Category Archives: History

The Distorted Christian Tradition of the Sodomy Myth (2)

The remarkable thing about the Christian tradition that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was because of the sin of homoerotic sex, is that this was never part of the Jewish tradition: not in the Hebrew Bible (First, or Old Testament), not in the Apocrypha, not in the Pseudepigrapha, and not in the Rabbinic tradition that followed. The obvious question that follows, is quite how did the Christian theologians get it so wrong, using a strong condemnation against oppression, injustice and lack of hospitality to strangers, to justify their own persecution, oppression, and explicit refusal of hospitality in Church to sexual and gender minorities?

sodom

In tracing the historical development of what is clearly a distorted tradition, Renato Lings draws on the commentaries of the story from each historical tradition – and simultaneously describes how changes in language over those centuries meant that later commentators, up to the medieval scholastics, were depending on texts which had been through multiple translations, losing some of the subtlety and nuance of the original, and also had suffered corruption from copying errors.

A long church tradition may have led to errors of misinterpretation end errors of translation, some of which continue to affect todays versions of the Bible. Since the issues addresses by the Hebrew prophets are idolatry, pride, social injustice and oppression, it is indeed remarkable that today’s scholarly consensus emphasizes sexual violence.

Continue reading The Distorted Christian Tradition of the Sodomy Myth (2)

Gay Bishops: Ralph of Tours and John of Orleans

With all the current fuss about the decision of the US Episcopal Church to consecrate openly gay bishops, and the Catholic Church’s declared hostility to gay priests and to gay marriage or even civil unions, we forget that in the older history of the church, it is not gay priests and bishops that are new, or gay marriage, but the opposition to them.  Many medieval and classical scholars have produced abundant evidence of clearly homosexual clergy, bishops, and even saints, and of church recognition of same sex unions.

gay bishops


Gay Bishops in Church History

 One story is particularly striking.  At the close of the 11th Century, Archbishop Ralph of Tours persuaded the King of France to install as Bishop of Orleans a certain John  – who was widely known as Ralph’s gay lover, as he had previously been of Ralph’s brother and predecessor as Bishop of Orleans, of the king himself, and of several other prominent men.   This was strongly opposed by prominent churchmen, on the grounds that John was too young and would be too easily influenced by Ralph.  (Note, please, that the opposition was not based on the grounds of sexuality, or even of promiscuity.)  Ivo of Chartres tried to get Pope Urban II to intervene.  Now, Urban had strong personal reasons, based in ecclesiastical and national politics, to oppose Ralph.  Yet he declined to do so. In spite of well-founded opposition, John was consecrated Bishop of Orleans on March 1, 1098, when he joined two of his own lovers, and numerous  others, in the ranks of openly homosexual Catholic Bishops.

An earlier example was St Paulinus of Nola, whose feast day was celebrated earlier this month.  Paulinus was noted as both bishop and poet: his poetic “epistles” to his friend Faustinus are noted in the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia.  What the CE does not remind us, is that Pulinus ans Faustinus were lovers, and the “epistles” were frankly homoerotic verse, which may be read today in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse.  Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations.  Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives.  Many clearly did not.

In England, there was Bishop Longchamps, the bishop that Richard the Lionheart made Regent. The well-known line on him was that the barons would trust their daughters with him, but not their sons.

Gay Saints in Church History

Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations. Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives. Many clearly did not. Among many examples from Church history, some of the better known are:

Aelred of Rievaulx (probably celibate, but wrote intensely ardent love letters to male friends);

St Patrick (believed to have worked as a prostitute in his youth, and may have taken a male lover in later life);

SS Sergius & Bacchus( Roman soldiers, lovers & martyrs)

St John of the Cross (Well known mystic, whose metaphorical poetry of his love for Christ uses frankly homoerotic imagery)

Cardinal John Henry Newman (soon to be beatified, was so devoted to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, that he insisted on being buried with him in the same grave.)

Same Sex Unions in Church History

The earliest church, in Rome and in the Slavic countries, recognised some forms of same sex union in liturgical rites of  “adelphopoein” .  It is not entirely clear precisely what was the precise meaning of these rites.  They were clearly not directly comparable to modern marriage – but nor were the forms of heterosexual unions at the time.  Some claim that they were no more than a formalised friendship under the name of  “brotherhood” – but many Roman lovers called themselves “brothers”.  Some of the couples united under this rite were certainly homosexual lovers, but it is possible not all were.  What is certain, is that the Church under the Roman Empire, for many years recognised and blessed liturgically some form of union for same sex couples.  As late as the sixteenth century, there is a clear written report of a Portuguese male couple having been married in a church in Rome.

This recognition also extended to death.  From  the earliest church until at least the nineteenth century, there are examples of same sex couples, both male and female, being buried in shared graves, in a manner exactly comparable to the common practice of married couples sharing a grave – and often with the parallel made clear in the inscriptions.

The modern Church likes to claim that in condemning same sex relationships, and resisting gay marriage and gay clergy, it is maintaining a long church tradition.  It is not.  To persist in this claim, in the light of increasing evidence from modern scholars, is simply to promote a highly selective  and hence dishonest reading of history.

See also

and at “Queering the Church“:

From the “Lesbian and Gay Catholic Handbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also available on-line:

 

Burials in Greek Macedonia (Valerie Abrahamsen)


Books:

Canon Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Pioneering gay theologian (1910-1984)

Bailey was the first Christian scholar to re-evaluate the traditional understanding of the Biblical prohibitions regarding homosexuality. He was an Anglican clergyman and Canon Residentiary of Wells Cathedral. Although not a full-time academic theologian or biblical scholar, after World War II he led a small group of Anglican clergymen and physicians to study homosexuality. Their findings were published in a 1954 Report entitled The Problem of Homosexuality produced for the Church of England, and were influential in moderating the church’s subsequent stance on the moral issues raised by homosexuality. The work of Bailey and his colleagues also paved the way for the progressive Wolfenden Report (1957), which was followed a decade later by the decriminalization of homo­sexual conduct between consenting adults in England and Wales.

As an additional project arising from this work, he undertook a separate historical study, which led to the publication of his groundbreaking book, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition. Although this monograph has been criti­cized, it was a landmark in the history of the subject, combining scrutiny of the Biblical evidence with a survey of subsequent history. Bailey’s book drew attention to a number of neglected subjects, including the intertestamental literature, the legislation of the Christian emperors, the penitentials, and the link between heresy and sodomy. Since then, his work has been overtaken by more extensive analyses by specialist biblical scholars, but it was an important influence on the early work that followed by historians (for example, John Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality“, and Mark D Jordan’s “The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology “) and by biblical scholars (William Countryman’s “Dirt, Greed, and Sex“).
It was also important for influencing the findings of the British Wolfenden Report, which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, and on the later deliberations of the Anglican Church on the subject.
Bailey died in Wells in Somerset.

 


“Out of the Shadows, Into the Light”:Blessed John Henry Newman, Soho “Gay” Masses

Last Sunday I went up to London for one of the regular LGBT – oriented “Soho Masses”. Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had conducted the beatification service for Cardinal John Henry Newman. Cardinal Newman is now officially Blessed John Henry – and so the liturgy used our Mass was, quite appropriately, the newly minted liturgy for his festal day.

Portrait of Cardinal Newman by John Millais

When I first wrote about Newman a year ago, I wrote that he has particular significance for gay Catholics, on account of his deep commitment to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, and his writing on conscience.  That initial post was simplistic: I did not then realize how sharply opinions on John Henry divide, specifically on his ideas of conscience and loyalty. While some progressive Catholics celebrate and promote (their understanding of) his championing of conscience, some conservatives see this as entirely a misrepresentation of his understanding of conscience, which should rather be read in the context of his parallel championing of church authority and loyalty.

For a long time, I have been wary of writing anything further – although for a time I was trying unsuccessfully to put together something on the “paradox” of Newman. Now, after a flood of information and commentary leading up to the beatification, I stick by my original assertion. Blessed John Henry Newman indeed of great importance for queer Christians, with even more reason than I originally recognized.

Newman’s legacy is paradoxical: he is claimed simultaneously as hero by progressive Catholics for his stout defence of conscience, and by conservatives for his defence of authority. He is touted as a gay saint over his highly publicized deep relationship with Aubrey St John – and “defended” as obviously heterosexual because he was celibate, and so obviously not giving sexual expression to any same- sex attraction.  All of these deserve further consideration, and have received plenty elsewhere.

For now, I want to limit my own observations only to two additional ways in  which Newman’s career is particularly relevant for queer Christians, and especially the LGBT Catholic congregation of the Soho Masses, by prefiguring our own position.

We too live in a paradoxical state, with the official position of the Vatican (and many other leading religious bodies) urging noble ideas of treating us with dignity, compassion and respect – yet in their own actions they frequently do the exact opposite. They urge us to follow and to speak the truth – but when we do, we may find ourselves paying a heavy price. They have attempted to silence people like John McNeill and Jeannine Gramick for their attempts to speak the truth, a Canadian altar server was refused ministry for his, Michael B Kelly and many others have lost their jobs in Catholic schools and colleges, simply for telling the truth of their lives. The CDF reminds us that “the truth will set you free”, but for Catholics in Church employ, too often it simply sets us free of that employment.

Newman spent most of his life as priest under attack from all sides. It was only late in life that he began to receive recognition for his achievements as a theologian, when he was suddenly promoted from parish priest directly to cardinal, and eventually beatification. I believe that we as a queer Christian community are following a similar path, from persecution and exclusion, to ever-increasing inclusion – and even respect for what we can teach the wider church. We see this most clearly in denominations like the mainline Protestant groups that have already accepted the principles of full inclusion and equal treatment for queer Christians and clergy, or who are openly debating these issues – but we are also starting to see some embryonic signs of the same thing in the Catholic Church.

This was most dramatically illustrated for out Soho Masses community by the blaze of media publicity (mostly favourable) we received in the build-up to Newman’s beatification. We have been operating for over eleven years now, and for over three years in a Catholic parish as a formal pastoral initiative of Westminster diocese, and so under the patronage of the head of the Church in England and Wales. We have experienced continuous low level mutterings from some conservative opponents, but otherwise very little publicity, with not even a mention on the diocesan website.

This changed dramatically over the past few weeks. In addition to substantial coverage in BBC television and radio programmes, there were additional British reports in a range of newspapers and magazines. Coverage has since gone global. At last Sunday’s Mass, we had reporters present from Spanish national radio, Croatian radio, Czech Television – and Gaydar radio. (Gaydar is a major UK gay dating website, with an on-line radio service).

“Out of the shadows, into the light”, indeed.

Related articles on John Henry Newman

Nzinga (1583-1663), Female King of the Mbundu.

Nzinga is renowned in Black history for her courageous part in resistance to the Portuguese colonial power in what is now Angola.
Her father had been the “ngola” or ruler (from which the Portuguese took the name for their colonial territory), and was followed in that position by Nzinga’s brother, Ngola Mbande. As a child, Nzinga had been greatly favoured by her father, who gave her the opportunity to watch him closely as he governed, and even went with him to war. Later, she was sent by her brother as envoy to the Poruguese governor at a peace conference,  in Luanda in 1622, aiming to have the Portuguese withdraw a fortress they had built on Mbundu land, return some of her brother’s subjects who had been captured, and to put an end to the marauding raids by bands of Portuguese.
She was able to secure a peace treaty – which the Portuguese failed to keep. Her brother then committed suicide, leaving his son Kaza as heir, with Nzinga acting as regent.Instead, she had him killed, and assumed the throne herself. As ruler, she continued to resist the Portuguese in numerous battles, personally leading her army in war, and forming alliances with both the neighbouring African peoples of Kongo in the African interior, and with the Dutch on the coast. She maintained this resistance for over thirty years, until well into her sixties, before finally signing a peace treaty in 1657.
The queer interest in Nzinga rests in her assuming the throne of her people, which traditionally could only be held by men. As she had occupied a position absolutely restricted to men, so she was necessarily regarded as male.  As a man, and as king, it then became important that s/he acquire a harem of wives. As Nzinga was biologically female, her wives then needed to be biologically male, who dressed as women and took female gender roles.
In the African context, her story is not as extraordinary as it may sound. Ethnographic reports from all regions of the continent have shown that gender roles were traditionally less closely identified with biological sex than in the West, so that wealthy women who could afford it, could and sometimes did acquire wives, and take on the roles of “husband” – while some wealthy men included the occasional male among their “wives”.

Natural Families: Africa's Female Kings and Husbands.

.
Nzinga – misleadingly represented here as “queen”
The standard platitudes about two-called “traditional  families” are full of completely groundless assumptions.  One, that this idea is in any way “traditional”, I have previously shown to be false (“Traditional” Families, Traditional “Family Values”). Another is that love, marriage, sex and child-bearing  “naturally” all belong together.  As part of a more extended investigation into the enormous variety of “natural” families to be found across the world, I have been reading about some of the extraordinary ways in which in some societies, these can be entirely independent. Today, I look at some notable crossing of female gender stereotypes from Africa.
A fascinating story of a female king comes from the country of Angola, which takes its name from the hereditary king, “ngola”, of the Ndongo people.  During the colonial wars of conquest, the Portuguese met the fiercest resistance from a king called Nzinga – who turned out to be biologically female.  Although the monarchy was reserved for men, she had forced her way into office, and so was necessarily regarded as male.  As a man, and as king, it then became important that s/he acquire a harem of wives. As Nzinga was biologically female, her wives then needed to be biologically male, who dressed as women and took female gender roles.
Nzinga was one example from history, but her story is not in any way unique in Africa. In South Africa, one of those recurring stories that crop up from time to time on the inside pages of the newspapers, often on the travel & tourism sections, concerns the remote, near mythical person, the Rain Queen of the Lovedu people. (I have seen a website on African Mythology that describes her as an actual mythical deity. she is not – she is very real, just very reclusive, shunning all publicity).  The Rain Queen is the hereditary ruler of her people by matrilineal succession. From her title, it is clear that one of her duties is to apply her hereditary supernatural skills in rain making. But it is another feature of her tradition that catches the papers’ attention: by tradition, she always marries only women, whom she takes in polygamous marriages. While the Queen gets on with the domestic duties usually associated with a husband, these wives will take on typical female gender roles, including procreation and childrearing. Obviously the Queen cannot pysically father children, so the wives are sent outside of the family unit for sex, and conception. The children thus conceived are raised in the royal family, and have nothing whatsoever to do with their biological fathers.



Female Husbands

Ethnographic studies have documented similar practices in over thirty populations across the continent. I find these fascinating, for the clear way in which they highlight the difference between biological sex and gender, and for the distinctions between sex, marriage, procreation and child rearing.

The records show that in these societies, women who have sufficient wealth to come up with the required bride price may take wives. When they do, they form households in which they take on the traditional roles and duties of husbands, while the other women behave exactly as any other wives, taking on the domestic chores and the child-rearing.

Children? Clearly, all-female marriages are not able to conceive children. Instead, some or all of the wives will have sexual relationships with men outside the marriage, sometimes with men chosen for them by their husbands, specifically for the pusposes of procreation. The biological father’s role though, stops right there. The children are raised in the all female household, by their mothers – and their female stepfather. physical procreation is entirely distinct from the chikl-rearing that follows. Sexual relationships too, may be distinct from both the marriage, and from procreation. In some cases, the marriages will include lesbian sexual relationships, but in others some or all of the women have erotic relationships outside of the family which are not necessarily geared to procreation.

Africa is a large, diverse continent, so it should not be a surpsie that there are many other forms of same sex relationship observed as well. Here, I have only touched on one little-known aspect of some female relationships. Later, I will also look at other unusual forms of relationships that totally contradict the idea that homoerotic relationships are foreign to Africa and introduced by outsiders, either European colonials, or the Arabs.

See also:

Gay Ugandans, Ugandan Martyrs

African Myths about Homosexuality – Guardian

Books:

Naphy, William: Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality (Revealing History)

Greenberg, David F:   The Construction of Homosexuality

Ifi Amadiume Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society

Murray, Donald O: Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities

[ad#In post banner]