Tag Archives: Christian Church

“Blessed Are the Queer in Faith”

60 years into a modern resurrection for queer Christians.

Terry Weldon

This year’s national conference of  Quest, the British association for lesbian and gay Catholics, had as its theme “60 Glorious Years”, tying in with Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee year. For my presentation, I took as my title, “Blessed Are the Queer in Faith, for They Shall Inherit the Church”, later adding as a subtitle, “60 Years Into a Modern Resurrection for LGBT Christians”. With the word “resurrection”  I was suggesting that by the middle of the last century, the collective body of LGBT Christians had in effect been metaphorically killed off in the name of religious belief. But the past 60 years have seen LGBT Christians move from total invisibility, to substantial progress on the road to full inclusion – the beginning (only a beginning) of a modern resurrection!

The Collective Martyrdom of LGBT Christians

By 1952, just 7 years after the Nazi Pink Holocaust and seven centuries after the Inquisition began to hunt down and burn “sodomites”, it was effectively impossible to be openly gay and Christian – to declare oneself as such, was to announce that one was both a criminal by law, and (supposedly) condemned to eternal hellfire by Scripture.

In the West, sodomy no longer earned the death penalty – but legal penalties could include life imprisonment, or castration (eg Alan Turing, currently widely celebrated for his contribution to computer science, in  1954).  Justification was couched in religious language, social penalties included gay bashing, ostracism, career destruction – and often, suicide (including that of Alan Turing)

The persecution in the name of religion continued well into the twentieth century, promoted by the state in some countries, and by individuals and hate groups in others.

Penalties were no longer imposed by the Church – but were often motivated by an insistence that sodomy was the “Sin that cried out to heaven for vengeance”.

And yet – how far we’ve come!

By 2012, things have changed dramatically – at least in some denominations. In just the past few months, one major Christian church has honoured a modern lesbian by declaring her their equivalent of a modern “saint”, and another has unanimously elected an openly gay man as national moderator.

Five Transforming Trends

In attempting to explain how this remarkable transformation has come about, I have identified five distinct but mutually reinforcing and interacting transformative trends that have taken us over the past 60 years from total invisibility, to where we are now: solidly on a path to full LGBT inclusion in church:

  • The Discovery of a Rainbow Bible
  • LGBT clergy emerging from the closet
  • The development of self – ministry & support groups.
  • Queer Contributions and Challenges to Theology
  • The visibility of queer families.

 The Discovery of a Rainbow Bible.

A fundamental reassessment of the scriptural verdict on same – sex relationships. We have, in a sense, discovered or rediscovered a rainbow bible. If the bible really is “good news” for modern people, that must mean good news for all, including queer Christians. Beginning early in our period, a series of scholars have done work to show first, that the “traditional” interpretations of a handful of clobber texts are at best less secure than previously believed, and possibly deeply flawed, possibly even amounting to spiritual harm or “textual abuse”. Others have moved beyond defensive attempts to counter the texts of terror, to uncover and celebrate the vastly more numerous affirmative texts, and to read affirmative interpretations into others.

 LGBT clergy emerging from the closet

Ever since Rev Troy Perry responded to his expulsion from Baptist ministry for having had a sexual relationship with a man not by meekly accepting the verdict, but by forming instead a new denomination with an explicit welcome for lesbian and gay Christians, a continuing stream of clergy, and those seeking ordination, have come out, insisting that there is no conflict between their sexuality and their religious faith.  Responses from their denominations have differed, from acceptance and accommodation to outright hostility, but several denominations have already made explicit provision to accept openly LGBT clergy, or on course to do so, or accept them informally, in a clerical version of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. The visibility of these queer ministers, in public or in local congregations, makes it much easier for individual Christians to find self-acceptance, and to come out in church themselves.

 The development of self – ministry & support groups.

While Troy Perry’s solution for supportive ministry was to found an entirely new denomination, others have formed support groups and ministry structures within mainstream denominations. In the US, Dignity was started by a Catholic priest, originally as a support group for gay Catholic patients in his psychotherapy practice. Similar organizations later followed for Catholics in Australia and the UK, and for just about all other denominations (including Jehovah’s Witnesses), and on all continents. In many Protestant denominations, there has been a parallel movement aimed not at separate support groups, but at getting local congregations to declare themselves “open and affirming”. This development of an expanding base of straight allies has been key to the succession of LGBT support resolutions adopted, or due to be adopted, at various national assemblies – and to the election of queer candidates to leadership positions.

Queer Contributions and Challenges to Theology

 From about the mid 1970′s, there has been the emergence of an increasing number of openly gay and lesbian theologians, contributing to mainstream theology in all its variety, but also creating the brand new academic sub disciplines of gay and lesbian theology, and later queer theology. While this remains a minority pursuit, it has developed sufficiently that it now has its own academic journals, shelf space in theological libraries, and academic reviews of the literature to date. In her summary of the development, Elizabeth Stuart identified the origins in the early pioneers emphasising theology drawing strongly on personal experience, then developing into gay liberation theology (especially for men), and into a theology emphasising relationships (especially by lesbians drawing on feminist theology).  After discussing the challenge to gay and lesbian theologies presented by the AIDS pandemic, she describes how this led to a shift from gay/lesbian theologies to queer theology. In a later, more exhaustive account of queer theology specifically, Susannah Cornwall describes several “Controversies in Queer Theology”, in which she argues (among other things) that a queer perspective on theology is useful even for heterosexuals such as herself, and that there are many insights from queer theology making valuable contributions to mainstream theology.  At the other end of the academic scale, Patrick Cheng’s text “Radical Love” is described as an introductory text book on queer theology for junior college students.

The visibility of queer families.

 Ever since Stonewall, gay men and lesbians have been encouraged to come out, declaring their sexuality publicly.  Many, growing in confidence from the range of faith – based support groups, revisionist interpretations of the biblical evidence, and the insights from gay/ lesbian or queer theology, have done so in church, as well as in the secular world. With growing social acceptance, people of our community are forming stable relationships and families, and taking their place as families in many congregations. Their increasing visibility, coupled with the expanding availability of legal recognition for same – sex unions, is forcing the churches also to consider ways in which they can celebrate these committed, marriage – like relationships, on a basis of equality and free of discrimination.  This is especially so in those denominations which have come to accept the possibility of ordaining openly gay clergy, in partnerships that are committed, faithful and publicly accountable to the community, in a manner comparable to marriage. This requirement is most easily met by providing opportunities for full marriage for all their clergy, gay or straight, without discrimination. It is not surprising then, that while many religious leaders are actively campaigning against marriage equality legislation, some others are actively promoting, or implementing, same – sex marriage, even in church. This is currently available in some denominations and geographic regions, others are likely to approve it in the next few years, and still more are approving arrangements for church blessings of civil unions.

Conclusion: The Modern Resurrection

While many of the features I’ve listed may seem familiar, we tend to be so overwhelmed by the extent of vocal opposition, especially to recognition for marriage and family equality,  that we tend to lose sight of just how far we have come. From the perspective of the grand sweep of history, the past 60 years is a short time indeed, and yet progress, from near invisibility, has been remarkable. What is more, we must remember that each of these five trends continues, and they mutually reinforce each other. The process, and further progress to full LGBT inclusion in church, will surely continue. We really are, I submit, 60 years into a modern resurrection for LGBT Christians.

(This is a summary of a presentation delivered in September 2012, to the annual conference of Quest, a national association of gay and lesbian Catholics. A longer text of the full presentation is published at “Queering the Church“)

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ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2013

GENDER  VARYING  FAITH

exploring gender variance, identity and religious belief 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

10.30 – 16.00

St. Anne’s Church,55 Dean Street,Soho,LondonW1D 6AF

Buses: 14, 19, 38 toShaftesbury Avenue/Dean Street.

Tube Stations: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly/ Bakerloo lines) & Leicester Square (Piccadilly/ Northern lines)

 

BOOKING  FORMS  WITH  FULL  DETAILS  TO  FOLLOW

 

The charitable object of CSCS is:

“to advance the Christian religion by promoting objective debate within the Christian churches upon matters concerning human sexuality, with a view to developing the spiritual teaching and doctrines of such Christian churches.”

Registered charity no: 1070440

www.cscs.co.uk

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Sexuality and the Church

John Gladwin

‘I have learnt to watch my back when there are Bishops around’. That came from the lips of an outstanding priest who is in a Civil Partnership. Whatever our view about the issues raised by same sex partnerships in our time the remark is disturbing. Sadly, it is not the first such remark that has come my way over recent years. The fear and anxiety which these comments reveal is shared by the church’s leadership who similarly and paradoxically do not know what to do and how to respond. In an atmosphere of mutual anxiety pastoral care disappears and a distance is created where there ought to be deepening bonds of love and support.

Yet among the community of the baptised there is much to celebrate. I have listened to lay people in churches with a strong conservative tradition speak in the same breath of their own spiritual awakening and of their support and affection for gay members of their family and circle of friends. ‘We have learnt more about what love really means from James and Phil than from many of the married couples within our circle of friends’. So in the day to day experience of Christian women and men we find a desire and capacity to recognise goodness when it stares you in the face. The leadership of all our churches needs to work hard to develop that relaxed and appreciative attitude towards sisters and brothers whose life experience may be different from their own or even from what they might consider to be appropriate.

Providing space for the other and creating a culture of respect for the integrity and for the conscience of others is basic to a wholesome and mature community and so for the life of the Christian church. Both inside and outside the church our culture is making huge strides in this direction. Studies, for example, in the USA reveal that the cultural attitudes of people under 45 and even more so people under 25 are completely bypassing the inherited attitudes of the conservative Bible belt churches. Whatever is held in the pulpit as ‘Christian’ for our culture is not believed in the pews by the emerging generation of Christians let alone others.

In our own society this goes hand in hand with a commitment to human rights and to a proper respect for human equality across the diversity of contemporary social experience. People are much less willing to accept discriminatory attitudes and practices than was the case 15 or 20 years ago. So when the churches appear to want to distance themselves from the provisions which protect against discrimination they distance themselves from the expectations of a growing generation of people today. People hear the stories of the poor treatment of gay and lesbian friends in some religious contexts and come to the conclusion that this is all about institutional protection and unwillingness to help this generation find help and support in living out a faithful Christian commitment.

The basic challenge is not theological – we have learnt to live with plurality of life within the Gospel community – it is attitudinal. When we look positively upon one another across the rich diversity of human experience we will be able to find the language of faith to interpret the tradition in our own time and for people today.

Watching our backs when the Bishop is around is not a happy picture of how church is received by those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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TEENAGE PREGNANCY: ARE THE CHURCHES TO BLAME?

Jane Fraser

This was the rather controversial title of a paper I wrote for inclusion in ‘Opening Up: Speaking Out in the Church’ [edited by Julian Filochowski and Peter Stanford, published by Darton, Longman & Todd last year and reviewed in the Winter 2005 edition of CSCS News]. It was pointed out to me by the Press and Communications Officer in our Diocese of Worcester, that I couldn’t write about the lack of engagement by the churches in this social problem without doing something about it myself. Duly chastised, I met with the Bishop, the Social Responsibility Officer, the Director of Education and the Youth Officer for the Diocese. Out of that meeting came a proposal for me to write a ‘popular’, shortened version of the original paper to be published as one of a series of diocesan booklets containing stories and critical comment on social justice themes. They are meant to be read and studied by a wide range of people, both within the faith communities and in wider society. They are circulated to churches and other faith groups, voluntary and community agencies, statutory organisations and local authority departments. A brief press release from the Diocesan Offices at the time of publication of the booklet stimulated a flurry of interest in the media – radio interviews locally and in London, and press reports in both Worcester papers and the Birmingham Post. For a little discussion booklet it was unprecedented and one can only surmise that the juxtaposition of God and sex was the trigger! However, it was a golden opportunity for me to highlight a Christian perspective on the wider issue of teenage sexual behaviour that didn’t encompass the popular view that the Church is entirely condemnatory but, on the contrary, presented a compassionate analysis.

The other outcome of my discussion with Diocesan officers was to take up one of the recommendations in the booklet, to offer training to church and voluntary organisation youth workers on talking to young people about sexual matters. The Diocesan Youth Officer, working in collaboration with the Worcestershire Council for Voluntary Youth Services, arranged an evening workshop that was appreciated by those who came. It was
of particular value for those who were fully aware of the need to discuss sexual matters with the young people with whom they had contact but were nervous about broaching the subject, or those who were uncertain about strategies that were known to be effective.

We are now exploring the possibility of joining forces with the local Teenage Pregnancy Unit to organise a local conference on the subject for any health, social services, voluntary or church personnel who share our concerns and are motivated to engage in a constructive way with the issues.

If any of our members are interested in this topic or the project in general, you may download the booklet entitled, ‘Teenage Pregnancy: A Church Problem?’ from the Worcester Diocesan website www.cofe-worcester.org.uk You will need to click on ‘Social and Economic Engagement’ and then on ‘Publications and Resources’, where you will find it listed under the ‘Just So’ series of booklets. I am also happy to offer a workshop on ‘Talking to Young People about Relationships and Sex’ for a small fee and travel expenses.

You can contact me on training@revjane.demon.co.uk or by phone on 01684 594715.

 

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