Tag Archives: lgbt inclusion in church

Episcopalians release same-sex marriage rites

While Catholic bishops in the UK and the US are digging in their heels against marriage equality, the American Episcopal church is (very sensibly) looking ahead, to the inevitable day when they will recognize the need to do away with marriage discrimination in their own church (as some local jurisdictions have already done).  
After several years of study, the Episcopal Church has released a draft of what same-sex marriage rites would look like. An important caveat: these are just drafts, and it will likely be years before any final liturgy is approved for official use across the church.
Episcopalians in states that allow same-sex civil marriage (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and others) already have the option to bless same-sex marriages but there is no formal churchwide liturgy. Same-sex commitment ceremonies are permitted elsewhere in the church at the discretion of the local bishop.
From the church’s Office of Public Affairs:
The report’s theological reflection notes that the SCLM [Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music] has reviewed more than 30 years of General Convention’s deliberation on same-gender couples, especially [a] resolution approved in 2000, that identified characteristics the Church expects of couples living in marriage and other lifelong committed relationships: “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.”
“Such covenantal relationships can reflect God‘s own gracious covenant with us in Christ, manifest the fruits of the Spirit in holiness of life, and model for the whole community the love of neighbor in the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation,”  the report states.
– Religion News Service
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Give Thanks For This Kairos Moment of LGBT Inclusion

For Thanksgiving, More Light Presbyterians have released an important statement “Giving Thanks for Change in Our Church“:
This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for God’s extravagant love for all of God’s creation…no exceptions, no one outside of God’s embrace. This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for God’s sustaining grace in and through difficult times, loss of those we love, illness, economic hardships and war. This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the peace that passes all understanding that comes from trusting that God’s redemptive love and justice is at work in our own lives, in the lives of others, in our Church and in the world.
The rest of the statement is worth reading, but is specific to the Presbyterian General Assembly’s approval last summer of 10-A, on the ordination of openly gay or lesbian pastors. Thanksgiving is a specifically an American observance. The principle of recognizing and giving thanks for progress, though, is an important one for all who are queer in church, anywhere in the world, as the evidence for progress is strong, across all major denominations and regions of the world.
Sometimes this is dramatic and hits the headlines, as in the ordination of openly gay or lesbian bishops, or approval for same sex weddings, or blessing same-sex unions, in church. Sometimes, it is less conspicuous, as where there is not  a new decision, but a gradual shift in emphasis by some Catholic bishops from outright condemnation, to more attention to the quality of relationships, and the importance of “dignity, compassion and respect”. Sometimes, it is marked only by local, personal experience, as individual church members and their families find that in many congregations (admittedly not all), they are able to worship and participate with full acceptance by fellow parishioners. For many people, this direct experience at parish level is far more important than the theoretical pronouncements from church leadership.
In the UK, one of the most prominent opponents of the LGBT- oriented Soho Masses is William Oddie. In the Sept-Oct issue of Faith Magazine, he rants once again about the continued existence of these Masses, and the role of the English bishops in supporting them. (Like the other opponents of these Masses, he totally ignores the even more important role of the Vatican itself, through the CDF, in their support). Introducing his lament, he refers to this time (of toleration for the Masses) as a “defining moment” for the English Catholic Church.
The affair of the Soho Masses has rumbled on for years now; and it has become one of the defining issues of the Catholic Church in England at the beginning of the new Millennium. That sounds a little pompous, maybe: but I predict nevertheless what, at my age, I will not live to see – that when the history of the English Church in this dire period for its fortunes is written, this subject will merit more than a passing footnote.
The question the affair poses is very simple: are those set in authority over us, the bishops, at this juncture in our history prepared to defend the teaching of the Church as though it were indeed, as Catholics have always believed, part of a body of faith given by God and not constructed by men?
When I first saw this, my immediate response was that he was grossly overreacting. On further reflection, I think he is right, but probably not in the way he intended, and not only for the English Catholic Church. This is not (as he thinks) about the bishops supposed failure to defend teaching “given by God”, but about moving away from sexual prejudices that were constructed by men, justified by distorted translations and misinterpretations of  a selected handful of Bible verses, and erroneously presented as central to Christian faith.
There is a much bigger, worldwide movement under way here, towards a more authentic understanding of Scripture and theology, and towards full inclusion for all in Church. William Oddie described this time as a “defining moment.” Theologian John McNeill has described it in more precise theological language as a “Kairos Moment“, a time ripe for transformation.  The Holy Spirit is everywhere to be seen, nudging us along the paths to change that are possible and appropriate in specific denominational, local and family circumstances.  It is incumbent on each one of us, queer and straight ally alike, to reflect and discern the ways in which we can best co-operate with the Spirit in her work.
Let us give thanks for the opportunity – and for my American readers, have a great holiday weekend.

A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 8: "Are homosexuals showing church and society a way forward?"

In March this year, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 



Here is the eighth (and final) extract:

Are homosexuals showing church and society a way forward?

There is a long history in the Christian community of the stone which the builders rejected becoming the corner stone, the ‘sinners’ being preferred – as in the Gospel – to the holy huddle of the mutually approving who follow the official line.

Forty years ago, in Ireland as in other countries, homosexuality was a subject that ‘decent people’ didn’t talk about. But homosexuals found the honesty and courage to come out, to declare themselves, and to share their thoughts and feelings, often in the face of derision, hatred, violence or the threat of hell. They began to organize, to challenge the system, and to go political. They have brought about a 180 degree turn in public attitudes, exemplified by the Civil Partnerships Bill now going through the Oireachtas (legislature), something unimaginable forty years ago. Would that the church had so re-invented itself in the same forty years! Maybe the missing ingredients were the same: honesty, courage, openness, dialogue, challenging the status quo.

One finds a similar process at work among the ‘Anonymouses’ – alcoholics, gamblers, narcotics- and sex-addicts. They are at the bottom of the heap. By coming out, facing the truth, revealing their feelings, supporting and challenging each other, they have built communities which reflect what the church is meant to be – but often isn’t. Leadership is from the bottom up, the despised and rejected at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid showing the way to the wise and learned at the top.

And recently we have seen how it was the suffering of the most helpless in society – children – which eventually led to the exposure of much of what was rotten in the church.

Will homosexuals help us to re-discover new/old ways of doing theology and developing pastoral practice, where human experience is the starting point? That has happened already with other teachings that didn’t tally with human experience or meet human needs. Will they help us to read scripture with one eye on the page and the other on life? They are equally parts of one process. Perhaps they will show us that human experience is as valuable as scripture, as Saint Ignatius Loyola, for one, affirmed. ‘The word became flesh…’ (John 1.14) – God still speaks.

Perhaps, too, homosexuals are showing men a way forward out of self-imposed isolation, out of individualism built on machismo, and a way of dealing with personal issues such as men’s identity, men’s spirituality, addictions, domestic violence against men, male suicide, how abortion affects men, bereavement, paternity and parenting, access to and custody of children in a separation, and care of one’s health. The issues are different, but the qualities needed to face them are those that homosexuals developed in recent times.

Some of what the Scriptures say.
A few quotations: –

‘God saw all that he had made and indeed it was very good.’ (Genesis 1.31)

‘God does not see as people see; people look at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7)

‘Anyone who is not against us is for us’. (Mark 9.38-40; Luke 9.49-50)

‘Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’ (Luke 12.57)

‘Whoever comes to me, I shall not turn away’. (John 6.37)

‘God has no favourites.’ (Romans 2.11)

‘We belong to each other.’ (Romans 12.5)

‘Each must be left free to hold his own opinion.’ (Romans 14.5)

‘You should never pass judgment on another or treat them with contempt.’ (Romans 14.10)

‘Do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil.’ (Romans 14.16)

‘Your bodies are members making up the body of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 6.15)

‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’ (1 Corinthians 15.10. See also 12.18-21, 26)

‘Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God.’ (2 Corinthians 6.19)

‘You are, all of you, children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.26-28)

‘We are what God made us’. (Ephesians 2.10)

‘Everything God has created is good.’ (1 Timothy 4.4)

The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of ‘the whole church in which everyone is a “first-born” and a citizen of heaven.’ (12.23)

Or read 1 John 4.7-21.

Conclusion
For those who don’t like the above, the great consolation is that it’s all God’s fault. Why? For creating in diversity instead of uniformity, as we see all around us in – guess where? – nature, for making some people different from others. Or did God make a mistake?

A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 7: "In the end we will be judged on how we have loved."

In March this year, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the seventh extract:

‘In the end we will be judged on how we have loved.’

Many of the passengers on the 9/11 flights, when told they were going to die, phoned their families to say that they loved them. In former times, we might have thought that a better response would have been to beg God for forgiveness of their sins. I prefer the first, and I dare to think that God would, too.

If God is love, and if sex is loving, then sex between two people of different or the same gender can only be looked upon lovingly by God. The real sin would be to live without ever having had this contact with another human being.

Sacraments are places where God’s story and the human story meet. Not only do we need to tell the human story, but we need to tell it first; that was Jesus’ way of doing things and of teaching. The human story of some homosexuals is that awakening to their sexuality has meant taking responsibility for themselves and growing up. They say they have grown into better people for having taken the risk of giving and receiving love. A gay man said that, in experiencing being despised and rejected for being gay, he found that, ‘The ultimate sign of a person’s love is the figure of Jesus on the cross. The wound of homosexuality is not unrelated to Christ’s presence in the Passion. Through suffering, rejection and pain, people grow, change, and are transformed.’ Another said simply, ‘God wants us to be the people he created us to be.’ This echoes the saying of Saint Clement of Alexandria that, ‘We ought not to be ashamed of what God was not ashamed to create.’ Where is the Good News for homosexuals? Is it in the Wisdom of Solomon, ‘You [God] love all things that exist, and detest none of the things you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, O Lord, you who love the living. For your immortal spirit is in all things.’ (Wisdom 11.24-12.1, NRSV)

Those Evangelical Allies, Again

The word “evangelical” is a troublesome one in religious discourse, as it can mean so many different things, and is used indifferent ways.   Polling firms reporting on social policy issues routinely use it as a contrast to Protestants, as in Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals – by which they really men Mainline Protestants and Other Protestants. Press releases though have never been given to verbal precision, and we have become accustomed to the usage. To complicate matters further, some of the “Mainline” churches, especially the UK Church of England, are described in news reports in terms of their “evangelical” or “liberal wing. In more theological, less politicized terms, there are many in the Mainline churches who would insist that they too are inherently “evangelical”,  in its true sense.
Further complicating the issue is the repeated research finding that it is the “evangelical” wing of Christianity, in the sense of non-mainline Protestant, that is the most implacably opposed to LGBT equality or inclusion in church, which leads to the assumption that one leads necessarily from the other. There is growing evidence though that even in this sense, some evangelical leaders, like many Catholic theologians, are now recognising the fallacies and mistaken assumptions in the Christian opposition of the past few centuries. I have reported on some of these in the past – there are many more.
However, it is the more theological meaning of “evangelical” that Janet Edwards is using when she argues at “Religion Dispatches ” that gay rights  are an “evangelical thing”.

“We need to out-evangelize the evangelists!”

Contrary to popular imagination, which usually places evangelicals strictly within the conservative Christian right-wing, this rousing call to action came from Rev. Jean Southard at a dinner for LGBT advocates during the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly.
In the midst of debates within both the Presbyterian Church and the nation, Rev. Southard’s point was that LGBT-rights advocates in the church should shout from the rafters that their actions are evangelical—in the deepest historical sense of the word—and in so doing, remind evangelicals of Christianity’s fundamental tenet of inclusion. 
Though it has taken on a narrow meaning in American politics today, “evangelical” is actually an ancient Christian term whose roots extend to the earliest days after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. “Evangelical,” or “evangelion” in the original Greek, literally translates as “Good News.” From the women running to tell the others of the empty tomb (Luke 24:1-12), to Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (Acts 15), to John writing his Gospel to make sure the Good News would be there for future generations like us, “evangelical” has always meant sharing Jesus’ Good News with all those who wish to be part of the Church. 
As Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I shall draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). There is no “but” in Jesus’ “all.” And so it is incumbent upon us, as a Church, to extend our full welcome and blessing to all the faithful, including those who are LGBT.
Yet LGBT people are the ones whom many in the Church today judge as beyond the reach of Jesus’ embrace—just as the Galatians and Corinthians were considered beyond God’s love in Paul’s time. 
For those who claim the mantle of the evangelical tradition, it is important to remember what it means that God’s love is available to all of us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It means that LGBT Christians have the same place at Christ’s table as anyone else.
The chorus of the praise song, “We Are One in the Spirit,” echoes Paul (Galatians 5:22) when it repeats the refrain, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It is in this Spirit that we can “out-evangelize the evangelicals.”
And so, when LGBT people freely embrace and live a Christian life, the Church must recognize such deep faithfulness and open our arms to them as well. At the heart of Jesus’ Good News is this: there is no “but” in “all.”

(Watch Rev Jean Southard speak on Marriage Equality on Youtube: Part 1, and Part 2)

Why Catholics Support Gay Marriage.

Research results have consistently shown that US Catholics nationally are more supportive of gay rights (including gay marriage), and do not agree with the Vatican teaching that homosexual relationships are morally wrong. What has not been clear from research is why this should be, when the formal Vatican doctrine, and the publicly stated position of the bishops, is so different. The same conundrum was posed even more sharply this month in Argentina, where polls showed that in this overwhelmingly Catholic country, where the bishops very publicly opposed it, 70% of the population supported the introduction of full family equality.
In California, two separate polls released within days, by Field and by PRRI, confirm the patterns we have become accustomed to: over the longer term view, support for equality has grown steadily; Democrats and independents are supportive, Republicans are not; younger voters are strongly supportive – and Californian Catholics narrowly support marriage equality.

The difficulty with most research results for demographic sub-samples, such as “women”, or “Latinos” , 0r “over 50’s” is that without deeper statistical analysis, it is never quite clear whether the differences seen between groups are specific to those groups, or just the result of hidden demographics distorting the groups being examined.

The great thing about the research from PRRI, is that it addresses that problem by taking a two-level split of a large sample, to consider religion within ethnic groups. It thus standardises for ethnicity when considering religion – and the results are truly fascinating, especially against the background of marriage equality in Argentina. It turns out that among all religious groupings, Latino Catholics are the most supportive of marriage equality – and Latino Protestants are the most strongly opposed.  In California, what appears to be Catholic support for marriage equality is specifically Latino Catholic support: White Catholic views are pretty similar to White (mainline) Protestants. Conversely, the strong Latino Catholic support does not show up in overall Latino support, because it is balanced by strong opposition from Latino Protestants.
It gets better. If the report simply left it there, that would be interesting, but would simply beg a couple of further questions. Why should Latino/a Catholics differ so strongly from White Catholics, and even more strongly from Latino/a Protestants? Why are Catholics and Protestants so different to Evangelicals, who are very strongly opposed? Why are Blacks overall less supportive than either Whites or Latinos? So, it is great to report that it does not stop there. There is plenty of real good meat in this report worth chewing over, both theologically and politically, which offers some real insight into the reasons for these discrepancies.
One dramatic impact on thinking about marriage, is what people are hearing from their clergy.  Catholics are more likely than other groups to be hearing anything at all from clergy about homosexuality, and White Catholics less than Latino Catholics.  Both Catholic groups, together with White Protestants, are the least likely to be hearing negative statements. Some Latino Catholics are hearing a message that flatly contradicts the position of the bishops: almost one in ten report they are hearing supportive words from their Catholic priests about homosexuality.
(With the continuing debate in some Protestant groups about gay ordination, it is important to note that a small majority of Protestant clergy seem more likely to support than to discourage gay and lesbian relationships, by 21% to 19% ).
This has huge implications for the push for marriage equality, for inclusion in church, and for the Catholic Church in particular.  First, it confirms once again that religious belief and homosexual relationships are not incompatible. It is simply untrue that “Christians” as a whole reject homosexuality, or same sex marriage. A growing minority of Christians, and some clergy, support such relationships.  This increasing support within the churches will ease the way towards greater LGBT inclusion in church. For the Catholic bishops, the signs are ominous. At a national level, their voices have been among the most prominent arguing against gay marriage, gay adoption, civil unions, and protection from discrimination. But this message from the top of the pyramid does not seem to be getting through on the ground. It is remarkable that Catholics are the least likely of all groups to be hearing negative messages about homosexuality from their priests, and even more so that some Catholics are being told to be supportive, or are hearing messages that are neutral rather than critical.
Why this disconnect? Could it be that the local priests are in closer contact, with real people. both gay and straight, and so more in touch with reality? Another finding in the research is that people’s views on homosexuality will be strongly influenced by the parents of gay men and lesbians. Any priest is likely to have several such parents in his congregation, in addition to some gay people themselves who have not been driven away from the church, or into hiding in a closet. This direct personal knowledge will be showing him the falsity of official discourse, that we are not “disordered”, driven by our sexuality away from God, or interested only in “gratuitous self-indulgence”.  Rather than repeating the lies, many would simply prefer to hold their tongues – and
some are taking the remarkable step, given their dependent position, of directly contradicting the bishops’ message.
If the bishops are unable to speak directly to gay men, lesbians or their parents, they would be wise to at least listen carefully to what their priests could be telling them. If they continue to not do so, they will simply continue to lose further credibility, and will suffer greater loss of authority, just as they have already done on contraception, and as the Argentinian bishops have now done on marriage equality.

Same-Sex, Opposite-Sex, or "Apposite" Sex? : Churches Grappling With Inclusion, Equality

While the Catholic Church has been consumed with issues around clerical abuse, other churches have been getting on with moving into the real world.   There have been steps toward full inclusion in a number of Protestant denominations, in the US and elsewhere, and pressure for further progress continues to grow. Several reports this past week have illustrated this.

“Making it legal: the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson (right) during the civil union with his partner, Mark Andrew, in June 2008 AP”

In the US, the Episcopal church has led the way among the major denominations, with two openly gay or lesbian bishops now confirmed. It has now released a report, Same-Sex Relation­ships in the Life of the Church, by a team of eight leading theologians which was commissioned by the House of Bishops, to consider a range of views on same -sex relationships in the Church. To me, the important feature here is not the conclusions, which diverge sharply, bu the simple fact that the report exists and demonstrates that differences of opinion and interpretation, of Scripture and theology, are possible and valid. The panel was deliberately drawn to reflect a range of views, including those of gay and lesbian people in committed relationships.
I found this passage from the Church Times fascinating, arguing that the issue is not just of “same -sex” or “opposite-sex” relationships, but on of “apposite-sex ” (i.e appropriate) relationships – and that for all of us,, such apposite relationships are a way “to sanctification”. This makes the question of “gay marriage” in church not just a matter of social justice, bu a matter of opening up a sacramental path to spiritual growth for all:
“Marriage cultivates concern for one another; it offers lifelong hos­pitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the Church needs, not only with respect to the Bridegroom [Christ] but just now, with respect to one another.” The liberal group defined orienta­tion in terms not of gender, but of morality: “A sexually oriented person is someone who develops and is morally improved through a relationship with someone of the apposite sex, typically but not necessarily the opposite sex. Those called to same-sex relationships are those that need them for their own sanctification . . . because neither opposite-sex relationships nor celi­bacy could get deeply enough into their hearts to promote lifelong com­mitment and growth.” It said that same-sex couples should not be denied the moral worth of each putting their body “on the line” for the other “until death us do part”; that was an accountability “far beyond what counselled celibacy can provide”. Nor should they be denied the “delight” they had in each other; for that was necessary for action: Eros did not turn into charity through self-control, but through self aban­donment, and the self-dispossession that led to self-donation. “It is the daily version of finding one’s life by losing it.”
Meanwhile, a rash of other news reports have focussed not on the formal church response to the demands of theology and scripture, but on highly personal responses by individual clergy, struggling to negotiate a path in conscience between sometimes conflicting demands of Church and state in dealing with requests for marriage within their own congregations. I will report on these separately, in a later post.

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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