Tag Archives: coming out

The Gay Closet as a Place of Sin

My colleague Advocatus Diaboli sent me a link some days ago to a post at Jesus in Love, about a new book (“Dark Knowledge“, by Kenneth Low) which argues that Jesus was homosexual and sexually active, but closeted – and that was the reason for his trial and execution. AD asked me for my opinion. Before getting to my response, I share some key extracts from Kittredge’s post:

Dark Knowledge” by Kenneth Low uses rational arguments to disprove much of the conventional wisdom about Christ. According to Low, Jesus was not heterosexual, not celibate, and not happy with his own identity.

Low presents evidence that Jesus must have been homosexual because he was an unmarried man who surrounded himself with men, including John, his beloved male disciple and sexual partner.

-Jesus in Love

 

Kittredge quotes from Low directly:

In His childhood, Jesus Christ came into His awareness of being the Son of God. His magical authority and other attributes were given to Him as His birthright. As He came into sexual awareness, He discovered Himself to be a homosexual. His awareness of being the Son of God precluded any possibility of denying His sexuality out of some external concern and He began to be sexually active. He was evidently discovered to be a homosexual by people in His hometown and He must have been sharply rebuked and ostracized. He left Galilee and wandered on an endless soulful sojourn seeking a reconciliation of His divinity with His homosexuality. (p. 276)

-Jesus in Love

Toby Johnson, the author of Gay Spirituality and Gay Perspective and a former editor of the “White Crane” journal of gay spirituality, has also written about Dark Knowledge. He summarizes the thesis proposed by Dark Knowledge:

When Low considers Jesus as homosexual, it is as secretive, shamed and closeted, what a homosexual would have thought of himself in an intensely and threateningly homophobic and misogynistic society. His townsfolk would have ignored his teachings because they knew too much about him. He’d have been an embarrassment to his family. The Apostles would have been reluctant to admit they knew him if this fact came out. In this reading of the story, Jesus’s homosexuality isn’t an item of pride, but rather the source of a spiritual crisis that forces him to develop an interpretation of virtue and goodness that isn’t just conformity with Jewish Law, since he himself can’t conform.

(In his review, Johnson praises the originality of the presentation and the  manner  in which Low re-imagines the life of Christ. He concludes by noting that he is sceptical of Low’s conclusion, but finds the book stimulating, and a good read nevertheless).

I stress that I have not read the book, and will not even attempt an assessment. However, I was interested in my own strong reaction to the book’s conclusion as presented in Kittredge’s review, and where that response led me. That reaction was  to the whole concept, that Jesus might have been actively “homosexual” – but closeted. We have virtually no real evidence on Christ’s orientation or sexual practice. There are reasonable arguments that he may have been (in modern terms) homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or asexual in orientation, and it is possible to believe that he was sexually active, or celibate. We may speculate, but we just don’t know. I’m comfortable with any of the possibilities – homosexual and sexually active, heterosexual and sexually active – or entirely celibate. I don’t believe that it really matters. But the one possibility that I have not considered before, and immediately rejected out of hand in an instinctive, visceral reaction, is the one presented by Low: that Jesus was both homosexually active, closeted and ashamed. Why did I react so instinctively?

Somewhat surprised by the intensity of my response, I tried to dissect it. My conclusion came fairly rapidly: Low’s idea flatly contradicts a core belief of standard Christology, that although fully human, Jesus Christ was without sin. If he was without sin, what could he have to be ashamed of?

And that was where assessing my own response became really interesting to me. In going from a standard, conventional belief, that Jesus was without sin, to my conclusion, that this makes it impossible for him to have been a closeted, sexually active gay man, I had made an automatic assumption, that I was previously unaware of. That assumption, was that to be closeted and sexually active, is inherently sinful. But where is the sin? I have made it clear in numerous posts that I do not believe that homosexuality in itself is inherently sinful ( but some forms of inappropriate use of it may be). So if there is sin implied by the assumption, it must lie in the proposition that Jesus was closeted, and ashamed.

Is that a sound assumption? My short answer, which I present before the full reasoning, is yes – the closet is a place of sin (but with an important qualification, which I will get to later).

Before getting to a full consideration of just why I felt so strongly that the closet is a place of sin, I first reflected a little more on the nature of Christ. I have shared before, how my Religious Education classes at school included a lengthy period locating and memorizing Biblical texts on the theme of “God is….” (examples being “God is love”, “God is mercy”, “God is justice”, “God is light”, “God is life”, and more). A key one here, was “God is truth”.  If God is truth, and the closet is (by definition) a lie, then God/ Jesus in the closet is a logical impossibility. That doesn’t necessarily imply that there is sin in the closet, but the idea prepared the way for more, after some thought on the nature of sin.

My understanding of sin, is it is that which turns us away from God, keeps us from being the best that we can be. As John McNeill regularly reminds us in his books, St Ireneaus taught that “The glory of God is humans fully alive” – and by extension, I see sin as that which keeps us (or by our agency, others) from that glory, of being fully alive.  There is abundant evidence from academic literature, from anecdotal evidence, and from my own experience, that coming out is a process of growth, of becoming more fully alive . Remaining in the closet obstructs that growth, denying that process of growth. The closet keeps us from that – hiding us from that full glory of God.

If God / Jesus is truth, the closet is a lie. By hiding our own truth, we are denying the example of Christ.

God is love. Where is the love in the closet? “Love your neighbour as yourself” is the familiar text, but that implies that we must, indeed, love ourselves. Can we truly love ourselves, accept ourselves in all that we are, while denying an important part of who we are?

God is justice. Is there justice in the closet? Is there justice, in a situation where the 80 or 90% of adults are able to rejoice publicly in their loves, and invite friends, family and parishioners to celebrate an affirmation of those loves in church weddings – and some of us feel constrained to hide our loves, or even to avoid love altogether, out of fear?

I could go on, but you get the idea. As I explored my understanding of God, and of sin, it seemed to me clear that the closet restricts our approach to God, in these various aspects. Impeding our access to God, the closet is a place of sin.

But this was a troubling thought. I have often argued for the value of coming out, in church and in the world, but with an important qualification. This must always be only as far as we are able.  Sometimes, for personal reasons or by reason of external circumstances, we may not be able.  If the closet is a place of sin, as I concluded, what does this say of those who, for whatever reason, find that they are not able to come out?

That led me to some further thoughts on the nature of sin.

First, we must consider the particular circumstances and motivations of someone who is closeted. To take an extreme example, for most Catholic priests, coming out would be reckless, endangering their careers and ministry as priests. In such circumstances, staying within the closet in pursuit of a greater good is morally acceptable, and not sinful.

Next, we must consider that there exists both personal and social sin. If it is true that the closet is a place of sin, that does not necessarily imply that a closeted person is in a state of sin – the sin could lie in the social circumstances (of church doctrine and law, for instance, or the possibility of real and severe penalties). In that case, the sin could be social, not personal.

Now,  a little disclosure. The trigger that led to all of the above was in an email from AD, which by chance I read at 3 am one morning (no, that’s not my usual time for correspondence). The thoughts I have shared above, were buzzing around in my head for some hours later. They are based on perceptions, and half – remembered school lessons, not any deep knowledge or training in the relevant theology. The argument needs further testing and thought, but I have shared the ideas simply because they have substantially shaken me up. I am certain there will be flaws, in either the assumptions, or reasoning. I welcome responses from any one willing to pick holes in my thesis.

For Full Inclusion in Church, Be “Comfortable in Your Own Skin”

Whatever the election result, San Diego’s next mayor is guaranteed to be gay-friendly: two of the four candidates are openly gay, the other two are known to be straight allies. (Log Cabin Republicans have endorsed one of the straight candidates over the gay man and the lesbian in the race). This is an interesting illustration of the political changes over the last four years. In 2008, when the current mayor Jerry Sanders came out in vocal support for marriage equality, and opposition to California’s Proposition H8, he met with serious opposition from his Republican colleagues, and almost failed to get his party’s endorsement for his re-election.

There is a lesson in here though, for queers in church, as well as in politics. I believe firmly that wherever possible, we should be aiming to participate and worship fully and openly in our local communities (in addition to specifically LGBT congregations). These words by the lesbian candidate, Bonnie Dumanis, could easily be read as applying to coming out in church:

In my view, if you feel comfortable in your skin then people will feel comfortable with you,” she said. “You don’t have to make a big deal out of it. You just do your thing and people respond to that. And as more people have been more comfortable being openly gay then more people see that there’s somebody in their life that … they now know is gay and it changes views.”

via  UTSanDiego.com.

I once heard a wise priest say about the Soho Masses that “at it’s best”, the congregation enables people who have long been estranged from the church, to return, once again recognize the value of sacramental life of the church, and then to begin participation in their local parishes.

In other words, the Soho Masses, as well as Dignity, Quest, Integrity and the multitude of their counterparts in other denominations and countries, help us to become “comfortable in our own skins” – the essential precondition to accepting and creating full inclusion in church.

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A Gay Priest’s Journey, From Exile to Reconciliation

Coming out is almost always a challenging experience, for priests (of any denomination) more than for the rest of us.  The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of San Diego is not a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, but a priest all the same. He has written of his personal difficulties and journey in a book due for publication  . Some of the story is told in a post at San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.

Starting out in the Church of Ireland at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence, he soon found himself fired by his church, without even time for a proper farewell to his congregation, and with no transition plan.

From exile to reconciliation: The remarkable journey of a gay clergyman 

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In 1980, I was fired for being a gay priest. It was a long time ago but it was very difficult, and an example the results of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy practiced by both church and state.

In the early 1980s it was still illegal to be gay in Ireland; and there was a stigma which the Church strongly endorsed through its interpretation of Scripture. My partner Frank and I were young and naive, and we didn’t really know what we were dealing with in terms of the culture of the Church of Ireland, which was still very homophobic.

At St. Bartholomew’s Church in Dublin, my rector, John Neill, when he discovered I was gay and in a relationship, suspended me from all duties and even from saying goodbye to parishioners. This hurt me personally, but it also profoundly hurt the congregation. Even worse was the impact this decision had on the whole Church of Ireland. The story of what happened circulated for many years after my departure and was cited as an example of the church’s poor handling of gay and lesbian clergy.

via San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.

Denied any prospect of ministering in Ireland, he and his partner moved across the Irish Sea, to start again in London, where he found work in community services – but once bitten, was careful to remain deeply closeted. Later, he cross the sea again – the Atlantic, to the USA and California. Along the way, the trauma had devastating impact  on his relationship, culminating in the loss of his partner.

In the light of some recent posts and comments here about the value or harm of Gay Pride Parades, I was interested to note the circumstances around the start of his rehabilitation in the Church – at his first gay pride parade (on vacation in LA), where he met the president of Integrity, who was actively looking for an openly gay priest:

I had heard about how progressive the American Episcopal Church was becoming, and on a vacation in Los Angeles in 1982, I met Marsha Langford at my first Gay Pride parade. As president of Integrity, the Episcopal Church’s LGBT advocacy organisation, she was looking for an openly gay priest to begin a ministry with the hundreds of runaway gay youth that flocked to Los Angeles every year, as refugees from homophobic Middle America. I moved to L.A. later that year and began the ministry at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

He tells much more of his own journey, which you can read in full at SDGLN, but I want to focus here on a key lesson that he points to, himself.

While he has been through what he calls a “profoundly healing experience”, and while things are undoubtedly much easier in some denominations at least than they were twenty or thirty years ago, there are still profound difficulties remaining. One strategy of resistance that he recommends is one that I have been promoting since I began this site, three years ago: we must tell our stories.

It is my belief that the authentic spiritual journey begins in exile (the Garden of Eden story affirms it) and being fully healed as an LGBT person, we are gently encouraged to return to the place of the wound. The sacrifice that is being made by LGBT people on a global scale, on altars of certainty and righteousness is a daily occurrence. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” takes on a new meaning when one’s own spiritual journey follows a pattern of crucifixion, death and resurrection.

Canon Malcolm Boyd, one of the great openly gay mentors for the church who I came to love and respect in Los Angeles, once told me “Albert, for every one of us who have survived, 10 have not.” I think of the many gay and closeted clergy I know from the Church of Ireland who either committed suicide, drank themselves to death in a bid to numb their alienation, or were shipped off to London as I was. The toll is devastating and the waste of God-given gifts is a great blight on the church’s stewardship of creation in all its diversity.

What thousands of blessings have been withheld from the church as a result of the rejection faced by clergy like me? Yet many lives, mine among them, have experienced healing and reconciling love thanks to dioceses, parishes and nonprofit organizations conscious of the needs of LGBT people.

We now have the opportunity to tell our stories, and there are thousands more to tell. Integrity and the Diocese of Los Angeles welcomed me and took me in, broken and afraid and humiliated, and surrounded me with the friends of God. They believed in me when I could not believe in myself. As I come up to my 35th year of ministry, I realize that my move to the United States allowed me opportunities that most gay clergy are not given.

For anybody who has a story to tell, as clergy or laity, gay, lesbian, trans or other, but does not know where or how to tell it – this site will always provide a space to speak. Write to me at Terence@queerchurch.com

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Anthony Alfano: Openly gay student president at Catholic university

Here’s a refreshing sign of the times: De Paul university is the USA’s largest Catholic university – and has a student president who is openly gay.

Anthony Alfano’s story is instructive for all those who still see a contradiction or tension between their innate sexual orientation and their Catholic faith. In a report carried by the Windy City Times, he describes and contrasts his experience of living in the closet, and that of living openly and honestly as a gay man.  At Catholic High School, he simply accepted the Church teaching that homosexuality was immoral, and from that assumed that there was something wrong with himself. Raised in a very Catholic family, homosexuality was never a point of discussion. He remained strictly closeted, and even dated girls as a cover. There was a price – he was emotionally a wreck and suicidal: three times he attempted to suffocate himself.

By the end of his senior year, he was still very unsure where he was headed, but had finally come out to himself -and to nobody else. That came later, after starting at De Paul. Significantly, the breakthrough event was on a retreat with other first-year students.  It was then, he says, that he truly understood the importance of coming out. 

“The day I returned from the retreat I called up my best friend back [ in the northwest suburbs ] and told her we needed to talk. That friend, Erika Kearns, was the first person I came out to, and I know it was a little difficult as she had a crush on me in high school.

“Then over winter break of my first year [ in college ] , I told all my friends back home and one in particular, Gretchen Bachrodt, was the most encouraging and supportive and was someone who, although I knew I could always count on, solidified that feeling when she told me she always knew, but waited for me to be ready.” 

As a sophomore, junior and now as a senior, Alfano came out to friends at school, family members and, this past summer, to his mom, Anna, which he said has been his most difficult coming-out.

Alfano’s coming out was a long process, but he found support at every step along the way – and that includes the Catholic university. His final, fully public coming out was on October 1oth, National Coming Out day, which he did in an interview with the student newspaper.  Assistant vice president Robin Florzak issued an important and instructive statement:

 “DePaul University is a diverse place that welcomes people of all races, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations. Anthony made a courageous personal decision to discuss his sexuality with the university’s student newspaper. Anthony is a remarkable young man and student leader, and we hope that his candor helps other young people facing these issues to feel comfortable discussing their orientation with family and friends.”

There are several lessons that gay Catholics can draw from Alfano’s story:

Come out to God.

Whatever humans may react to our sexuality, we must know that God will never reject us. Bringing the issue of sexuality into our prayer life will surely give us the confidence to move ahead, and come out to others. Alfano’s journey began with a retreat. My own coming out preceded my return to the Church and any form of religious practice, but I certainly grew enormously in confidence about sexuality after I spent a major part of an extended, six daydirected retreat reflecting on sexuality and faith.

Begin with trusted, close friends.

Really close friends (and mothers) often know we are gay before we fully recognize it ourselves. Like Gretchen in Alfano’s life, they will be simply waiting for us to declare ourselves. When we do, they can be immensely supportive and helpful, as we continue the ordeal of opening up to others.

Catholics are not inherently hostile.

While orthodox CDF doctrine certainly has seriously hostile elements, which some rule-book Catholics use to support and justify their own hostility to us, this is certainly not true of Catholics as a whole.  Alfano notes that his experience has been one of such a welcome and acceptance, that he was not ever discouraged from continuing in the coming out process. This welcome and acceptance, which he experienced and is formally endorsed in the statement by   for the university administration, is simply the other side of orthodox Catholic doctrine, spelt out in the Catechism and the CDF Pastoral Letter, which has been unduly neglected in the popular mind: that persons with same-sex attraction are to be treated with dignity, understanding and respect.

Coming Out permits “human flourishing”,

It is clear that Alfano has found coming out to be a positive, growth experience. “Human flourishing” is an important concept in the theology of natural law. The concept of natural law has often been taken as one of the foundations of religious opposition to homoerotic relationships, but consideration of the concept of flourishing, together what modern science teaches us about the nature of human sexuality, leads to a contrary conclusion: natural law requires that, for those with an innately homoerotic orientation, we should accept and embrace our sexual identity – and come out publicly, to whatever extent we are able to.

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Openly Gay Mormon Leader, Mitch Mayne

The progress to LGBT equality in the mainline Protestant churches, and in Europe, should by now be familiar. The Anglican communion and the Swedish Lutherans have openly gay and lesbian bishops; the Methodists in the US and the UK are freely discussing recognition for out and partnered queer clergy, a move already agreed by US Lutherans and Presbyterians, and practiced for years by the United Church. What has been less widely reported, has been progress also in some more unexpected groupings, including Evangelicals – and Mormons. Mitch Mayne, for instance, was recently elected at a Mormon leadership post in San Francisco:   

Early on in life, Mitch Mayne knew exactly who he was.
He would race home from school to watch reruns of “Star Trek” and swoon over his crush, Captain Kirk. At 8, after his parents converted, he was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith he embraced. Even after he drifted away from the LDS Church following his parents’ divorce, he came back to Mormonism on his own in his mid-20s.
It is where he feels spiritually at home, irrespective of the fact that, for the past 10 years, he’s been openly gay.
“I’m a man that lives in two worlds that a lot of people don’t think intersect,” Mayne said. “Both sides of myself exist in me. It’s part of my DNA, part of my makeup.”
Actively Mormon and openly gay: It’s the sort of combo that might leave people wondering. After all, the LDS Church teaches that homosexuality, specifically if same-sex attractions are acted upon, is a sin. And the church has actively backed measures to ban same-sex marriages.
-full report at  CNN Belief Blog 
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Kristen Chenoweth on being a Christian and a gay rights supporter – PinkNews.co.uk

Kristen Chenoweth says she is a liberal Christian

“US singer and actress Kristen Chenoweth has described how she balances her Christian faith with support for gay rights.

The West Wing and Wicked star has been praised for supporting equality and last year, defended her Promises, Promises co-star Sean Hayes after an article said he couldn’t play a straight man.

She told The Advocate: “I read my Bible and I pray and all of that – I really do. But at the same time, I don’t think being gay is a sin. Period”

Out in Africa, in Church.

For a man to be both both married, and an active churchgoer, should be unremarkable.   That Mooketsi Sedimo’s marital status and church participation is different, is because his spouse is a man, and he and his husband live in Africa – in Botswana.  We are all familiar with depressing headlines about the homophobic hysteria in some African countries, but too easily overlook the more encouraging stories that also come out of the continent.
Botswana does not have the constitutional protections available to the LGBT community in neighbouring South Africa, and there is substantial popular suspicion directed against gay men and lesbians, just as there is in many other countries. However, as has been amply demonstrated for prejudice of all kinds, in all places, familiarity does not breed contempt, but understanding and acceptance. Instead of trying to escape prejudice by hiding in a closet, Sedimo adopted the unusual tactic (for Botswana) of simply coming out openly, even to his pastor. This he did in completely unambiguous terms, by explaining that he had married a man, in South Africa.
Sedimo is in a same sex marriage, having wedded his partner in South Africa early this year. “I let my pastor know, as well as my family members. My pastor explained the matter to the church later. What is pleasing is that the church decided to accept me and not to judge me, because judgement is for the Lord,” says the soft spoken and cigarette liking man.
Sedimo is an active and talented member of the church band, which probably has a lot to do with the acceptance he has received.

The bandmaster, Cavere Moahi, describes Sedimo as “one hell of a dedicated member” who is also talented in playing various musical instruments of worship like the drums, euphonium (phala), trumpet, and the alto horn.
The bandmaster even has high hopes for Sedimo that at the rate he is excelling in the band, it “won’t be long before he starts playing the tuba baritone”
“He is not just a dedicated member, Sedimo is also full of love, which radiates throughout the church. We learnt about his sexual orientation recently, but decided to leave everything in the hands of the Lord who created our church mate. We believe God loves him as much as He loves us and only God is able to judge us. So we love him (Sedimo) and he loves the church so much. He is so free in the church that he can even stand before everyone and preach. That’s how free we are with him.”
The value to the wider community when individuals come out in church, is that it is difficult to maintain hostility in principle that is directed against an abstract group, when the target of that hostility becomes a flesh and blood person, seated in the pew or playing in the band or singing in the choir behind you. Growing acceptance of the individuals in the congregation then leads to reduced prejudice against the group as a whole.
In Sedimo’s case, there is another important lesson in his story: his strong endorsement of marriage, as contributing to family and social stability:
However, Sedimo has never been blind to Botswana society’s negative perception of people in same sex relationships.
This negative perception would play a part when Sedimo wanted to make a choice about his long-term plans.Sedimo says he knew he needed to be in a stable relationship as opposed to what he says is a highly promiscuous and carefree lifestyles common among the gay community in Botswana.
It is this need for stability that convinced Sedimo to look beyond Botswana’s borders for a suitable partner. “I also wanted to protect the gay people of Botswana from the negative perceptions that they would be subjected to if their relatives came to know about our relationship,” says Sedimo, as he puffs his cigarette as if his courage depended on it.
Those who believe that they can “protect” marriage and family by maintaining legal restrictions on it have it completely wrong: the experience of Sedimo, and countless other same sex couples, is that marriage contributes to stable families and societies – irrespective of the gender or orientation involved.

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