Category Archives: Pastoral

Catholic Hierarchy Is a Shining Light in Dark Moment for LGBT Rights in India

Bondings 2.0

Cardinal Oswald Gracias

India’s Supreme Court reinstated a law that bans homosexuality as a “crime against nature” earlier this week, intensifying divisions between LGBT advocates and the religious communities they blame for this development. Catholic leaders have varied in responding to the Court’s decision, but there are hopeful signs as at least one bishop spoke out against the law.

Outlawing homosexuality in India dates to British colonial rule more than a century ago. Recent legal debates began after a New Delhi court overturned the law in 2009. Anti-LGBT organizations, including faith-based ones, have sought to re-criminalize homosexuality since then. The Supreme Court’s ruling now says it is up to the nation’s legislators to repeal the law if that is what is desired.

The Times of India reports that religious groups have welcomed the ruling, with leaders using extremely homophobic language and advocating “ex-gay therapy” in their statements. Relative to these, Catholic…

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Women Bishops: Canada, Ireland

Just as the Church of Ireland was consecrating its first female bishop, the Anglican Church in Canada was electing a woman bishop of its own.

(The Telegraph report of the Irish consecration of Bishop Pat Storey referred to her as the “first Anglican woman bishop”. This is not strictly correct. She is the first woman bishop in the UK or Ireland, but there have been several more in other provinces of the Anglican communion, including some recently appointed in South Africa and India, for example).

More women bishops

The Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada elected the Reverend Canon Melissa Skelton to be its ninth bishop on Saturday.

Press reports include:

Huffington Post Canada: Rev. Melissa Skelton Elected Bishop Of New Westminster

Douglas Todd Vancouver: Sun Rev. Melissa Skelton elected bishop of Vancouver-area Anglican diocese

Paul Sullivan Matro [Canada]: Anglican bishop brings branding skills

By coincidence the election took place on the same day as the Consecration Of The Revd Pat Storey As Bishop Of Meath & Kildare. Patrick Comerford, a Canon at Christ Church Cathedral, where the service took place, describes the occasion in detail: A Memorable Afternoon at the Consecration of Bishop Pat Storey in Christ Church Cathedral.

via Thinking Anglicans

Pope Francis’ World AIDS Day prayer:

This year, World AIDS Day conincided with the First Sunday of Advent. Pope Francis paid attention to both, in his Angelus message. The scriptural message for the first reading yesterday concerned an end to war (“turning swords into ploughshares”), and Francis looked forward to a time when nations will co-exist in peace. But for World Aids Day, he also included an expression of “solidarity” for all those affected by AIDS, and a hope that they will all have access to the healthcare that they need.

English: The Red ribbon is a symbol for solida...

Continue reading Pope Francis’ World AIDS Day prayer:

Quest Conference 2012: Some Thoughts

Last weekend, I attended my first conference, where I was privileged to deliver one of the two addresses. During the course of the weekend, several people asked me for my thoughts on my first experience of conference. Although I am a member, and have been a supporter for some years, this was the first year that I was able to attend. In addition, my awkward geographic location, with a foot in both London and Brighton regions, but distant from both, means that I have not been able to get involved in local activities as much as I would have liked. The result is that during discussion on Quest itself and the decisions it faces, I felt something of an outsider. It is in that spirit that I offer here those thoughts – as a dispassionate, (relatively) outside observer, coloured by the insights I gained from researching, writing and delivering my presentation – “Blessed Are the Queer in Faith – for They Shall Inherit the Earth”.

Belsey Bridge Conference Centre
Continue reading Quest Conference 2012: Some Thoughts

Are Evangelicals Embracing LGBT Inclusion?

For years, there has been evidence that major sections of the US Mainline Protestant churches, and Protestant denominations in Europe, have been substantially reconsidering their attitudes to same – sex relationships. The evangelical churches on the other hand, like the Vatican oligarchs,  have seemed much more monolithic in their continuing opposition. Appearances can be deceptive. I have noted before a few indications that some Evangelical leaders, like some key Catholic bishops and theologians, and in the secular world, some conservative politicians in the GOP, are not simply reconsidering, but becoming active straight allies for queer inclusion in church, and social equality.

Jay Bakker: Not Your Typical Evangelical

At the Huffington Post, there is a useful analysis of the “Evangelicals’ Great Gay Awakening” by Cathleen Falsani, herself an Evangelical who writes that when as a student she learned that some of her classmates had come out as gay, her first response was to pray for them.

For most of my life, I’ve been taught that it’s impossible to be both openly gay and authentically Christian.

When a number of my friends “came out” shortly after our graduation from Wheaton College in the early ’90s, first I panicked and then I prayed.

What would Jesus do? I asked myself (and God).

That last question, so fundamental to young Evangelicals’ thought processes, was crucial. She realized that although Jesus in the Gospels is not reported as having said anything at all about homosexuality, he did say a great deal about love. So, she determined to love, and to love unconditionally, even as she remained unsure if homosexuality is indeed sinful.
Now, her views have been transformed – just like those of other younger Evangelicals – heavily influenced by a growing band of Evangelical theologians who are concluding, just like their more liberal Mainline counterparts, that the traditional view of homosexual relationships as strongly condemned in scripture is mistaken.  Much of her account is based on the new book Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society, by Jay Bakker, the son of Jim Bakker and the late Tammy Faye Messner. The arguments she repeats will be familiar to my regular readers:
  • Leviticus condemns (male) homosexuality – but likewise eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law. Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers. Deuteronomy calls for brides who are found not to be virgins to be stoned to death, and for adulterers to be summarily executed.
  • The New Testament words that are commonly translated in the Bible as “homosexuals/homosexuality” actually refer to male prostitution, and not to loving relationships.
  • The few texts that even appear to be critical of homosexuality are heavily outweighed by the abundant verses emphasising God’s love for all his creation. Bakker’s conclusion is clear: homosexuality is not a sin.
“We must weigh all the evidence,” Bakker writes. “The clobber scriptures don’t hold a candle to the raging inferno of grace and love that burns through Paul’s writing and Christ’s teaching. And it’s a love that should be our guiding light.”
Bakker is not alone among Evangelical leaders.  Falsani says that
Tony Jones, a “theologian-in-residence” at Minnesota’s Solomon’s Porch, one of the pre-eminent “Emergent” churches in the nation, echoes many of Bakker’s arguments. Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelist Tony Campolo, has been saying this kind of thing for years, despite her husband’s disagreement.
I have named several others in previous posts on these pages.
In the ongoing struggle to achieve full welcome and inclusion in church for queer Christians, the struggle on the ground may appear long and fruitless, with some small visible signs of progress overshadowed by the continuing hostility of so many. We must never forget though, that in the longer term perspective, progress has been remarkable over just the last twenty years – a mere blink of an eye in the time scale of salvation history.
Progress in the Mainline and European Protestant churches has recently become visible and noteworthy, but it is not that long ago that they too seemed to be intractable in their opposition. While the Catholic and Evangelical establishment views right now seem permanently fixed and unlikely to change, they are not really all that different from that of the more liberal groups twenty or thirty years ago, when voices for reform existed, but seemed to be a small minority, unlikely to make any impact.
The record shows that minority groups calling for reform have steadily increased in influence, and are achieving notable landmarks for inclusion one after another.
Is it really so unlikely that over the next twenty or thirty years, Catholics and Baptists will similarly see dramatic increases in calls for reform, and achieve some victories? We must take heart from this, and use it to boost our determination and fortitude as we continue to push for full LGBT inclusion – even in the face of apparent hopelessness, and some inevitable setbacks.

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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)

A Theory of Gay Inclusion, Pt 3: “It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay.”

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 third extract:

 ‘It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay.’

Is a homosexual, by reason of that fact, called by God to lifelong celibacy? The church says yes.

Imagine someone saying to a group of Irish people, ‘There’s nothing in itself wrong with being Irish. I’m not saying there is. But that doesn’t mean you may act on it. So, no more Guinness, going to Croke Park, singing rebel songs into the early hours of the morning, waving tricolours, no more craic. Close the pubs as occasions of sin, and, while you’re at it, would you please do something about your accent: it’s suggestive – of Irishness. I’m not asking you to deny your Irishness, far from it, just not to act on it.’ Would you consider the speaker to be nuanced, respectful and compassionate, or pedantic, patronising and arrogant?

Being homosexual and trying to be faithful to church teaching – is it a cruel joke? Would God tie a starving person in a chair, put a plate of food in front of them, and say, ‘Your self-denial… will constitute for you a source of self-giving which will save you’? (See CDF Letter, n.12.)

The church requires abstinence of the homosexual. To abstain from the physical expression of sexuality means, for the homosexual, abstinence from the truth, from reality, from identity, from recognition, perhaps also from family, and surely from love. Sexuality is not an optional extra to our humanity; it’s an integral part of it. An alcoholic is invited to abstain from alcohol – yes. But alcohol is not an integral part of anyone’s humanity; it’s an optional extra.

Official teaching invites a homosexual to a strange limbo-like existence where being and doing are required to be separated. It says there’s nothing in itself wrong with being a homosexual – as long as you don’t act like one. There’s nothing in itself wrong with being a bird, as long as you don’t fly. How can that be an honest or a healthy way of living?

The distinction between being homosexual and doing homosexual acts is phoney. It’s like saying, ‘Your sexuality is part of you; but you must not be part of your sexuality.’ Have we forgotten that the Incarnation brings matter and spirit, body and soul into one in the human-divine body of Jesus? The Incarnation is God’s answer to dualism.

Being and doing are not as separable in life as they might seem in a lecture hall. But, even in a lecture hall, Saint Thomas Aquinas said, ‘Agere sequitur esse in actu.’ (Summa contra Gentiles, 3.53, 69.) If my Latin is not too rusty that means, ‘Doing follows being in action.’

Homosexuals who try to be faithful to church teaching are in danger of distorting themselves, like left-handed people forcing themselves to use only their right hands; they are in danger of developing a Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality, suppressing what is true about themselves. The statement of the CDF that, ‘Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral’ applies here. (Letter, n.15)

The pastoral rhetoric about respecting homosexuals is meaningless at best when the associated moral rhetoric undercuts a homosexual’s personhood. It means that homosexuals are neither in nor out, neither persons nor non-persons, but tolerated somewhere on the border.