Tag Archives: queer theology

John McNeill, Theologian

Theologian
b. September 2, 1925

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

“John McNeill Response Sermon.” CLGS. October 2, 2005
Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: My Spiritual Journey (1998)
Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else
Sex as God Intended (2009)
Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays and Lesbians, Their Lovers, Friends and Families
The Church and the Homosexual
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Remembering Marcella Althaus – Reid, “Indecent Theologian”

Theologian Marcella Althaus – Reid died February 20th 2009, after a theological journey that began with the study and practice of liberation theology in the slums of Argentina under the military junta, and ended as Professor of Contextual Theology at Edinburgh University, where her interests included Liberation Theology, Feminist theology and Queer Theology. I have an instinctive personal response to this trajectory – my own journey in faith was strongly coloured by my experience of the Catholic Church under apartheid South Africa as an important force campaigning for justice and peace.  As in Argentian, liberation theology was an important influence in the South African Catholic Church, where it transformed into Black theology – and later contextual theology. Like Althaus- Reid, my conviction that Christianity must stand on the side of justice and inclusion for the marginalized has led me to a conviction that this must also include justice in the church, and justice also for the sexually marginalized of all shades: gay, lesbian, trans, bi- or simply queer (in either meaning – sexually non-conformist, or just “strange”). And like her, I too have migrated from a land of southern sun to British damp and cold. So – I could be biased.
As a theologian, her work was undoubtedly influential – but also highly controversial. Just the titles of her two major books illustrate this: “Indecent Theology”, and “The Queer God”. I love the title and concept “Indecent Theology” (which I have not read), which suggests for me two distinct concepts: that theology should not shrink from tackling concepts that are too often avoided as “indecent”, and simultaneously that in tackling conventional themes, it need not automatically adopt a reverential, deferential submission to received, supposedly authoritative opinion.  Her thorough grounding in liberation theology left Althaus – Reid with a firm commitment to the value of base communities, in which ordinary people in small groups can do theology by talking about the influence and impact of God in their lives, in their unique circumstances. The formal, accredited theologians have greater training and academic understanding of the theory of God – but the base communities have real – world experience of their own lives. Both methods of doing theology deserve attention and respect.
For her admirers, she was a pioneer in the transformation of gay liberation theology into queer theology. See for instance, Jay Emerson Johnson of the Pacific School of Religion, in a commemorative reflection after her death:
Hardly anyone has a neutral reaction to the word “queer.” People either love it or hate it. I used to belong to that latter camp until a wiry, effervescent, brilliant Latin American liberation theologian converted me. That theologian’s name was Marcella Althaus-Reid, who passed away on February 20 – far too young and with many more theological and spiritual insights left to offer to a world that desperately needs them.
“Queer theology” has been bubbling up in some quarters for a while now, but not quite as long as “queer theory.” Both spark considerable controversy, and sometimes for similar reasons. Usually the word “queer” is enough to send an otherwise congenial dinner party of LGBT people rocking with impassioned disclaimers, hurled history lessons, and proffered pleas for tolerance. In religious circles, gay and lesbian people have been working for decades to carve out a “place at the table” in faith communities that they so rightly deserve. The work can be slow and arduous, which the word “queer” – some strenuously insist – can derail. A few years ago I attended a national gathering of LGBT-affirming ministries where a well-known gay Christian author practically begged his audience of several hundred to refrain from using “that word” in their advocacy work. It simply perpetuates the assumption that we’re different, he explained.
That’s exactly the point, as Marcella Althaus-Reid would have chimed in had she been there. We are different. And the only way to do Christian theology is from that place of difference. The “we” for Althaus-Reid didn’t mean only lesbian and gay people, nor the ones so quickly added on later, like bisexuals and transgender folks. “We” are all those who don’t fit the regulatory regimes of both state and church marked by gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, and economics. For her, “queer” maps out a space of resistance to those regimes, not just to oppose but creatively to construct, re-imagine, and envision a different kind of world.
Johnson doesn’t spell it out, but her understanding of “queer” was emphatically not restricted to lesbian, gay and trans – it very much included bisexual (which she was herself), and all the varieties of sexual non-conformity – she was one of the few queer theologians to include discussion of S/M  sexuality.
For her detractors, there are many counterarguments. A good friend, who knows far more about the Catholic Church and theology than I do, once described her to me quite simply as a “nutter”. Her writing has far more the character of post-modern philosophy or literary criticism than of conventional theology. Her sources are secular writing more often than they are scriptural, or based on earlier theologians. (When I read “The Queer God”, I was baffled at times by the style and the dense, sometime impenetrable writing – but equally stimulated and excited by other passages of brilliance and insight). Some would even argue that her theology is post-Christian, not Christian. For example, Rollan McCleary:
In reality, Marcella Althaus-Reid constitutes one of the strangest phenomena in the long and diverse history of Christian thought. To judge from her published works this lecturer in “Christian ethics” who dismissed the Ten Commandments as “a consensus” reflecting “elite perspectives” (2003:163) was less a spokesperson for the “indecent” or disruptive she is supposed to represent and that might have had it uses, than an unusual kind of atheist and blasphemer whose written wit and reportedly frequent laughter in person barely disguised the extent of the game she must have known she was playing. Within the increasingly effete, too often irrelevant world of theological and Queer studies she found opportunity. Her admirers, and in her last years she had them on an international scale, have been deceived or perhaps never really understood what she wrote – whole chunks of it admitted to be dense, difficult, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary based. Those who truly understood might have to be considered infidels towards the religion they profess.
But even her detractors agree on some undeniable lasting value in her work. McCleary concedes in his post,
…. even if Marcella hadn’t returned right answers she had raised pertinent questions based on experiences not to be ignored.
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New Books Explore Homosexuality and the Church

The first notable books on theology appeared something like forty years ago. Since then, the early thin trickle has become a steady stream, as Publishers Weekly has observed:

Religious movements often build on a variety of texts: key scriptures, treatises, tales of pioneers and heroes. For gay Christians, the time has come to fill in a few gaps, and publishers are eager to contribute.

Recent and forthcoming releases help develop what have been seen, at least in gay circles, as categories needing further exploration. The trend equips readers to wrestle anew with questions of scriptural interpretation, biblical authority, and what it means to love one’s neighbor.
The listing  covers work by people of a refreshing range of backgrounds: straight allies as well as gay, young and old, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant and Catholic. One disappointment? Only one woman is represented – but an important one, Carter Heyward.
These are the books discussed, together with some notes by the publishers:
Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist pastor in North Carolina, was visited one morning in 1984 by Adam, a longtime parishioner whom he liked and respected. Adam said that he was gay, and that he was leaving the The United Methodist Church, which had just pronounced that no “self-avowed practicing homosexual” could be ordained. He would not be part of a community that excluded him. Creech found himself instinctively supporting Adam, telling him that he was sure that God loved and accepted him as he was. Adam’s Gift is Creech’s inspiring first-person account of how that conversation transformed his life and ministry.
Adam’s visit prompted Creech to re-evaluate his belief that homosexuality was a sin, and to research the scriptural basis for the church’s position. He determined that the church was mistaken, that scriptural translations and interpretations had been botched and dangerously distorted. As a Christian, Creech came to believe that discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people was morally wrong. This understanding compelled him to perform same-gender commitment ceremonies, which conflicted with church directives. Creech was tried twice by The United Methodist Church, and, after the second trial, his ordination credentials were revoked. Adam’s Gift is a moving story and an important chapter in the unfinished struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil and human rights.

If anyone ever had a reason to leave the Christian faith, Jay Bakker did.
At the age of only 11 his parents’ global PTL ministry was engulfed by scandal and undermined by Christian backbiting -all of which played out in the 24-hour news media.
Disillusioned, Bakker turned to drugs and alcohol and left his childhood beliefs behind. But along the way, an interesting thing happened: Bakker came to understand, through his personal challenges and suffering (as well as the help of some friends), what God’s grace was really all about.
In this book Bakker explores the true nature of grace–what it means for everyday living and the hot-button issues of our day. With disarming humility, poignant observations, and spot-on theology, Bakker both challenges Christians to reassess their understanding of salvation and encourages non-believers to see Jesus with fresh eyes.
( Bakker, another straight ally, is the 35-year-old son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker)

In the view of many Christians, the teenage years are simultaneously the most dangerous and the most promising. At the very moment when teens are trying to establish a sense of identity and belonging, they are beset by temptation on all sides—from the pressure of their peers to the nihilism and materialism of popular culture. Add the specter of homosexuality to the mix, and you’ve got a situation ripe for worry, sermonizing, and exploitation.
In Recruiting Adolescence, Mark D. Jordan explores more than a half century of American church debate about homosexuality to show that even as the main lesson—homosexuality is bad, teens are vulnerable—has remained constant, the arguments and assumptions have changed remarkably. At the time of the first Kinsey Report, in 1948, homosexuality was simultaneously condemned and little discussed—a teen struggling with same-sex desire would have found little specific guidance. Sixty years later, church rhetoric has undergone a radical shift, as silence has given way to frequent, public, detailed discussion of homosexuality and its perceived dangers. Along the way, churches have quietly adopted much of the language and ideas of modern sexology, psychiatry, and social reformers—deploying it, for example, to buttress the credentials of anti-gay “deprogramming” centers and traditional gender roles.
Jordan tells this story through a wide variety of sources, including oral histories, interviews, memoirs, and even pulp novels; the result is a fascinating window onto the never-ending battle for the teenage soul.
(Jordan is a Catholic historian at Harvard, and also a notable writer on Catholicism and homosexuality, in history and in the modern world.  Other notable books for general readers are The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology,  The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism,  The Ethics of Sex, and  Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage)

“Patrick Cheng’s Radical Love is an excellent introduction to queer theology. It is readable and nuanced, a marvelous teaching resource.” –Carter Heyward, author of Keep Your Courage: A Radical Christian Feminist Speaks and Professor Emerita of Theology, Episcopal Divinity School
“Patrick Cheng’s Radical Love is not only an excellent introduction to LGBT theology but an important contribution to the discipline of theology and the life of the church. It is a must read for anyone who cares about the health of the church and theology today.” –James H. Cone, Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology, Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY
“Thoroughly Christian and thoroughly Queer, Cheng helps readers welcome a theology that leaves no one behind.” –Chris Glaser, author of As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriageand Coming Out as Sacrament
“This book is a clear, accessible and exciting analysis of Queer Theology. Cheng perfectly captures both the challenge and the rootedness of Queer Theology.” –Professor Elizabeth Stuart, Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Winchester, UK
“I would characterize Cheng’s notion of ‘radical love’ as ‘wild grace’ with which mainstream theology has yet to wrestle. This is a good text for introducing queer theology to undergraduate and graduate students.” –Rev. Dr. Bob Shore-Goss, Senior Pastor/Theologian, Metropolitan Community Church in the Valley, North Hollywood, CA

“Radical Love – a love so extreme that it dissolves our existing boundaries! What concept could be more liberating for a culture like ours, where lives are crucified on rigid binaries like male vs. female, us vs. them, straight vs. queer? Radical Love is an excellent introduction for beginners and an excellent synthesis for more advanced readers.” –Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author ofSensuous Spirituality and Omnigender, among many other books.
(Cheng, an openly gay professor at Episcopal Divinity School and ordained minister in the Metropolitan Community Church, describes this book as the first ever introductory text book on Queer Theology. His extended essay on Sin and Grace, exploring Christology from a gay perspective, was recently posted at Jesus in Love blog).

Carter Heyward is one of the most influential and controversial theologians of our time. Under headings “Speaking Truth to Power,” Remembering Who We Are,” and “Celebrating Our Friends,” she reflects on how movements for gender and sexual justice reverberate globally. In this volume of occasional pieces, the lesbian feminist theologian bears witness to the sacred struggles to topple oppressive power. These pieces illustrate feminist theology’s bold and transformative engagement of its cultural, political, social, and theological contexts.
“Now forty years later, while not as naïve and utopian in my politics, I am still enthusiastically committed, as a Christian, to struggles dedicated to building a world in which every person is entitled, by law, to basic human rights. I have come to realize, as I move along into my mid-sixties, that what justice-loving people most need in these times, and in all times, is courage to speak and act on behalf of this world. My desire in this book is to spark such courage and stir imagination.” –from the Foreword.
( Heyward is a key figure in the development of the lesbian / feminist strand in gay and lesbian theology. Some of her earlier books are

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Gay Marriage: The Fallacy of the Church’s Argument Against.

Writing in El Paso Times, Texan priest Fr Michael Rodriguez has launched an impassioned diatribe against all forms of legal recognition for same sex union. His ranting could easily be dismissed as the lunatic fringe, but as so many Catholic catechismophiles share his ridiculous claims and assumptions, I think it is worth responding in full. This is his key assertion:
Remember: Every single Catholic, out of fidelity to charity and truth, has the absolute duty to oppose (1) the murder of unborn babies, and (2) any and all government attempts to legalize homosexual unions.” 
Not content to invent a supposed moral obligation to oppose all forms of union, he goes even further:
“Any Catholic who supports homosexual acts is, by definition, committing a mortal sin, and placing himself/herself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”
Furthermore, a Catholic would be guilty of a most grievous sin of omission if he/she neglected to actively oppose the homosexual agenda, which thrives on deception and conceals its wicked horns under the guises of “equal rights,” “tolerance,” “who am I to judge?,” etc.
What has he been smoking? He claims to base his words on a pastoral letter of the US bishops, which says, in part:

“It is not unjust to oppose legal recognition of same-sex unions, because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.”

Now I disagree with the bishops’ stance, but it as least an understandable, coherent position. It’s a big leap, though, to go from “it is not unjust to oppose…”, to saying that there exists an “absolute duty to oppose …“
He attempts to soften his position by stating
I urge all of the Catholic faithful to treat homosexuals with love, understanding, and respect.
In doing so, I fear that by his own standards, he damns himself. He has already insisted that a Catholic “would be guilty of a most grievous sin of omission if he/she neglected to actively oppose the homosexual agenda”. I have never been clear precisely what this notorious “agenda” comprises, but as one who actively promotes it, I am certain that a central part of it is precisely a demand to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. By urging this part of it, Fr Rodriguez is himself promoting a key component of our “agenda”, and by his own standards is thus committing a “grievous mortal sin”.
By his standards, he also condemns not just himself, but the majority of US and European lay Catholics, and also a significant proportion of the clergy and some bishops. How so? He claims that Catholics have an obligation to actively oppose the homosexual agenda. But numerous (US) research surveys have shown that a narrow majority of Catholics approve of same sex marriage and gay adoption, while more substantial  majorities approve some form of legal recognition, and do not see same sex relationships as being morally wrong. Among the clergy, some individual priests and groups of priests have publicly supported gay marriage, and many more privately support either marriage or civil unions. In Portugal, when the legal process that led to marriage equality first began, the country’s bishops attempted to prevent its introduction by asking for the provision of civil unions instead. As civil unions are one form of legal recognition which the bishops were actively promoting, where they too guilty of the “grievous sin” Rodriguez describes?
In April this year, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn, suggested that it is time for the church to reconsider its emphasis on “homosexual acts”, and instead consider the quality of the relationships. Since then three other bishops have said much the same thing. Are they too, condemned, for their “grievous sin”?
So, it would seem that Fr Rodriguez has taken it upon his own authority to condemn a huge proportion of the Catholic church for the grievous sin” of not actively opposing the homosexual agenda. Just what is he condemning us to? Read carefully, once again:
Any Catholic who supports homosexual acts is, by definition, committing a mortal sin, and placing himself/herself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”
He cannot be serious. This sounds like the same automatic excommunication recently invoked by the Bishop of Phoenix, and by the Vatican, in the cases of abortion and the “attempts” to ordain women. Is he really taking it on himself to proclaim the automatic excommunication  of half the church, and more?
Let’s be clear on this: It is certainly the collective desire of the the Catholic bishops that we should oppose same sex unions, but it is by no means a moral obligation to do so. Nowhere in orthodox Catholic teaching is there anything that says there is any moral obligation to do everything the bishops urge, and there most certainly is not anything in the Catechism, in the creed, or in our baptismal vows that imposes such a supposed obligation.
On the contrary, one obligation that is stated very clearly in the teaching of the Church, is the obligation to follow one’s conscience. This was stated very clearly by one Fr Joseph Ratzinger, who insisted that conscience must take priority even over the demands of the pope.
When approaching gay marriage from the prism of sexual ethics, many people may well find that the dictates of conscience may lead them to oppose it. But sexual ethics are not the only, or even the most important, dimension of Church teaching. Many Catholics believe that teaching on social justice, and reaching out to the poor and the marginalized, is more important. Approaching marriage equality from the prism of social justice, many Catholics have been led by conscience to conclude that they must support it. This was certainly the case with some of the Argentinean senators who supported their family equality bill, and with “Catholics for Marriage equality in the US”.
So, in focussing exclusively on the approach from sexual ethics, Rodriguez is ignoring a huge chunk of orthodox catholic teaching – on the primacy of conscience, and on social justice. He is also ignoring the evidence of history.
By insisting on the spurious claim of an obligation to oppose all forms of legal recognition, he is including civil unions – but civil unions are just that, legal contracts to provide some protections to the partners in a relationship. They are not about sexual relationships – partners wanting a sexual relationship can (and do) have one without requiring a contract to authorize it. And liturgical recognition of same sex unions has a long tradition in the church, as amply demonstrated by both John Boswell and Alan Bray . To this day, there are echoes of these same –sex unions in the modern Mass, with the paired names of Felicity and Perpetua, Phillip and Bartholomew incorporated into the Eucharistic prayer – just as they were listed in the liturgies for same sex unions. (No, these were not “comparable” to modern marriage – but nor are modern civil unions, and nor were the the early heterosexual marriages comparable to modern marriage.) To the cynics who insist that in practice, civil unions are about sex, I reply that they need not be. In the early church, many saintly married couples committed themselves to voluntary virginity, even within marriage. In the nineteenth century, Cardinal John Newman, who will be beatified next month, was famed for the intensity of his (celibate) love for his dear friend Ambrose St John, even to the extent of insisting on being buried with him in a shared grave “for all eternity”. For any Catholic of homosexual orientation wishing to live strictly within orthodox teaching, which clearly states that the homosexual “condition” is not sinful, this celibate emotional bond might well make a fitting model of emotional friendship. If two such people chose to share their lives together, in chastity, is it in any way conceivable that there is a “moral obligation” to oppose legal protection for their relationship?
Finally, Rodriguez even ignores  the evidence of the Gospels.
By His own words and actions, Jesus Christ clearly showed that He did not reject people in homosexual relationships. He demonstrated this by agreeing to heal the Roman centurion’s “servant” (“paidion”), in a context that would have strongly suggested a sexual relationship. This too, has an echo in the modern Mass – the prayer shortly before communion, “Lord, I am not worthy  to receive you….” is a close variant of the centurion’s reply when Jesus started off for his house “Lord.I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”.
There is additional echo of gay unions in the Mass. Taken as a whole, theologian Gerard Loughlin has shown how it is an echo of the wedding at Cana, a wedding which in Catholic theology, is taken symbolically to represent Christ’s own wedding to his (male) disciples, and to the Church as a whole – including the men. There is even a tradition that the couple getting married were Jesus and His beloved disciple, John.
With three distinct echoes of gay relationships or unions, the Mass itself, the centrepiece of Catholic practice can be seen as promoting the “gay agenda” – or that part of it which seeks inclusion in Church.
Will Fr Rodriguez now cease celebrating the Mass?

  

  
  

To simplify: One would have to be ghastly morally decrepit to think that if 51 percent of Americans opine that rape is OK, then rape becomes, in effect, all right. Sure, the majority is politically capable of such a vote, but this could never make rape morally right.

This is typical of the garbage from the institutional Catholic Church, who blithely ignore their own history, which is full of recognized saints. ordained bishops and even popes who have had sex with men. For centuries (over half its history), the church recognized formal liturgical rites for church blessings of same sex unions, and also buried some same sex couples together in shared tombs, exactly as married couples.
The Mass itself contains three echoes of gay unions – the healing of the Roman soldier’s “paidion” – i.e., his sexual servant is recalled in the words, “Lord, I am not worthy”; same sex couples named in the Eucharistic Prayer; and the Mass itself is commemorates Christ’s wedding to his Church (male and female). Theologian Gerald Loughlin has noted that one tradition was that the famous wedding was that of Christ to his “beloved disciple” John.

http://thewildreed.blogspot.com/2010/07/message-for-nom.html
Same Sex Unions
The Very Modern “Traditional” Marriage
Modern Inclusive Churches
The Queer Mass:
Gay Wedding at Cana
Same sex couples recognised
Gay Centurion.

The Gospels’ Queer Values.

Jesus & Family

The opponents of ame-sex marriage and of the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is), like to claim that their opposition is rooted in traditional family values, “as found in the Bible.”   This claim is so completely spurious, is is remarkable how seldom it is challenged.  Just a little thought and reflection shows not only how the Gospel values have little to d with modern Western conceptions of the “traditional” family, but they are so far removed from it, that the real values espoused can certainly be described as “queer”, if not quite as specifically gay.  In reaching this conclusion, I have been reading and reflecting on the social context of the ‘family’ as experienced in Jewish society and the broader social environment, at Jesus’ own ‘family’ in childhood and maturity,  at His actions, and at His words.

The Jewish Family.

It is important to recognise that traditional Jewish society did indeed place enormous importance on the idea of family, both in the narrow sense of the immediate biological family, and in the broader sense of the ethnic Jewish community.
This was so important that on the one hand, everyone was expected to marry and produce l, and on the other, that those outside the narrow ethnic group were regarded as inferior, even unclean.  The  detailed dietary and other regulations well -known from the Old Testament were part of an elaborate legal structure to maintain the ‘purity’ of the Jewish nation. The Jewish family, however, was very different from our modern conception, deeply patriarchal, and with uneven treatment of men and women. Women were were expected to show rigorous sexual fidelity totheir husbands, and thought of as the ‘property’ of their men.

In the broader social environment, the Jewish state in Jesus’ day was under Roman military occupation.  Like the Greek society of the time, the Romans too had a deeply patriarchal society, and one in which there was not the modern distinction between ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ activities.  Distinctions were drawn rather, on the social class of one’s sexual partners, and male citizens would routinely have sex not only with their wives, but also with other lovers, prostitutes and slaves of either gender.

Jesus’ Families.

My reflections on this theme were initially prompted by a posting on “Nihil Obstat” for the feast of the Holy Family, in which she pointed out how very atypical for the time was the Lord’s own childhood family, so often quoted as a model for all Catholic families.

But our childhood families are not the only ones we live with.  More important as we grow older are those adult families we make for ourselves, usually by forming couples in marriage or out of it, and with or without children.  As LGBT people we are also very conscious of how often we may remain single, but still form looser groups of friendship, who may in a real sense become our ‘families’ of a different sort.

So what were the adult ‘families’ that Jesus made for himself?

First, and famously, He did not marry.  This alone is remarkable, given the expectation in Jewish society of marriage and procreation.  So, what were His other relationships – what informal ‘families’ did He form?  We get the answer to this easily enough by looking at the Last Supper.  The Jewish Sabbath meal, and most especially that of Passover, are the occasions above all when Jewish people get together as families.  It si significant then that the Lord spent his own Passover meal – which we know as the ‘Last Supper’, with the 12 apostles:  these were the people we must take to represent His closest family.  Who were these men?  If they ever had wives and families of their own, they had been set aside to spend the rest of their lives with Jesus.

Think about it:  on the most solemn holy day of the Jewish calendar, when it was customary for all Jewish people to share a ritual meal with their closest family, Jesus and the apostles spent the evening as a group of single men.  Does this not sound remarkably like a modern group of urban gay men spending our equivalent family festivals sharing meals together, away from biological families?

Single people know, of course, that the concept of “family” can be fluid. In addition to our closest, most intimate circle, there are often others who might be very close, almost family, but not quite in our innermost circle. Who represented this ‘almost family’ circle to Jesus Christ?  The most obvious candidates to me are the household of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, with whom He had an obviously close and special relationship.  What was the nature of this household?  Once again, very far from the expected “traditional” family.  The two women are described as ‘sisters’ and come across to me as the stronger, more vividly drawn characters:  Lazarus is famed more for his death and rescue from it, than for anything in his life.  Even at face value, this is an unusual household:  Jewish women would typically have been married off at an early age, not still living as adults with their brother.  Where such households did exist, it would normally be the brother, as the only male, who would be expected to dominate the household and be the focus of attention.  For a clearer understanding of the household, it is worth remembering that the word ‘sister’s may have been used euphemistically: it is at least possible that Mary and Martha were a lesbian couple, living with a gay friend as lodger.

So: in His families of choice, the Lord spent His time either with a band of single men, or with a household of two single women  (possibly a lesbian couple), and yet another unmarried man. Even in the broader social circle, I am not aware of any instance where He is reported as spending time with a a conventional married couple with children.  Thus far, in examining the Lord in His own family context, we have found not an endorsement, but a repudiation, of the traditional family.

I still need to show that this repudiation of the traditional family is continued in His words and actions.  That I will do later in a  follow-up post.

 

"Christianity is a Queer Thing" – Elizabeth Stuart

I have been re-reading Elisabeth Stuart’s wonderful “Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Difference“, which presents a ‘genealogy’ of the changing approaches by self-identified lesbian & gay theologians, culminating in the last two chapters with a discussion of “Queer theology”.  It was these latter two chapters that I was particularly interested in.
gay-and-lesbian-theologies
As I went through Stuart’s rundown of the leading figures in the development of Queer Theology, I found myself excited by the description of almost all, and planning on adding them to my ‘Wish List’, which I have now done.  I thought I would share with you why.  The notes below are super – brief descriptions of the key ideas that caught my interest, and the books, as reported by Stuart, that hold them.
Strangers and Friends (Michael Vasey)
Vasey argues from an historical presentation of the sexuality and the family.  He points out that far from being the ‘tradtional’ model, the family as idealised  by modern Christians, especially the evangelicals,  is a relatively modern invention.  The gradual development of this model as normative, has largely been responsible for the parallel development of a distinct gay identity, largely in reaction.  (The campaign against the ‘homosexual’ is attacking what it has itself created.) Conversely, the early church idealised male friendship and community life, rather than the family as now understood.
Rudy also looks at the historical development of the family, from a feminist perspective.  Her conclusion is that LGBT people are mistaken in looking to mimic heterosexual families, suggesting that urban gay male culture offers a model of human relationships modelled on community. She denies the argument that Christian sexuality needs to be procreative – Christianity reproduces itself not by procreation, but by conversion.  What matters is not whether two people can produce children, but whether they can embrace outsiders – the key characteristic of Christianity.
Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach (Virginia RameyMollenkott)
Mollenkott shows that many features of God’s incarnation and manifesation to humans, and many practices of the church, fall outside socially approved, binary ideas of gender. She also discusses numerous examples of canonised saints who have defied gender roles.
Indecent Theology: (Marcella Althaus-Reid)
Althaus-Reid’s starting point is within the framework of liberation theology, but she points out that this has often proceeded from within a traditional approaches to gender and sexual identity. She “foregrounds a Christ outside the gates who is the eternal Bi/Christ who always gives us something to think about.”

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“Christianity is a Queer Thing” – Elizabeth Stuart

I have been re-reading Elisabeth Stuart’s wonderful “Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Difference“, which presents a ‘genealogy’ of the changing approaches by self-identified lesbian & gay theologians, culminating in the last two chapters with a discussion of “Queer theology”.  It was these latter two chapters that I was particularly interested in.

gay-and-lesbian-theologies

As I went through Stuart’s rundown of the leading figures in the development of Queer Theology, I found myself excited by the description of almost all, and planning on adding them to my ‘Wish List’, which I have now done.  I thought I would share with you why.  The notes below are super – brief descriptions of the key ideas that caught my interest, and the books, as reported by Stuart, that hold them.

Strangers and Friends (Michael Vasey)

Vasey argues from an historical presentation of the sexuality and the family.  He points out that far from being the ‘tradtional’ model, the family as idealised  by modern Christians, especially the evangelicals,  is a relatively modern invention.  The gradual development of this model as normative, has largely been responsible for the parallel development of a distinct gay identity, largely in reaction.  (The campaign against the ‘homosexual’ is attacking what it has itself created.) Conversely, the early church idealised male friendship and community life, rather than the family as now understood.

Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of Christian Ethics (Kathy Rudy)

Rudy also looks at the historical development of the family, from a feminist perspective.  Her conclusion is that LGBT people are mistaken in looking to mimic heterosexual families, suggesting that urban gay male culture offers a model of human relationships modelled on community. She denies the argument that Christian sexuality needs to be procreative – Christianity reproduces itself not by procreation, but by conversion.  What matters is not whether two people can produce children, but whether they can embrace outsiders – the key characteristic of Christianity.

Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach (Virginia Ramey Mollenkott)

Mollenkott shows that many features of God’s incarnation and manifestation to humans, and many practices of the church, fall outside socially approved, binary ideas of gender. She also discusses numerous examples of canonised saints who have defied gender roles.

Indecent Theology: (Marcella Althaus-Reid)

Althaus-Reid’s starting point is within the framework of liberation theology, but she points out that this has often proceeded from within a traditional approaches to gender and sexual identity. She “foregrounds a Christ outside the gates who is the eternal Bi/Christ who always gives us something to think about.”