Tag Archives: Sexual / Gender Diversity

Catholic Bishops, on Transgender Equality

In a draft document on British equality legislation and its implications for the Catholic Church, is included a brief but important reference to trans equality.

At the catholic transgender, Anna Magdalena comments:

cbcew

On the subject of gender transition, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales seems encouragingly positive. A year ago they released a draft of guidelines instructing Catholics on how far to comply with England’s Equality Act 2010, which will provide increased civil protection for a number of minority groups, including transsexuals. Their document says that:

Transsexual people face many difficulties before, during and after transitioning to another gender. As such it is recommended to seek guidance on how to make the transitional process as easy as possible. This could include training for co-workers, as well as reference to medical and social advice.

The implication of this quote seems to be that Catholics in Britain are expected to fully abide by the law’s prohibition of anti-trans discrimination, and more significantly to cooperate or at least be supportive of a transgender person in the process of transitioning.

Read the full text here.

New Ways Ministry has also reported on this document, and says about it

This may be the most positive and pastoral statement about transgender people to come from the Catholic hierarchy.  (If anyone knows anything equally or more positive, please let us know about it in the “Comments” section of this post.)  Let’s hope that it remains in place through the drafting process.

(In fact, nobody has yet noted in the New Ways comments section any evidence of anything similarly positive, from anywhere).

Male AND Female God Created THEM

(Workshop to be presented by Revd Sharon Ferguson at the “Embodying Ministry” July 2014 conference of the CSCS Theological Educators Project).

What if you understand your gender as ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’? Where do you find yourself in scripture? How are you represented in liturgy and worship? How can ministers ensure a person of non-binary gender identity is affirmed and welcomed into the worshipping community? This workshop will briefly outline some of the alternative ways to understand gender and how those who transgress the binary models of male/female struggle to find a place within the Church. The group will be encouraged to consider what for them is comfortable /uncomfortable about gender identity and the reasons why. We will also consider the gendered language we use in liturgy and worship and the issues of inclusion/exclusion that these may raise.

Sharon Ferguson
Revd Sharon Ferguson is the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in North London, Co-President of the European Forum for LGBT Faith Groups, and was also the CEO of LGCM until the end of May 2014. In October 2014 Sharon will embark on a PhD researching the biblical and theological bases for understanding non-binary gender and its implications for the Church. Sharon is passionate about the inclusive love of God for the diverse world that God created.

London meeting: “Wholly Holy: What the Identity of Being LGBT adds to the Identity of Being Christian?”

St Martin’s Hall, Lower Crypt.

Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, addresses the question “Wholly Holy: What the Identity of Being LGBT adds to the Identity of Being Christian?”

A lecture by hosted by St Martin-in-the-Fields and by Open Table, the Greater London Changing Attitude Group, to address issues currently debated in Church and society. All are very warmly welcome to this open lecture. The evening will be chaired by Revd Clare Herbert, and will include responses and questions from the floor.


Open Table
Start: January 30, 2013 7:00 pm
End: January 30, 2013 8:30 pm
Cost: FREE
Venue: St Martin-in-the-Fields
Phone: 020 7766 1100
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“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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Ecumenical World Pride Service, Bloomsbury Baptist Church, London, 7 July 2012.

Sermon – The Revd. Dr. Ruth Gouldbourne, Co-Minister, Bloomsbury Baptist Church

During this service, we have affirmed, with joy and delight that, in Jesus, we are accepted by God as who we are, LGBT or straight. And we have affirmed that this acceptance is God’s gift of love to us made flesh and blood in Jesus, and in this we rejoice and celebrate.

And we have confessed our failure to love whole-heartedly and without prejudice, and the times when we trip up and hurt others and damage our selves and spoil the world. And we can dare to do this because we are not caught up in confessing what is not sin – but that must not and does not blind us to what is sinful within us and among us – and the freedom and possibility into which we are released as we dare to trust the gift of forgiveness and the healing it brings.

And we have been challenged to think about just how we love – how far we dare to love, what limits we might want to put on our loving.

 And we have heard Scripture; love one another as I have loved you; words that echo and tease and question the roots of ourselves and leave us nowhere to hide.

 And it is all pretty huge and demanding and overwhelming.

 How do we do it? What would it look like, what shape can it take – and how on earth do we live it out in a world in which we are hated, attacked, condemned, questioned and looked at sideways. Loving, being loved is at the heart of why we are here; the right – the need, the call to love and be loved as we truly are is what the organisation is about. And in a few moments, we will share bread and wine – the gift of love beyond our imagining, our deserving, our capacity to name. And it is a call – a call to us to live in this love, to live out this love, to dare to name this love in ways that change the world.

 Sometimes it can be hard to listen to Paul – he can sound so black and white, so hard-edged and dogmatic. And at other times he can be so complex and his sentences can be so long that we are not really able to follow him, and the subtleties of his arguments can be lost without technical language and careful elucidation.

 And then he says this;

 Be kind.

 Be kind and compassionate to one another.

See, kindness we can manage. Kindness we can grasp. We know what it feels like, when somebody is kind. And we know – usually we know very clearly and without having to ask hard questions and study texts and take all the circumstances into account – what it takes to be kind; how to do it.

Be kind; it’s about paying attention to the other, it’s about meeting them. It’s about choosing to smile and not frown, it’s about picking up the dropped pen at work, and opening the door when the buggy is getting in the way and offering a steadying arm on the escalators and it’s about buying a cup of coffee when somebody’s wallet has been stolen and making the phone call when somebody is stranded and needs help finding a hotel room. It’s usually small, and it’s often practical, and it doesn’t take studying or justifying.

And it changes the world.  That’s what Paul says, anyway.

These verses we have heard come at the end of one of Paul’s powerful descriptions of how we are to live as the people of God; and indeed it is more than a list of instructions about how to do the  people of God thing. The section actually starts with these words a few verses earlier; put on the new self created to be like God – to live the life of God in true righteousness and holiness. And then he goes on to outline all that is to be put off as a result – anger and falsehood and stealing and bearing false witness – and sums the whole thing up with “Be kind”.

To be kind is to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

And just in case we were in any doubt, he goes on to make the link quite explicit; be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

To be kind is to live like Jesus, it is to live the life and love of God.

And that’s the way round that it is. Not – we must love like Jesus loves ands then we will be kind…. That gets back to being huge and unmanageable. Be kind and we are living like Jesus.

Now of course, Jesus didn’t go around like a wimp or a doormat; he turned the money changers out of the temple, he challenged the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, he was angry – or compassionate – it’s the same word – at the exclusion heaped on the leper who was so unsure of his place in the love of God that he almost didn’t dare ask for his health.  The kindness, the compassion of Jesus wasn’t acquiescent in the face of injustice and oppression. So this “be kind” isn’t about being compliant to injustice, prejudice, hatred and harm. Indeed, it is absolutely the opposite of that; kindness, compassion, forgiveness – this life of Jesus lived out through and among us – it is about a fullness of being human that is rich, accepting and transformative.

Kindness too often is seen as small, weak, feeble. The idea perhaps of turning the other cheek, not letting somebody get to you, being a doormat and putting up with it.

 But it is so far from that – at least in the gospels and in Paul’s description. Take that idea of turning the other cheek…

Strike you on the left cheek, turn the other cheek – demands treating as equal, acknowledging humanity and presence

Take your cloak, give him your shirt; in a culture where to cause another to be naked is to be shamed, this is about saying this is where your actions lead, this is the truth of what you are doing – but doing without diminishing or harming – and also without compromising or denying one-self.

Carrying a pack a second mile; the soldier can, by law demand a mile’s load bearing – but cannot, by law, demand more. So, going the extra mile is both kind – and challenging, exposing the oppression and denying its power.

All of these actions are kind; they do not damage or injure the other. But neither do they give into or condone oppression and hatred.  They are playful, teasing, questioning, opening up possibilities. Confrontational – possibly; but also kind. It doesn’t diminish the other, it doesn’t condemn or violate the other – and nor does it allow the other to remain caught into the domination system of prejudice and scapegoating. It confronts an oppressor with the reality of their position while at the same time undermining it.

It is fundamentally the position that Jesus adopted when confronted with those who tried to tell him who he was and how he should be; he refused their definitions, and challenged them to see him as he was – love for them. And when they killed him, he did not strike back. But nor did he stay dead. He was raised and he came to them, and continues to come to them – and to us, and says – I love you, and there is nothing that will change that.

And Paul says – be kind and compassionate; be imitators of God.

This is kindness, the action, the activity of love that comes not from anxiety to placate, nor anger to dominate and make the other like us; it is rooted, as Paul makes clear, in knowing who we are in Jesus. He did not allow the other to dominate, but neither did he try to force the other to be like him, to dominate the other, or justify, protect himself by obliterating the other. He was kind, out of love and strength, not fear or distress. And as he was to those around him, so he is today – to us and others. And so– we forgive because, as we are forgiven; forgiven not to carry on as we have been, but to live like God in true righteousness and holiness. The attitude – the actions – that we offer to others come out of who we are, not who others want us to be, or try to make us. It is rooted in the compassion we know we have received as those who are held in the love of God, forgiven, renewed and recreated to be the life of God in the world.

It isn’t easy of course. It isn’t just summed up in gentle deeds gently done. To be called to love as Jesus loves is to be called to a cross, as the gospel reading makes clear. But this is a cross that we can carry, we can bear, because it is not about killing who we are before God, but about daring to confront those around us with the truth we have heard, seen, touched and tasted, so that they too can become their new selves. And such a cross is not our death, but is resurrection.

Be kind. It is possible. It is manageable. It may even be playful. It is not so huge that it overwhelms us and sends us back into our safe secure place where we are in control. It is step by step, it is act by act, it is communion by communion. And it comes from knowing who we are – what we have affirmed through the service; those who are accepted, those who are forgiven, those who are challenged, those who are loved.

 Thanks be to God.

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The Cutting Edge Consortium

A unique coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered groups, political social justice activists, people of all faiths and none, trades unions and professional associations, was launched at the House of Commons on Tuesday, 24 November 2009. CUTTING EDGE will be inviting all Parliamentarians to be briefed on why it believes faith opt-outs from the Equality Bill must be rejected, as the Bill makes its way to the House of Lords.

The Cutting Edge Consortium, building on ground-breaking 2007 & 2009 Conferences on Faith, Homophobia, Transphobia & Human Rights (reported in previous issues of CSCS News), held an open meeting, EQUALITY BILL: OPT IN vs OPT OUT, to discuss religious exemptions to legislation on sexuality and gender identity in the Equality Bill. Creating a cutting edge by opening up new possibilities of dialogue between a huge diversity of interests and activist positions, CEC has carved out a challenging space to voice support for the Equality Bill.

Hosted by Clare Short MP, speakers included Sarah Bourke (Tooks Chambers), Andrew Copson (British Humanist Association) Maleiha Malik (Muslim Women’s Network), and Michael Rubenstein (Equal Opportunities Review).

Founder-member Maria Exall said: It is vital that progressive faith and secular voices are heard loud and clear supporting the Equality Bill and equal rights for LGBT people. The Consortium continues the debates from its 2009 conference, grounded in its 2007 Conference Statement: The Faith, Homophobia, & Human Rights Conference, gathered in London on 17th February 2007, calls on all people of goodwill, of whatever faith or none, to affirm and celebrate human equality in all its dimensions and particularly to work for the elimination of any faith-based homophobia and institutionalised prejudice towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

We reject the activities of certain religious leaders, seeking exemptions from equality legislation, and attempts to base this on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, such a right being for all, not just for some. We deplore the internalised homophobia within religious institutions that fails to confront prejudice and hate. We encourage and support those faith organisations, which express their commitment to diversity and equality in practice and policy. We believe that full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths; love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.

We call for further progressive public policy that will deliver comprehensive and effective anti-discrimination legislation, including positive duties, on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, and belief. We call on the newly formed Commission for Equality and Human Rights to listen to the experience of LGBT faith networks and those who have suffered homophobia from and within religious organisations.

Today, the alliance of over fifty faith and secular organisations supporting this conference affirms and celebrates the values of human equality and social justice, rooted in the best of faith traditions, and shared by all who are committed to a fully human vision of a transformed society.

The Cutting Edge Consortium includes the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement, Interfaith Alliance UK, British Humanist Association, Muslim Education Centre Oxford, Liberal Judaism, Trades Union Congress, and A:Gender, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality, Progressive British Muslims, Ekklesia, Inclusive Church, LGBT Consortium of Voluntary & Community Organisations.

The Cutting Edge web-site, including presentations from the 2007 & 2009 Conferences and other key resources, will be launched shortly

Cutting Edge Consortium Enquiries:
cuttingedgeconsortium@googlemail.com
Simon : 07906 445695 – Maria: 07714 206404

Here are some notes that Martin Pendergast made at the open meeting:

Angela Eagle [Minister of State at the Government Equalities Office and Ministry of Justice] said that, despite the wording of the Bill, the Government INTENTION is that religious exemptions should apply ONLY to priests: NOT, for example, to accountants working for organisations claiming a religious ethos. She added that tribunals DON’T always interpret the law correctly: so she urges claimants to appeal if they get a raw deal from the first ruling.

Sarah Bourke, a barrister on yesterday’s panel of invited speakers, warned that the Christian Legal Centre has issued a briefing on European equality measures, which it describes as “cultural genocide”. The briefing is aimed NOT at the UK, but for consumption in central and eastern Europe. [I don't know when this was written, and can't immediately find it on their website: www.christianlegalcentre.com]

Maleiha Malik, a reader in law on the panel of invited speakers, pointed out that litigants such as Lilian Ladele [the Islington registrar], are not simply individuals aggrieved that personal freedom is being infringed: they are frequently funded by the American Religious Right.

Dr. Evan Harris mentioned that extending the offence of harassment to OUTSIDE the workplace was opposed by Stonewall: although School’s Out, OutRage!, and even the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, wanted to include this. Stonewall’s opposition was subsequently cited by the Government as justification for excluding it. However someone suggested that many cases of “harassment” can already prosecuted as direct or indirect discrimination.

One common example of indirect discrimination is that many Christian organisations, following the recommendation of the Christian Institute, have policy which states that they do NOT discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation: but ALSO have a Code of Conduct, enabling them to fire anyone for sexual relations outside marriage. Although this can apply to straights, it does NOT apply equally, as marriage is not available to lesbians or gay men.

Keith Porteous-Wood [National Secular Society] explained that the exemption just struck down by the European Commission was originally inserted into legislation at the behest of theArchbishops’ Council, demonstrating how religious bodies exert influence beyond their already excessive statutory powers: and that it had then taken years of campaigning before the European Commission issued its ruling last week.

A member of the audience observed that David Cameron has been getting increasingly vociferous about his religious credentials over the past year, as we near the General Election. This does not bode well for LGBTIQ rights under a Tory Government. [Is anyone surprised?]

Concern was expressed that trans children are excluded from the current Bill. A trans member of the audience stated that the mean age for developing awareness of trans identity is age seven: but the modal age is just five years. [For nonstatisticians: most children realise at five: though a few who realise later skew the arithmetic mean to age seven.] Around 25% of trans people apparently attempt suicide: and a further 25% consider suicide.

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Undergoing God – dispatches from the scene of a break-in, James Alison (Book Review)

Undergoing God – dispatches from the scene of a break-in, James Alison, Darton, Longman & Todd, London 2006, £12.95 – ISBN 0–232–52676–1

Who was the only living English theologian referred to by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a lecture given during his recent formal visit to the Vatican? No prizes for guessing right – James Alison! Rowan Williams also had this to say about the first book by Alison, published in the UK following the latter’s return after many years lecturing in Latin America and the USA: “James Alison’s many admirers will find in this book (Faith Beyond Resentment – fragments catholic & gay) much that is new, but also all that they will be used to – wit, clarity, depth and surprises.”

Like its two immediately preceding volumes, Faith Beyond Resentment and On Being Liked, Darton, Longman & Todd have brought together in James Alison’s latest title more of his recent writings and lectures. The sub-title not only hints at James’ penchant for television crime thrillers, but also reveals something more profound about Alison’s theological reflections. The notion of ‘undergoing’ “is the corollary of the Christian claim that we are talking about a happening irrupting into and upon the world.” The Son of Man also comes like that of ‘a thief in the night’, not as a Deus ex machina but as the divine break-in which really is Good News.

Importantly for Alison, the sense of ‘undergoing’ has both personal and ecclesial implications, and these he explores in themes of Monotheism, Worship, Atonement, Transubstantiation, Evil and Reconciliation in the more systematic first part of Undergoing God. His treatment of these, and other themes, is biblically based, reflecting his early evangelical upbringing, while embracing the growth and development of his adult Catholic faith, not least from the perspective of a gay man. In common with many of his Dominican former confreres, he has an extraordinary knack of turning language, concepts, doctrinal understandings upside down, not in any glib or iconoclastic theological terrorism, but in ways that are “almost frighteningly profound.” (Stanley Hauerwas)

As always, Alison’s approach draws heavily on the methodology of Rene Girard. Given the Girardian key concept of scapegoating, how can you resist a chapter entitled,‘Reconciliation in the wink of a hippo’? James has always preferred to be known as
someone reflecting theologically on basic Christian doctrines from, amongst others, the perspective of a gay man, rather than as a ‘gay theologian’.

His much earlier works, ‘Knowing Jesus’, ‘Raising Abel’, and ‘The Joy of Being Wrong’, reveal his concern to do theology in a way that implies an undergoing of divine things. This transformation is not as if an object called ‘transformation’ falls from the sky like a badly targeted missile: “The very word ‘to undergo’ is an oddity, an active verb with a passive meaning. It is more active than ‘suffering’, more passive than ‘confronting’, more objective than ‘experiencing’, and more involving of subjectivity than ‘being handled’. This also shows just how literally adept James is in breaking open the Word/word.

Chapters 8–14, forming the book’s second part, show Alison dealing more specifically with LGBT issues insofar as they form the bases of current debates within the Roman Communion. These are welcome updated versions of previous lectures and essays, dealing with the use of scripture and tradition, same-sex unions, and the recruitment and ordination of gay men in the Roman Catholic Church. It is rumoured that Chapter 9, which first appeared in Opening Up (recently reviewed in this Newsletter), was photocopied and doing the rounds of various Vatican departments as an example of the best contemporary expression of the ‘status questionis’ regarding homosexuality and Catholic teaching. We have yet to see its full impact in those quarters

James Alison’s work is never a ‘doddle’. Some chapters are easier to read than others, but
be not deterred! While his many fans may not be holding their breaths that he will be appointed as a Consultor to the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, all Christians ignore, at their peril, his attempts to flesh out a critical form for a more adult Christianity. He is undoubtedly one of the brightest younger stars in the British theological firmament.

Martin Pendergast

Note: James Alison’s latest work can be found on www.jamesalison.co.uk where links to
various Girardian sites may also be found.

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CONFERENCE DECLARATION

 A Statement from the Faith, Homophobia and Human Rights Conference

The Faith, Homophobia, & Human Rights Conference, gathered in London on 17th February 2007, calls on all people of goodwill, of whatever faith or none, to affirm and celebrate human equality in all its dimensions and particularly to work for the elimination of any faith-based homophobia and institutionalised prejudice towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

We reject the activities of certain religious leaders, seeking exemptions from equality legislation, and attempts to base this on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, such a right being for all, not just for some. We deplore the internalised homophobia within religious institutions that fails to confront prejudice and hate. We encourage and support those faith organisations, which express their commitment to diversity and equality in practice and policy. We believe that full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths; love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.

We call for further progressive public policy that will deliver comprehensive and effective anti-discrimination legislation, including positive duties, on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, and belief. We call on the newly formed Commission for Equality and Human Rights to listen to the experience of LGBT faith networks and those who have suffered homophobia from and within religious organisations.

Today, the alliance of over fifty faith and secular organisations supporting this conference affirms and celebrates the values of human equality and social justice, rooted in the best of faith traditions, and shared by all who are committed to a fully human vision of a transformed society.

Details of the Conference Sponsors, Supporting Bodies, Speakers, Panellists, and Workshops are available at www.lgcm.org.uk/fhconference.

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