Category Archives: Theology

Why the Catholic Church needs Margaret Farley

The Vatican has once again sharply criticized a nun, this time for writing on sexual ethics.

The Vatican has accused Sister Margaret Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order and professor emerita of Yale Divinity School, of publishing a book that posed “grave harm” to the faithful.

The book title? “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.”

View Photo Gallery: In light of the Vatican’s action, a list of nuns who have become known in the broader world. Two of the Americans listed have been canonized.

“Just Love” is a work that sets out to find “ethical guidelines and moral wisdom for our sexual lives” taking on the task of discerning issues of “character and virtue” in relationship not just to behaviors but also to the “large questions” of what human embodiment and sexual desire mean in a moral sense. (p. 15) Our sexual relations, Margaret Farley ultimately concludes, after a cross-cultural and historical exploration, must be founded on both love and justice in an integral sense. “I propose, finally, a framework that is not justice and love, but justice in loving and in the actions that flow from that love.” She seeks to help us all define a sexual ethics that is not abstract, but “morally good and just” in reality, in actual relationships. (p. 207)

If ever there were a method of moral reasoning on sexual ethics that is desperately needed in the Catholic Church today, it is the one proposed by Margaret Farley.

-full reflection by  at Washington Post

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22 May: Peter Gomes, Theologian

b. May 22, 1942
There can be no light without the darkness out of which it shines.

Peter Gomes offers a look at religion from a distinctive perspective. Gomes, a Reverend and Professor at Harvard University, argues that the Bible is neither anti-Semitic, anti-feminist nor anti-gay.
In 1991, Peninsula, a conservative Harvard magazine, published a 56-page issue largely critical of homosexuality. Gomes denounced the magazine and came out publicly at Harvard’s Memorial Church. A small group called Concerned Christians at Harvard immediately called for his resignation, but Gomes received support from the Harvard administration.
Renowned for both his teaching and his preaching, Reverend Gomes is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard and the Pusey Minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church. A graduate of Bates College in 1965 and Harvard Divinity School in 1968, he also studied at the University of Cambridge, where he is an Honorary Fellow and where the Gomes Lectureship was established in his honor. Gomes holds thirty-three honorary degrees. Religion and American Life named him Clergy of the Year in 1998, and he won the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award from Harvard in 2001. Gomes offered prayers at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Gomes is a widely published author. Of the ten volumes of sermons and numerous articles and papers he has written, two of his works – “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart” (1996) and Sermons: “Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living” (1998) – were New York Times and national bestsellers.
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September 2: John McNeill, Theologian

Theologian
b. September 2, 1925

Jesus.opens the possibility of bringing gay relationships within the compass of healthy and holy human love.

One year after John McNeill published “The Church and the Homosexual” (1976), a book offering a new theological look at homosexuality, he received a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican. Religious authorities ordered McNeill, an ordained Jesuit priest, to halt public discussion on the topic.

McNeill’s book reveals original text from the New Testament detailing Jesus’s ministry to homosexuals. McNeill argues that the original Greek text of Matthew 8: 5-13 narrates Jesus’s healing of a man’s sick gay lover. The Latin translation of this passage describes Jesus’s healing of a master’s servant.


In compliance with the order from the Vatican, McNeill kept a public silence while he ministered privately to gays and lesbians. The Catholic Church, in 1988, submitted a further order to McNeill to relinquish his ministry to homosexuals. When McNeill refused, the Church expelled him from the Jesuit order.

McNeill enlisted in WWII at age 17. German forces captured him while he was serving under General Patton in 1944. He spent six months as a POW before the war’s end.


After graduating from Canisius College in 1948, McNeill entered the Society of Jesus. In 1959, he was ordained a Jesuit priest. Five years later, he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy with honors and distinction from Louvain University in Belgium.
McNeill began teaching in the combined Woodstock Jesuit Seminary and Union Theological Seminary in 1972. He co-founded the New York City chapter of Dignity, an organization of Catholic gays and lesbians. In addition to his teaching duties, he served as Director of the Pastoral Studies program for inner-city clergy at the Institutes of Religion and Health.


An accomplished author, McNeill’s works include “Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays and Lesbians, Their Lovers, Friends and Families” (1988) and “Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians and Everybody Else” (1995). He has also published influential articles in The New Dictionary of Spirituality and The Journal of Pastoral Care.


McNeill led the New York City Gay Rights Parade as Grand Marshall in 1987. He has received numerous awards, including the National Human Rights Award in 1984, the 1997 Dignity/USA Prophetic Service Award, and the People of Soulforce Award in 2000.

Bibliography
“Profile: LGBTRAN.” Religious Archives Network. August 24, 2007
“John McNeill- The Author.” The Owls Nest. July 3, 2007
Selected Works

“John McNeill Response Sermon.” CLGS. October 2, 2005
Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: My Spiritual Journey (1998)
Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else
Sex as God Intended (2009)
Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays and Lesbians, Their Lovers, Friends and Families
The Church and the Homosexual
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A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 8: “Are homosexuals showing church and society a way forward?”

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 eighth (and final) extract:

Are homosexuals showing church and society a way forward?

There is a long history in the Christian community of the stone which the builders rejected becoming the corner stone, the ‘sinners’ being preferred – as in the Gospel – to the holy huddle of the mutually approving who follow the official line.

Forty years ago, in Ireland as in other countries, homosexuality was a subject that ‘decent people’ didn’t talk about. But homosexuals found the honesty and courage to come out, to declare themselves, and to share their thoughts and feelings, often in the face of derision, hatred, violence or the threat of hell. They began to organize, to challenge the system, and to go political. They have brought about a 180 degree turn in public attitudes, exemplified by the Civil Partnerships Bill now going through the Oireachtas (legislature), something unimaginable forty years ago. Would that the church had so re-invented itself in the same forty years! Maybe the missing ingredients were the same: honesty, courage, openness, dialogue, challenging the status quo.

One finds a similar process at work among the ‘Anonymouses’ – alcoholics, gamblers, narcotics- and sex-addicts. They are at the bottom of the heap. By coming out, facing the truth, revealing their feelings, supporting and challenging each other, they have built communities which reflect what the church is meant to be – but often isn’t. Leadership is from the bottom up, the despised and rejected at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid showing the way to the wise and learned at the top.

And recently we have seen how it was the suffering of the most helpless in society – children – which eventually led to the exposure of much of what was rotten in the church.

Will homosexuals help us to re-discover new/old ways of doing theology and developing pastoral practice, where human experience is the starting point? That has happened already with other teachings that didn’t tally with human experience or meet human needs. Will they help us to read scripture with one eye on the page and the other on life? They are equally parts of one process. Perhaps they will show us that human experience is as valuable as scripture, as Saint Ignatius Loyola, for one, affirmed. ‘The word became flesh…’ (John 1.14) – God still speaks.

Perhaps, too, homosexuals are showing men a way forward out of self-imposed isolation, out of individualism built on machismo, and a way of dealing with personal issues such as men’s identity, men’s spirituality, addictions, domestic violence against men, male suicide, how abortion affects men, bereavement, paternity and parenting, access to and custody of children in a separation, and care of one’s health. The issues are different, but the qualities needed to face them are those that homosexuals developed in recent times.

Some of what the Scriptures say.
A few quotations: –

‘God saw all that he had made and indeed it was very good.’ (Genesis 1.31)

‘God does not see as people see; people look at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7)

‘Anyone who is not against us is for us’. (Mark 9.38-40; Luke 9.49-50)

‘Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’ (Luke 12.57)

‘Whoever comes to me, I shall not turn away’. (John 6.37)

‘God has no favourites.’ (Romans 2.11)

‘We belong to each other.’ (Romans 12.5)

‘Each must be left free to hold his own opinion.’ (Romans 14.5)

‘You should never pass judgment on another or treat them with contempt.’ (Romans 14.10)

‘Do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil.’ (Romans 14.16)

‘Your bodies are members making up the body of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 6.15)

‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’ (1 Corinthians 15.10. See also 12.18-21, 26)

‘Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God.’ (2 Corinthians 6.19)

‘You are, all of you, children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.26-28)

‘We are what God made us’. (Ephesians 2.10)

‘Everything God has created is good.’ (1 Timothy 4.4)

The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of ‘the whole church in which everyone is a “first-born” and a citizen of heaven.’ (12.23)

Or read 1 John 4.7-21.

Conclusion
For those who don’t like the above, the great consolation is that it’s all God’s fault. Why? For creating in diversity instead of uniformity, as we see all around us in – guess where? – nature, for making some people different from others. Or did God make a mistake?

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 Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 6: “Our sexual relationships”

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 sixth extract:

Our theology of sexual relationships

We have the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but have developed an elaborate theology around self-defence, just war, capital punishment, and indirect killing. But, where the sixth commandment is concerned, a blanket disapproval covers everything outside the marital bed, and much within it. Some theological language around sexuality is so spiritualized and out-of-the-body that it becomes a way of avoiding the truth that God created people sexual. Is there not much in our tradition that is anti- the human body, despite the Incarnation and Resurrection? We are not far from thinking, if not actually saying, that people should have as little sex as possible, and ideally – as in celibacy – none at all.

We wish that eros be safely tucked away and put to sleep in the bed of monogamous heterosexual marriage. But re-awakening it could help us to see our relationship with God as a love affair, with emotion. All our theology, not only of sexuality, is so deeply pervaded by exclusivism, by either-or instead of both-and, that we are probably not capable even of imagining such an awakening. In the Septuagint Song of Songs, the word used for love is agapein; this includes the sexual. Yet the church is afraid of sex; it’s our Pandora’s box, better kept locked. Why is the church so afraid of erring on the side of love? Jesus had no such fear. The difference between being open, or not, to questioning your prejudices is what Christian tradition calls conversion.

A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 5: “What’s wrong with saying ‘Do your best’ ?”

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 fifth extract:

What’s wrong with saying “Do your best”?

What’s wrong with saying to the homosexual, ‘Being a homosexual is not sinful; performing homosexual acts is. So do your best. If you fail, go to confession, ask for forgiveness, and try again. God will help you’?

What’s wrong with it is that it ignores the full truth, and nothing worthwhile in human relationships can be founded on half-truths. There’s an analogy here with Humanae Vitae. That document states, in effect, that a man should love a woman in her totality, and not implicitly say to her, ‘I love you – but not your fertility; I don’t want that.’ The church says to homosexuals, ‘We love you – but not your homosexuality; we don’t want that.’ In effect we say, ‘What a pity you’re not normal!’ We ‘respect and love’ them – except for what is a most precious and important part of what they are. All the talk in the world about loving the sinner while hating the sin rings hollow: how can you respect or love a person while repudiating something they see as central to their self-understanding? Sexual orientation is central to that.

Jesus – who is not recorded as having said anything about homosexuality – went about including those the religious authorities of the day excluded on the grounds that they did not fit the established pattern of behaviour. Should we not consider the possibility that we might be wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time!

Think, too, of the Gospel parable of the ten talents: one man, motivated by fear, wrapped up his talent, buried it, and then handed it back intact. Jesus had strong words for him. (Matthew 25.14-30; Luke 19.12-27) For homosexuals, is the gift of their sexuality meant to be wrapped up, buried, and returned unused? Why did God make people sexual, if not for them to give expression to it?