Tag Archives: Clergy

The Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

You’d never guess it if your only knowledge of the churches and homosexuality came from Focus on the Family, NOM or California Catholic Daily in the US, or from Christian Voice or the rule-book Catholic blogs in the UK, or from breakaway groups in the Anglican communion worldwide, but we are in the midst of a dramatic, wholesale transformation of the Christian churches’ response to homoerotic relationships. This is clearly leading in the direction of full inclusion in church for queer Christians, and for evaluating couple relationships and their recognition in church on a basis of full equality. This is bound to lead in time to profound improvements in the  political battles for full equality, and in the mental health of the LGBT Christian community.
These are bold statements. Am I mistaken? Am I deluding myself? It is of course possible that this is a case of wishful thinking, that I am misreading or exaggerating the evidence.  It’s possible – but I don’t think so. The evidence is compelling, if not yet widely noted. To substantiate my argument, I want to present the facts, and their implications, in some detail. As there is too much for a single post, I begin today with just a summary, as heads of argument. I will expand on the main sections in later posts, which I have in preparation.
(For now, I have made no attempt to supply detailed substantiation or links – these will follow, as I expand later on each specific theme).

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I have been thinking about this transformation for some time, but what really convinced me that this is a major, irreversible development was a result of an invitation I received to lead a session of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s 35th Anniversary Conference. The theme for conference is “Looking back, looking forward”. I will be giving a Catholic perspective on the last 35 years – and the next.
It’s looking at those next 35 years that is challenging. I don’t want to base my thoughts on guesswork, or on simple extrapolation, “if present trends continue“. The one thing we know about present trends, in almost any context, is that they never do continue. Feedback effects can either offset or exaggerate them. In reflecting on what could lie ahead, I considered only the changes that have already happened, the effects of these – and the very limited changes that we know for certain will happen over the next 35 years or so.  I did this initially for the Catholic Church specifically, and then realised that the method applies equally to the broader Christian churches as a whole. I begin by considering this broader church first.
The Past 35/ 40 years
“Out and Proud” Gay Visibility, Queer Families
The years since Stonewall have seen the rapid emergence of openly gay or lesbian, visible public role models far removed from the stereotypes of earlier years. This has included the emergence of well known same sex couples and queer families, in the news, on our screens, and in our neighbourhoods.  This has become increasingly visible over the years, and is now being given legal recognition in the movements for approval of marriage and family equality. The important consequence is that young people today have been raised, and are being raised, in environments where homoerotic relationships are seen to be entirely natural, and every bit as stable (or otherwise) than any other. Many youngsters are seeing this at first hand, in their friends and relations with two moms or two dads (just as others have single parents) – and are unfazed by it. Research evidence shows that young people are far more accepting of LGBT equality than their elders – and this applies within the churches, including even the evangelical churches, as well as in the general population.
Reevaluation of Scripture
Until recently, it was widely accepted that the Bible clearly opposed homosexuality, an assumption that underpinned the automatic denunciation of same sex relationships by most Christian denominations. Over the last thirty years, that has changed dramatically, with a substantial proportion – perhaps the majority – of modern Scripture scholars now agreeing that the evidence from Scripture is at best unclear, and that the traditional interpretations may be flawed by mistranslations or misinterpretations. Conversely, there has been fresh attention paid by some scholars to the specifically gay-friendly and affirming passages that have previously been neglected.
This re-evaluation began as the preserve of academics and specialists (like the growing number of openly gay or lesbian theologians), but is now starting to reach a popular audience as well.
Ordination of Queer Clergy
The re-evaluation of Scripture has underpinned the most dramatic manifestation of the transformation – the accelerating moves to accept for ordination as pastors or even as bishops men and women in public, committed and loving same sex relationships.
Traditionally, the churches could not countenance openly gay clergy, but in the days before Stonewall, when people in any case hid their sexuality, all that this meant was that gay priests and pastors where deeply closeted (just like their lay counterparts). That changed after Stonewall, as some men recognized that in honesty, they could not serve and remain closeted. Initially, the response of the churches was to refuse ordination to candidates who were known to be gay, and in some high profile cases, to remove from ministry priests and pastors who had already been ordained.
This has changed remarkably quickly. Today, almost all Mainline Protestant churches in the US, and the leading European Protestant churches, either ordain openly gay and lesbian pastors, or are seriously considering the possibility. The most recent example is that of 33 retired bishops of the United Methodist Church, who have signed a public statement calling for the full acceptance of ordination for openly gay or lesbian pastors in loving, committed relationships. 33 retired bishops urge end to gay clergy ban. Take careful note – these are retired bishops, not young hotheads, but the elder statesmen (and women) of the UMC. In parallel with this, the Presbyterian Church of the USA is at present well on its way to ratification of last year’s General Assembly resolution to formulate rules for ordination that did not discriminate against gay or lesbian candidates. (In Europe, it’s a dead issue: pastors of all sexual orientations are generally accepted).
Inclusion also applies at the highest levels of the clergy. There are now three openly gay and partnered bishops in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, while others have been nominated, but not ultimately successful.
Gay weddings, in church.
Resolutions to approve ordination of queer clergy have often gone hand in hand with attempts to secure approval for church weddings, or blessing of same sex couples. These have been less successful so far, but I would think this is only temporary. The recognition of partnered gay or lesbian clergy is always qualified by the expectation that theses relationships be committed, faithful and publicly accountable, just as heterosexual pastors are by virtue of their church marriages. The simplest way to make gay partnerships accountable in the same way, is to provide the same structure – a wedding in church.
This is already being done in some churches and localities, but we should certainly expect the practice to spread, especially with more openly gay pastors ordained, and as civil marriage becomes more widely available for queer clergy.
Looking Ahead
These are the key developments affecting the LGBT community and the church over the past 35 -40 years. Looking ahead, I submit that there are only two things we can say with certainty: the past will have consequences that will affect the future; and there will be generational change. Let’s take these in reverse order.
Generational Change
Whatever else may happen over the next 35 or 40 years, the one thing we know with absolute certainty, is that everyone will get older. Benedict XVI will no longer be the Catholic pope, the Roman Curia will have a new set of faces. In the Protestant denominations, the present leaders will also have moved on, either to retirement, or to whatever awaits them in the afterlife. They too will have been replaced,
Who will these new faces be? Generally speaking, they will be the young men (and women) who are presently in training for ministry, who have been recently ordained, or who may even be still in high school. This the generation which is well known to reject the notion that homosexuality is a moral issue, and who are most enthusiastically supportive of gay clergy, gay marriage, and full LGBT inclusion in church.
Contrast them with the present generation of church leaders, who received their own formation for ministry at a time when it was regarded as axiomatic that homosexual acts were necessarily sinful, when the Biblical texts of terror were quoted without question, and when the notion of same sex marriage in church was simply unthinkable.
Can there really be any serious doubt that a future church led by today’s young adults will view homoerotic relationships very differently to that of the present?
The Speed of Change Thus Far
So, let us accept (provisionally) that profound change is on its way. How long will it tale? The generational analysis above suggests that it might not take too long at all – no more than the 35 years framework I adopted, somewhat arbitrarily. This becomes even more plausible when we consider the speed of change up to now, in respect of the spread of civil gay marriage, and of approval for LBGT pastors.
Personal homophobia and prejudice will linger – but institutional discrimination in all forms, whether by church or state, will disappear quite rapidly, exactly as institutional racism disappeared quite quickly in the civil rights era in the US, or following the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.
Some Thoughts on the Catholic Church
Broadly speaking, much of the above also applies to the Catholic Church, especially the implications of generational change, and the fresh examinations of scripture, but there are also some unique considerations as well. Some of these will mitigate against the underlying trend to change, some will complement it.

  • Hierarchical control, and the expectation of obedience would superficially point to the resistance of change – but this expectation is itself becoming rejected.
  • Humanae Vitae and its fierce rejection of artificial contraception has never been widely accepted by the Church as a whole. The resulting recognition that it is permissible to disagree in good conscience with official doctrine on this single issue, has leant support to others who disagree in conscience on others – like choice/ abortion, and on homosexuality.
  • The impact of Vatican II. Although it might appear that the Curia has successfully rolled back the conciliar reforms, sometimes there are effects that take time to become apparent. One of these is what Sr Joan Chittister called the “Ticking Time Bomb” of lay involvement. Another is the dramatic decline in priest numbers since VII,
  • Another ticking time bomb is the remarkable rise of lay theologians. Not that long ago, the formal study of moral theology was something done by priests, for other priests, based on the writings of theologians from many centuries ago, with little input from social sciences, or from people with real life sexual experience. That is no longer the case. Even religious sisters were routinely excluded from theology studies, beyond what they might need to teach school level catechism. The rest of us were simply expected to accept the moral rules as handed down to us from on high.
  • That has changed dramatically. Theology is now widely studied, to the extent that the majority of theologians today are not priests. Some are religious sisters, others are married men and women – or even openly gay or lesbian. Add to the generational process described earlier, that Catholic priests now in training are in some cases being taught their theology by lay people, and we see that the generational shift for Catholic clergy could conceivably be even greater for Catholic clergy than for others.
  • Finally, the sexual abuse crisis has clearly shaken the church to its foundations. The ultimate effects can not yet be clearly seen, but already it is obvious that one result is a greatly increased resistance by lay people to automatic assumptions about authority and obedience, and a corresponding willingness in some quarters to engage in open defiance – as in the womenpriests movement. Inside the institutional church, there are at least some promising signs of an increased willingness to take seriously the concept of the listening church.
Conclusion
Change is clearly on the way – quite possibly, rapid change, across all or most major denominations. It will not be long before openly LGBT clergy, including bishops and other leaders, will be commonplace, in most denominations if not yet in all. There will be church weddings for same sex couples, including the weddings of clergy and their spouses.
With the increasing visibility of partnered gay clergy and bishops, it will become difficult. Even impossible for the arguments that our relationships are necessarily sinful to be taken seriously.
I now believe that under the impact of generational change, this transformation will be rapid – probably with in a generation or two. To those who find this unduly optimistic, I would point to the corresponding death of overt racism, which equally moved from something commonly expressed, and even justified in pseudo religious arguments, to a private weakness, which it is now unacceptable to express in public.
(Note: I am fully conscious that the above analysis applies primarily to the countries of Europe and the Americas, especially North America. I have omitted Africa and Asia where special circumstances apply. But do not believe that including them would seriously affect the main conclusions – except in the matter of timing).
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Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Drawing Nearer

In just 10 days since I first noted that Presbyterian ratification for the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian clergy looked promising, the prospects have improved further. Last week I observed that if all the remaining presbyteries were to vote as they did on the correspondin resolution last year, the result would be a narrow loss. Victory looked promising, only because the chances are that they will not vote the same way – some at least seemed likely to switch from No to Yes. Over just the past few days, three more have done just that, taking the total making the switch to 12 –  compared with just a single one which has switched the other way, from Yes to No. This makes a net gain of 11 – against just the 9 which are needed. It is likely that there will be others too, making the switch in the weeks ahead. Already, the number approving ratification (55) is more than half way to the 87 required – just 42 to go!
I have reproduced below the post I published last week, showing how the numbers have changed in just seven days:
*****
Last year, the Presbyterian Church of the USA voted to approve changes in the criteria for ordination of clergy, in terms which do not discriminate against partnered gay or lesbian candidates. The resolution removes a paragraph which includes the requirement
to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness.
and inserts instead:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
In effect, this is a vote for full inclusion of LGBT Presbyterians in the life of the Church. The vote at General Assembly must be ratified by a majority of local presbyteries before it takes effect. 2010 was not the first time that General Assembly voted in favour of inclusion: similar resolutions were passed in 2009, and   and – but failed to secure ratification. This year could be different.

An analysis of the votes held so far shows that presbyteries voting in favour of ratification presently lead those opposed by 46  55 (28/02) to  34 4o, with 93 78 left to vote. While we cannot predict with certainty what those votes will be until they have been concluded, there are useful clues in how they voted previously. My own investigation of the spreadsheet shows that with 46  55 presbyteries having voted in support, only 41 32 more are needed to secure ratification. Conversely, the 40 voting against still need to add 53 47 presbyteries to defeat the proposal. While we cannot predict with certainty how the remaining presbyteries will vote, there are clues. For each one, the published spreadsheet shows how it voted on the previous similar measure from General Assembly 2009. If each of them were to vote in precisely the same way as it did last time around, the result would be as close as it gets:
Votes in favour – 86 89; Tie –  2; Votes against –  78 82. Presbyteries with tied votes count as “no”, so the effective result would be  Yes – 86 89, No  –  87 84 – and a win for inclusion.
However, there is no reason to suppose that they will vote the same way as before. Where votes have already been held, there has been a clear increase in support. Just the tiniest movement in favour would tilt at least the two tied votes to yes votes, which would be enough to tilt the balance. The record from the raw votes cast shows than in fact, across all presbyteries the percentage level of support increased by an average of 5%. If that applies uniformly across those presbyteries that have not yet voted, there will be a further 8 switching from “No” to “Yes”, adding to the 12  that have already done so. (So far, only one has switched the other way, from support to opposition).  That will lead to:
Votes in favour  – 102;  Votes against –  71, and ratification for inclusion by a clear margin.
The prospects look good.
But, as the folk at More Light Presbyterians constantly remind us, progress doesn’t just happen – it takes hard work and organisation. This is why openly gay pastor  Rev. Mel White will be speaking  about gay social issues at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach from March 4 to 6. More Light Presbyterians have a permanent feature in their newsletters advising of local workshops, where participants can learn how to help in influencing their own congregations.
Success in the ratification drive is not yet guaranteed, but progress is promising. With the continued hard work of so many, and the help of the Holy Spirit, the prospects are clearly encouraging – if not this year, then next. Change is on the way – and of the biggest Mainline Protestant churches in the US, that will leave only the Methodists not (yet) approving full  inclusion for LGBT clergy. (That too will change in the not too distant future)

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Breaking the silence

Gay Priest, “Bart”, discusses the importance of breaking the silence in the Catholic Church, continuing his weekly series at “Queering the Church”:

I ended my last post by asking: will our silence [forced as it so often is] be judged as complicity in the Church’s deceptive ways? It’s a question that has been troubling me for quite some time now, not only as a gay priest who is going through a coming-out process, but also in the wider sense, as a member of the Catholic Church. Even as I was grappling with this complex subject, I was informed of a recent documentary shown on BBC’s Channel Four. Entitled Father Ray Comes Out, it presents a very touching account of the coming-out of an Anglican vicar – Father Ray Andrews – to his congregation during a Sunday homily. For the benefit of my readers, I thought of embedding the story here (in 2 parts), before expanding on the subject in today’s post.


and

At one point, while writing his homily, Father Ray ponders and says: “Break the silence that kills.” The truth of this point slowly sank into my consciousness as I realised that, yes, it is silence that kills, or rather, fear that produces a blanket of silence choking everything under it. And it is not just the silence about homosexuality, relevant as this topic may be right now, but we’re also seeing the effect of silence in the clerical sexual-abuse crisis, and the silence resulting from the Catholic hierarchy’s clamp-down on all dissenting voices. And for those of you who may wish to pan out to see the wider picture, is it not this silence which is being shattered in the various uprisings taking place in the Arab world, as people overcome their fears and bring down longstanding dictators?

“Break the silence that kills.” In Ecclesiastes, in possibly the book’s most quoted text, the philosopher-teacher says that there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven, and goes on to say, amongst other things:

“a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” (3:7b)

Even more enlightening are Jesus’ words to his disciples:

“Have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”

(Matthew 10:26-27)

I reflect on these words, whilst trying to read and interpret the signs of the times, and especially the more recent events within the Church. I’m just wondering whether or not there is a pattern to the breaking of this silence. For example, the reporting of the clerical sexual-abuse cases around the world helped to uncover the clericalism that seems to be the breeding-ground for this and other abuses in the Catholic Church. On a similar vein, the fact that more and more LGBT persons are coming out and standing up for their rights is forcing the Catholic hierarchy – as well as the religious right – to show their true colours, and the brand of Christianity they subscribe to.

Now we have a growing number of theologians (at the time of writing, the majority of these are from the German-speaking countries in Europe) who are demanding that a number of fundamental issues having a bearing on church life be re-examined. As far as I can tell, no reply has been forthcoming from the Vatican.

For those who were wondering if this phenomenon of speaking/coming out is limited to the religious sphere, then we have only to look at the events of the past weeks to realise that such is not the case. The recent uprisings and revolutions in the Arab world have many elements in common. I’ve noticed that they are mainly grass-roots movements, enjoying a wide appeal. The demands being made are also very similar, basically that of achieving true freedom and dignity as human beings, as well as of being consulted and heard. Time and again those protesting describe their actions as a casting-off of their fears, and finding their voice. There seems to be a power that is released once the fear is faced and the silence is broken; impregnable walls begin to crumble.

Perhaps I am reading too much into these events, but am I alone in seeing parallels between what is happening in the Church on the one hand, and in society on the other? Only time will tell if in the near future we will go through a similar revolution in our way of being Church. Perhaps the time is ripe for Catholics to stop being afraid of the bogeyman and make their views known. When the hierarchy presumes to speak on our behalf in controversial matters, such as marriage equality rights, then it’s high time to come forward and say: Not in my name.

Suggested reading:

From Inquisition to Freedom:Seven Prominent Catholics and Their Struggle With the Vatican (Paul Collins, editor)

The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism (Mark D Jordan)

Gay Catholic Priests And Clerical Sexual Misconduct: Breaking The Silence (Donald L Boisvert & Robert E Goss, editors)

Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II (Jason Berry & Gerald Renner)

Why the Catholic Church Needs Vatican III (T P O’Mahony)

Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (Eamonn Duffy)

Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church (Bishop Geoffrey Robinson)

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The Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

You’d never guess it if your only knowledge of the churches and homosexuality came from Focus on the Family, NOM or California Catholic Daily in the US, or from Christian Voice or the rule-book Catholic blogs in the UK, or from breakaway groups in the Anglican communion worldwide, but we are in the midst of a dramatic, wholesale transformation of the Christian churches’ response to homoerotic relationships. This is clearly leading in the direction of full inclusion in church for queer Christians, and for evaluating couple relationships and their recognition in church on a basis of full equality. This is bound to lead in time to profound improvements in the  political battles for full equality, and in the mental health of the LGBT Christian community.
These are bold statements. Am I mistaken? Am I deluding myself? It is of course possible that this is a case of wishful thinking, that I am misreading or exaggerating the evidence.  It’s possible – but I don’t think so. The evidence is compelling, if not yet widely noted. To substantiate my argument, I want to present the facts, and their implications, in some detail. As there is too much for a single post, I begin today with just a summary, as heads of argument. I will expand on the main sections in later posts, which I have in preparation.
(For now, I have made no attempt to supply detailed substantiation or links – these will follow, as I expand later on each specific theme).

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I have been thinking about this transformation for some time, but what really convinced me that this is a major, irreversible development was a result of an invitation I received to lead a session of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s 35th Anniversary Conference. The theme for conference is “Looking back, looking forward”. I will be giving a Catholic perspective on the last 35 years – and the next.
It’s looking at those next 35 years that is challenging. I don’t want to base my thoughts on guesswork, or on simple extrapolation, “if present trends continue“. The one thing we know about present trends, in almost any context, is that they never do continue. Feedback effects can either offset or exaggerate them. In reflecting on what could lie ahead, I considered only the changes that have already happened, the effects of these – and the very limited changes that we know for certain will happen over the next 35 years or so.  I did this initially for the Catholic Church specifically, and then realised that the method applies equally to the broader Christian churches as a whole. I begin by considering this broader church first.
The Past 35/ 40 years

“Out and Proud” Gay Visibility, Queer Families
The years since Stonewall have seen the rapid emergence of openly gay or lesbian, visible public role models far removed from the stereotypes of earlier years. This has included the emergence of well known same sex couples and queer families, in the news, on our screens, and in our neighbourhoods.  This has become increasingly visible over the years, and is now being given legal recognition in the movements for approval of marriage and family equality. The important consequence is that young people today have been raised, and are being raised, in environments where homoerotic relationships are seen to be entirely natural, and every bit as stable (or otherwise) than any other. Many youngsters are seeing this at first hand, in their friends and relations with two moms or two dads (just as others have single parents) – and are unfazed by it. Research evidence shows that young people are far more accepting of LGBT equality than their elders – and this applies within the churches, including even the evangelical churches, as well as in the general population.

Reevaluation of Scripture
Until recently, it was widely accepted that the Bible clearly opposed homosexuality, an assumption that underpinned the automatic denunciation of same sex relationships by most Christian denominations. Over the last thirty years, that has changed dramatically, with a substantial proportion – perhaps the majority – of modern Scripture scholars now agreeing that the evidence from Scripture is at best unclear, and that the traditional interpretations may be flawed by mistranslations or misinterpretations. Conversely, there has been fresh attention paid by some scholars to the specifically gay-friendly and affirming passages that have previously been neglected.
This re-evaluation began as the preserve of academics and specialists (like the growing number of openly gay or lesbian theologians), but is now starting to reach a popular audience as well.

Ordination of Queer Clergy
The re-evaluation of Scripture has underpinned the most dramatic manifestation of the transformation – the accelerating moves to accept for ordination as pastors or even as bishops men and women in public, committed and loving same sex relationships.
Traditionally, the churches could not countenance openly gay clergy, but in the days before Stonewall, when people in any case hid their sexuality, all that this meant was that gay priests and pastors where deeply closeted (just like their lay counterparts). That changed after Stonewall, as some men recognized that in honesty, they could not serve and remain closeted. Initially, the response of the churches was to refuse ordination to candidates who were known to be gay, and in some high profile cases, to remove from ministry priests and pastors who had already been ordained.
This has changed remarkably quickly. Today, almost all Mainline Protestant churches in the US, and the leading European Protestant churches, either ordain openly gay and lesbian pastors, or are seriously considering the possibility. The most recent example is that of 33 retired bishops of the United Methodist Church, who have signed a public statement calling for the full acceptance of ordination for openly gay or lesbian pastors in loving, committed relationships. 33 retired bishops urge end to gay clergy ban. Take careful note – these are retired bishops, not young hotheads, but the elder statesmen (and women) of the UMC. In parallel with this, the Presbyterian Church of the USA is at present well on its way to ratification of last year’s General Assembly resolution to formulate rules for ordination that did not discriminate against gay or lesbian candidates. (In Europe, it’s a dead issue: pastors of all sexual orientations are generally accepted).
Inclusion also applies at the highest levels of the clergy. There are now three openly gay and partnered bishops in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, while others have been nominated, but not ultimately successful.

Gay weddings, in church.
Resolutions to approve ordination of queer clergy have often gone hand in hand with attempts to secure approval for church weddings, or blessing of same sex couples. These have been less successful so far, but I would think this is only temporary. The recognition of partnered gay or lesbian clergy is always qualified by the expectation that theses relationships be committed, faithful and publicly accountable, just as heterosexual pastors are by virtue of their church marriages. The simplest way to make gay partnerships accountable in the same way, is to provide the same structure – a wedding in church.
This is already being done in some churches and localities, but we should certainly expect the practice to spread, especially with more openly gay pastors ordained, and as civil marriage becomes more widely available for queer clergy.

Looking Ahead
These are the key developments affecting the LGBT community and the church over the past 35 -40 years. Looking ahead, I submit that there are only two things we can say with certainty: the past will have consequences that will affect the future; and there will be generational change. Let’s take these in reverse order.

Generational Change
Whatever else may happen over the next 35 or 40 years, the one thing we know with absolute certainty, is that everyone will get older. Benedict XVI will no longer be the Catholic pope, the Roman Curia will have a new set of faces. In the Protestant denominations, the present leaders will also have moved on, either to retirement, or to whatever awaits them in the afterlife. They too will have been replaced,
Who will these new faces be? Generally speaking, they will be the young men (and women) who are presently in training for ministry, who have been recently ordained, or who may even be still in high school. This the generation which is well known to reject the notion that homosexuality is a moral issue, and who are most enthusiastically supportive of gay clergy, gay marriage, and full LGBT inclusion in church.
Contrast them with the present generation of church leaders, who received their own formation for ministry at a time when it was regarded as axiomatic that homosexual acts were necessarily sinful, when the Biblical texts of terror were quoted without question, and when the notion of same sex marriage in church was simply unthinkable.
Can there really be any serious doubt that a future church led by today’s young adults will view homoerotic relationships very differently to that of the present?

The Speed of Change Thus Far
So, let us accept (provisionally) that profound change is on its way. How long will it tale? The generational analysis above suggests that it might not take too long at all – no more than the 35 years framework I adopted, somewhat arbitrarily. This becomes even more plausible when we consider the speed of change up to now, in respect of the spread of civil gay marriage, and of approval for LBGT pastors.
Personal homophobia and prejudice will linger – but institutional discrimination in all forms, whether by church or state, will disappear quite rapidly, exactly as institutional racism disappeared quite quickly in the civil rights era in the US, or following the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

Some Thoughts on the Catholic Church
Broadly speaking, much of the above also applies to the Catholic Church, especially the implications of generational change, and the fresh examinations of scripture, but there are also some unique considerations as well. Some of these will mitigate against the underlying trend to change, some will complement it.

  • Hierarchical control, and the expectation of obedience would superficially point to the resistance of change – but this expectation is itself becoming rejected.
  • Humanae Vitae and its fierce rejection of artificial contraception has never been widely accepted by the Church as a whole. The resulting recognition that it is permissible to disagree in good conscience with official doctrine on this single issue, has leant support to others who disagree in conscience on others – like choice/ abortion, and on homosexuality.
  • The impact of Vatican II. Although it might appear that the Curia has successfully rolled back the conciliar reforms, sometimes there are effects that take time to become apparent. One of these is what Sr Joan Chittister called the “Ticking Time Bomb” of lay involvement. Another is the dramatic decline in priest numbers since VII,
  • Another ticking time bomb is the remarkable rise of lay theologians. Not that long ago, the formal study of moral theology was something done by priests, for other priests, based on the writings of theologians from many centuries ago, with little input from social sciences, or from people with real life sexual experience. That is no longer the case. Even religious sisters were routinely excluded from theology studies, beyond what they might need to teach school level catechism. The rest of us were simply expected to accept the moral rules as handed down to us from on high.
  • That has changed dramatically. Theology is now widely studied, to the extent that the majority of theologians today are not priests. Some are religious sisters, others are married men and women – or even openly gay or lesbian. Add to the generational process described earlier, that Catholic priests now in training are in some cases being taught their theology by lay people, and we see that the generational shift for Catholic clergy could conceivably be even greater for Catholic clergy than for others.
  • Finally, the sexual abuse crisis has clearly shaken the church to its foundations. The ultimate effects can not yet be clearly seen, but already it is obvious that one result is a greatly increased resistance by lay people to automatic assumptions about authority and obedience, and a corresponding willingness in some quarters to engage in open defiance – as in the womenpriests movement. Inside the institutional church, there are at least some promising signs of an increased willingness to take seriously the concept of the listening church.
Conclusion
Change is clearly on the way – quite possibly, rapid change, across all or most major denominations. It will not be long before openly LGBT clergy, including bishops and other leaders, will be commonplace, in most denominations if not yet in all. There will be church weddings for same sex couples, including the weddings of clergy and their spouses.
With the increasing visibility of partnered gay clergy and bishops, it will become difficult. Even impossible for the arguments that our relationships are necessarily sinful to be taken seriously.
I now believe that under the impact of generational change, this transformation will be rapid – probably with in a generation or two. To those who find this unduly optimistic, I would point to the corresponding death of overt racism, which equally moved from something commonly expressed, and even justified in pseudo religious arguments, to a private weakness, which it is now unacceptable to express in public.

(Note: I am fully conscious that the above analysis applies primarily to the countries of Europe and the Americas, especially North America. I have omitted Africa and Asia where special circumstances apply. But do not believe that including them would seriously affect the main conclusions – except in the matter of timing).

Come Out to Save Lives – Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley

There are many sound religious reason for coming out (which I summarise below).  The Georgia megachurch pastor Jim Swilley, of  “Church in the Now”, by his own example has presented another. He has come out to save lives.
Swilley has hidden his sexuality from his congregation for years, through two marriages (although he was at least honest with his second wife, who in turn encouraged him to be open more publicly). Unlike so many other closeted preachers (Bishop Long, George Rekers and Ted Swaggart, for instance) however, he has never fallen into the trap of preaching against homosexuality to hide his own orientation.

The tipping point for him came with the rash of recent publicity about the bullying which leads to so many teen suicides. Many of the institutional churches have a double culpability here: their frequent and misguided condemnations of same-sex relationships often lead to feelings of guilt and shame  by gay young people themselves, while too many others use it as an easy justification for bullying. Young bullies may grow into older gay bashers, and later even into adult killers of gay men, lesbians and the transgendered – all supposedly in the name of “religion”.
There have been many reports surfacing on the queer blogosphere about this story – reports that I missed through my personal circumstances last weeks. The best I have seen are those at Bilerico, and at Queerty. Read them yourselves (and watch the on-line videos that have been posted)  – I’m not going to simply quote them here, because from a faith perspective I am more interested in these deeply moving, theologically sound words Swilley posted on Blog in the Now some weeks ago. These do not refer directly to his coming out (they appear to have been written immediately before doing so publicly), but read now they have an obvious and direct bearing on it:
Today I will live in the now! I will live in the now because I have a command to GO into all the world – into every part of the worlds of every man, woman, boy and girl – into every culture and counterculture – into every mindset and philosophy – into every system and network — and preach the good news, without the preferential treatment of anyone!
Today I will embrace the call of Christ. Even though I may be rebuked for my unbelief or hardness of heart as the first disciples were, I have still been mandated to go — to go anyway — in spite of my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable and, regardless of what I have or haven’t done, Jesus is still depending on me to give the inhabitants of His world some good news!
Today I will go to where the people are – not just where they are geographically, but to where they are mentally, spiritually, emotionally and philosophically. I will speak with the tongue of the learned (Isaiah 50:4), becoming all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Today I will make some movement, knowing that my steps are ordered of the Lord and that God blesses whatever I put my hand to.
Today I will not preach religious tradition, or anything that could possibly make people feel alienated from God. My declaration of the Kingdom (“The Kingdom is at hand!”) will make Jesus accessible to those who have been disconnected in their minds. I will go to where the breaches are — and I will repair them!
Today I will be a witness, telling my story, finding my voice.
Today I will be followed by supernatural signs confirming my words. God will bless my efforts because I believe. My faith will be irresistible to Him today, and today I will live in the now!

Father, help me to get up and get going today. In Jesus’ name, amen.

The “It Gets Better” campaign encourages us all to be open, as our visibility can be a demonstration to young people that we can indeed grow into healthy, mature adults in sound relationships – but does nothing to combat the religious roots of the violence. This is why coming out by people of faith, and especially within the evangelical tradition, is so important. Done on a sufficiently wide scale, it will go a long way to undermine both the religion – induced guilt of young queers, and the excuses produced by the bullies.
Other Religious arguments for coming out.
The political and psychological reasons for coming out are well known – it increases visibility and so improves public acceptance for others, it provides sound role models for young people, contributes to personal mental health and can be seen as a psychological growth experience. The religious reasons are less familiar, but are important for queer people of faith.
Theologian and psychotherapist Daniel Helminiak (Sex and the Sacred) says that alongside the psychological growth, coming out is a spiritual experience. Fellow Catholic therapists and spiritual directors John McMillan and James L’Empereur say much the same thing. Richard Cleaver (“Know My Name”) describes the process as wrestling with the divine. Chris Glaser has devoted a complete book to “Coming Out as Sacrament”.
Many commentators have seen coming out as implicit in Jesus’ command to Lazarus, “Come out!”, and read it as a lesson from the story of Exodus, using the Israelites flight from Egypt as a model for escaping the bondage of the closet. The Jewish theologian Rebeccah Alpert also sees coming out as a biblical command, reading into Micah’s exhortation on justice a requirement alongside living in good relationship with God and with other people, an obligation to live in good relationship with oneself – which is not possible when denying one’s own sexual identity.
In the same way I read coming out as a requirement of the Catholic Catechism, and implicit in the conclusion of the otherwise loathsome CDF document “Homosexualitatis Problema“, which reminds us of the Biblical injunction to “Speak the truth in love”, and “The truth will set you free”.
It is not enough for Christians to speak the truth – we must also live it.

Recommended Books:

Glaser, Chris :

Goss, Robert (ed): Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible
Helminiak,  Daniel: Sex and the Sacred
Kelley, Michael B: Seduced by Grace
L’Emperereur, James : Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person
McNeill, John:

Sweasey, P: From Queer to Eternity

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Celibacy and a Wounded Church: Readers’ Observations

A few weeks ago, I was sent me this anecdote by email:

A friend of Armin’s was recently in Austria to bury her mother.  Her aunts referred to the priest’s “frau”; Sandra thought that was a bit odd because Catholic priests don’t marry, right, but since she isn’t a churchgoer she figured maybe she was just out of touch. So she invited the priest “and your wife” to dinner. He blanched… she repeated the invitation… he accepted. And brought her along.

Apparently this woman was originally the housekeeper, but has become his mistress. The whole parish knows. It’s all widely accepted and understood, although this was the first time she had been invited along like that. (But from the sounds of it, it won’t be the last.)  Another instance, I think, of actual Catholic communities being far more progressive (and human) than the Vatican.

I was interested, but not surprised by this. We know that all around the world, the rule on compulsory celibacy is widely ignored, often openly. In both Austria and Germany there are formal, organized support groups for priests with mistresses. In Italy, a group of mistresses have petitioned the pope to end the celibacy rule so that they could (in effect) come out of the closet.  In Africa, one Bishop was removed from office when knowledge that many priests in his diocese were living openly with their wives and families became embarrassingly commonplace, and another was excommunicated (long after) he followed up his own marriage by actively promoting marriage for Catholic priests. Universal celibacy of Catholic priests is a myth. Any pretence otherwise is sheer hypocrisy.

Nevertheless, as long as the rule remains in place, most priests will be obliged to maintain at least the pretence of compliance. This compulsory lie they must live under is inevitably damaging to them – and to the wider Church. Jordan replied to my posting of the “Equally Blessed” press release by arguing correctly that the insistence on compulsory celibacy is doubly damaging to gay Catholic priests, who in turn inflict harm on the wider community of gay Catholics: Continue reading Celibacy and a Wounded Church: Readers’ Observations

DIY Catholicism: Twin Cities "Synod of the Baptized".

The “whole church” self-evidently includes many more people than simply the self-appointed oligarchy of bishops and their clergy, but the Vatican has never made any serious effort to involve the rest of us in the affairs of the Church – beyond serving as fund-raisers and cheap labour for the simpler tasks. Questions of serious planning and decision-taking it keeps very carefully to its own. However, as I have noted frequently, there are abundant and increasing signs that ordinary Catholics, lay people, religious women, married priests now outside of institutional control, and some more progressive regular priests are recognizing the importance of making a full contribution to the life of the Church. Where they are not being properly involved by the institutional oligarchy, they are simply doing it for themselves.

One of the more impressive examples of this comes from the diocese of Minneapolis / St Paul, which has just brought to fruition their very successful “Synod of the Baptized”. This has been the fruit of long months of hard work and preparation, so I was delighted to read how well the event seems to have gone off – and that the team are already engaged in planning for the next stage.

Taken from the Progressive Catholic Voice, these are some extracts from a report by Paula Ruddy:

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If signs of the Holy Spirit’s action in a group are joy and hope, Saturday’s Synod of the Baptized was a Spirit-filled place. Most of us were not able to see tongues of fire, but we heard voluble talk and shining eyes while people spoke of their experience of oneness.

The experience boiled over into Sunday liturgies in at least three parishes with many Synod goers.

Sponsored by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) and held at the Ramada Plaza Hotel on Industrial Boulevard in Northeast Minneapolis, the Synod attracted 492 participants.

Paul Lakeland, Fairfield University professor and prolific author, spoke on the mission of the Church and what we have to do to become the Church we need. (To read the full transcript of his keynote address, click here.) Lakeland is an ecclesiologist, a student of the theology of Church. He said the mission of the Church is to the world and the role of the institutional structure of the Church is to support the laity in doing that mission. The test of the value of any policy or practice of the institutional Church is whether it supports the laity in its mission.

The Synod was a full day of talk and plans for action.

Read the full article at Progressive Catholic Voice

The next and obvious question is, “Where next?” – or are committed and baptized Catholics found only in the Twin Cities?

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