Tag Archives: Church history

James Stoll, Unitarian Pioneer of LGBT Inclusion in Church

Rev. James Lewis Stoll, who died on December 8th 1994, was a Unitarian Universalist minister who became the first ordained minister of any religion in the United States or Canada to come out as gay. He did so at the annual Continental Conference of Student Religious Liberals on September 5, 1969 in La Foret, Colorado. Later, he led the effort that convinced the Unitarian Universalist Association to pass the first-ever gay rights resolution in 1970.
After training at Starr King School for the Ministry, in Berkeley, followed by ordination, he served as pastor at a church in Kennewick, Wash., from 1962 until 1969. For reasons that have not been disclosed, he was asked to resign, and then moved to San Francisco, where he shared an apartment with three others.
In September of 1969, he attended a convention of college-age Unitarians in Colorado Springs. One evening after dinner, he stood up and came out publicly as a gay man. He declared his orientation, stated that it was not a choice, that he was no longer ashamed of it, and that from then on, he would refuse to live a lie.

“On the second or third night of the conference,” according to Mr. Bond-Upson, “after dinner, Jim got up to speak. He told us that he’d been doing a lot of hard thinking that summer. Jim told us he could no longer live a lie. He’d been hiding his nature — his true self — from everyone except his closest friends. ‘If the revolution we’re in means anything,’ he said, ‘it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.’

“Then he told us he was gay, and had always been gay, and it wasn’t a choice, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore and that he wasn’t going to hide it anymore, and from now on he was going to be himself in public. After he concluded, there was a dead silence, then a couple of the young women went up and hugged him, followed by general congratulations. The few who did not approve kept their peace.” ’

After the convention, Stoll wrote articles on gay rights, and preached sermons on the subject at several churches. The following year, the full annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution condemning discrimination against homosexual persons, beginning a gradual but irresistible move towards full LGBT inclusion.
No action was ever taken by the church against Stoll, and so he remained a minister in good standing, but he was never again called to serve a congregation. It is not clear whether this had anything to do with lingering prejudice against his orientation. It could also be on the grounds of some suspicions of drug abuse, or of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Later, he founded the first counseling center for gays and lesbians in San Francisco. In the 1970s he established the first hospice on Maui. He was president of the San Francisco chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1990s. He died at the age of 58 from complications of heart and lung disease, exacerbated by obesity and a life-long smoking habit
Stoll’s name is not well known today, but for this brave and honest public witness, he deserves to be better remembered.In declaring himself, he was not the first ordained clergyman to come out, but he was the first to do so voluntarily, and the first in an established denomination. His action undoubtedly made it easier for the others who followed him, and to the formal acceptance by the Unitarians of openly gay men and lesbians in the church, and to the now well-established process to full LGBT inclusion in so many denominations.

 

Source:

Haunted Man of the Cloth, Pioneer of Gay Rights (NY Times)

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

Hildegonde of Neuss 20/04

(Also spelt Hildegund) She was born at Neuss, near Cologne. After the death of her mother, at age 12, she went with her father, a knight, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For her safety, during the trip, she was dressed as a boy and called “Joseph” for her protection.
While returning from the Holy Land Hildegund’s father died, but she was able to make her own way home and maintained her disguise first as a boy and then as a man. Later, she made a pilgrimage to Rome, during which she had several adventures.
On one of them, she was condemned to be hanged as a robber and escaped only when a friend of the real robber cut her down from the gallows.
After that, she returned to Germany and was accepted into the Cistercian monastery at Shönau, near Heidelberg, concealing her gender, and to her death she was believed to be a man. Her true sex went undiscovered until her death in 1188.
A few years later, abbot Engelhartof Langheim wrote her biography. She is considered saint, even though her cult is not approved by the Roman Catholic Church.

Lest We Forget: The Ashes of our Martyrs

For Ash Wednesday, I reminded readers here that the season of Lent is also a “joyful” season, an aspect that should not be ignored.  We should never forget though, that it is also a solemn time, above all a time for repentance and renewal, individually and collectively. So, it was entirely appropriate and welcome ten years ago, that at the start of the season Pope John Paul spoke of the horrors that had been perpetrated by the church in the past, apologised for the evils it had done to Jews and Muslims, and asked for forgiveness. This was important and welcome:  I do not wish to belittle it in any way.  However, there is an important category of offence which was omitted from the list, for which he did not apologise, and for which there has never been any apology: the persecution of “sodomites”.

For the first thousand years of its history, the Church was disapproving of homoerotic relationships, as it was of all sexual expression, but showed varying degrees of tolerance, culminating in what John Boswell described as a flowering of a gay sub-culture in the high medieval period.  During the 11th century,  Burchard, the Bishop of Worms in Germany,

“classified homosexuality as a variety of fornication less serious than heterosexual adultery. He assigned penance for homosexual acts only to married men. In civil legislation regulating family life in the diocese of Worms there is no mention of homosexual behaviour”

In 1059, the Lateran synod accepted all of the reforms for the church proposed by St Peter Damian – except for his proposal for harsher penalties against monks engaged in homosexual affairs.

All that changed within a few decades. In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts.  Although this  penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.

Templars

Historical research to date has been patchy, and in many places the records have not survived. Even so, the evidence from the modest research we do have is horrifying.  In the largest scale, and best known, single incident, over 400 hundred Knights Templar were burned in the early 14th century. This is usually discussed in terms of trials for “heresy”, but in fact the charges were of both heresy and sodomy.  (These terms were often associated and confused at the time, but much of the evidence in the Templar trials made it clear that specifically sexual offences were meant).

To modern researchers, it is clear that the trials were deeply flawed, with the procedures seriously stacked against the accused.  In marking the 700th anniversary of the trials in 2007, the Vatican explicitly cleared those killed of the charges of heresy – but said never a word about the charges of sodomy.

Elsewhere, the trials and punishments were of individuals, or of small groups – but with equally flawed judicial procedures. (Typically, the prosecutor was also judge; torture was widely used to extract confessions;  and church and state benefited by sharing the property of those convicted).  These were sometimes under the auspices of the Inquisition, sometimes of the state – but always inspired by church preaching against the “sodomites”.

The severity of the pursuit and punishments varied from place to place.  Venice was one of the harshest, with several hundred executions from 1422, until the persecution finally ended. In Spain, it was calculated that in total there were more burnings for homosexuality than for heresy. Executions also applied in the New World – in both North America (where some of the colonists were accused and convicted) and South (where it was the indigenous locals who suffered for the Spanish prejudices) .  Altogether, it is likely that executions in Southern Europe, either by or with the collaboration of the Church, amounted to several thousand men.

 Protestant Europe

After the Reformation, the practice of burning homosexuals spread to Northern Europe and some of the new Protestant territories, where the practice was sometimes use as a pretext to attack Catholic clergy: in Belgium, several Franciscans were burnt for sodomy, as was a Jesuit in Antwerp (in 1601).

The persecution finally began to ease from the late 17th century, when some “softening” became evident by the Inquisition in Spain. Nevertheless, some executions continued throughout the eighteenth century, to as late as 1816 in  England. The statutory provision for the death penalty was not removed in England until 1861.

Obviously, the Catholic Church cannot be held directly responsible for the judicial sentences handed down by secular authorities in Protestant countries.  It can, however, be held responsible for it part in fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred in the early part of the persecution, using the cloak of religion to provide cover for what was in reality based not on Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but on simple intolerance and greed.

It is important as gay men lesbians and transgendered that we remember the examples of the many who have in earlier times been honoured by the Church as saints or martyrs for the faith.  It is also important that we remember the example of the many thousands who have been martyred by the churches – Catholic and other.

Sources:

Related articles

Valentine’s Day: Same Sex Lovers in Church History

For St Valentine's day,we should remember the same sex lovers (a surprising number of them) who feature in Scripture and in the history of the Catholic Church.  In the list below, I do not not claim that the relationships were necessarily sexual (although some of them most definitely were, but all are deserve attention by modern queer Christians. (For fuller assessments, follow the links).
SS Sergius & Bacchus, Gay lovers, Roman soldires, martyrs and saints.

Read more »

Let’s Talk About The Church’s Dirty Little Secret: Masturbation

The Catechism is clear:

2352 Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.

2396 Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices.

If masturbation, like “homosexual acts”, contraception and cohabitation is indeed “gravely disordered”, why is the Church not talking about it? (It’s not as though nobody does it.)

Masturbation by Klimt, drawing 1913
“Masturbation” by Klimt, drawing 1913

As always, let’s begin by considering some simple facts, the reality behind the theology.

It is widely known that to some degree or other, masturbation is widely practised by both men and women, of all ages, partnered or single, alone or with others, in all humans societies. It is also common in all animal species that have hands – and even some that do not (dolphins use their flippers).
The clear hostility of orthodox doctrine is not based directly on scripture, or on the teachings of the early Church Fathers.

A study by Giovanni Cappelli of the church’s stance on masturbation during the first millennium CE shows that:

  • The Bible is silent on the topic.
  • None of the Apostolic Fathers wrote about masturbation.
  • The first mention of masturbation within the Catholic Church is found in sixth century CE penitentials.
Later, Church opposition for many centuries was unequivocal, largely based on the writing of St Thomas Aquinas, who named it as one of the three classes of “sodomy”.
Yet other religions have a range of views. Some conservative Christians agree with Catholic doctrine that the practice is sinful.  Other Protestants, both liberal and evangelical, see it as morally neutral, or even as a suitable release to avoid more serious sin.
James Dobson, chairman of the board of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit Christian organization, considers it part of normal adolescent exploration and strongly urges parents not to shame their children over the act lest they have marital difficulties later because of shame over their sexuality….Dobson says fathers should urge their sons, if they masturbate, to imagine their future wife, and never some girl they may know.
Other faiths are also divided, with some branches of Islam merely restricting the practice during times of fasting, some reformist Jews recommending it in some circumstances, and the Hindu Kama Sutra advising on the best technique to follow.
In spite of Church claims that the “moral sense of the faithful” has no doubt on the matter, the overwhelming evidence from research is that ordinary Catholics simply do not agree with Church teaching on this.
Medical views long ago abandoned any claims that masturbation is harmful, unless practiced in excess.
The Catholic church has been curiously silent on the subject for years. All the references I have come across in Church documents seem to be based on quotes from the relevant section of the CDF document on human sexuality “Persona Humana“, which was released in 1975.
Now, let’s move on to some reflection. Why has the church been become so silent? Even when the US bishops released their document on sexual ethics earlier this year, reminding American Catholics once again of the moral gravity of contraception and cohabitation, there was no mention of masturbation. Informally, there has been some clear movement. I recall sitting in a parish “faith enquiry” evening, when the subject came up in question time. The parish priest replied unequivocally that modern theologians would see this as a “weakness”, and no longer as a sin. On another occasion, when I spoke of some sexual frustrations with my spiritual director (a senior man in his order, and with a doctorate in spirituality), he asked whether I had considered masturbation as a solution. (My reply? It’s not a very satisfactory substitute for a human interaction with another person).
This was the reply of another priest, to an on-line query at Catholic and and A:
Can masturbation be sinful?  I think the only time masturbation could be considered seriously sinful is if someone is using this activity to avoid one’s obligations to one’s spouse.  Modern moral theologians tell us that masturbation is a normal part of one’s psychosexual development.   Most people go through phases of masturbation, during adolescence, for example, individuals separated from their spouses in war time, the elderly, and others in unique situations of life.  It’s hoped that individuals not become fixed or stuck in only this form of sexual expression, but rather develop a relationship with another person with whom one can express one’s own sexuality in an appropriate loving and intimate way.
– Father John Ruffo, posted at Catholic Q and A
What of the clergy themselves? We known that a significant proportion of them, priests, bishops and cardinals alike, do not keep strictly to their vows of celibacy, and conduct sexual relationships with others, either furtively, or sometimes even more openly. What of the rest, who avoid sex with others. How many also avoid solitary pleasures? Or do they fall back on the advice of so many Protestant theologians, and accept self-stimulation as a way to avoid more serious temptation?

I suspect that there can be only two possible reasons for the continued institutional silence on the matter. The first is simple embarrassment: they know that they cannot defend a prohibition that they ignore themselves.
The second is far more intriguing. This is that my former parish priest and Fr Ruffo, quoted above, are right. Modern theologians have agreed that the old prohibition is unsound, and can no longer be defended. To say so though, would create untold difficulties. For the basis of the argument is that no genital activity outside marriage and ordered to procreation is acceptable, “Every sperm is sacred”. To accept some circumstances where masturbation is not sinful, also calls into question the implacable arguments against contraception, premarital sex, and homoerotic relationships.
When I was still teaching, the headteacher at one of one my schools regularly advised the staff to “Choose our battles”, to avoid taking a stand on issues we could not win. This, I think, is the key to understanding the present Church position on masturbation. They know that the traditional stance is a battle they can not win.
If that is so, perhaps that is all the more reason for us to take up the challenge instead. Perhaps progressive Catholics should be forcing a reasoned, public discussion. This is one battle where indeed, we can win.

The Church’s Changing Tradition.

The only part of Catholic tradition that is truly constant and unchanging, is the permanent presence of (gradual) change.

The CDF’s famous (or infamous) letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”  makes the claim “Thus, the Church’s teaching today is in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective and with her own constant Tradition” , and later states “Scripture bids us speak the truth in love”.  This is the image that the established church so likes to proote – of an authoritative, unchanging tradition “speaking the truth” for all time.  The image favoured by the church, howeer, is a false one.

In the context of current arguments about the papacy and its authority, it is worth recalling just how false is this proposition: for the tradition has not been “unchanging”,  nor has it always spoken “truth”. Indeed, the only constant over 2000 years of church history has been that of constant change.

Josephus at “Salus Animarum” has been posting on reflections prompted by reading of Alan Bray‘s “The Friend”, and sharing thoughts on church history. This is a useful point then to remind readers of just how much church practice concerning same sex relationships has changed over two millenia.  The present intransigent attitude of the church against “gay marriage”, or even against civil partnerships, obscures the fact that in other times and places the church has sanctioned some form of same sex relationships, and even provided them with liturgical recognition.

John Boswell was the first scholar to establish in his research that the early church included a liturgical rite of “adelphopoeisis”, or “making of brothers”.  This he identified as having some of the characteristics pertaining to the marriage forms of his day.  In his two books, he also drew attention to the number of prominent churchmen and women in earlier times who are known to have had intimate same sex relationships in their own lives.  Bernadette Brooten has extended this research into same sex relationships in early Christianity with a particular focus on women, while Alan Bray approached the topic from a different angle:  in “The Friend”, he examined a number of instances of English and other churches where tombstones and church records tell of same sex couples buried in single graves, in exactly the same way that married couples sometimes were.  Like Boswell, he too finds evidence in the early church of a rite of “adelphopoeisis”. Like Bray, in tun, Valerie Abrahamsen has examined evidence of same sex burials – from Macedonia in the 6th Century.

Scholars, of course, differ amongst themselves about the precise significance of these findings – in particular, whether these relationships can be thought of as  resembling marriage rites, or even if there is likely to have been any erotic implications to them at all.  I do not wish to go into these nuances – it is enough for my purpose simply to show that liturgical practice concerning same sex relationships has changed.  Today they are vigourously opposed in any form, but in earlier times, from the early church in Rome and Byzantium, to much more recent periods in Western Europe, the Church has provided liturgical recognition for some form of same sex relationships at their formation, and at their dissolution at death.

Many other examples of changes in church teaching and practice could easily be produced – priestly celibacy was not required for the first millenium of history, marriage was not recognised as a sacrament, the church before modern times endorsed slavery and the inferior position of women (in its practice, it still does – but I am not going to venture down that path at present).

But most important, is to recognise that the papacy and the institution of papal power have themselves been subject to constant change.  It is worth remembering that the origins of  the current fuss lie exactly in the repudiation by the SSPX of the Second Vatican Council – a council notable, among other things, for its attempt to recast the balance of power within the Church, with a much enhanced role for the laity. Even the doctrine of papal infallibility, so widely known but so widely misunderstood, is of relatively recent origin.

Even the institution itself does not extend back to the earliest days of the church.  Before there was a pope, the Bishop of Rome was just one among many, then one of 5 patriarchs of equal stature.  After the rise of Islam placed the patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandra under Muslim domination, just two patriarchs, of Rome and Constantinople, remained. In time, the Bishop of Rome acquired special status and power in the Western church, while that of Constantinople did so in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

I have come across a fascinating series of articles by Tom Lee in the Australian internet forum “Catolica”, which has been tracing in weekly instalments, the story of the first 500 years of the Christian church and “the invention” of the papacy.  I have found the early chapters riveting reading, for the insightful picture they paint of the historical setting for the Gospels, and the beginnings of the spread of the Christianity.  I look forward to reading the rest.

As we continue to watch, fascinated, the extraordinary machinations in Vatican City over SSPX, or despair at ongoing stupidities on sexuality, we can perhaps take comfort from the changing past.  The one thing we know for sure is that the papacy and its teachings, as we now know them will certainly change.  What we don’t yet know, is how – or when.

Good News for Queer Catholics

The first time (as a young student) that I came across the title “Good News for Modern Man”, I did not realise it was an unconventional name for a new Bible translation. Later I made the connection, but could not see the relevance. “For Modern Man” I could understand, but in what sense “Good News”? After drifting away from the Church as a young adult, and later facing my sexuality, the description of the Bible as “good” news seemed even less appropriate. After all, ‘everybody’ knew how it was riddled with condemnations of any touch of sexual impropriety, most especially of the shameful sin of ‘sodomy’. There were a sprinkling of liberal churchmen, I knew, who took a more enlightened and tolerant view, but the Catholic Church in which I had grown up was implacable and instransigent. Like birth control, homosexuals were just not acceptable. So, like so many sexual minorities, I stayed outside the Church where I knew I was not welcome.

CB024386

Today, after some years’ journey of rediscovery of my faith, I find that the Bible is indeed “Good News”, including and especially for sexual outsiders; The Catholic Church really is the universal, welcoming community implied by that little word ‘catholic’ and LGBT people have an important part to play in it.

As I write, I can picture the jaws of my readers dropping in disbelief. In my experience, there are few people who believe that openly gay people can be accommodated in the Christian family: those of firm religious views reject out of hand the sinful ‘gay lifestyle’ (whatever that is), while people who have worked through the difficulties of coming out, have no desire to collaborate in ‘our oppression’ by religion. But around the world, more and more gay, lesbian and transgendered people are indeed finding that truth, as always, is more subtle and nuanced than the superficial perception, that they can after all find a welcome in a Catholic church, and that they do not have to renounce or compromise their sexual psyche to find it.

Naturally, we have some disagreements, even tensions, with the Vatican and some of our churchmen. The church and church people have inflicted great evils on our community in the past, and some smaller iniquities continue to this day. Likewise, Scripture contains some uncomfortable ‘clobber texts’ we have to come to terms with. But I submit that these texts are not as intimidating as we might fear, and in any case represent just a tiny fraction of the total Bible message. The Church, too, is greater than the clergy, the clergy greater than the Papacy and its attendant Vatican bureaucrats, and the Papacy far greater than its peculiar and disordered pronouncements on ‘homosexuals’.

If you remain sceptical, as I suspect many of you will be, I ask that you suspend your scepticism a little longer, as I share with you some of the experiences and insights that have led me to my transformed view of faith. I hope also to bring to your attention relevant topical news, information and comment.

But I do not wish to do this alone. The catholic church, after all, is above all about community. I have invited several of my associates too, to share their views, news and beliefs. Who knows? You may even find yourself stung into posting a comment or longer contribution.

I hope you do.

Terence.