Navigating uncharted waters: the gift of faith and growing up LGBT
The first point which I’d like to make, in a sense, is a big sigh of relief. And the sigh of relief is as follows: if faith were an ideology, and gay were a pathology, how easy this conference would be! Because if faith were an ideology, it would merely say “nyet” to us, and if being gay were a pathology, then we would merely go “oh poor little me”; and the matter would be over. Unfortunately for people who try to present things in the way that makes faith into an ideology, and being LGBT into a pathology, this world has collapsed. The world in which faith is an ideology, and ‘LGBT’ is a pathology, has collapsed. Our ability to have survived into what might pass as adulthood in some of our cases, seems to have borne witness to this. We’re no longer run by the world in which faith is an ideology, and being LGBT is a pathology. But getting out of some of the tracks of thinking, to which many of us have got used, which did rather regard it as though we were perpetually stuck between those two, has taken time.
So what I want us to do today is to start in the morning by looking forward, and looking back, a little bit. This is, remember, with a view to being able to think more creatively this afternoon. So I’m not asking you to look back for reasons of nostalgia – though that can be important – but it’s because a healthy looking back is what empowers a looking forward. This is one of the things which is very important for us. We are all autobiographical animals – we tell stories. And our stories are not based on fixed memories from the past, read towards us; all our stories are told from where we are now, looking backwards. And what I think inspires us to be able to think about these stories, is the gift of hope. And I want to make – this is my second point: the difference between hope and optimism. Often the two are confused. Optimism is, if you like, a strategic matter: I try and examine what the forces in play are, in the society in which I live, or in the church, or whatever, and I ask myself, ‘am I optimistic or am I pessimistic?’. But this proposes that, or this imagines that, one is in a battle with something, on one’s own level, and one is optimistic or pessimistic depending on who gets elected pope, what the bishop is like, etc etc – things like this. Hope is something entirely different. Hope is a gift, given us by Someone Else, who s pulling us out of where we are, into something bigger. Hope is actually compatible with a great deal of non-optimism, with quite a sanguine assessment of the reality of our situation. But hope is a theological virtue, a gift – we’re going to be looking at how faith is a gift in just a second – it presupposes Someone Else, to wit, God, pulling us out of a situation, and opening us up into something bigger. It’s that that I want to focus on, because it’s in the degree to which we are able to imagine someone else doing that for us, that we are able to retell our stories, in more open, more critical, more relaxed ways, in such a way that they will open our trajectories out to open and more creative futures. Does that make sense? [pause] Good.
Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay
On Being Liked
Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in
Broken Hearts New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal
Yes, really - in a manner of speaking. Browsing through the Catechism section on sexuality, which you will find under the sixth commandment, I was struck by two passages in particular:
"Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity." (2333)and
"Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another" (2337)Of course, that it is not at all what the Vatican means - the rest of the passage assumes that this can only be done by violating your identity in a heterosexual relationship, which we know from the experts in social science, from the testimony of others, and and from personal experience, is a violation of our identites, not an acceptance. But then, the Vatican has never been noted for freedom from contradiction.
There are more compelling reasons though, than the Vatican's mixed messages for coming out, and indeed for coming out in church. For "coming Out Day", I want to look instead at some of these.
Rereeading Elisabeth Stuart's "Gay & Lesbian Theologies", I was struck by the realisation that she puts the start of the formal development of gay & lesbian theology to the early 1970's. the first notable text she discusses is Loving Women/Loving Men (eds Sally Gearhard and William Johnson), published as long ago as 1974 -fully 35 years ago this year, and "Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation", edited by Malcolm Marcourt.
An essential aspect of this early thinking takes its cue from Paul Tillich, and his notion of "the courage to be". In these terms, it is important to recognise our own experience.
Previously, I have looked at Richard Cleaver's view that coming out is "Wrestling with the Divine" (Know My Name), and Daniel Helminiak's that is a "Spiritual Experience" (Sex and the Sacred). John McNeill, former Jesuit theologian and psychotherapist, makes similar points in "Sex as God Intended". Today, I want to look at the ideas of Chris Glaser, who in a full length book presents his view of "Coming Out as Sacrament". Glaser is one of those treasured writers on gay religion of whom it can said, as with James Alison, Daniel Helminiak and JohnMcNeill, that everything they write is worth reading, and accessible even to non specialists. Glaser writes from a backgroound in the Baptist and Presbyterian faiths, but as a Catholic I find this helpful, in broadening my perspective, rather than getting ini the way of his argument. The starting point for this book was some reflection on the importance of the idea of sacrament to lGBT people, who are so often denied access to the sacraments by mainstream churches. Talking to a close friend (sympathetic, but not LGBT), this is how his thinking went:
Johnson accuses the church of being over concerned with "intellectual theology", and under concerned with the grounding of theology in experience. It is therefore vital that gay people come out, articulate their experience and reflect theologically upon it, for "we who are gay know the validity of our experience, particularly the experience of our love. That love calls us out of ourselves and enables us to respond to the other. Through our experience we experience the presence of God...........
For Johnson, gay liberation is vital for the liberation of the Church to enable it to better incarnate the Gospel. The essay ends with a call to all gay men in the Church to come out, to ensure that liberation takes place." (Emphasis added.)
"Having visited our Wednesday night Bible study, she told me that what impressed her most deeply, what she thougth was our sacrament as gay people, was our "ability to be vulnerable with one another" - in other words, to xperience true communion by offering our true selves. As Christ offers himself in vulnerability, so we offer ourselves, despite the risks. Being open and vulnerable may be preceivesd as weakness, but in reality it demonstrates our strength. By sharing our "brokenness" - how we are sacrificially cut off from the rest of Christ's Body - we offer a renewed opportunity of Communion, among ourselves and within the Church as the Body of Christ."Later, he added a conclusion that had not occurred to him earlier-
" that coming out is our unique sacrament, a rite of vulnerability that reveals the sacred in our lives - our worth, our love, our love-making, our context of meaning, and our God. "Later in the opening chapter, he carefully notes the ways in which coming out has deep affinity with not just one, but each, of the traditional seven sacraments of the broader Christian community. Above all, however, he says there is one where there is an extra special affinity: the sacrament of communion is intrinsic to coming out - it is hardly possible to come out entirely in private.
Coming out in public is important for one's own mental health, and also for one's spiritual being. Doing so in the Church cam help the Church to recognise and proclaim the true Gospel message. If you possibly can, do it: quite literally, for the love of God.
Barefoot Theologians, Twitching Experience
The Road From Emmaus: Gay and Lesbians Prophetic Role in the Church
Coming Out As Spiritual Experience
Coming out As Wrestling With the Divine
At Religion Dispatches Magazine, Louis A. Ruprecht makes an important point:
One of the more striking things about all of the ink that has been spilled over California’s now- infamous Proposition 8, and its long legal aftermath, is the almost reflexive assumption on all sides that marriage, somehow, is a norm, a desirable norm. And so the argument swiftly becomes an argument about normalcy: about who is normal; and abut who may be privileged to participate in normalizing social institutions like marriage.
He called same-sex unions "inherently immoral," saying they "distort the nature of marriage raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament."
.....first-century Christians placed less value on the family but rather saw celibacy and freedom from family ties as a preferable state. Paul had suggested that marriage be used only as a last resort by those Christians that found it too difficult to remain chaste. Augustine believed that marriage was a sacrament, because it was a symbol used by Paul to express Christ's love of the Church. Despite this, for the Fathers of the Church with their profound hostility to sex, marriage could not be a true and valuable Christian vocation. Jerome wrote: "It is not disparaging wedlock to prefer virginity. No one can make a comparison between two things if one is good and the other evil" (Letter 22). Tertullian argued that marriage "consists essentially in fornication" (An Exhortation to Chastity") Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage said that the first commandment given to men was to increase and multiply, but now that the earth was full there was no need to continue this process of multiplication. Augustine was clear that if everybody stopped marrying and having children that would be an admirable thing; it would mean that the Kingdom of God would return all the sooner and the world would come to an end. This negative view of marriage was reflected in the lack of interest shown by the Church authorities. Although the Church quickly produced liturgies to celebrate Baptismand the Eucharist, no special ceremonial was devised to celebrate Christian marriage, nor was it considered important for couples to have their nuptials blessed by a priest. People could marry by mutual agreement in the presence of witnesses. This system, known as Spousals, persisted after the Reformation. At first the old Roman pagan rite was used by Christians, although modified superficially. The first detailed account of a Christian wedding in the West dates from the 9th century and was identical to the old nuptial service of Ancient Rome.
That Christian marriage (i.e. marriage between baptized persons) is really a sacrament of the New Law in the strict sense of the word is for all Catholics an indubitable truth. According to the Council of Trent this dogma has always been taught by the Church, and is thus defined in canon i, Sess. XXIV: "If any one shall say that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the Seven Sacraments of the Evangelical Law, instituted by Christ our Lord, but was invented in the Church by men, and does not confer grace, let him be anathema."
Maybe the most frustrating thing I have heard in the recent debate is this claim that has become a mantra: that we are in the process of changing some allegedly unchanging 3,000-year-old institution called "marriage." Of course, the decision to grant marriage licenses would be a "change" in marriage practice - but"marriage," whatever that is, is always in the process of being changed. To pretend that its alteration is somehow a rupture in what is otherwise a three-thousand year continuity is just silly.
It seems helpful to me to recall what traditional marriage is: it is a community's legal arrangement in order to pass on property. In it, a male acquires (in the sense of owning and having sovereignty over) a female for the sake of reproducing other males who will then inherit property. In Roman law, the authority of the paterfamilias over his wife and children was absolute, even to the point of death. (Even during the enlightenment), Catholic reactionaries opposed the idea of women and children having independent rights and insisted that puissance paternelle (the absolute power of the father) was rooted in nature.
In Judaism, polygyny is found throughout the Old Testament until the inter-testamental period.In general, a survey of traditional Old Testament marriage makes the reader very grateful that we are not bound to follow its precedents or precepts. Early Christianity was really not into marriage. St Paul counseled his followers: "It is better not to marry." Augustine (following St. Paul) counsel ed marriage as a remedy for concupiscence - i.e., satisfying male sexual desire in a non-sinful way.
In general, during the early medieval Church, all sex is a problem, and all sex is equally a problem. Marriage, both in the Roman and the early medieval periods, was the moment that marked the passing of the rights over a woman from her father to her husband. She wasn't a person under the law. Serial polygyny was regularly practiced by early medieval kings famous for their Christian piety. Their marital practices did not trouble the Church. Concubinage was also widely practiced among the European elite, and this practice was unproblematic, even in the eleventh century. Divorce was also completely unproblematic until the twelfth century.
In the twelfth century, the idea of marriage as a "sacrament" - i.e., as something fundamentally regulated by the Church - was established along with priestly celibacy and primogeniture. The simultaneous appearance of these practices shows the way in which the preservation of property suddenly became an issue of great anxiety: celibacy prevented church property from passing on to priests' wives and children; primogeniture insured that property remain intact as it passed on to only the eldest son; and Church surveillance of marriages made sure that an authority larger than, say, the most powerful warrior / aristocratic families on the block, was overseeing the passing on of dowries - e.g., Eleanor's region of the Aquitaine. Women became the means of medieval corporate mergers: families consolidated power and property, both by means of dowries as well as by being the producers of male heirs.
Marriage as an "emotional unit" as opposed to an "economic unit" was largely an invention of the early nineteenth century. Bourgeois marriage was a classbound arrangement. Conversely, for the males, prostitution is seen as an integral part of the new arrangement of marriage. Divorce, finally legalized again in France in the 1880s, emancipated men but perhaps not women unless they had reserved some independent means. It too was part of the new emotional understanding of marriage, i.e., as something not arranged by parents but rather entered into partly because of emotional desires.
It is hardly coincidental: this is also the period during which the idea of "homosexuality" - and then, later, "heterosexuality" - was invented. Catholic ideas about marriage and sexuality are in constant conversation with the wider society/culture's evolving values and needs. As late as the Code of Canon Law of 1917, the official position continued to be depressingly materialist: the purpose of marriage was considered to be "procreation," while a secondary end was a "remedy for concupiscence."
This genuinely two-millennia-old view changed on New Year's Eve, 1930.(following the Lambeth Conference decision to approve contraception). The papal encyclical Casti Connubii introduced a fairly shocking innovation: one of marriage's "second ends" was the "unity" between the spouses.The 19th-c. invention of marriage as an "emotional unit" in which two persons came together not merely to procreate but in order to form a sphere of emotional support - a thoroughly modern meaning of marriage - was accepted by the papacy.
On October 29, 1951 came a second important innovation in Catholic views. In one of the most insignificant settings possible - i.e., not an encyclical or synod but rather an address to Italian midwives -Pius XII suggested that couples, as long as they did not use "artificial" contraception, could arrive at a moral decision to be sexually active in a way that did not lead to procreation. Between the years of approximately 1948 to 1963, the Catholic bishops of New England lobbied furiously against the legalization of contraception.
John Ford, a Jesuit moral theologian who was the most aggressive proponent of the anticontraception stance (and taught in Weston, Mass.) admitted letter that the "natural law" argument had failed; if the point of "natural law" arguments was to convince any "rational person" (unlike, e.g., Scripture, which would convince only a religious believer), and if all these rational persons were rejecting the Catholic position, then what did that say about the law's "natural" aspect? Eventually, the bishops abandoned this fight and made a distinction between public policy and personal religious practice.
To summarize: when one compares the 1917 Catholic view of marriage - "procreation" as a primary end, "a remedy for concupiscence" as a secondary end - with the 1969 view expressed in both the Vatican Council and encoded in canon law - "the community of the whole life" that includes both the "unbreakable compact between persons" as well as the "welfare of the children," one can see that the change in Catholic doctrine and law has been nothing short of astonishing.
undermined and washed away in the deeper waters of the Christian symbolic, for insofar as as women are members of the body, they too are called to be Christ to others; so that they too must also act as "groom" and "husband"; to the "bride" and "wife" of the other, whether it is to a man or woman. For it cannot be said that within the community only men are called to love as Christ does."
Loughlin's reading of the text had transformed it into a queer text. The very incongruity of this reading with the "original" reading is enough to stimulate laughter. I find it funny that this passage should be read so often and do solemnly at weddings, the great ceremony of heteropatriarchy.
-Stuart, Camping Around the Canon, in Goss "Take Back the Word"
The threat posed by gays and lesbians to family and society is often proclaimed by men - named "fathers"- who have vowed never to to beget children. The pope lives in a household of such men - a veritable palace of "eunuchs"for Christ - that reproduces itself by persuading others not to procreate. Why us the refusal of fecundity - the celibate lifestyle - not also a threat to family and society?
“Remember: Every single Catholic, out of fidelity to charity and truth, has the absolute duty to oppose (1) the murder of unborn babies, and (2) any and all government attempts to legalize homosexual unions.”
“Any Catholic who supports homosexual acts is, by definition, committing a mortal sin, and placing himself/herself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”Furthermore, a Catholic would be guilty of a most grievous sin of omission if he/she neglected to actively oppose the homosexual agenda, which thrives on deception and conceals its wicked horns under the guises of "equal rights," "tolerance," "who am I to judge?," etc.
"It is not unjust to oppose legal recognition of same-sex unions, because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it."
I urge all of the Catholic faithful to treat homosexuals with love, understanding, and respect.
Any Catholic who supports homosexual acts is, by definition, committing a mortal sin, and placing himself/herself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”
To simplify: One would have to be ghastly morally decrepit to think that if 51 percent of Americans opine that rape is OK, then rape becomes, in effect, all right. Sure, the majority is politically capable of such a vote, but this could never make rape morally right.
This is typical of the garbage from the institutional Catholic Church, who blithely ignore their own history, which is full of recognized saints. ordained bishops and even popes who have had sex with men. For centuries (over half its history), the church recognized formal liturgical rites for church blessings of same sex unions, and also buried some same sex couples together in shared tombs, exactly as married couples.
The Mass itself contains three echoes of gay unions - the healing of the Roman soldier's "paidion" - i.e., his sexual servant is recalled in the words, "Lord, I am not worthy"; same sex couples named in the Eucharistic Prayer; and the Mass itself is commemorates Christ's wedding to his Church (male and female). Theologian Gerald Loughlin has noted that one tradition was that the famous wedding was that of Christ to his "beloved disciple" John.
Same Sex Unions
The Very Modern “Traditional” Marriage
Modern Inclusive Churches
The Queer Mass:
Gay Wedding at Cana
Same sex couples recognised