All posts by terryweldon

Reclaiming Our Consciences

At NCR Online, Joan Chittister has a thoughtful reflection on the Irish Bishops’ Vatican visit – from a perspective inside Ireland.  After noting that there are fundamental differences between the responses of people in Ireland and America, where the response was  that “people picketed churches, signed petitions, demonstrated outside chanceries, and formed protest groups”, in Ireland the response appeared much more low-key – but in fact was deep, and may well be far more significant for the future of the Church, over the longer term.

In Ireland the gulf got wider and deeper by the day. It felt like the massive turning of a silent back against the bell towers and statues and holy water fonts behind it. No major public protests occurred. “Not at all,” as they are fond of saying. But the situation moved at the upper echelon of the country relatively quietly but like a glacier. Slowly but inexorably.

A country which, until recently, checked its constitution against “the teachings of the church” and had, therefore, allowed no contraceptives to be sold within its boundaries, unleashed its entire legal and political system against the storm.

They broke a hundred years of silence about the abuse of unwed mothers in the so-called “Magdalene Launderies.” They investigated the treatment of orphaned or homeless children in the “industrial schools” of the country where physical abuse had long been common. The government itself took public responsibility for having failed to monitor these state-owned but church-run programs. And they assessed compensatory damages, the results of which are still under review in the national parliament.

This point of the state getting involved is what for me, makes the Irish saga so riveting.   For the first time, the state is attempting to hold the church accountable. Are hey succeeding?  Clearly, the Church thus far is not accepting the responsibility. There have been assurances of outrage, but there has still not been any acceptance of the findings of the Murphy report, nor have any bishops yet accepted personal culpability. This has already done untold damage to the reputation and standing of the Church in Ireland.  Unless the institutional Church, and individual bishops, do start to acknowledge their culpability, there could easily be more damage. So far, only the Dublin diocese has been investigated. Public anger could easily force an extension to the rest of the country. I would not be surprised if the Irish example should lead, in turn, to similar state backed investigations in other countries. (UPDATE:  Already, there are signs that this could be happening in Germany, where the magazine Der Spiegel reports that the government wants the church to “come clean”)

No bishop, in a land where the burden of guilt fell heavily on the backs of Irish people, has admitted his own guilt, his own defense of the institution rather than the care of the children. No one has said, “The church — I — was wrong in the handling of this scandal. Therefore, I, too, am responsible for this abuse.”

So how are the Irish people reacting to the impasse? Well, as they opened Catholic Schools Week in Ireland this month, the Market Research Bureau of Ireland was reporting that 74 percent of the population think that “the church did not react properly to the Murphy Report” and that 61 percent of the population “want no Catholic control of elementary schools.” Little more than half of the respondents think the church will really change to prevent abuse in the future, and 47 percent feel more negative than before toward the church.

There is some small benefit emerging, though.  Instead of meekly and unquestioningly accepting the judgment of the Church on all matters of morality, ordinary Catholics are now recognising that the priests and bishops, like all humans, can sometimes err and fail, forcing the Irish people to recognise the value of their own consciences.

Meanwhile, the average Irish person in the pews digested the information and, at the same time, calmly but clearly to declare a separation between “the faith and the church,” between the sacramental system and the individual conscience. The sacraments they continued to respect, but church attendance has tumbled in the cities. Their individual consciences, on the other hand, they reclaimed. “They won’t be telling us what to do anymore,” an old man on the street said in one of the earliest public interviews on the problem. “We’ll be deciding that for ourselves.” And, to judge by local conversations and polling data years later, nothing much has changed in that regard.

Reclaiming our consciences: an example we could all usefully follow.

Read the full reflection at NCR online

AMA Condemns the Dangerous Heterosexual Perversion.

Well, not exactly – but they could just as well have done, as I will explain later.  first, what they actually did say:

“The nation’s largest doctors’ group has agreed to join efforts to repeal the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

The American Medical Association also voted to declare that gay marriage bans contribute to health disparities for gay couples and their children.

Both gay-rights policies were adopted Tuesday at the AMA’s interim policy meeting in Houston.

The AMA says the ‘don’t ask, don’t-tell’ law creates an ethical dilemma for gay service members and the doctors who treat them.

The other measure declares that marriage bans leave gays vulnerable to being excluded from health care benefits, including health insurance and family and medical leave rights. The new AMA policy stops short of opposing the bans.”

American Medical Association

There is a delicious irony in a medical group condemning discriminatory practices against gay and lesbian people, as it is well known that the much abused word “homosexual” was originally coined late in the 19th century as a medical term to denote what was then seen as a pathology.
Time has moved on, and personal orientation is no longer seen as a pathology for medical treatment, no matter what NARTH and the so-called “ex-gay” movement have to say about it.    Even the Catholic Church agrees that the “inclination” in a person is natural and not in itself sinful – they just need to allow their theology to catch up with the implications of this. Unfortunately though, the simple recognition that there is no pathology is not enough:  the damage has been done.

Let us now look at that late 19th century coinage, “heterosexual”. Yes, this too was a word invented in the 19th century, after its counterpart “homosexual”, and was also originally a medical term, used to denote a pathology.  Yes, that’s right – a pathology – specifically,

“a morbid obsession with the opposite sex.”

Now, “homosexuality” is no longer taken seriously as a pathology, but I submit that heterosexuality, as “a morbid obsession with the opposite sex”, is indeed a pathology and requires serious attention.  Let me explain.

In the context of a simple orientation, or as specific sexual acts, I obviously do not suggest that “heterosexuality” is diseased or unnatural, any more than I would make that claim about any other sexual orientation or activity.  However, at the level of society as a whole, the 20th century fixation with heterosexuality as a cultural norm to be imposed on all, fostered by this belief that it was “diseased”, aided and abetted by religious misinterpretations of Scripture and selective extracts from theology purporting to show that it is grievously sinful”, can certainly be called a morbid fascination, which has caused untold damage to the mental and physical health of many millions of people.  It is this insistence that people conform to externally imposed sexual norms, quite contrary to innate orientation and psychological health, that has caused much higher rates of youth suicide among gay and lesbian youth than among their peers; that has led to the bullying that is often the proximate cause of the suicides; that leads people in to lives of duplicity and fear in a closet; that has led to active persecution by many governments, from Nazi Germany to Iran, Sudan and Uganda today – and which lies at the bottom of the bans on gays in the military, or on gay marriage, which are the immediate issues addressed by the AMA.

This obsession is entirely unnatural.  Le t me restate once again, what should by now be well known, but sadly isn’t:

The homoerotic orientation is entirely natural, and has been found in all periods of history, in all parts of the world, and in most animal species.

Scientific research suggests that most people are neither exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, nor exclusively to the same sex. We lean more or less strongly to one or the other, but most of us are capable of responding to at least some degree to either.  Social pressures however, influence how we deal with this.

Societies too are not typically exclusively modelled on the patterned on the modern, misnamed Western idea of “traditional” marriage. This model, a monogamous union of one man and one woman joined in a love relationship consecrated in church to raise children, is unique to the last two centuries in the West. Before that, Western marriage was primarily about protecting property and inheritance rights. In many parts of the world, and among the Hebrew patriarchs, polygamy was commonplace. In classical Greece and Rome, where European culture largely began, men did not expect to find sexual or emotional fulfilment in marriage, but took it from slaves, prostitutes, concubines or male lovers – if they were privileged citizens. If not, chances are their sexual lives were determined by their owners or masters, not by themselves.

Among Christians, marriage in church was not required (and was sometimes not possible) until the 12th century. Indeed, it has been suggested that a church ceremony was obligatory only for priests who chose to marry.

Outside of Europe and North America, the so-called “traditional”, “time-honoured” model was even less typical until it was imposed by Western missionaries and colonial powers.

Even in the animal kingdom, exclusive heterosexuality is rare. Some degree of homosexuality is now known to occur in many, possibly most, animal species.

In short, the evidence from psychology, medicine, anthropology, history and zoology is that whereas homoeroticism is entirely natural if not common, exclusive heterosexuality is both unnatural and rare.  As such, I have no hesitation in labelling the social “morbid obsession with the opposite sex”  orientation as exclusive practice, and the resultant insistence on heterosexist laws and theology not only a social sexual perversion, but an extremely dangerous one.

Noah’s Queer Ark

Well, isn’t the rainbow part of the story, as well as a major gay symbol? What other couples would you expect? Kittredge Cherry at Jesus in Love blog has some wonderful shots of a painting by Paul Richmond, depicting well -known gay coples, and same sex animal pairs, enjoying married bliss on the decks, with prominent foes of equality drowning in the sea.

Noah's Gay Wedding Cruise, Marriage Evolved Edition

 Kittredge writes:

He was moved to create the work after California’s Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage last fall. Demonstrations across the United States in support of marriage equality inspired Richmond to paint a wickedly funny satire on the classic Bible story.In Genesis 6-9, God commands Noah to gather his family and heterosexual pairs of animals into a boat to rescue them from the global flood sent to destroy human evil and the violence of nature. After the flood, a rainbow appears as a symbol of God’s promise never again to destroy all life on earth.

How appropriate that the rainbow has become a symbol of GLBT pride! Richmond puts a fresh twist on the Biblical epic with his sweeping vision of a gay-positive new world. A rainbow flag flies high on the mast of Noah’s gay cruise ship. “As the clouds begin to part, a heavenly rainbow appears in the sky to remind hopeful voyagers that full legal recognition and acknowledgement of same-sex love is just over the horizon,” Richmond explains.

This is huge fun, with the visual puns spelt out for those unable to instantly recognise each face.  Just what we need to cheer us in the aftermath of the loss in Maine:  a reminder that victory in the long run will still be ours.

Apart from fun, of course, the idea of gay couples on the ark is entirely appropriate. Sexual diversity is everywhere in the animal kingdom, just as it is in human society. See “Natural Families: The Wildlife Rainbow“, at Queering the Church.


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Michael B Kelly: "Seduced by Grace"

Last night’s Mass in Soho was eventful for three different reasons – over and above the Mass itself.  Before Mass, I was interviewed for the first time by a reader, a visiting journalism student from Phoenix, Arizona.  After Mass, we arranged a screening of the powerful documentary movie, “For the Bible Tells Me So”.  I have written of this before (and hope to do so again), but a second viewing was welcome.  This was an entirely new venture, undertaken with some uncertainty whether people would stay for a further 90 minutes after Mass and refreshments, but we need not have worried.  Close on 30 gay men stayed behind – and our token straight woman.  (Where were our lesbian sisters, I wonder?). The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we will undoubtedly repeat the exercise on other ocassions.

But we were still not done.  After the screening, were introduced to another visitor, Michael B. Kelly from Australia, founder of Rainbow Sash Australia, a noted retreat director and a writer on spirituality from an explicitly gay male perspective. He is in London to present a paper at an academic conference on spiritualityin which he is to argue (if I understand him correctly) that gay men, by reflecting and sharing on their erotic experiences and using them in their own practice of spirituality, can make a valuable contribution to spirituality in the wider church.  This is a paper that I dearly long to read when I have the chance – and hope to persuade Michael to allow me to post it here.  After a brief meeting at the church, I was determined to continue the discussion, so accompanied Michael and others to supper in Soho, where we enjoyed further lengthy conversation on matters religious and sexual.  I will meet up with him again, and will certainly write more about his work and insights on other ocassions.

What I want to share with you now is some reviews I have come up against of his book,“Seduced by Grace”.

Seduced by Grace_ Michael Bernard Kelly

I have not as yet had the good fortune to read it for myself, but on the strength of my meeting with him, and the reviews I have read, I would heartily urge you to hunt down a copy and read it for yourself.

From a perspective which is gay, but not Catholic:

“While the dyspeptic (iconoclastic?) Christopher Hitchens is content to go on bashing his straw-man ‘God’ (see God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2007), a more interesting set of insights into that tired, overworked tradition has come from what might seem to be an unlikely source — a self-professed Gay man and, moreover, one who knows from first-hand experience the shortcomings of his Church (specifically, its Roman Catholic incarnation). For Michael Bernard Kelly, as David Marr puts it, has ‘has come out but stayed in’—rather than quitting a homophobic Church in disgust, he is pushing for it to renovate itself from within. A potent collection of thoughtful writings by Kelly, the noted Australian Catholic dissident, Seduced by Grace gathers essays, articles, letters and talks he has produced over almost a decade, from late 1998 to May 2004, that are at once an acutely accurate critique of the shortcomings of the Church and a poignant testimonial to the heroic spirit that has, at times, invigorated it.

Kelly the activist is (in)famous in Australia. He was one of the founders of the Rainbow Sash movement that has been a thorn in Cardinal George Pell’s side, with its public challenge to the Catholic Church’s treatment of Gay and Lesbian people (the movement has been taken up in the United States, also) and in this role, he has become a prominent media spokesperson for Gay Catholics. But as is clear from the opening piece in this collection, “On the Peninsula, alone with God,” Kelly’s activism is grounded in contemplative practice. He has produced a stimulating video lecture series, “The Erotic Contemplative: the spiritual journey of the Gay Christian” (through Joseph Kramer’s Erospirit Institute) and leads Gay spirit retreats at Easton Mountain, in New York State, as well as in Australia and the U.K. His voice reaches loudly and clearly across the once impassable divide between eros and spiritus. Kelly is now working on a doctorate in the field of Christian mysticism and Gay experience at an Australian university.

Raised in an Irish Catholic family in Melbourne and educated in Church schools, Kelly was smitten early with the religious life and served as an altar boy, assisting priests in the celebration of Mass, as all good Catholic sons would do. As a teenager, he was inspired by the life and example of Francis of Assisi —“Who could resist a dancing saint?” he asks in his short piece on the inspiring 12th Century figure. He actually joined the Franciscans at 17, but eventually left the Order, and while remaining celibate, continued to work as a religious education specialist and campus minister in Catholic schools and universities for a further seventeen years, before taking the fateful decision to come out, and to come to terms with his sexuality — a decision which, of course, cost him his job. But he continued his studies in theology (including a master’s in spirituality in San Francisco) and today inspires many men with his revisioning of a spiritual life not predicated on a denial of the body. Kelly says his dick keeps him honest.

More power to him. This is the kind of “real world” starting point that earths his spirituality and renders his positions convincing to those of us who have found more breathing room outside the stifling environs of Christian idealism.”

Read the full review at the White Crane.

Or, for  a perspective which is Catholic, but not gay, go to Catholica Australia:

“By the time I’d finished reading I was convinced that every family with a gay* member should read this book — but I soon corrected that to everyone — full stop! Michael has something very important to say and we do ourselves and society a disservice if we don’t give him a hearing. As Catholics, we pay lip-service to any ideas of ‘compassion, sensitivity and respect’ if we don’t at the very least enter into a dialogue with gay people — which includes truly listening to them — and Michael B Kelly is certainly a worthy spokesperson.

“As a woman I don’t pretend to understand what it must be fully like to inhabit the body and psyche of a man, yet I love men, and particularly my husband and my own son. As a heterosexual I likewise find it extremely difficult to personally understand what it must be like to inhabit the psyche of someone who is sexually attracted to others of their own sex. It’s almost like me trying to imagine what it must be like to have been born black. In the music industry I have worked with many people who are gay, and some of them have become close friends.

Michael’s voice is a prophetic one. It enables us to better understand what it must be like to feel imprisoned as one of the sectors of society who are discriminated against and maligned because of the life circumstances they were borne into and have very little control over.Michael Bernard Kelly is a man who carries himself with great dignity and, in a very real sense, provides leadership not only to gays but to other sectors in society who are discriminated against and maligned unjustly.”

I was intrigued by the reference to Kelly as ‘out’ (as gay), but still ‘in’ (the Catholic Church).  Some of my readers may recall that that was virtually the title of my opening statement when I set up this blog – “Welcome: Come In, and Come Out“.  We clearly share a lot in common.

I repeat:  find this book, and read it.

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Clobber Texts: A New Reading of Leviticus

As I continue to investigate the issues around faith and sexuality, I am constantly in search of reliable information and analyses to set against the misinformation, selective quotations and mistaken interpretations that masquerade as the conventional wisdom on the subject. Recently, I was delighted when three different readers brought my attention to two useful sources, which between them contain some important, thoughtful material that deserves to be taken seriously.

The first of these that I want to introduce to you is an article by Renato Lings called “The Lyings of a Woman: Male-Male Incest in Leviticus 18:22”, in the peer review journal “Theology and Sexuality”. This journal, edited by the renowned theologians Gerald Loughlin and Elizabeth Stuart, carries an impressive range of scholarly articles, many in the fields of gay and lesbian theology, and of queer theology.

It was the well known and highly respected theologian James Alison, (who writes “from a perspective Catholic and gay) who referred me to “The Lyings of a Woman.” He wrote to me that he considered it an important article, and suggested that I get a suitable person to write a full review of it, for publishing here at QTC. I agreed fully with his assessment, and plan to publish a couple of such reviews shortly – one by John McNeill, and one by an Old Testament specialist from the Pacific Centre for Religion. I will publish these commentaries as soon as I receive them) .

Many people in the past have assumed that these two verses from Leviticus present a clear condemnation of all forms of homosexual activity. More recently, more careful analyses have shown variously that the passage is situated in the context of the Jewish purity laws, and so represent not so much a statement of sin as of transgressions of Jewish ritual purity, with only limited relevance to Christians; or refer only to sexual penetration, with no wider application to other forms of erotic activity; that the intended meaning is not against homoerotic relationships, but is tied up with the practice of male cult (or temple) prostitution; and apply only to males.

Lings’ analysis, based on close study of the specific Hebrew words and the broader context of the passage, argues that the apparent agreement among the standard translations hides the complexity and opacity of the original Hebrew. Specifically,he suggests that the translators have erred with the phrase “as with a woman”, which is central to the conventional modern understanding. He states that there is no equivalent in the Hebrew text to the words “as with”, which distort the original meaning. To recover some sense of what that original meaning might be, he provides a close analysis of the specific Hebrew words as used elsewhere, and of the more extended context of the two verses in the full chapters that contain them.

These two chapters, he shows, are about different forms of incest. The conclusion that follows, is that the sexual activity that is prohibited is sexual relationships with males who are close relatives ! Two possible translations he suggests are:

(a) You shall not lie with close relatives, whether male or female;

(b) With a male relative you shall not engage in sexual relationships prohibited with female relatives.

Concluding, Ling paraphrases these as

You shall not commit incest with any close relative, male or female.

I hope this has whet your appetite. Look out for more formal evaluation later, from commentators better qualified than I. However, the article as a whole deserves to be read in full. Unfortunately, it is not possible to carry it here, so you would need to get hold of a copy of Theology & Sexuality from the publishers.

Remember, in all of the Old Testament, there are precisely three texts which even appear to condemn homoerotic relationships. The passage from Genesis 19, telling the story of Sodom, quite clearly has nothing to do with sexual relationships, which leaves only these two twin texts from Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:13. Lings’ analysis, combined with the other modern interpretations as described above, at the very least shows that whatever else the precise words may mean, they do no exclude all forms of loving relationships between men – as long as they are not incestuous, not done as part of temple or cult rituals, non-penetrative, and not between Jews.

That leaves open quite a lot of possibilities, then

 

See also:

For a Quaker view of this paper, see the discussion at Friends World Committee on Consultation

 

Recommended Books:

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

Countryman, William : Dirt Greed & Sex

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

Helminiak, Daniel What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

The Church’s Changing Tradition.

The only part of Catholic tradition that is truly constant and unchanging, is the permanent presence of (gradual) change.

The CDF’s famous (or infamous) letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”  makes the claim “Thus, the Church’s teaching today is in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective and with her own constant Tradition” , and later states “Scripture bids us speak the truth in love”.  This is the image that the established church so likes to proote – of an authoritative, unchanging tradition “speaking the truth” for all time.  The image favoured by the church, howeer, is a false one.

In the context of current arguments about the papacy and its authority, it is worth recalling just how false is this proposition: for the tradition has not been “unchanging”,  nor has it always spoken “truth”. Indeed, the only constant over 2000 years of church history has been that of constant change.

Josephus at “Salus Animarum” has been posting on reflections prompted by reading of Alan Bray‘s “The Friend”, and sharing thoughts on church history. This is a useful point then to remind readers of just how much church practice concerning same sex relationships has changed over two millenia.  The present intransigent attitude of the church against “gay marriage”, or even against civil partnerships, obscures the fact that in other times and places the church has sanctioned some form of same sex relationships, and even provided them with liturgical recognition.

John Boswell was the first scholar to establish in his research that the early church included a liturgical rite of “adelphopoeisis”, or “making of brothers”.  This he identified as having some of the characteristics pertaining to the marriage forms of his day.  In his two books, he also drew attention to the number of prominent churchmen and women in earlier times who are known to have had intimate same sex relationships in their own lives.  Bernadette Brooten has extended this research into same sex relationships in early Christianity with a particular focus on women, while Alan Bray approached the topic from a different angle:  in “The Friend”, he examined a number of instances of English and other churches where tombstones and church records tell of same sex couples buried in single graves, in exactly the same way that married couples sometimes were.  Like Boswell, he too finds evidence in the early church of a rite of “adelphopoeisis”. Like Bray, in tun, Valerie Abrahamsen has examined evidence of same sex burials – from Macedonia in the 6th Century.

Scholars, of course, differ amongst themselves about the precise significance of these findings – in particular, whether these relationships can be thought of as  resembling marriage rites, or even if there is likely to have been any erotic implications to them at all.  I do not wish to go into these nuances – it is enough for my purpose simply to show that liturgical practice concerning same sex relationships has changed.  Today they are vigourously opposed in any form, but in earlier times, from the early church in Rome and Byzantium, to much more recent periods in Western Europe, the Church has provided liturgical recognition for some form of same sex relationships at their formation, and at their dissolution at death.

Many other examples of changes in church teaching and practice could easily be produced – priestly celibacy was not required for the first millenium of history, marriage was not recognised as a sacrament, the church before modern times endorsed slavery and the inferior position of women (in its practice, it still does – but I am not going to venture down that path at present).

But most important, is to recognise that the papacy and the institution of papal power have themselves been subject to constant change.  It is worth remembering that the origins of  the current fuss lie exactly in the repudiation by the SSPX of the Second Vatican Council – a council notable, among other things, for its attempt to recast the balance of power within the Church, with a much enhanced role for the laity. Even the doctrine of papal infallibility, so widely known but so widely misunderstood, is of relatively recent origin.

Even the institution itself does not extend back to the earliest days of the church.  Before there was a pope, the Bishop of Rome was just one among many, then one of 5 patriarchs of equal stature.  After the rise of Islam placed the patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandra under Muslim domination, just two patriarchs, of Rome and Constantinople, remained. In time, the Bishop of Rome acquired special status and power in the Western church, while that of Constantinople did so in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

I have come across a fascinating series of articles by Tom Lee in the Australian internet forum “Catolica”, which has been tracing in weekly instalments, the story of the first 500 years of the Christian church and “the invention” of the papacy.  I have found the early chapters riveting reading, for the insightful picture they paint of the historical setting for the Gospels, and the beginnings of the spread of the Christianity.  I look forward to reading the rest.

As we continue to watch, fascinated, the extraordinary machinations in Vatican City over SSPX, or despair at ongoing stupidities on sexuality, we can perhaps take comfort from the changing past.  The one thing we know for sure is that the papacy and its teachings, as we now know them will certainly change.  What we don’t yet know, is how – or when.

“Sex As God Intended” (Book Review)

sex-as-god-intended-_-john-mcneillJohn McNeill, Lethe Press 2008.

I have just two small niggles about this book, so let me get them out of the way now. First, I was initally disappointed to find that this is not all new wrting by McNeill.  Only half the book is by McNeill, and the rest is a collection of celebratory articles, a “Festchrift”, by others. This Festschrift is welcome, but even his own writing is not all new.  I have not read all the previous works, but even so I recognised large chunks of the material as not just a restatement, but verbatim reprints, of  sections of  “Taking a Chance of God.” So big chunks of this are not new material.

Also irritating was the poor editing.  McNeill appears to have gone to a new publisher, who have clearly made good use of a spell-checker – but paid insufficient attention to grammar.  There were many instances  where the flow of the text was interrupted by obvious missing words, with important parts of speech simply not present, leading to incomplete sentences or clauses that just did not hang together.

Celebrating John McNeill

But these were irritations only.  It does not matter that this is not all new writing by McNeill, and should not be treated as such.  The Festchrift is the clue: this is not a continuation, but a celebration, of the earlier work.  Just running down the contributors, all of whom have made major contributions of their own to the continuing struggle of LGBT Catholics, is testimony to the importances of McNeill’s work as theologian, as writer, and as therapist. (One of the contributions is titled  “You saved My Life”  this is intended to be taken quite literally). Amongst the contributors, I was already familiar with the work of  Toby Johnson, Mark Jordan, Robert Goss, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Daniel Helminiak.  The contributions of others has left me wanting to explore their work too.

So what is this life work of McNeill, and why should we celebrate it?

“The Church and The Homosexual”, published back in 1976, was groundbreaking.  Many writers since have testified to the liberating impact it has had on their own lives, and it has become a staple in the exploding bibliographies on the subject ever since.  It was originally published with the blessing and ‘imprimi potest’ of his Jesuit order, but soon attracted the displeasure of the Vatican.  Ordered to refrain from publication and teaching on the subject, McNeill initially complied, and fell silent for some years.  In conscience though, he felt compelled to continue to write and to speak out. Like so many others, he left the priesthood and embarked on a precarious career as writer and psychotherapist. Subsequent books included “Freedom, Glorious Freedom”, “Taking a Chance on God”, and “Both Feet Planted Firmly in Midair.”

“Sex as God Intended”

In the current book, McNeill examines systematically the treatment of sexuality, particularly in same sex relationships, and finds conclusions rather different to those usually used against us.  As he and others have done before, he dismisses the old interpretation of the story of Sodom as a gross misinterpretation  The sin of Sodom was not that of sexual relationships between men, but the failure to offer hospitality to guests – an important traditional obligation in a desert society.  Where McNeill differs from so many other writers who have made the same point, is that he is not content to simply argue against the old ‘clobber texts’.  Rather, he goes further, arguing for the positive place of sexuality in the Old Testament.  Highlighting Genesis 2 (the older version) rather than the more usual creation story in Genesis 1, he shows how Eve was created because Adam needed a companion, not just a mother for his children. This balances the procreative nature of marriage, so beloved by our opponents, with that of love and companionship.

An important piece of new writing in the book is a celebration of the Song of Songs, as a scriptural basis for sex as play. He also presents evidence that this may have been written to celebrate love been men.  The gender of the protagonists, though is ultimately not important.  The passion and ardour expressed is sufficiently powerful that the Song can be read with any interpretation you choose – but impossible to come away with the idea that sex is only about procreation.

Similarly, in examining the New Testament, McNeill’s focus is on the positive messages for LGBT Christians, rather than a repetition of arguments against the clobber texts.  He shows for instance, that in his family of choice, Jesus is associating with same sex groups rather than with ‘traditional’ family groups. His analysis of the healing of the (male) ‘servant’ of the Roman centurion shows how this servant was almost certainly a sexual partner, even  lover, of the centruiion.  He also draws attention to the special attentions paid to John  the Evangelist as “the apostle whom Jesus loved.”  It has often been noted how Jesus in the Gospels has absolutely nothing to say about homosexuality.  John McNeill has shown clearly that in His actions, the Lord goes much further than words in acknowledging and accepting such relationships.

Joy and the Holy Spirit.

The joy of McNeill’s writing is always his emphasis on the positive.  His recurring refrains are a quotation from St Irenaus “The glory of God is humans fully alive”,  an insistence that healthy psychology and healthy theology go hand in hand (and healthy psychology requires in turn healthy sexuality), and  a strong underpinning of Ignatian Spirituality, in which we find God in all things – even in persecution and exclusion by the church.   You can take McNeill out of the Jesuits, but you cannot take the Jesuits out of McNeill, and I thank the Lord for that.

Central to this thinking is that the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in our lives and in the world.  In a context where official teaching on sexuality out of Rome is so obviously misplaced and psychologically unhealthy, it is too easy too lose one’s spiritual bearings.  McNeill reminds us that where Rome fails, the Holy Spirit is permanently at hand for guidance  – we need  only ask.

He goes further. In an important address to Dignity, reprinted in this book, he speculates on the active participation of the Holy Spirit in the church of today,  directly intervening in a ‘Kairos Moment ‘ to restore a proper balance between what has been the unbridled power of the papacy and the rest of the Church.  (I am delighted that I have secured permission from McNeill to post this address in full  on this blog, here.) At the time of writing, it was prescient.  Given the turmoil in the church in recent weeks, and the resistance of so many to the series of Vatican fiascoes, I suspect we may now be seeing signs of just this intervention.  As evidence, just see how Benedict has been forced to react to outrage over the most recent disaster concerning the SSPX by completing a nearly complete turnaround. What at one time appeared to be a slap in the face for the spirit of Vatican II has now become a firm endorsement of it!

This book may not contain significant new writing by John McNeill, but no matter.  If you have not yet had the benefit of enjoying his exuberance, this will be an excellent introduction.  If you have read the earlier books, then you should still buy it, read it, and circulate it, to join the celebration.

John McNeill, thank you.

Good News for Queer Catholics

The first time (as a young student) that I came across the title “Good News for Modern Man”, I did not realise it was an unconventional name for a new Bible translation. Later I made the connection, but could not see the relevance. “For Modern Man” I could understand, but in what sense “Good News”? After drifting away from the Church as a young adult, and later facing my sexuality, the description of the Bible as “good” news seemed even less appropriate. After all, ‘everybody’ knew how it was riddled with condemnations of any touch of sexual impropriety, most especially of the shameful sin of ‘sodomy’. There were a sprinkling of liberal churchmen, I knew, who took a more enlightened and tolerant view, but the Catholic Church in which I had grown up was implacable and instransigent. Like birth control, homosexuals were just not acceptable. So, like so many sexual minorities, I stayed outside the Church where I knew I was not welcome.

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Today, after some years’ journey of rediscovery of my faith, I find that the Bible is indeed “Good News”, including and especially for sexual outsiders; The Catholic Church really is the universal, welcoming community implied by that little word ‘catholic’ and LGBT people have an important part to play in it.

As I write, I can picture the jaws of my readers dropping in disbelief. In my experience, there are few people who believe that openly gay people can be accommodated in the Christian family: those of firm religious views reject out of hand the sinful ‘gay lifestyle’ (whatever that is), while people who have worked through the difficulties of coming out, have no desire to collaborate in ‘our oppression’ by religion. But around the world, more and more gay, lesbian and transgendered people are indeed finding that truth, as always, is more subtle and nuanced than the superficial perception, that they can after all find a welcome in a Catholic church, and that they do not have to renounce or compromise their sexual psyche to find it.

Naturally, we have some disagreements, even tensions, with the Vatican and some of our churchmen. The church and church people have inflicted great evils on our community in the past, and some smaller iniquities continue to this day. Likewise, Scripture contains some uncomfortable ‘clobber texts’ we have to come to terms with. But I submit that these texts are not as intimidating as we might fear, and in any case represent just a tiny fraction of the total Bible message. The Church, too, is greater than the clergy, the clergy greater than the Papacy and its attendant Vatican bureaucrats, and the Papacy far greater than its peculiar and disordered pronouncements on ‘homosexuals’.

If you remain sceptical, as I suspect many of you will be, I ask that you suspend your scepticism a little longer, as I share with you some of the experiences and insights that have led me to my transformed view of faith. I hope also to bring to your attention relevant topical news, information and comment.

But I do not wish to do this alone. The catholic church, after all, is above all about community. I have invited several of my associates too, to share their views, news and beliefs. Who knows? You may even find yourself stung into posting a comment or longer contribution.

I hope you do.

Terence.

 

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A Kairos moment for Queer Catholics

Former Jesuit, theologian, psychotherapist and author John McNeill (The Church and the HomosexualFreedom, Glorious FreedomBoth Feet Firmly Planted in MidairTaking a Chance on God and Sex as God Intended) has written an angry open letter to the U.S. bishops. He begins by slamming the bishops for ignoring the call to dialogue made by Dignity 30 years ago, and continues by lamenting “the enormous destruction recent Vatican documents have caused in the psychic life of young Catholic gays, and of the violence they will provoke against all gay people.”Gay Catholics, he says, have had “Enough!” With repeated cries of “Enough! Enough of …….” opening each section, his declaration rises in power and anger to its climax.
Holy Spirit in action?.

To me, the most interesting feature is not the anger or the arguments: these are all too familiar. But at the end of the letter he claims to be sensing a “Kairos moment” – a time ripe for significant change. The last time heard such a claim from churchmen was back in South Africa, in what seemed to the rest of us the darkest days of apartheid. I think it was within just a year or two that aprtheid had been officially disowned, Mandela had been released, and the new democracy was firmly on its way.
Is McNeill right? The point of a Kairos moment is not just to sit back and wait for things to happen – it is a time of potential only. To achieve the realisation of this moment, we need to grasp the opportunity, and force the change that is coming.

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Welcome. Come In, and Come Out

Welcome to your world

As gay Catholics, we have often found ourselves double outsiders. As a sexual minority in a world where heterosexuality is routinely taken for granted, and even suffered ridicule, discrimination, violence or worse, we have often felt excluded, left out – or even invisible.  Typically, we have felt even more rejected in the churches than in the secular world, with widespread condemnation of the ‘sin’ of homosexuality.

This hostility from the religious establishment has led to a counter-reaction from many in the LGBT community, who see religion as the architect and driving force behind our ‘oppression’, and consequently refuse to have any truck with organised religion.  The result for gay Catholics is too often, exclusion by both camps.  I have often heard the observation from my gay Catholic friends, that it can be as difficult to be out as Catholic in the gay community, as it is to be out as gay in the world at large.

However, in the secular world at least, things have changed. Ever since Stonewall, may of us have discovered the power of coming out publicly.  At a personal level, affirming, not hiding, our identities has been personally liberating for our mental and even physical health;  at a public level, the increasing visibility of persons of diverging sexual identities has played a big part in breaking down stereotypes, prejudice, and increasingly, discrimination.  For young (and not so young) people who are beginning for the first time to face the idea that they do not fit inside the sexual roles their social conditioning has led them to expect, this increased visibility of public role models also makes it easier for own coming out, than it was for earlier generations.

This increased visibility has not yet significantly reached our parishes, cloisters, or ecclesiastical parishes, partly because so many of those who are most comfortable identifying as gay, refuse to identify as churchgoers.  But in parallel with the secular world, the more we are indeed out in the church, the easier it will be for us, and for those who follow.

So, to all you who are gay Catholics or lapsed Catholics, a plea and invitation:  come in and come out. If you have lapsed, come back in to the Church, and help to make a difference.  If you remain a regular churchgoer, come in deeper – take on more active ministry.  Let there be no doubt of your credentials  as Catholic. Then, cautiously and gradually, come out as gay.  If you can not trust your parish to be accepting, find one which will (welcoming communities do exist.  This site will help you to find one.)  Or, if you prefer, seek out  a special Mass for an LGBT congregation.  These too exist in many bigger cities, even if not on every Sunday. For most people, coming out in the secular world was not easy.  You  probably needed help and support from LGBT friends, and may have deliberately sought out explicitly gay public venues as much for affirmation as for the objective services offered (I know I did.  Why else pay higher prices for a pint in Soho than in your neighbourhood local?)

Coming out in the church will be more difficult, so you will need even more support.  I hope that this site will help you to find a suitable support network for face to face contact and discussion.  But the virtual society of the blogosphere can also represent support of a kind – and that, we definitely aim to provide.

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