Reform Jews Back Gay Marriage, Denounce Cardinal O’Brien

The Reform movement has branded as “inflammatory” an attack on same-sex marriage by one of Britain’s leading Catholic clerics.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, described plans to legalise gay marriage as “madness” and a “grotesque subvesion”.
But Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, movement rabbi for Reform Judaism, said that the cardinal’s comments were “inflammatory and incitement to homophobia which can have grave consequences”.
Jewish women under a Beverley Hills chuppah in 2008
Reform welcomed the proposed legislation, she said. “A recognition of equality of marriage for homosexuals as well as heterosexuals can only strengthen society and the institution of marriage.”
Rabbi Colin Eimer, who chaired a working party on the issue for the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, said: “Religious ceremonies exist in Jewish life for heterosexual couples to express their love, commitment, values and ideals. We believe that homosexual couples should have that same opportunity for a religious ceremony within the sanctity of Jewish community, tradition and practice.”
One commonly heard argument for opposition to equality is that it is an attack on freedom of religion. It is not, as this example and the one below clearly show. It in fact supports religious freedom – freedom for the increasing number of religious groups that wish to minister to all in their congregations, without discrimination.

 

Intersex, Women Bishops, and the Body of Christ

The story of Rev. Sally / Selwyn Gross neatly encapsulates the challenges of intersex people to Roman Catholic rules on the ordination of women. Male-identified at birth, Selwyn was raised as male, and became a Catholic priest. When medical tests revealed that internal biology was primarily female, Sally transitioned – and was forced out of the priesthood.
In the Anglican church, there is no problem with the ordination of intersex people, as there is no bar to women’s ordination in the first place, nor are there barriers to promotion – up to the rank of bishop. Then the stained – glass ceiling is struck, for intersex people and for women. We know from science that the intersex phenomenon is entirely natural and complex, including a small but significant proportion of the human population. The absolute division of us into a neat two-part binary, is simplistic and a dangerous ground on which to base rules for ordination (or for marriage, for that matter).
The theologian Dr Susannah Cornwall has specialised in the intersex challenge to theology, notably in her book “Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ” . In a new paper, reported on in the Church Times, she applies these considerations to the debate raging in the English Church over women bishops.   The trigger for her intervention came in a paper by those opposed to women bishops,”The Church, Women Bishops and Provision”which argued “When we stop receiving Christ in his essential maleness, his humanity becomes obscured”.
Essentially male?




Continue reading Intersex, Women Bishops, and the Body of Christ

The Gay Closet as a Place of Sin

My colleague Advocatus Diaboli sent me a link some days ago to a post at Jesus in Love, about a new book (“Dark Knowledge“, by Kenneth Low) which argues that Jesus was homosexual and sexually active, but closeted – and that was the reason for his trial and execution. AD asked me for my opinion. Before getting to my response, I share some key extracts from Kittredge’s post:

Dark Knowledge” by Kenneth Low uses rational arguments to disprove much of the conventional wisdom about Christ. According to Low, Jesus was not heterosexual, not celibate, and not happy with his own identity.

Low presents evidence that Jesus must have been homosexual because he was an unmarried man who surrounded himself with men, including John, his beloved male disciple and sexual partner.

-Jesus in Love

Kittredge quotes from Low directly:

In His childhood, Jesus Christ came into His awareness of being the Son of God. His magical authority and other attributes were given to Him as His birthright. As He came into sexual awareness, He discovered Himself to be a homosexual. His awareness of being the Son of God precluded any possibility of denying His sexuality out of some external concern and He began to be sexually active. He was evidently discovered to be a homosexual by people in His hometown and He must have been sharply rebuked and ostracized. He left Galilee and wandered on an endless soulful sojourn seeking a reconciliation of His divinity with His homosexuality. (p. 276)

-Jesus in Love

Toby Johnson, the author of Gay Spirituality and Gay Perspective and a former editor of the “White Crane” journal of gay spirituality, has also written about Dark Knowledge. He summarizes the thesis proposed by Dark Knowledge:

When Low considers Jesus as homosexual, it is as secretive, shamed and closeted, what a homosexual would have thought of himself in an intensely and threateningly homophobic and misogynistic society. His townsfolk would have ignored his teachings because they knew too much about him. He’d have been an embarrassment to his family. The Apostles would have been reluctant to admit they knew him if this fact came out. In this reading of the story, Jesus’s homosexuality isn’t an item of pride, but rather the source of a spiritual crisis that forces him to develop an interpretation of virtue and goodness that isn’t just conformity with Jewish Law, since he himself can’t conform.

(In his review, Johnson praises the originality of the presentation and the  manner  in which Low re-imagines the life of Christ. He concludes by noting that he is sceptical of Low’s conclusion, but finds the book stimulating, and a good read nevertheless).

I stress that I have not read the book, and will not even attempt an assessment. However, I was interested in my own strong reaction to the book’s conclusion as presented in Kittredge’s review, and where that response led me. That reaction was  to the whole concept, that Jesus might have been actively “homosexual” – but closeted. We have virtually no real evidence on Christ’s orientation or sexual practice. There are reasonable arguments that he may have been (in modern terms) homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or asexual in orientation, and it is possible to believe that he was sexually active, or celibate. We may speculate, but we just don’t know. I’m comfortable with any of the possibilities – homosexual and sexually active, heterosexual and sexually active – or entirely celibate. I don’t believe that it really matters. But the one possibility that I have not considered before, and immediately rejected out of hand in an instinctive, visceral reaction, is the one presented by Low: that Jesus was both homosexually active, closeted and ashamed. Why did I react so instinctively?

Somewhat surprised by the intensity of my response, I tried to dissect it. My conclusion came fairly rapidly: Low’s idea flatly contradicts a core belief of standard Christology, that although fully human, Jesus Christ was without sin. If he was without sin, what could he have to be ashamed of?

And that was where assessing my own response became really interesting to me. In going from a standard, conventional belief, that Jesus was without sin, to my conclusion, that this makes it impossible for him to have been a closeted, sexually active gay man, I had made an automatic assumption, that I was previously unaware of. That assumption, was that to be closeted and sexually active, is inherently sinful. But where is the sin? I have made it clear in numerous posts that I do not believe that homosexuality in itself is inherently sinful ( but some forms of inappropriate use of it may be). So if there is sin implied by the assumption, it must lie in the proposition that Jesus was closeted, and ashamed.

Is that a sound assumption? My short answer, which I present before the full reasoning, is yes – the closet is a place of sin (but with an important qualification, which I will get to later).

Before getting to a full consideration of just why I felt so strongly that the closet is a place of sin, I first reflected a little more on the nature of Christ. I have shared before, how my Religious Education classes at school included a lengthy period locating and memorizing Biblical texts on the theme of “God is….” (examples being “God is love”, “God is mercy”, “God is justice”, “God is light”, “God is life”, and more). A key one here, was “God is truth”.  If God is truth, and the closet is (by definition) a lie, then God/ Jesus in the closet is a logical impossibility. That doesn’t necessarily imply that there is sin in the closet, but the idea prepared the way for more, after some thought on the nature of sin.

My understanding of sin, is it is that which turns us away from God, keeps us from being the best that we can be. As John McNeill regularly reminds us in his books, St Ireneaus taught that “The glory of God is humans fully alive” – and by extension, I see sin as that which keeps us (or by our agency, others) from that glory, of being fully alive.  There is abundant evidence from academic literature, from anecdotal evidence, and from my own experience, that coming out is a process of growth, of becoming more fully alive . Remaining in the closet obstructs that growth, denying that process of growth. The closet keeps us from that – hiding us from that full glory of God.

If God / Jesus is truth, the closet is a lie. By hiding our own truth, we are denying the example of Christ.

God is love. Where is the love in the closet? “Love your neighbour as yourself” is the familiar text, but that implies that we must, indeed, love ourselves. Can we truly love ourselves, accept ourselves in all that we are, while denying an important part of who we are?

God is justice. Is there justice in the closet? Is there justice, in a situation where the 80 or 90% of adults are able to rejoice publicly in their loves, and invite friends, family and parishioners to celebrate an affirmation of those loves in church weddings – and some of us feel constrained to hide our loves, or even to avoid love altogether, out of fear?

I could go on, but you get the idea. As I explored my understanding of God, and of sin, it seemed to me clear that the closet restricts our approach to God, in these various aspects. Impeding our access to God, the closet is a place of sin.

But this was a troubling thought. I have often argued for the value of coming out, in church and in the world, but with an important qualification. This must always be only as far as we are able.  Sometimes, for personal reasons or by reason of external circumstances, we may not be able.  If the closet is a place of sin, as I concluded, what does this say of those who, for whatever reason, find that they are not able to come out?

That led me to some further thoughts on the nature of sin.

First, we must consider the particular circumstances and motivations of someone who is closeted. To take an extreme example, for most Catholic priests, coming out would be reckless, endangering their careers and ministry as priests. In such circumstances, staying within the closet in pursuit of a greater good is morally acceptable, and not sinful.

Next, we must consider that there exists both personal and social sin. If it is true that the closet is a place of sin, that does not necessarily imply that a closeted person is in a state of sin – the sin could lie in the social circumstances (of church doctrine and law, for instance, or the possibility of real and severe penalties). In that case, the sin could be social, not personal.

Now,  a little disclosure. The trigger that led to all of the above was in an email from AD, which by chance I read at 3 am one morning (no, that’s not my usual time for correspondence). The thoughts I have shared above, were buzzing around in my head for some hours later. They are based on perceptions, and half – remembered school lessons, not any deep knowledge or training in the relevant theology. The argument needs further testing and thought, but I have shared the ideas simply because they have substantially shaken me up. I am certain there will be flaws, in either the assumptions, or reasoning. I welcome responses from any one willing to pick holes in my thesis.

Towards Full GLBT Inclusion in Faith: Some Signs of the Times.

Progress towards full queer inclusion in church has been remarkable in some Christian denominations, and familiar enough for the US Mainline Protestant churches, and also in the European Lutheran churches. In the former, the chief marker of progress has been the steady dismantling of barriers to ordination and ministry for openly gay or lesbian clergy, even in non-celibate partnerships, as long as these are committed, faithful and publicly accountable, in a manner comparable to conventional marriage. In Scandinavia, the marker is even more dramatic – the expansion of same  – sex church weddings (already available in Sweden and Iceland, coming to Denmark this years, and probably to Finland next year).

Progress in other denominations and faith traditions has been less visible, but is also very real. As illustration, I offer three stories I have come across over the past 24 hours, representing three very different contexts.

 

Remembering Joseph Colombo – openly gay theology professor at a Catholic university.

Tomorrow, February 10th, San Diego University will hold a “memorial” for Joseph Colombo, who passed away on January 2nd this year. An obituary in Vista, the college newspaper, says of him

“He was really one of the leading figures in the department,” Nelson said, “not only in terms of his excellence in teaching and the hours he gave to advising his students, but in terms of thinking about the direction of the department and mentoring young faculty. It’s a huge loss to the department in terms of an elder figure who really was a guiding light for us all.”

Colombo actively served the LGBT community both at USD and throughout San Diego. He served as the chair of the board of directors at the San Diego LGBT Center from 1991-1995 and served as the advisor of PRIDE on campus. He was the first openly gay chair of a theology and religious studies department at a Roman Catholic University in the United States.

“He was a pioneer here in that as an openly gay faculty member, he paved the way for every queer student, every queer faculty member, that we can be out at USD,” theology and religious studies professor Evelyn Kirkley said. “He really was a great mentor, role model and friend.”

There was a time when Catholic church leaders discouraged, or even prohibited, laymen and women from even reading scripture. Those days have long passed, but it is not that long ago that only priests (not even religious sisters) were expected to study formal theology. Nowadays, there are more lay people than clergy studying theology – and many of them have gone on to teach it. A fair proportion of those will be gay, lesbian or trans, just as in the wider community. As they take their places in theology departments, Catholic and other, and contribute to academic research and publication, it is becoming increasingly untenable for the traditional, clerical theologians to simply ignore the queer perspective on their field.

 

Openly gay chaplain at Evangelical college.

At “Bible – thumping Liberal”, Ron Goetz observes that

“Being out on an EFCU campus (Evangelical/ Fundamentalist College/University) used to be impossible. Even today it is barely tolerated, if is tolerated at all” 

but goes on to publish some of the story of Doug Johnson, who was a fellow student with him at Simpson College (now University), a  denominational school of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in California.  After his time at Simpson, Johnson went on to a mid-Western Baptist seminary, and now works as a hospital chaplain.

 

Then I went back to a Baptist Seminary in the midwest and started to come out.  That is also where I had my first sexual encounter, in the dorm of the Baptist Seminary. Eventually I came to the place of full acceptance, but it was a journey, especially in the institutional church where in the 80′s homosexuality was viewed as anything from some kind of heinous crime against nature to an embarrassment which could screw up one’s chances to fulfill one’s calling as a minister.

Thankfully, that is gradually changing. I am still single, but not because I think of that as more “Christian.” I am single because I haven’t met the right guy yet. I hope it happens someday.

Collectively, Evangelical Christians are known as the major faith group most closely opposed to recognition and acceptance of LGBT relationships or civil rights, but even here, there is change, far more than most people recognize. Research evidence shows that younger evangelicals, especially the millenial generation, have very different concerns to their elders, and a substantial minority do not share their strong opposition to homosexuality and same – sex relationships, or to marriage and family equality. Some are actively promoting lgbt inclusion in their writing (Jay Bakker) or advocacy (Kathy Baldock), and evangelical scholars have produced some good LGBT  – supportive books on scripture. Like  Doug Johnson, there are more pastors who have found ways to serve openly. There are Baptist counterparts to the Catholic organisations Dignity and Quest: The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists in the US, and Affirming Baptists in the UK. Some Baptists, as in all other denominations, are actively promoting marriage equality. (In South Carolina, lesbian pastor Nancy Petty at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church is refusing to sign marriage licences for any couples – until she can legally do so for all).

 

Orthodox Jewish gay wedding

Finally, just in case anyone imagines that progress to inclusion is limited to European and North American Christian groups, it is not. Change has if anything been swifter among Jews, and is beginning to stir also in Islamic groups, and in some African countries. I’m not going to give examples for all of these, but here’s one remarkable example from Orthodox Jewry:

Jewish gay wedding, Rabbi Steven Greenberg presiding

 

Yasher Koach to chatanim (חתנים or grooms) Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan!

Standing in matching kittle’s (קיטלנים or traditionally white linen robes that Ashkenazim are known to be buried in after wearing it to their wedding as well as annually on Yom Kippur to signify purity, holiness and new beginnings) and orange kippah’s (כִּפוֹת or platter-shaped head caps worn for respect) the two men stood under the chupah (a symbol of the home that the couple will build together) in Washington D.C. holding hands.

– Lisa Finkelstein

(Presiding at this wedding was Rabbi Steven Greenberg, author of the groundbreaking study of homosexuality in Judaism, “Wrestling with God and Men“).

Related Posts:

Baptist Church Embraces Lesbian Minister

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Faith vs Religion: Ecclesiolatry, Scribes and Pharisees.

There is an important distinction between “faith”, which refers to belief and a relationship with the divine, and “religion”, which refers primarily to the human structures which support it, with their rules, rituals, and clerical castes. They are obviously linked, interdependent, and ideally, support each other. There are grave dangers though, when we lose sight of the importance of balance, for example by exaggerating the importance of religious structures, over authentic faith itself.

In recent weeks, I have found two important passages on this theme, by two very different authors, that I have wanted to write about – but have struggled to make the time to add my own response. Instead, I simply share with you the passages, and leave you to ponder the import yourselves.

The first is by the Catholic theologian James Alison, taken from a recent post at his website “The Portal and the Half-Way House: Spacious imagination and aristocratic belonging “, in which he refers to the way in which some Catholics use “the Church” as a weapon with which to coerce others into their own way of thinking. In a striking turn of phrase, he describes this as “Ecclesiolatry” – a form of idolatry, with “the Church” used as an idol to replace God:

You will probably have heard many different ways of talking about what “the Church” is, many of them quite frightening (in just the same way that many ways of talking about the Bible are frightening). You get the impression that you are hearing a discourse about power, or a discourse emerging from ownership of “position”, or a justification and defense of traditional and historical prerogatives. It is not necessarily the clerical caste in the Church who talk in these ways, though we are particularly susceptible to it. Often enough lay people, politicians and others, will also wield “The Church” as a weapon in cultural wars in much the same way as others wield “The Bible”. Indeed typically, while the default Protestant error is “Bibliolatry” – making an idol of the Bible, – the default Catholic error is “Ecclesiolatry” – making an idol of the Church. The idol worship to which each of our groups is prone is slightly culturally different, even if the underlying pattern is the same.

When we worship an idol, our love, which is in principle a good thing, is trapped into grasping onto something made in our own image. This “something”, which we of course do not perceive as an idol, then becomes the repository for all the security and certainty which we idolaters need in order to survive in the world. We are unaware that the tighter we grasp it, the more insecure and uncertain we in fact become, and the more we empty the object which we idolize of any potential for truth and meaning. And of course because love is in principle a good thing, for us to get untangled from its distorted form is very painful. Nevertheless, against any tendency we might have to blame the idol for being an idol, it is really the pattern of desire in us, the grasping, that is the problem, not the object. For just as the Bible is not an act of communication that we can lay hold of, but the written monuments to an act of communication that takes hold of us, so the Church is not an object that we can grasp, but a sign of our being grasped and held; not something that any of us owns, but the first hints, difficult to perceive, of Another’s ownership of us.

-from  James Alison Website.

The second is by Toby Johnson, a writer and former Catholic seminarian, in his book “Gay Spirituality“, writing about  “Scribes and the Pharisees”. Note the impact of replacing the familiar, but antiquated words we commonly meet in bibles and Catholic lectionaries, with modern terms we can more easily understand:

 

The only people Jesus specifically condemned in any way were the “Scribes and the Pharisees.” And it is telling that Bible translations generally keep these words as antiquated terms instead of translating them into modern idiom. For “Scribes and Pharisees” translates directly to “Church officials and conservative religious leaders.”

As the word suggests, the Scribes were the temple bureaucrats and the lawyers who could read and write and who, therefore, kept the records and managed the business of the Temple. The Pharisees were members of a lay reform movement in Judaism that called for a return to the old ways–to the “fundamentals”–insisting on literal interpretation of the Torah. They believed in angels and supernatural interventions and were always preaching that the end of the world was imminent. 

All Jewish men dressed for prayer by strapping phylacteries (little wooden boxes containing the written text of the prayer Shema Israel) to their forehead and left arm in literal obedience to the text which said to keep these words as a sign for the hand and a pendant on the forehead, and by covering their heads with a prayer shawl with fringes, knotted to signify the 613 rules of the Mishnah (the oral tradition extrapolated out of the Ten Commandments).

The Pharisees were ostentatiously religious: they wore elaborate phylacteries with broad straps and oversized shawls with extra long fringe to demonstrate how obedient they were to the letter of the law. The Pharisees were clearly the predecessors of our modern day conservative evangelists and TV preachers who bemoan the present state of the world, predict that according to Bible prophecies the end of the world is nigh, and proclaim how saved they are. 

“Woe unto you,” Jesus said, “Church officials and conservative religious leaders, hypocrites. Because you close the gates of heaven to those who are going in, you won’t go in yourselves.”

(Matthew 23:13)

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“Led by the child who simply knew”: (Boston Globe, on a Child’s Transition)

For trans children, at just how young an age is it appropriate to begin the transitioning process?

That’s just one of the questions raised by this thought-provoking story from the Boston Globe, on Nicole and her family. (The implied answer would seem to be, to prepare the way early, but delay anything permanent (and that includes delaying “natural” processes, like the onset of puberty) until the decision to transition is definite and irrevocable.

Jonas and Wyatt Maines were born identical twins, but from the start each had a distinct personality.

Jonas was all boy. He loved Spiderman, action figures, pirates, and swords.

Wyatt favored pink tutus and beads. At 4, he insisted on a Barbie birthday cake and had a thing for mermaids. On Halloween, Jonas was Buzz Lightyear. Wyatt wanted to be a princess; his mother compromised on a prince costume.

Once, when Wyatt appeared in a sequin shirt and his mother’s heels, his father said: “You don’t want to wear that.’’

“Yes, I do,’’ Wyatt replied.

“Dad, you might as well face it,’’ Wayne recalls Jonas saying. “You have a son and a daughter.’’

-Read the full article at The Boston Globe.

The article also highlights the importance of a supportive family and school community – and Nicole’s own mental strength. There came a point in her journey when the family became involved in political lobbying. She had encountered difficulties at school over usage of the girls’ bathroom, and filed court proceedings against the school district for discrimination. A Republican state legislator then introduced legislation that would have repealed Maine’s protection for transgender people in public restroom.

Last spring Wayne and Nicole roamed the halls of the State House, button-holing legislators and testifying against the bill. “I’d be in more danger if I went into the boys bathroom,’’ Nicole told the lawmakers, who ultimately rejected the bill.

“She knows how to work a room,’’ her father says proudly. “She even convinced a cosponsor to vote the other way.’’

Nicole freely acknowledges the difficulties ahead – but described the political engagement as a “perk”:

“Obviously my life is not going to be as easy as being gender-conforming, but there are perks like being able to get out there and do things that will benefit the [transgender] community,’’ she says. “I think everything’s going to turn out pretty well for me.’’

As an aside to gthe main themes, I was amused by the self-description of Nicole’s father (note the emphasis I added):

“As a conventional dad, hunter, and former Republican, it took me longer to understand that I never had two sons,’’ he told them. “My children taught me who Nicole is and who she needed to be.’’

English Bishop Backs Gay Marriage: Queer Ferment in the Anglican Church.

For years, the major focus of controversy in the Church of England has been over the appointment of women bishops. That debate has now been all but settled (even the opponents agree that change is inevitable). Issues around full LGBT inclusion in church will now move to centre stage.

One sign of this is a bishop who has spoken out publicly in favour of gay marriage:

 

The new Bishop of Salisbury, The Rt Revd Nick Holtam, has spoken out in support of gay marriage.

Bishop Holtam made the comments in an interview with the Times today ahead of the meeting of the General Synod next week, where civil partnerships in churches and equal marriage are to be discussed.

He said: “We are living in a different society. If there’s a gay couple in The Archers, if there’s that form of public recognition in popular soaps, we are dealing with something which has got common currency. All of us have friends, families, relatives, neighbours who are, or who know someone, in same-sex partnerships.”

He said he was “no longer convinced” marriage should be between a man and a woman.

He continued: “I think same-sex couples that I know who have formed a partnership have in many respects a relationship which is similar to a marriage and which I now think of as marriage.

Bishop of Salisbury Backs Gay Marriage – Pink News

He is not alone. The Times interview, in which he was speaking about full marriage, followed an earlier report that over 100 Anglican clergy from the diocese of London have signed a petition asking that the synod next week agree to allow local discretion on conducting civil partnership ceremonies on church. The background is that parliament last year changed the civil partnership legislation, which previously prohibited these from being conducted on religious premises, to permit such premises where church authorities give explicit approval. Up to now, the public stance of the Church of England has been that permission will not be granted. Next week’s synod will show that there is significant opposition to that stance.

A letter signed by 120 clergy is calling for the Church of England to reverse its ban on civil partnership ceremonies being held in churches.

The signatories, from the diocese of London, want discretion to uphold loving homosexual relationships.

It is the first sign of significant resistance within the Church to its refusal to permit civil partnership ceremonies in Anglican churches.

The law has allowed them in English and Welsh places of worship since December.

In their letter to the London diocese representatives on the General Synod, the signatories stopped short of calling for same-sex marriage.

However, they said they should be given the same discretion in deciding whether to hold civil partnerships in church as they currently have in deciding whether to remarry divorced people.

One of the signatories said they were dismayed at having to deny “the Church’s fullest ministry” to increasing numbers of gay couples with loving relationships, said BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott.

The public dissent over gay marriage / civil partnerships is part of a much wider ferment in the Church around matters of sexuality, including that of openly gay clergy, and the very fundamental matter of homoerotic relationships themselves.

Recent reports that Jeffrey Johns is considering legal action against the church over its twice passing him over for promotion to a bishopric, solely on grounds of his orientation, has highlighted glaring hypocrisy in the church. Technically, the regulations that the church may ordain priests who are openly gay or lesbian, provided that they are celibate. It is widely recognized that this is a mere fig – leaf: what goes one in one’s bedroom is private. What is really required is not that priests should be celibate, just that they should declare that they are. In other words, lie. (There is also a blatant double standard here.  Unmarried heterosexual candidates are not asked to declare that they are celibate, or facing the degree of intrusive question on past behaviour that lesbian and gay candidates are subjected to).

Once ordained, further gay priests have further barriers placed in the way of promotion, as the case of Dr Johns has shown. Although partnered, he has declared that the relationship is celibate, and so complies with the regulations for gay priests. Denying him further promotion puts him in exactly the same position that female priests have been in, up to now. Ordination to the priesthood and promotion  to the rank of dean is permitted, but no further. This is blatant discrimination, which diocesan votes on women bishops last year showed is no longer acceptable. The church also has to take account of secular legislation, and growing public pressure for honesty.

 Hardly anybody believes that the many unmarried Anglican priests,  or even the existing bishops, really are celibate. The Pink News report on Bishop Holtam’s support for gay marriage makes a further important point. Writing about John’s cancelled promotion to Bishop of Southwark, it notes

 

 The 58-year-old, was forced to give up his appointment as Bishop of Reading in 2003 due to his relationship with another priest and was blocked from the post Bishop of Southwark in 2010, a position Bishop Holtam was also considered for. It is now held by The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun.

A memo leaked by Colin Slee, the late Dean of Southwark Cathedral made the claim that there were already several gay bishops who had “been less than candid about their domestic arrangements and who, in a conspiracy of silence, have been appointed to senior positions”.

It added: “This situation cannot endure. Exposure of the reality would be nuclear.”

The extraordinary thing is that this memo was not an appeal for openness and honesty in the appointment of gay bishops, or an attempt to bar them completely, but an attempt to ensure that they simply remain more or less closeted, and removed from the public eye.   Pressures for greater honesty and consistency will grow. Already, there are ongoing discussions and investigations by church commissions, passing under the radar for now. Once the issue of women bishops has been resolved, public and synodal debates over LGBT clergy will begin in earnest.

In the background and informing these discussions, and those on marriage and civil partnerships, will be another set of formal investigations.     The church has recently appointed Two Groups to Advise on Sexuality .  Previously, a 1979 report  Homosexual Relationships: A con­tribu­tion to discussion, was published, but was considered by some to be too liberal. Subsequently, a working group set up in 1986 prepared a fresh report (the “Osborne Report“), which drew on the direct testimony of gay and lesbian Anglicans themselves.

The Osborne report was an advisory document for bishops, and it reminded them that they had an important part to play both in affirming “the catholicity and in­clusiveness of the Church”, and “in helping the Church live with un­resolved issues”.

 Crucially, and ironically — in the light of events that would unfold a decade-and-a-half later — the group reminded the Bishops that “The way to resolve the conflict and tensions between groups is not by the exclusion of one or more minority groups. We have been very conscious of the poor experience of the Church encountered by many homosexual people. . . The Bishops, as the chief pastors of the Church, have a particular responsibility to set a tone of welcome and acceptance in these matters.”

However, when the controversial report was leaked and met with fierce resistance in conservative quarters, the bishops responded with a much more cautious booklet, “Issues in Human Sexuality”, which was intended only as a discussion document, but came to be seen as the Church of England’s definitive statement on homosexuality. Its distinction between laity and clergy was considered of particular sig­nificance.

The new groups will update the Osborne report, and should lead to a fresh statement by the bishops. I would not presume to anticipate the commission’s findings, but its fair to expect that a quarter of a century after the Osborne commission, with the outpouring of queer affirmative biblical scholarship and theology that has followed it, and the increasing visibility and acceptance of openly queer clergy and bishop in many denominations and different geographic regions, the findings will be even substantially supportive than those of the Osborne Report.

The new commission will also have to consider one factor which simply did not exist in 1986.  The politicians have promised that by 2015 at the latest, and probably by 2013 in Scotland, full gender neutral equality will apply to civil marriage. Church commissioners will have to consider the implications for religious marriages, including the partnership positions of their own priests. (When equality came to New York last June, some Episcopal bishops wrote to their priests requiring that those in same-sex partnerships should marry).

We cannot be sure of timing, but of three things I am certain:

  • Continuing study and discussion of sexuality in the Church of England will lead to an acknowledgement, at the very least, that there is room for disagreement on the validity of homoerotic relationships.
  • The church will face up to the dishonesty of the current practice of DADT, and the discrimination faced by its LGBT clergy. The current barriers will go, just as they have done in several other denominations, and other provinces of the Anglican communion.
  • Civil partnerships in church, and later full weddings, will come (initially perhaps in selected dioceses only),  just as they already take place in some Episcopal dioceses.

 The ferment in the Anglican Church is part of a much broader process at work in all Christian denominations in all regions of the world, as well as non-Christian faiths (even touching Islam). In the middle of the twentieth century, we were totally invisible in church. The sixty years since have already seen extraordinary change, and much more is to come.  Thinking specifically of the Catholic Church, John McNeill has written repeatedly of the work of the Holy Spirit, creating a Kairos moment for LGBT Catholics (and other Christians).  There’s a verse for it, in Scripture:

Behold, says the Lord. I am doing a new thing. Can you not see it? (Is 4:19)

This transformation over sixty years of Christian responses to homoeroticism is a subject that I will be discussing in an address to the Quest annual conference in September this year, under the title “Blessed are the Queer in Faith, for they shall inherit the Church“.  I shall be returning to the theme here, repeatedly, over the next few months.

 

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“T and Conversation”: Beyond Binary Pronouns

One thing I have learned, beyond any room for doubt in my own mind, is that biological sex, gender identity and sexual orientation (in terms of attracted – to – male, or attracted  – to – female) do not co-incide. Nor is any of them a simple binary division. Most people are to some degree bisexual in orientation – although most suppress one or other side of their preference, choosing to date exclusively men or women. We all have both a masculine and a feminine side, but  encouraged by social pressures, many people choose not to express that part of themselves which is contrary to their biological sex. And contrary to popular belief, even biological sex is not a simple matter of either’/or male or female. A significant proportion of people are biologically one of a range of intersex variations, and may not even be aware of it, without specific medical testing.




Yet much of popular thinking, and particularly common speech, rests on binary assumptions. Public rest rooms and prisons, as well as all manner of application forms and documents depend on simple binary divisions. “Male” and “female” are provided for, “neither” and “both” just don’t cut it. This creates some tremendous paradoxes, which would be funny if they were not so tragic for the real people affected. I have written before of the case of Selwyn/ Sally Gross, who was raised as male and became a Catholic priest and theologian – but found after medical testing that in fact she was primarily female. After transitioning to conform with her dominant female sex, she was suddenly no longer acceptable for the priesthood. By the church’s own logic, someone who was incorrectly female assigned at birth, then later transitioned to live in conformity with a predominantly male biology, should be accepted as male, and so suitable for priesthood. Would church authorities agree? I suspect not. It is more likely that in practice, they want not just men, but “100%” males (if such a thing truly exists, which I am beginning to doubt).

At a practical level, some small progress in being made, in addressing some of these issues. A handful of countries are providing for male/female/other on official forms or passports, some (very slow) progress is being made in some areas with trans – friendly provision of services and facilities,  some brave souls are simply refusing to identify as either male or female.

Language is more intractable, less susceptible to change by simple political process. I want to share with you two pieces I have come across over the past two days, that have forced me to stop, and think more deeply.

The first, by Tricia Romano at The Daily Beast, was part of a broader reflection on the use of the T***** word, and its offensiveness – which I’m not going to get into here. The bit that is directly relevant to the dangerous binary divide, concerned the use of pronouns.

Discussions about pronoun usage and binary gender (simply: defining all gender as male or female) that used to take place only within the trans community are being launched into the mainstream. The terms “cisgendered” and “bio”—used to describe people who are biologically male or female and whose gender matches their biological sex organs—and the pronouns ze, zir,hir, used in place of “he” and “she” to address trans people who reject binary gender definitions, have been increasingly more present in mainstream debates.

Last year, when New York magazine profiled Justin Vivian Bond, who had just come out as a trans person, the magazine outraged Bond because it didn’t use Bond’s preferred pronoun, “v,” and referred to Bond repeatedly as “he.”

Bond—who gained fame as a formerly male-identified performer in the Broadway show Kiki and Herb—wrote at length in a blog post, excoriating the writer, who is gay, and the magazine, saying: “What I was offended by was the tone and what I consider to be extremely aggressive gender policing throughout the story. Within the first three sentences I was referred to as ‘he’ seven times.”

-extract from The Anger Over “Tranny”, at The Daily Beast

My initial response was one of confusion at Bond’s anger that the profile insisted on using the pronoun “he” and not hir preferred pronoun, “v”. Well, come on. I agree completely that the forced polarity into an absolute male / female split is artificial, but the first task of a writer is to be understood. The other gender neutral pronouns ze, zir and hir are confusing enough, but at least I’ve heard of them. How many regular readers of New York magazine would make any sense of their use, let alone “v”, which I’ve never come across before?  I can understand Bond’s desire to be referred to in gender neutral terms, but not the anger when the language as it stands doesn’t comply. The French language police have been trying for decades to exclude Anglicisms from colloquial French, with no success whatever. Adapting English to the complexities of gender and sexual diversity will take generations of careful use, not temper tantrums.

Then, this morning I came across the wonderfully named “T and Conversation” series by  at “In Our Words“. Professor Xx is a ftm medical doctor, who series takes the form of a standard medical question and answer advice column. The title is generic, referring to conversations about “T” issues, but is particularly appropriate for the opening post in the series, which discusses the importance of pronouns when talking about T people. The main thrust of the argument is that  we should ask people what pronouns they prefer (and not only those who we believe to be trans, but everybody, including colleagues in a very conventional work environment ). Here’s the bit about gender – neutral pronouns, which led me to think I need to reflect some more:

As to gender neutral pronouns: using them is simply about respecting another person’s identity, so you really need to do it if that’s what they request.  Language can never change if we are unwilling to adopt those changes because they “sound weird” or draw attention to themselves.  If someone doesn’t know what gender neutral pronouns are, tell them.  If they don’t understand, explain.  And if they’re a jerk about it, well, now you know a little bit more about that person’s value system.  As to using “they/their/them” as a singular pronoun – that’s actually proper English.  It was originally created to be used as a singular pronoun (more likely at the time for cases when a gender wasn’t indicated or important), so feel free to use it with impunity.

T and Conversation: Asking About Pronoun Preferences

and a neat little anecdote, illustrating the sheer value of displaying sensitivity:

I did have college professors who had all of the students identify their pronoun preference on the first day of class.  Students would often giggle about it, but it helped me to feel more welcome in the classroom, even if I wasn’t out as trans yet.  So by asking you may be making someone else feel more comfortable, even if you never know it, and even if they don’t tell you which pronouns they actually prefer.

T and Conversation: Asking About Pronoun Preferences

I’m still not sure if  “v” is a realistic pronoun for common usage, but I can now better understand Bond’s anger.

Related posts




Religious Divides in Support for Same-Sex Marriage

It is often assumed, quite incorrectly, that the disputes over marriage equality are between those standing up for religious belief (especially Christian belief), and secularists on the side of human rights. The fallacy of this assumption is neatly illustrated by the graphic below, in a post at the Public Religion Research Institute, drawing on a comprehensive analysis of data from the Pew Research Institute. This clearly shows that the disagreement is not between religion and human rights, but between the different shades of religious affiliation. Two of the three groups with the strongest support for equality are from religious groups – but not Christian religion (Jews, and other non-Christian faith groups).

Even within the Christian faith, there is clear division between denominations. White and Hispanic Catholics, and White Mainline Protestants, all show clear majority support for equality. (The research does not break out Black Catholics):

    • White Catholics: 56% in favour, 39% opposed
    • Hispanic Catholics: 53% in favour, 37% opposed
    • White Mainline Protestants: 52% in favour, 40% opposed

The arguments from “religious freedom” against legal recognition for all marriages must surely also take into account the freedom of those people of faith that support same – sex marriage, both in other faith groups, and within their own denominations. (In

Of the groups broken out for analysis, only Black Protestants, Mormons and Evangelicals are opposed  – but, it must be said, very strongly.

 

Beyond Secular vs. Religious: Religious Divides in Support for Same-Sex Marriage


In 2011, majorities of most religious groups favored allowing gay and lesbian couple to marry legally, illustrating that the old narrative of battle lines between secular supporters and religious opponents no longer serves as an accurate characterization of the landscape of the same-sex marriage debate. In the general population, 2011 was also the first year on record in which supporting same-sex marriage was not a minority position. In May, several surveys (all asking slightly different versions of the same question) found that a majority of the public supported allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. PRRI’s May survey found that 51% of Americans were in favor, and 43% were opposed.

-full analysis at   Public Religion Research Institute.

This strength of feeling from the opponents, and the rather milder feelings of supporters, must be assessed together with the evidence from several sources that opposition is dropping in degree, as well as in extent, while supporters are growing in both numbers and intensity of feeling.

The striking contrast between the views of younger people, including younger Evangelicals, and their older co-religionists shows clearly that this shift within the churches towards more widespread, and more intense, support for marriage equality will surely continue to grow:

There are large generational differences between Millennials (age 18-29) and older Americans on the issue of same-sex marriage. Sixty-four percent of Millennials favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, a rate that is more than 20 points higher than among those ages 30 and above (42%). This generational gap persists within every religious group, including more conservative religious groups. For example, 66% of Catholic Millennials favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, 15 points higher than Catholics ages 30 and above (51%). Even among white evangelical Protestants—the group most opposed to same-sex marriage—nearly 4-in-10 (39%) white evangelical Protestant Millennials favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, a rate that is more than 20 points higher than that of white evangelicals ages 30 and older (18%).

–   Public Religion Research Institute.

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.