Tag Archives: LGBT Christians

LGBT Christians’ Annual Conference, Pride parade in Gdansk, Poland.

European Forum at Gdansk Equality March, 2017

Over several  days at the end of May, LGBT Christians from across Europe gathered in Gdansk, Poland for the 36th Annual Conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. “Forwards in Solidarity” was the theme and Free People in Free Countries was the challenge and call.

The European Forum includes over 50 groups, with some 140 lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and other participants from 21 European countries present at the 2017 Conference. These included people from Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed and Orthodox traditions. Observers attended from ENORB (European Network on Religion & Belief), GIN (Global Interfaith Network), and ILGA (International Lesbian & Gay Association).

In a European social context of increasing fragmentation, nationalistic and conservative political developments, the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups takes a prophetic stance in the face of oppression and discrimination within and beyond church structures. Gathering in the birthplace of the Solidarność trade union movement, was another powerfully prophetic sign.

Pointing to the 2016 campaign “Let’s give each other a Sign of Peace”, mounted by the Polish Christian network, Faith & Rainbow (Wiara i Tęcza) along with the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), the Forum’s Co-President, Wielie Elhorst said:

Posters with two hands reaching for each other, one with a rainbow bracelet, the other with rosary beads, were spread throughout the country … It was a courageous effort to make clear to the people of Poland that they need to take further steps in solidarity, to work for a society that is truly inclusive and that gives all the opportunity to participate in equality in all domains of life, to adopt laws that protect and support people to freely follow their sexual orientation and their own gender identity, without fear. How can a hand that is offered as a Sign of Peace be rejected, especially by the representatives of the churches? Rejecting the hand that is offered in Peace is rejecting people’s humanity, rejecting them as your neighbour.

The Conference included powerful testimonies from former Solidarity activist and, trans Orthodox believer, Ms. Ewa Hołuszko, and Krzysztof Charamsa, Catholic priest, previously Assistant Secretary to the International Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who ”came out” as gay and partnered in October 2015. Ms. Hołuszko spoke of the centrality of her faith both in her political struggles and her ”erasure” from Polish social prominence, following her transition. Charamsa called for a Stonewall revolution of LGBTQI visibility within Catholic Church structures.

The Conference culminated with participants joining Gdansk’s largest ever Pride Parade on, 27 May, attended by over 5,000 people, and launched for the first time by the Mayor of Gdansk. Neo-fascists picketed the Parade but were held back by a massive protective police presence, preventing violence.

House of Rainbow celebrates 10 years of worship and activism | 76 CRIMES

What inspired you to start House of Rainbow?

The inspiration for House of Rainbow was led by the Holy Spirit. Growing up with the fear and hatred around the idea that one can be gay or lesbian and hated by God pushed me to learn more about what is in God’s heart for sexual minorities.

After many years of trial, tribulation and oppression, my conclusion is that God loves lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, intersex, queer, non-binary, non-conforming, people living with HIV, people with disabilities and all of these culminated into the idea of starting the mission to the marginalised and those on the edge. We simply wanted a house where people of rainbow can praise and worship.

 

Source: 76 CRIMES

Book Review: “Covenant and Calling”.

I really would have liked to be able to recommend this book, but sadly, I simply cannot. In fact, When I was offered a review copy for Quest, I accepted gladly, looking forward to what seemed to be a worthwhile endeavour. Song’s aims are laudable, he’s a reputable academic in a good university with good credentials in both religion and queer studies (including queer theology). The reading list he provides as an appendix is good, with reliable texts by a balanced range of authors, and the book comes with warm endorsements from people I respect. Unfortunately, on first reading I was so repulsed that I could not even finish it, resulting in constant nagging from the Quest Bulletin editor, waiting for the promised review. On eventually picking it up again, my view had softened a little (I did at least complete a full, careful reading), but my core objections remain.

Covenant and calling

Song’s intention is to steer a calm, thoughtful middle course between the two hostile positions in the polemical struggles over gay marriage, and to come up with a proposal that will be acceptable to all but the extremists on both sides. The solution he comes up with has some merit, and is worth serious consideration: to restrict “marriage” to its traditional use with opposite – sex couples “for the purpose of procreation”, but to accept that same – sex couples also deserve recognition, albeit under a different name. This has been tried before, for example as “civil partnerships / civil unions” in secular law, but has been found wanting. Separate can never be equal, is the objection, and opposite – sex couples who cannot or do not want to procreate, are not excluded from marriage.

What makes this suggestion novel and not inherently discriminatory, is that unusually, he wants to restrict marriage, reserving it exclusively for those couples who do intend to have children. The important distinction, he argues, should not be based on the sex of the partners, but on their willingness and ability to bear children. It’s not a solution that I find particularly viable, but it is certainly one worth serious discussion.

What I found disappointing was not his proposal, but his reasoning, which is completely unconvincing. I was constantly left with the impression that he had reached a conclusion, and then looked for arguments to back it up. For instance, his central proposition is that in Christian tradition, marriage has “always” been between one man and one woman, for the purposes of procreation, depending heavily on Aquinas, who was clear that this is one of three goods of marriage. Yet he also acknowledges that there is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that marriage is about babies. It’s a little strange, to say the least, that procreation is central to the Christian tradition, when there is no evidence at all that it mattered one iota to the key figure in that tradition, after whom it is named.

Far more serious, is the total absence of any consideration of the real history of marriage. The “Christian tradition” as he describes it, dates back to Augustine. That’s a major part of the full Christian history – but what he overlooks, is the distinction between theological theory, and actual marriage in practice. It was not until late in the first millenium, five centuries after Augustine, that the Church placed any importance on marriage in church – except for priests. For long after that, marriage was still not to have babies, but to protect the legal status and inheritance rights of those that resulted. The result was, that for ordinary people with no property to bequeath to their children, most simply did not bother with marriage, at all. That was reserved for the rich and powerful.

It is also disturbing that while claiming that tradition that doesn’t really exist, he ignores the fact that tradition and practice can change. An absolute prohibition on divorce for example, was a firm part of that tradition, with much stronger scriptural support, but his own Anglican church has been able to accommodate a change there. For same – sex couples, the traditional objection to same – sex relationships was not simply to marriage, but that they should not exist at all. Yet, he is able to accept a change in that tradition too, acknowledging that for people with a natural homosexual orientation, a committed, faithful sexual partnership with another may well be a valid calling, equal in value to either marriage or celibacy. If long – standing Christian tradition is able to adapt on those counts, why not on his core argument (resting on unsound foundations) that Christian tradition has “always” been between one man and one woman, for life – for the purposes of procreation?

Most damningly, for someone proposing what he thinks is a novel solution of “covenanted partnership”, there is not even a single word about a similar practice that was a fixture of Christian rites for many centuries in the early church. John Boswell has produced extensive evidence for the existence of formal liturgical rites in the Eastern church for blessing same – sex couples, and Alan Bray has found similar evidence in the Western church, where they were known as “sworn brothers” – or even, “wedded brothers”. Scholars disagree about the exact significance of these partnerships, and there are undoubtedly significant differences between this practice and the solution proposed by Spong. It is however, remarkable that he does not even attempt to acknowledge their existence, let alone discuss their relevance (or otherwise).

Among gay and lesbian Catholics, there is significant divergence of opinion concerning church response to same – sex couples. Even among those who support full legal equality in marriage, there are some gay Catholics who do not want their own unions called marriage, and certainly not in church. There are strong arguments from those quarters, for a revival of this tradition of blessing same – sex couples, without conferring the word “marriage”. On the other side of the debate, there are others who hold to the traditional teaching demanding celibacy for gay people, who also see value in reviving this tradition, on the basis that these unions were not necessarily sexual, but made provision for mutual companionship and support.

This is a discussion deserving serious attention. It is tragic that a writer proposing a “solution” along similar lines, has simply ignored the historical evidence, blithely accepting and basing his argument instead on the falsehood that Christian marriage has “always” between one man and one woman.

“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” – The Problem.

All Inclusive Ministries (“AIM”) is a “welcoming, safe, and affirming Catholic community.a Based at Our Lady of Lourdes’ Parish in Toronto, Canada. At their blog, José Antonio Sánchez has written a piece on “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”  which pretty much sums up the way I feel about it.

  • Even when well – intentioned, that’s not the way it’s heard by those for whom it’s intended;
  • There’s little point in selectively quoting biblical verses. We’ve probably studied them, in depth and in context, far more closely than our critics have done, and with good reason: we really need to understand them, fully.
  • Asking us to “follow Jesus” rings hollow, coming from those who appear to have missed the overriding message of the Gospels, of unconditional love and radical inclusion for all, and especially those most marginalized.

rainbow-church

However, the call to follow Jesus is inherently sound. The problem for those critics, is that doing so is unlikely to lead us to where they expect. When I first considered returning to the Church twenty something years ago,and discussed my many reservations with a one – time student friend who had since become a Jesuit and parish priest, his advice was simple: Don’t make assumptions. Faith is a matter of experience,  not of the intellect. Take God on trust, and see what happens. 

I took that advice. My subsequent faith journey, including several years close engagement with Ignatian spirituality, spiritual direction and a most extraordinarily intense 6 day Ignatian directed retreat, has left me with an absolute conviction that it’s our critics that have got it simply wrong. There are great dangers in irresponsible sexual behaviour, but those apply equally to LGBT and heterosexual, cisgendered people. The Catholic Church and some others may draw discriminatory distinctions in guidelines for for sexual behaviour, but God doesn’t.

As Sanchez notes in the opening of his post,

There’s a common misconception that as Christians we are responsible for the state of a person’s eternal soul, including those of LGBT individuals. We think that it’s our responsibility to outreach, evangelize, judge, convince, and convert them. We believe that their success or failure is directly correlated to our efforts in their lives.

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting what’s best for others, or with guiding them to what we believe Jesus wants for their lives, we have to recognize that their spiritual well-being is ultimately not under our control. We play a role, but it is ultimately between them and God, and nourishing that relationship between God and LGBT individuals should be our priority.

Jose Sanchez, AIM blog

(my emphasis)

The Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

You’d never guess it if your only knowledge of the churches and homosexuality came from Focus on the Family, NOM or California Catholic Daily in the US, or from Christian Voice or the rule-book Catholic blogs in the UK, or from breakaway groups in the Anglican communion worldwide, but we are in the midst of a dramatic, wholesale transformation of the Christian churches’ response to homoerotic relationships. This is clearly leading in the direction of full inclusion in church for queer Christians, and for evaluating couple relationships and their recognition in church on a basis of full equality. This is bound to lead in time to profound improvements in the  political battles for full equality, and in the mental health of the LGBT Christian community.
These are bold statements. Am I mistaken? Am I deluding myself? It is of course possible that this is a case of wishful thinking, that I am misreading or exaggerating the evidence.  It’s possible – but I don’t think so. The evidence is compelling, if not yet widely noted. To substantiate my argument, I want to present the facts, and their implications, in some detail. As there is too much for a single post, I begin today with just a summary, as heads of argument. I will expand on the main sections in later posts, which I have in preparation.
(For now, I have made no attempt to supply detailed substantiation or links – these will follow, as I expand later on each specific theme).

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I have been thinking about this transformation for some time, but what really convinced me that this is a major, irreversible development was a result of an invitation I received to lead a session of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s 35th Anniversary Conference. The theme for conference is “Looking back, looking forward”. I will be giving a Catholic perspective on the last 35 years – and the next.
It’s looking at those next 35 years that is challenging. I don’t want to base my thoughts on guesswork, or on simple extrapolation, “if present trends continue“. The one thing we know about present trends, in almost any context, is that they never do continue. Feedback effects can either offset or exaggerate them. In reflecting on what could lie ahead, I considered only the changes that have already happened, the effects of these – and the very limited changes that we know for certain will happen over the next 35 years or so.  I did this initially for the Catholic Church specifically, and then realised that the method applies equally to the broader Christian churches as a whole. I begin by considering this broader church first.
The Past 35/ 40 years
“Out and Proud” Gay Visibility, Queer Families
The years since Stonewall have seen the rapid emergence of openly gay or lesbian, visible public role models far removed from the stereotypes of earlier years. This has included the emergence of well known same sex couples and queer families, in the news, on our screens, and in our neighbourhoods.  This has become increasingly visible over the years, and is now being given legal recognition in the movements for approval of marriage and family equality. The important consequence is that young people today have been raised, and are being raised, in environments where homoerotic relationships are seen to be entirely natural, and every bit as stable (or otherwise) than any other. Many youngsters are seeing this at first hand, in their friends and relations with two moms or two dads (just as others have single parents) – and are unfazed by it. Research evidence shows that young people are far more accepting of LGBT equality than their elders – and this applies within the churches, including even the evangelical churches, as well as in the general population.
Reevaluation of Scripture
Until recently, it was widely accepted that the Bible clearly opposed homosexuality, an assumption that underpinned the automatic denunciation of same sex relationships by most Christian denominations. Over the last thirty years, that has changed dramatically, with a substantial proportion – perhaps the majority – of modern Scripture scholars now agreeing that the evidence from Scripture is at best unclear, and that the traditional interpretations may be flawed by mistranslations or misinterpretations. Conversely, there has been fresh attention paid by some scholars to the specifically gay-friendly and affirming passages that have previously been neglected.
This re-evaluation began as the preserve of academics and specialists (like the growing number of openly gay or lesbian theologians), but is now starting to reach a popular audience as well.
Ordination of Queer Clergy
The re-evaluation of Scripture has underpinned the most dramatic manifestation of the transformation – the accelerating moves to accept for ordination as pastors or even as bishops men and women in public, committed and loving same sex relationships.
Traditionally, the churches could not countenance openly gay clergy, but in the days before Stonewall, when people in any case hid their sexuality, all that this meant was that gay priests and pastors where deeply closeted (just like their lay counterparts). That changed after Stonewall, as some men recognized that in honesty, they could not serve and remain closeted. Initially, the response of the churches was to refuse ordination to candidates who were known to be gay, and in some high profile cases, to remove from ministry priests and pastors who had already been ordained.
This has changed remarkably quickly. Today, almost all Mainline Protestant churches in the US, and the leading European Protestant churches, either ordain openly gay and lesbian pastors, or are seriously considering the possibility. The most recent example is that of 33 retired bishops of the United Methodist Church, who have signed a public statement calling for the full acceptance of ordination for openly gay or lesbian pastors in loving, committed relationships. 33 retired bishops urge end to gay clergy ban. Take careful note – these are retired bishops, not young hotheads, but the elder statesmen (and women) of the UMC. In parallel with this, the Presbyterian Church of the USA is at present well on its way to ratification of last year’s General Assembly resolution to formulate rules for ordination that did not discriminate against gay or lesbian candidates. (In Europe, it’s a dead issue: pastors of all sexual orientations are generally accepted).
Inclusion also applies at the highest levels of the clergy. There are now three openly gay and partnered bishops in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, while others have been nominated, but not ultimately successful.
Gay weddings, in church.
Resolutions to approve ordination of queer clergy have often gone hand in hand with attempts to secure approval for church weddings, or blessing of same sex couples. These have been less successful so far, but I would think this is only temporary. The recognition of partnered gay or lesbian clergy is always qualified by the expectation that theses relationships be committed, faithful and publicly accountable, just as heterosexual pastors are by virtue of their church marriages. The simplest way to make gay partnerships accountable in the same way, is to provide the same structure – a wedding in church.
This is already being done in some churches and localities, but we should certainly expect the practice to spread, especially with more openly gay pastors ordained, and as civil marriage becomes more widely available for queer clergy.
Looking Ahead
These are the key developments affecting the LGBT community and the church over the past 35 -40 years. Looking ahead, I submit that there are only two things we can say with certainty: the past will have consequences that will affect the future; and there will be generational change. Let’s take these in reverse order.
Generational Change
Whatever else may happen over the next 35 or 40 years, the one thing we know with absolute certainty, is that everyone will get older. Benedict XVI will no longer be the Catholic pope, the Roman Curia will have a new set of faces. In the Protestant denominations, the present leaders will also have moved on, either to retirement, or to whatever awaits them in the afterlife. They too will have been replaced,
Who will these new faces be? Generally speaking, they will be the young men (and women) who are presently in training for ministry, who have been recently ordained, or who may even be still in high school. This the generation which is well known to reject the notion that homosexuality is a moral issue, and who are most enthusiastically supportive of gay clergy, gay marriage, and full LGBT inclusion in church.
Contrast them with the present generation of church leaders, who received their own formation for ministry at a time when it was regarded as axiomatic that homosexual acts were necessarily sinful, when the Biblical texts of terror were quoted without question, and when the notion of same sex marriage in church was simply unthinkable.
Can there really be any serious doubt that a future church led by today’s young adults will view homoerotic relationships very differently to that of the present?
The Speed of Change Thus Far
So, let us accept (provisionally) that profound change is on its way. How long will it tale? The generational analysis above suggests that it might not take too long at all – no more than the 35 years framework I adopted, somewhat arbitrarily. This becomes even more plausible when we consider the speed of change up to now, in respect of the spread of civil gay marriage, and of approval for LBGT pastors.
Personal homophobia and prejudice will linger – but institutional discrimination in all forms, whether by church or state, will disappear quite rapidly, exactly as institutional racism disappeared quite quickly in the civil rights era in the US, or following the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.
Some Thoughts on the Catholic Church
Broadly speaking, much of the above also applies to the Catholic Church, especially the implications of generational change, and the fresh examinations of scripture, but there are also some unique considerations as well. Some of these will mitigate against the underlying trend to change, some will complement it.
  • Hierarchical control, and the expectation of obedience would superficially point to the resistance of change – but this expectation is itself becoming rejected.
  • Humanae Vitae and its fierce rejection of artificial contraception has never been widely accepted by the Church as a whole. The resulting recognition that it is permissible to disagree in good conscience with official doctrine on this single issue, has leant support to others who disagree in conscience on others – like choice/ abortion, and on homosexuality.
  • The impact of Vatican II. Although it might appear that the Curia has successfully rolled back the conciliar reforms, sometimes there are effects that take time to become apparent. One of these is what Sr Joan Chittister called the “Ticking Time Bomb” of lay involvement. Another is the dramatic decline in priest numbers since VII,
  • Another ticking time bomb is the remarkable rise of lay theologians. Not that long ago, the formal study of moral theology was something done by priests, for other priests, based on the writings of theologians from many centuries ago, with little input from social sciences, or from people with real life sexual experience. That is no longer the case. Even religious sisters were routinely excluded from theology studies, beyond what they might need to teach school level catechism. The rest of us were simply expected to accept the moral rules as handed down to us from on high.
  • That has changed dramatically. Theology is now widely studied, to the extent that the majority of theologians today are not priests. Some are religious sisters, others are married men and women – or even openly gay or lesbian. Add to the generational process described earlier, that Catholic priests now in training are in some cases being taught their theology by lay people, and we see that the generational shift for Catholic clergy could conceivably be even greater for Catholic clergy than for others.
  • Finally, the sexual abuse crisis has clearly shaken the church to its foundations. The ultimate effects can not yet be clearly seen, but already it is obvious that one result is a greatly increased resistance by lay people to automatic assumptions about authority and obedience, and a corresponding willingness in some quarters to engage in open defiance – as in the womenpriests movement. Inside the institutional church, there are at least some promising signs of an increased willingness to take seriously the concept of the listening church.
Conclusion
Change is clearly on the way – quite possibly, rapid change, across all or most major denominations. It will not be long before openly LGBT clergy, including bishops and other leaders, will be commonplace, in most denominations if not yet in all. There will be church weddings for same sex couples, including the weddings of clergy and their spouses.
With the increasing visibility of partnered gay clergy and bishops, it will become difficult. Even impossible for the arguments that our relationships are necessarily sinful to be taken seriously.
I now believe that under the impact of generational change, this transformation will be rapid – probably with in a generation or two. To those who find this unduly optimistic, I would point to the corresponding death of overt racism, which equally moved from something commonly expressed, and even justified in pseudo religious arguments, to a private weakness, which it is now unacceptable to express in public.
(Note: I am fully conscious that the above analysis applies primarily to the countries of Europe and the Americas, especially North America. I have omitted Africa and Asia where special circumstances apply. But do not believe that including them would seriously affect the main conclusions – except in the matter of timing).

Coming Out: A Gospel Command

(Originally published October 12th, 2010)

When I wrote yesterday about Fr Donal Godfrey’s homily to Most Holy Redeemer parish on “Finding God in the Erotic”, I referred in passing to another of his sermons, in which he compared coming out to Jesus’ command to Lazarus, to come out of the tomb. In doing so, I completely and stupidly overlooked a golden opportunity – yesterday in the US was “national coming out day”.

As rather poor excuse, I remind you that I am not American. In compensation, now that I do not need to synchronise with the calendar, I have the opportunity to bring you instead a series of the best I have seen elsewhere on the religious importance of coming out.

The coalition of gay Catholic organizations “Equally Blessed” follows Fr Godfrey in reflecting on the Lord’s command to Lazarus, but as a more recent offering, with specific reference to coming out day, this is my first choice.

The Spiritual Side of Coming Out

By Francis DeBernardo, Marianne Duddy-Burke,
Casey Lopata and Nicole Sotelo

 

Today is National Coming Out Day, a day set aside as a special time of reflection and celebration by gay /lesbian /bisexual /transgender (GLBT) advocacy groups to highlight the unique perspective of GLBT people in “coming out of the closet” to acknowledge, embrace, and communicate their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite the wide diversity of GLBT people in our midst, one common experience is that all have gone through a process of recognizing that their orientation or gender identity differed from what their society was telling them it should be. Engaging in this process of “coming out” has helped many GLBT people to develop personal characteristics such as courage, truth-telling, personal strength, and community-building – all inherently spiritual traits.

Coming out entails an inherently spiritual process that makes National Coming Out Day not only a day for secular GLBT advocates to celebrate, but one for people of faith to honor as well. For many GLBT people, coming out is part of a faith journey. They speak of coming out as enhancing their prayer lives and their relationship with God. Many gain strength from seeing their sexuality and gender not simply as biological factors, but essentially as spiritual ones. In the Catholic community, we have heard many stories from GLBT people who found strength in their coming out processes from stories of the saints who had strong, intimate, and life-sustaining same-sex relationships or whose gender identity transgressed societal norms. (Dressing and acting as a man, St. Joan of Arc served in the French army in the 15th century. Transgender people find strength from her example.)

The spiritual dimension of coming out challenges faith communities to recognize and affirm this experience as an avenue of grace. For the Catholic church, which has such a rich tradition in ceremony and ritual, establishing a “rite of coming out” would be a beautiful way to affirm people who have come to this awareness. Indeed, a number of smaller denominations and religious advocacy groups have already developed such rituals.

As with all good and powerful church rituals, a rite of coming out would focus not only on the individual but on the community as well. On the one hand, coming out is a gift that the individual brings to the community. The courage, wisdom, and dependence on God that a GLBT person experiences can be beneficial to others in the community. On the other hand, coming out is a process that requires the support of the community for the individual.

The story of Lazarus in John 11 resonates with GLBT Christians’ coming out experiences. In this story, Jesus visits the home of his friend Lazarus, who has died and been buried in a tomb. When Jesus arrives on the scene, he calls forth Lazarus from the tomb, with the words, “Come out!” Modern GLBT Christians see in this call of Jesus a call to new life that strongly parallels the call that they have experienced in coming to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. The closet symbolized a kind of death for them. In coming out of the closet, they are answering a God-given call to live a new life.

After Lazarus has emerged from the tomb, Jesus directs the people assembled to “Unbind him and let him go free.” It is the responsibility of the assembled community to assist a GLBT person in their experience of new life, just as they would help any other member who has had a life-altering situation, particularly one that might have involved some element of struggle.

In celebrating coming out, a community celebrates the journey of overcoming fear and doubt, of telling the truth in the face of strong opposition, of affirming the goodness of an individual’s experience, of learning to rely on the voice of God. Too often religious communities suffer from “groupthink” and a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. By celebrating the coming out experience, communities are essentially celebrating the gift of prophecy in their midst.

On this particular coming out day, we are happy to come out announcing the formation of Equally Blessed, a new Catholic coalition that will work for justice and equality for GLBT people on a broad range of issues both in society and within our church. Our four groups – Call to ActionDignity USAFortunate Families and New Ways Ministry – have a combined history of working for 112 years on these issues, and we have decided to work together to help unbind people and let them go free. We recognize that many Catholics in the pews – GLBT people and heterosexual allies – are now stepping forth bravely to fight injustice in polling booths and in church organizations. We want to help amplify the voices of those who are speaking for justice, as well as assist those who need a little help to “come out” with a prophetic stance.

National Coming Out Day can be a day when we not only celebrate GLBT people in our midst, but a day when we celebrate the need for all of us as individuals and as religious communities to come out of our closets of fear, secrecy, and shame. It is a time to speak forth boldly what God has taught us from our lives and in our consciences. It is only when we come out of the closet–whatever types of closets that we find ourselves in–that we can live in the light and grow.

Francis DeBernardo is the Executive Director of New Ways Ministry. Marianne Duddy-Burke is the Executive Director of DignityUSA. Casey Lopata is a co-founder of Fortunate Families. Nicole Sotelo is JustChurch coordinator for Call To Action. All are founding members of Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition for justice and equality for LGBT persons in church and society.

Related articles

The Road from Emmaus: Gay & Lesbian Prophetic Role

As an example of powerful Biblical interpretation which combines the different approaches approved by the Pontifical Biblical Commission of which I wrote yesterday, I would now like to present to you a powerful reflection by Michael B Kelly.  This was originally presented as a keynote address to the Australian lesbian and gay Catholic group “Acceptance” back in 1997. An edited text is reprinted in his book, “Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith“.Seduced by Grace_ Michael Bernard Kelly

Michael’s interpretation is notable for the way in which he places the familiar story of Emmaus firmly within the broader context of Luke’s Gospel, and specifically its narrative of the Resurrection.

In this, he is well within both the canonical tradition of looking at the Bible as a whole, as well as the literary/narrative approach.  He stresses the psychological context of the disciples in the immmediate aftermath of the Crucifixion, but also the social context:  the male leaders as religious insiders locked in fear of the authorities, but also unwilling to believe the reports of the women, who were outsiders.  He also notes Luke’s background as an educated Greek, writing in Greek, for a Gentile audience, to whom same sex relationships would have appeared commonplace and morally neutral.  This puts him firmly within the cultural anthropology approach, but also prepares the way for his great pastoral insight:  as nothing is stated in the text about the sexual orientation of the disciples on the road, we may legitimately imagine them as gay men or lesbians.  By placing his interpretation bang in the middle of the contextual approach, he transforms a familiar story into a profoundly fresh metaphor for our prophetic role in the church. Continue reading The Road from Emmaus: Gay & Lesbian Prophetic Role

Marriage Equality & the Church.

Wedding cake of a same-sex marriage, photo tak...

In the wake of the disappointing, but expected, Californian ruling on Prop 8, it is worth stepping back and reflecting on the gains elsewhere, and especially on the impact on the churches.

It is well known how rapidly legal recognition of same sex marriage has progressed: first in Iowa, by court order, then in rapid succession Vermont and Maine by legislative action. New Hampshire is not quite there yet, but it is likely just a matter of time – as it is in New York and New Jersey.  DC has voted to recognise marriages legally conducted elsewhere, Washington has approved expansion of their civil union regime to ‘everything but marriage’, and in many other states and city jurisdictions, there have been less dramatic, incremental gains.  These have been widely reported and celebrated.




One big advance, and the one that I suspect may be more important for its long term impact on the churches of the world, has drawn remarkably little attention.  The day before the Iowa announcement, and drowned out of the news by the drama of developments in Iowa and New England, The Swedish parliament, with the minumum of fuss or fanfare, and the support of all the major parties, voted to make Sweden the fith country in Europe to recognise same sex marriage.   For those of us in Europe, especially if we are committed to the ideal of ever closer union, this is obviously more significant than the stop-start progress in some minor American states and cities. But I believe that the siginificance for all of us is substantial, particularly if we are professed Christians.  Why?

In the US, and also here in the UK, the legal provisions for same sex marriage or civil unions/partnerships, where they exist, are quite specifically for ‘civil’ marriage or partnerships.  Indeed, the British legislation specifically prohibits the use of religious language or premises for the ceremony; increasinlgy, US legislators are cradting thier gains by spelling  out the the legislation proposed places no obligations on religious minsters, or even staff.

The Swedish situation is quite different. The legislation quite specifically provides for legal recognition of either civil or church marriage. This has huge implications for the Swedish Lutheran Church, which until recently was the official state church of the country, with special status, even funding, in the legal system.  This has changed, but the informal ties and status remain strong.  So what was the response of the church?   Did they start weeping and wailing and gnashing there teeth? Did they lament the moral decadence of the country?  Did they offer grudging toleration, with ifs and buts to demand a right of opt-out?  None of the above.  a final decision awaits a full synod later in the summer, but the provisional, formal response was that the church would understand and ‘excuse’ any pastor who, as a matter of conscience,  felt s/he could NOT preside over same sex weddings.  That’s right – the specail consideration and understanding goes to those who are opposed:  the default position, buy Sweden’s major church, is to take in their stride same sex marriage conducted in church. Unless I have wildly misread the situation, this is likely to be the standard position after the synod later this year.

This will have important ripple effects, notably elsewhere in the EU.  Pressure for marriage equality will undoubtedly continue to spread across the EU, particularly in Western Europe.  When (not if), equality reaches Germany and Austria, the German Lutheran church, and also the German and Austrian Catholic churches,  will have to consider carefully their position.  All of them have special state recognition and funding.  Even in advance of legislation, just the propect of pressure for marriage, is forcing the churches into hard tactical consideration – faced with an emergin gay marriage lobby, the Portuguese Bishops proposed civil partnerships as a compromise solution – thus embracing the very proposal that there English counterparts strongly opposed a few years back.

In the English speaking world, the troubles caused to the Anglican Communion (which includes the Episcopalians) by disputes over homosexuality are well known. But while skirmishing continues, it is clear that over the longer term view, the tide is clearly turning in the direction of greater acceptance. The continuning expansion of legal recognition of civil marriage across the USA is already forcing more and more individual pastors, and local jursdictions, into fresh consideration of their own stance – and an increasing minority are  coming down on the side of at least blessing, and possibly solemnising, these unions in church.  Every synod season sees new debates on these. Where there is not yet victory, the margins of defeat are generally narrowing.

For me, the most heartening aspect of this, is the increasing number of reports I am seeing of sincere religious clergy of goodwill, who have found themselves prayerfully re-examining scriptures, theology and church history in search of guidance – and concluding that established church strictures against homosexuallity are without scriptural foundation, and misguided. (The recently released survey of ‘mainline protestant clergy’ attitudes to SSM has some fascinating figures on this).

There is no longer any doubt:  marriage equality is spreading steadily across the world, and across the US.  As it does so, the churches will increasingly be forced to grapple with, and re-examine, their own beliefs.  In doing so, many will reverse long-standing opposition to same sex relationships, and see the value of recognising commitment, whatever the orientation or gender of the partners.

The Catholic church will be behind the trend – but will not resist indefinitely.  Here, too, truth will triumph in the end.

Same Sex Marriage:  coming (soon) to a church near you – but not yet to a Catholic parish.

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