I was touched by a letter from a young man, struggling with the issue of masturbation and Catholic teaching. The letter gives no indication of his sexual orientation, and there is no reason to think that he is gay (or that he is not). His concerns however, are applicable to all Catholics, especially when young and vulnerable.
In the heated debates over sexuality, sin and the Christian response, is there a possibility that the churches find common ground? A new report by Savitri Hensman for the religious think tank Ekklesia thinks there is :
Think-tank proposes different approach to church sexuality row
Churches with different views in heated debates about sexuality actually share common ground and can move forward despite their differences, says a new paper from the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.
The research paper, ‘Church views on sexuality: recovering the middle ground’, by Savitri Hensman, rejects the popular idea that there are two warring blocks that may be labelled ‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionists’. This is simplistic and can be misleading as well as unhelpful, it says.
In the new paper, Ekklesia identifies seven widely held viewpoints on sexuality within churches of different denominations and traditions. It shows that those with supposedly diametrically opposing positions often have more in common than they may at first think – even though they may presently disagree about same-sex relationships, for example.
Equally, it argues, coexistence among those sharing a ‘middle ground’ is not about weak compromise, but instead reflects an approach both deeply rooted in Bible and tradition and open to change as a living community led by the Spirit.
It is clear that Christians hold a spectrum of views on sexuality and marriage. However, the popular idea that there are two warring blocks that may be labelled ‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionists’ is simplistic and can be misleading as well as unhelpful. Current tensions could be reduced and reframed significantly if more church leaders acknowledged the extent of common ground in the middle of this continuum, allowed limited flexibility of practice, and enabled their communities to develop practices of discernment oriented towards the “grace and truth” (John 1.13- 15) that lies at the heart of the Christian message. In this paper, Ekklesia associate Savitri Hensman identifies seven widely held positions on sexuality. She suggests that those with supposedly diametrically opposing views often have more in common than they may at first think. Equally, she argues, in Christian terms, that coexistence among those sharing a ‘middle ground’ is not about weak compromise, but instead reflects an approach both deeply rooted in Bible and tradition and open to change as a living community led by the Spirit.
The kindom of heaven is like a buried treasure found in a field. The ones who discovered it hid it again, and rejoicing at the discovery, went and sold all their possessions and bought that field.
Or again the kindom of heaven is like a merchant’s search for fine pearls. When one pearl of great value was found, the merchant went back and sold everything else and bought it.
Mathew 13: 44-46
Let’s play “word substitute.” Instead of “kindom of heaven,” let’s read “sexual orientation” and “sexual identity.” The parables then would read sexual orientation is like an unknown treasure that once discovered brings great rejoicing. And sexual identity once discerned is as rich and glorious as a pearl of the greatest value.
If you are playing this game with straight friends they will not get how freeing and affirming these parables are. For them, sexual orientation and sexual identity have never been hidden or sought after. It’s hardly a treasure but more of a given constant. For queers, however, the discernment of deep identity markers which set us apart from the (hetero) norm can be either an experience of anxiety or liberation – often a mixture of both. Even more reasons for us to identify with the thrill of these parables. Leutwyler’s self portrait captures the sense of “neediness” which lends urgency to the searching and boundless joy in the finding
Jesus presented another parable to those gathered: “The kindom of heaven is like a farmer who sowed good seed in a field. While everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and then made off. When the crop began to mature and yield grain, the weeds became evident as well.
“The farmer’s workers came and asked, ‘Did you not sow good seed in your field? Where are the weeds coming from?’
“The farmer replied, ‘I see an enemy’s hand in this.’
“They in turn asked, ‘Do you want us to go out and pull them up/”
“‘No,’ replied the farmer, ‘if you pull up the weeds, you might take the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until the harvest, then at harvest time I will order the harvesters first to collect the weeds and bundle them up to burn, then to gather the wheat into my barn.’”
-Mathew 13: 24-30
Growing up in and among Kentucky farmers – a long and glorious family lineage – I know how important a good harvest is to the stability of the family. What the enemy has done not only “bests” a rival, but demoralizes and subverts the family as well. Twice the “enemy” is mentioned and the parable develops around the action of this adversary. The concern is the outcome of the enemy’s action and how to neutralize the opponent’s influence.
This parable about the Empire of God appears in the midst of a section of Matthew’s gospel dealing with the nascent rejection of Jesus and his message. It is an early warning that not all will turn out satisfactory in the Jesus story.
I think there is a lesson here for the LGBTQIA community. We certainly know about enemies – those detractors who for one reason or another still point to us as “unnatural.” We are familiar with the weeds they seek to plant among us – hateful and hurtful attitudes which serve only to destabilize our innate orientation. We have set about pulling these weeds with great energy and hope. Yet the weeds spring back.
Last year, as a sitting Mormon bishop, I came out publicly as an ally to my LGBT sisters and brothers in and outside the church.
In the aftermath of my talk in Salt Lake City apologizing to the LGBT community and LGBT Mormons for the pain that they have gone through and recognizing that all too often that pain has been inflicted in the “house of their friends,” their families, their religious institutions, and their communities, people have asked how I made my journey from an adversary to fence sitter and finally to becoming an ally and advocate.
One of the turning points was when I first began developing personal relationships and friendships with LGBT individuals. For me this came about first in a surprising way. I began watching a television show called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. As is sometimes typical for Mormons on a variety of issues, I was late. I didn’t see it until a year or two ago, when it went into syndication.
What seemed to be a unique twist on the typical makeover show became for me my first significant introduction to the LGBT community. I had never had contact that I knew of or built a friendship with an LGBT person outside of work. The show spoke to me from the start. It had a catchy synth intro that reminded me of the dance grooves we used to club to in the late ’80s when I was at Brigham Young University, where I met my wife for the first time.
For me it was much more than watching five gay men help get straight guys’ act together in grooming, home decor, fashion, culture, and cuisine. It began to create a bond for me to these men. They had a certain synergy that kept me wanting to watch more. I liked them as people. I saw them as individuals expressing their God-given talents and trying to make people’s lives and the world a little bit better. As Carson Kressley, the show’s fashion guru, would often say, it’s not a makeover show, it’s a “make better” show.
In a new book, Father Bernard Lynch, a gay Catholic priest who has incurred the wrath of the Vatican for his views supporting LGBT Catholics, not only says he is non-celibate; he reveals that he has been married to a man for the past 14 years, and has officiated over the weddings of many gay and lesbian Catholic couples.
The Vatican, he says, is trying to “get rid” of him, while he has been operating a counseling program for closeted gay priests in London since 1992.
Lynch, who has been a Catholic priest for 40 years, left for London from New York in the early 90s, after he was completely cleared of charges related to child abuse allegations made by a man who recanted his story and whom court testimony showed to be a pathological liar. The scandal had Father Lynch at the center of a media firestorm. He believes to this day that right-wing Catholic groups and now-deceased Cardinal O’Connor of New York, angry at his advocacy on behalf of LGBT people and people with AIDS, were behind his trumped up indictment. He had previously gained awards for his AIDS advocacy from politicians and AIDS activists, while local church officials and the Vatican became concerned about his advocacy.
Human rights champion Pauli Murray, an unofficial queer saint, will be voted on this week by the Episcopal Church at its general convention in Indianapolis.
Murray (1910-1985) has been nominated for inclusion in the Episcopal Church’s book of saints, “Holy Women, Holy Men.” If approved, she will be honored every July 1 on the church calendar.
She is a renowned civil rights pioneer, feminist, author, lawyer and the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest. Her queer orientation is less well known.
Murray was attracted to women and her longest relationships were with women, so she is justifiably considered a lesbian. But she also described herself as a man trapped in a woman’s body and took hormone treatments in her 20s and 30s, so she might even be called a transgender today.