Tag Archives: gay

Kentucky "Welcoming Church" Leaves Baptist Association

In recent years, progress towards full lgbt inclusion in church has been remarkable, with the appointment of openly gay and lesbian bishops, landmark national decisions by some denominations to remove barriers to ordination for LGBT pastors, and local decisions by individual congregations to conduct same – sex weddings or blessings for queer couples (or to withhold weddings for all couples, until they are able to offer them to all, without discrimination). The headline news reports have usually featured (mainline) Protestant denominations – and resistance by some dissenting congregations, transferring their allegiance to alternative umbrella bodies.

The movement towards welcoming and affirming congregations is present though in all denominations, and that includes the Evangelical churches.  In these, it is sometimes the refusal to accept inclusion, not its endorsement, that leads congregations to disaffiliate. This was the case in Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Central Baptist’s commitment to inclusion is clear from its website, right on the homepage: see the logo, and the clear promise just beneath it : “All Are Welcome – No Exceptions”.

 

The Central pastor, Mark Johnson, had written a blog post that featured a poster based marketing campaign by an Indianapolis church. affiliated to the MCC,  that asked the pertinent question “Who Stole Jesus?“. This resulted in a complaint from the pastor of a sister – church to the Elkhorn Baptist Association. In response, the congregation opted to withdraw from the association

The congregation opted to leave the association rather than fight, but added a public statement to make clear that all Baptists do not agree on everything.

“We have been quiet for too long,” said church member Rachel Childress. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in our community who do not know there is a Baptist church like us.”

Central Baptist Church’s website lists mission partners including the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The church left the Southern Baptist Convention and Kentucky Baptist Convention a decade ago. Johnson said those decisions made the vote to leave the association “a natural and predictable course of direction.”

Johnson said Central Baptist Church wants to identify itself as “an open and inviting fellowship for God’s people.” A motto on the church website says: “All are welcomed here. No exceptions.”

The press release said Central Baptist harbors “no feelings of animosity toward or alienation from the people or programs” of Elkhorn Baptist Association, but believes “it is best to officially part ways.” The church will continue to work with Irishtown Baptist Mission in downtown Lexington, a ministry supported by the association that Central took the lead in establishing 50 years ago.

– Associated Baptist Press – Kentucky church leaves association.

In fact, this withdrawal neatly highlights the relevance of the “Who Stole Jesus?” question. The whole Gospel message affirms the primacy of love, mercy and compassion over strict adherence to rigid religious rules and bureaucratic control. By withdrawing from a body that seeks to impose religious conformity, they are simply refusing to allow them to “steal Jesus” away from them.

61% of UK Christians back equal rights for gay couples – Survey

There is extensive evidence that the US is moving to embrace full equality for lesbian and gay couples, and that Catholics are more supportive than the population at large. American Evangelicals though, remain (mostly) hostile. There has not been nearly as much polling for the UK, but a new survey shows even more support than in the US – including from 61% of all Christians.

61% of Christians back equal rights for gay couples

Results of a poll released today say 61% of people in the UK who identify as Christian back fully equal rights for gay couples.

The 2011 Ipsos MORI study explored the “beliefs, knowledge and attitudes” of people who identified as Christian after the nationwide census last year.

74% of respondents said as Christians they thought religion should not have a special influence on public life.

The survey was conducted on behalf of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Six in ten respondents, 61%, agreed that gays should have the same rights in all aspects of their lives as straight people.

Only 29% said they disapproved of sexual relationships between gays. Nearly half said they did not actively disapprove.

 – full report at  PinkNews.co.uk.

A word of caution here, is that the survey was sponsored by the explicitly secularist Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is using the results to demonstrate that the UK is a secular society, and not a “Christian country”. It does not appear to have released the full questionnaire or tables. The only results currently available are those selected for inclusion in the press release by the Foundation. In particular, the description “Christian” appears to be used for those who describe themselves as such – many of whom do not actively practice their religion.

There is no reason to disregard the main thrust of the finding though, which is in agreement with what previous research is available. British opinion is firmly on the side of LGBT inclusion – and that includes those who think of themselves Christian.

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Soho Masses – Supporting Church Teaching.

The Sunday after London Pride last year, our Soho Mass was briefly disturbed by an uninvited visitor, making an entirely unauthorized video recording of the proceedings. His recording of the bidding prayers has now surfaced on some conservative Catholic blogs.

In a Catholic Herald report, some of the bloggers and others opposed to the Masses have used these as supposed evidence that they exist primarily to challenge Church teaching. Fr Ray Blake, for instance, claims that

“What I find scandalous is that Mass is offered for a group of people who, as this video shows, obviously dissent from the teaching of the Church and gather primarily to challenge that teaching, rather than to worship.”

This conclusion is patently ridiculous, and not supported by the texts of the bidding prayers themselves. These in particular, appear to be what they most object to:

 …..that the various communities we represent, ethnicity, language, gender and sexual orientations, find means to celebrate this diversity, and strive for greater social justice for all people.

Are the opponents seriously suggesting that we should not be praying for social justice? Another prayer they objected to, was for

…lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender organisations here and throughout the world, and especially those which gather to support people of faith, that they may reflect the rainbow covenant of justice and integrity which God establishes amongst us.

What is forbidden by Church teaching, is same-sex genital activity. There is nothing in the prayers that even remotely encourages this.

Watch, and decide for yourselves:

What these prayers do promote, is an obvious corollary to the other part of Catechism teaching – the importance of respect, compassion and sensitivity, which must lead to the acceptance of full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church. So these bidding prayers are promoting, not contradicting, Church teaching – one of the parts that the objectors conveniently ignore. (The other part they ignore, is that none of us has the right to pass judgement on the state of another’s soul).

Fr Blake is also totally wrong that the “purpose” of the Mass is not worship. Five years ago, when I and a group of others were discussing with diocesan representatives the parameters for our move into a Catholic parish church, it was clearly understood, and agreed by us, that the Masses were to be pastoral in nature, and not campaigning. As part of the organising team ever since, I can confirm that we have stood by that agreement scrupulously. The sole purpose of the Mass is to provide an opportunity for LGBT Catholics, their families and friends, to meet together for a corporate act of worship, in a setting where they know they will receive a particular welcome – together with other Catholics, and in a parish setting. It is true that I and some of the other organisers do disagree, strongly and publicly, with Vatican doctrine on sexual ethics, but that is kept strictly separate from the conduct of the Masses. (In the same way, it is likely that in any student chaplaincy, there will be a strong proportion of young people who disagree strongly with church teaching on sex before marriage, or on masturbation, but that does not imply that Masses for students are organised to promote dissent. A similar argument applies to family Masses and contraception.)

In his response to the objections, the CH quotes our chairman, Joe Stanley, who said that he did not think Fr Finigan’s view of the Soho Masses was representative.

“Our experience of ordinary Catholics in the pew is very different from the comments in the blogosphere. The Masses keep getting represented as “gay Masses”,” he said, emphasising that they are public Masses that extend a particular welcome to gay people and their parents, families and friends. 

But the most important response is that of Archbishop Vincent Nichols of the diocese of Westminster, in which the parish falls. In a supportive statement, he reminds us that

As with every Catholic Mass, the bidding prayers celebrated at the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory ask for the intercession of God in the lives of people who may be in need.

Bidding prayers for every Mass must reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church and this applies to the Mass held every fortnight where a particular welcome is extended to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered Catholics and their families. 

There is no sacrilege in bringing together a group of Catholics for worship. The only sacrilege here is in making an unauthorized recording of that worship for the sole purpose of sowing dissension. There is no dissent expressed in praying that all may be included and treated with respect in the Catholic Church. The only dissent, is in opposing a considered, deliberate pastoral plan by the Archdiocese to put Catholic teaching on respect, compassion and sensitivity into practice.

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Remembering Fr. Howard Hall, Pioneer of Catholic LGBT Ministry

From a personal recollection by Francis DeBernardo, of New Ways Ministry:

Father Howard Hall, one of the pioneers of LGBT ministry in the Catholic church, has passed away from pancreatic cancer.  Fr. Hall was instrumental in developing diocesan ministry to LGBT people in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he was involved in the work of so many of the national Catholic organizations that work for justice and equality for LGBT people:  Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, New Ways Ministry, Fortunate Families, and Dignity.

I had the pleasure of meeting Howard on several occasions over the years, and he was always a gentle and joy-filled presence.  My greatest memory of him comes from the summer of 2000 when I spent two weeks doing New Ways Ministry workshops in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  Howard was instrumental in helping us set up and promote the workshop I conducted in his hometown of Baton Rouge.  It is a testimony to the great groundwork that he did there that this workshop was one of the best attended that I have conducted in 18 years of this ministry.

Like many people, I will remember Howard for his great kindness and generosity.  While I was planning that trip to the Gulf Coast, Howard realized that it would be a grueling schedule for me, as I spent each day traveling and doing a program for almost two weeks straight.  To alleviate the stress, Howard offered me use of his small cabin in the countryside not far from Baton Rouge for two days of solitude and silence.  It was a modest, cozy place, and I’ll never forget the peace that I experienced there or the generosity of the priest who provided it.

via   Bondings 2.0.

Even today, it is extremely difficult for a gay priest to come out to more than a few close friends – and even that is not easy. It is even more difficult for those working in parish ministry, and outside a supportive religious order. Yet, it is striking in Father Hall’s story, that as a parish priest, he began reaching out to gay and lesbian parishioners as long ago as the early ’70’s, some forty years ago, and in 1973 launched one of the first Dignity chapters, based in his Baton Rouge parish. He has also worked extensively in LGBT ministry with other organizations, such as New Ways, CALGM, Fortunate Families, and PFLAG.

There is still a long, long way to go on the path to full inclusion for queer Catholics, but we have come a long way already, from the dark days when “gay Catholic” was simply assumed to be an impossible oxymoron. Today, we have widespread acceptance by ordinary Catholics in the pews, who believe that homosexuality is simply not a matter of morality, recognition by many professional moral theologians that official teaching needs a drastic overhaul, and a shift in emphasis by many bishops from the Catechism prohibition on “homosexual acts”, to the accompanying Catechism inistence on “dignity, compassion and respect”.

This shift over the last half century would not have been possible without the brave work of the early pioneers – like Fr Howard Hall.

(For more extensive biographical information, see his profile on the LGBT Religious Archives Network.)

Related Books:

Arpin, Robert L:  Wonderfully, Fearfully Made: Letters on Living With Hope, Teaching Understanding, And Ministering With Love, from a Gay Catholic Priest With AIDS

McNeill, John:  Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair 

McGinley, DuganActs of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Texts 

Murray, PaulLife in Paradox: The Story of a Gay Catholic Priest 

Stuart, Elisabeth: Chosen: Gay Catholic Priests Tell Their Stories

 Wagner, Richard: Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex In The Catholic Church: The Systematic Destruction of an Oblate Priest

Related articles

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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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Celebrate the Value of Gay Parents

I don’t need formal research to tell me that gay men and lesbians make good parents: I know it on the grounds of my own success (affirmed by my daughters), and the public testimony of one of them:

Gay parents? I recommend them.

Even a pope, John Paul I, is believed to have supported adoption by gay parents, on the grounds that they would take in the children others might reject. (His view has been confirmed by the experience of adoption agencies and childcare professionals, who have frequently confirmed that without a pool of prospective gay parents, many kids would simply remain unplaced).

But for those who want solid research evidence on the suitability of gay/lesbian parents, there is a growing mountain of material out there. (Sadly, I am not aware of any research on trans parenting. Can any readers help?). Huffington Post summarizes some of it.

Gay Parents Better Than Straight Parents? What Research Says

Gay parents “tend to be more motivated, more committed than heterosexual parents on average, because they chose to be parents,” said Abbie Goldberg, a psychologist at Clark University in Massachusetts who researches gay and lesbian parenting. Gays and lesbians rarely become parents by accident, compared with an almost 50 percent accidental pregnancy rate among heterosexuals, Goldberg said. “That translates to greater commitment on average and more involvement.”

And while research indicates that kids of gay parents show few differences in achievement, mental health, social functioning and other measures, these kids may have the advantage of open-mindedness, tolerance and role models for equitable relationships, according to some research. Not only that, but gays and lesbians are likely to provide homes for difficult-to-place children in the foster system, studies show. (Of course, this isn’t to say that heterosexual parents can’t bring these same qualities to the parenting table.) [5 Myths About Gay People Debunked]

Adopting the neediest

Gay adoption recently caused controversy in Illinois, where Catholic Charities adoption services decided in November to cease offering services because the state refused funding unless the groups agreed not to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Rather than comply, Catholic Charities closed up shop.

Catholic opposition aside, research suggests that gay and lesbian parents are actually a powerful resource for kids in need of adoption. According to a 2007 report by the Williams Institute and the Urban Institute, 65,000 kids were living with adoptive gay parents between 2000 and 2002, with another 14,000 in foster homes headed by gays and lesbians. (There are currently more than 100,000 kids in foster care in the U.S.)

-read the full analysis at  Huffington Post.

The challenge that legal approval for gay adoption  presents to Catholic adoption agencies has been widely reported. But there is another, wider issue for the Church that has received much less attention. With some 80 000 children living with gay adoptive or foster parents, and many more living with a biological parent who has a same sex partner, that’s an awful lot of kids being raised by gay parents – and a multiple of that number with friends and classmates who are being raised by gay parents.

That’s an awful lot of young kids in school, and a fair proportion of them will be attending Catholic schools – we don’t know for certain just how many, but it’s likely to be many thousands. Against that number, it’s worth noting that there have been just two reports of Catholic schools that have attempted to exclude a child with same sex parents (and one of those had the diocese step in to reverse the attempt).

These children are growing up with the evidence of their own experience (like my daughters) or that of their friends, that gay parents are no more likely to be the hedonistic reprobates of some Catholic assumptions, than any others.

That’s a major cause for celebration.

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