective and wish list of any of us, and that that truth in some sense imposes itself on us. In other words, the same authorities who told us that we have to go along with their understanding of the homosexual inclination because it is true, are also, thank heaven,insisting that the truth doesn’t depend on them, and that they and their teaching are receptive to that which is discovered to be objectively true in whatever field it should emerge.

And the objective truth that is emerging is the discovery that homosexuality is in every sense natural, and not disordered at all.   By its own logic and teaching, the Church will have to redraw its maps of human sexuality to take account of this discovery.

Well, what has emerged with ever-greater clarity over the last twenty or so years is that the claim underlying the teaching of the Roman Congregations in this sphere is not true. It is not true that all humans are intrinsically heterosexual, and that those who appear not to be heterosexual are in fact defective heterosexuals. There is no longer any reputable scientific evidence of any sort: psychological, biological, genetic, medical, neurological – to back up the claim. The discovery that I talked about earlier, backed with abundant evidence, is that there is a small but regular proportion of human beings – somewhere between three and four percent – across all cultures who are hardwired to be principally attracted to members of their own sex. Furthermore there is no pathology of any psychological or physiological sort that is invariably associated with this sort of hardwiring. It is not a vice or a sickness. It is simply a regularly occurring minority variant in the human species.

In developing this new map, those responsible for drawing it will have to take account of one rather surprising phenomenon.  It is not simply the case, says Alison, that the official teaching on same gender relationships is flawed: rather, he claims:

It is properly speaking true to say that, appearances aside, the Catholic Church has no teaching at all about homosexuality.

This is because up to now, the theologians have not been writing about homosexuality as it is now known to be, but as something that previously existed primarily in their imaginations, based only on distorted reports – rather as medieval Europeans might have interpreted reports of a large, four egged mammal with a horn as a mythological unicorn, not as a rhinoceros.  This creates for us the opportunity to develop from the ground up, an entire new body of theology.

So here is a splendid, splendid opportunity for us to be able to say “yippee”! “Just in time”! Just as it was becoming clear that the whole way of talking about being human which has sustained official Church teaching for much of the time between the apostolic period and now is in deep trouble, here at last we have an objective fulcrum from which to be working out what it is to be Catholic. ……We find ourselves facing up to the fact that we have discovered something objectively true about being human which is going to re-write our maps.


Now, I would say the fun lies in the challenge to discover Catholicity from within this process of learning, which is as it should be. ……We can relax into the discovery that God did something very big a long time ago, and is continuing to do exactly that thing, and that we are surfing the very big waves which are continuing to flow out from this in hugely creative ways.

But in doing so, we must resist the temptation to do it in opposition to the church, in argumentative or squabbling fashion.

Here we are dealing with something that is true independently of the positions and the authority of those speaking. Which means: its truth doesn’t depend on us, so we needn’t be in rivalry about it. And there is something marvellously freeing about this.


Now if we look at these officials not as people with whom we must be in rivalry, but as people who have a difficult job to do in the face of emerging truth, we can also learn to be much more sympathetic to them, without going along with their falsehoods………There is quite genuinely no firm tradition of Catholic discussion or teaching about human love and partnering other than that which is derived from the presupposition of universal heterosexuality and the goodness of marriage.


This is where we all come in. …..This seems to me to be the challenge for us now, and as I say continually, it seems to me to be a fun challenge: are we going to dare to be Catholics, not in rivalry with our office holders, grateful that they’re there, aware that they’re pretty stuck, but delighted to be beginning to take on board the contours of the new discovery about being human that goes with the term “gay”? Are we going to allow ourselves to be empowered to discover ways in which God is much morefor us than we had imagined, that God really does want us to be free and to be happy, and to rejoice in what is true as we are stretched toward and stand alongside the weakest and most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers wherever we may find them? Are we going to allow ourselves to discover the potential for Catholicity that is opening up alongside the discovery of the new richness in Creation that shimmers within the little word “gay”?

Conclusions

What this is saying, is clear in its implications for gay and lesbian Catholics:

  • Catholic tradition, and Benedict XVI in particular, insists on reason as a complement to faith.
  • Reason dictates that the Church must and will recognise the implications of the “recent” discovery that sexual orientation is innate, natural and not remotely disordered.
  • This will force a corresponding recognition that we, all of us together, need to create a brand new theology of sexuality. This will represent Good News for all in the Church, gay and straight alike.
  • We have the opportunity at this critical point in history, thisKairos moment, to participate in this exciting, even fun-filled, adventure.

Read the full text at  The Fulcrum of Discovery: how the “gay thing” is good news for the Catholic Church (Footnote: Years before I became involved with Jesuit thinking and Ignatian spirituality, back as a first year student in 1970 at the University of Cape Town, I developed a soft spot for the several Dominicans I met through the Catholic student chaplaincies at SA universities. This admiration grew further in later years as I began to learn of the sterling work done by Dominicans of the calibre of Albert Nolan in adapting Liberation Theology to the South African context.     So I was delighted to see that one of the occasions for presenting a version of this paper was a conference at the Dominican Priory in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. ) Further Reading: James Alison Website Brokeheart Mountain: Reflections on monotheism, idolatry and the Kingdom Letter to a young, gay Catholic. See also: Mary Hunt on Dignity at 40: Faithful & Fabulous

James Alison’s  Books:

Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

On Being Liked

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

Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal