“Wrestling with God”: the Challenge for Queer Christians.

“Wrestling with God”: the Challenge for Queer Christians. | Queering the Church: “Bart wrote:

For as far back as I can remember, a fair share of my thoughts revolved around either my relationship with God, or my sexuality. Needless to say, coming from a thoroughly Catholic background, and trying to make heads or tails of this “difference” that was to mark me as a gay man, the hard part was that of trying to reconcile the two sets of thoughts. Out of this struggle – and perhaps because I felt I was the outsider in every group or setting – I began to cultivate my relationship with God. More precisely, I started to seek to relate to God as a friend – friendship with Jesus. At times I even felt that beyond the elements of friendship it became more of a love-affair with Jesus. Whatever the case, like any other friendship, I noticed that essential elements such as love, respect, equality and sincerity are the building blocks of a personal relationship with this mysterious Other called God.”

“The Lord is Kind, and Full of Compassion”

“The Lord is Kind, and Full of Compassion”: “I found particular resonance in this Psalm for today, in the light of Jonah’s introductory post here yesterday. He described first how he had once resisted the call to priesthood, and later the need to recognize his orientation and come out as a gay man. In both cases, he wrote, the Lord pursued him – and he later found that on both counts, God was right. Coming to terms with what he saw as God’s insistence that he be both priest and gay, Jonah recognized the absolute truth of the words above – although he expressed this not in the words of the psalm, but in a quotation from Thomas Merton, ”mercy within mercy within mercy”, which Jonah goes on to describe as “relentless” mercy, which heals all wounds.”

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The Abomination of “Abomination”.

The Abomination of “Abomination”. | Queering the Church: ” There may be no single word or concept that has been more greatly abused in discussion (or ranting) about faith and homoerotic relationships, than “abomination”, which comes to us via the mistranslation of the Hebrew “toe’vah”. If there is another that has been more greatly abused, it is probably “homosexual” which does no in fact occur at all). I have written elsewhere about how a more accurate translation of the Hebrew is the milder term “taboo” – but precisely because it is milder, that does not suit those who insist on misusing the Bible as a weapon against minority groups. It is also widely applied to all same-sex relationships, even though the text in Leviticus clearly applies to men only. ”

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Is Opposition to Gay Marriage Unscriptural?

Is Opposition to Gay Marriage Unscriptural? | Queering the Church: “Opponents of marriage equality, and of homoerotic relationships more generally, like to hide their opposition behind distorted and highly selective misreadings of Scripture. In fact, there are far more texts which are supportive of love, and of inclusion for all, and of opposition to judging others, that the handful that even appear to be critical of us. There are even some which can be read as directly criticizing opposition to gay marriage!

“Faith and Pride” describes itself as an organisation for gay Christians, “who have accumulated experience as Anglicans, Catholics, Christadelphians, Methodists, Non-Subscribing Presbyterians, and Presbyterians“.

We’re not about arguing or putting down someone else’s view. We’re putting forward an alternative view.

– Andrew McFarland

That’s an attitude I like.”

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Gospel for Gays, on Prayer (Luke 11, 1-13)

Writing about the Gospel for July 25th (Luke 11, 1-13), Jeremiah at Gospel for Gays asks “Does god answer prayer?”

After first quoting the text and running through some expert commentary, Jeremiah gets to a personal perspective – one which I fully endorse, on the strength of personal experience. Here are some extracts:

This is a wonderful passage, and it’s not merely the story of the importunate friend in the night that is unique to Luke.  It’s Luke who links what we call the “Lord’s Prayer” to other sayings, thus providing a deep answer to the disciples’ demand:  “Lord, teach us to pray.”

For me, the most striking thing about the passage is the brevity of the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus spent hours – days – in prayer.  Indeed, I think his whole life was prayer – irrespective of what he was doing.

Yet when his disciples ask him how to pray, he doesn’t start where we would begin today – talking about how you should sit or stand or kneel (or lie down, a possibility accepted by Ignatius of Loyola – with the warning that you may fall asleep!).

Rather, he gives this deceptively simple set of 38 words (in English).

And then brilliant, literary Luke gathers up other sayings of Jesus about prayer and lays them out here.

And interestingly, there are two themes in those sayings:  generosity on the part of a loving Dad; and perseverance on our part, in asking for what we need.

Does God answer prayer?

That’s a legitimate question; some would say it’s the only question.

In my experience, the answer is “yes” – with abundance.

There’s an obvious “but” however, and Luke ends this passage with an important surprise when he has Jesus say, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The Holy Spirit?

Where did that come from?

Right to the end, the examples are concrete – daily needs, particularly bread in a society of scarcity.  Is this a trick, after all?  We ask for bread, or a paying job, or acceptance of our gay identity by a defensive hierarchy, or a partner, or a cure for cancer – and we get the Holy Spirit in response?

It’s a surprise, but it’s not a trick.

Jesus is telling us that our relationship with God is so intimate that even as we praise him, even as we rest in his silent and intimate presence, we must ask for the things we need, for the things our children, our friends, our neighbors, our beloved needs; for what the world needs – peace, for example.

And he answers, with the generosity of a loving parent.

(Read the full post at Gospel for Gays.)

Water into Wine: Jesus’s Gay Wedding at Cana.

Yesterday I dipped into two books, and found ideas that amplified  each other with powerful effect, especially in the current context of advances for marriage equality and the bishops’ opposition. “Take Back the Word” (ed Robert Goss) is a compilation of writings on Scripture designed to take us as queer Christians beyond battles with the “texts of terror”, to an approach more in keeping with what it should be, a source of inspiration and value in our lives.  “Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body ” (ed Gerard Loughlin) is a broader and more ambitious compilation, of writing on a range of dimensions of faith from a queer perspective.

Who was getting married?

In the introduction to his book, Loughlin reflects on the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, (John 2: 1 – 11) which we usually think of in terms of the transformation of water into wine. Immediately I thought of this as a wonderful alternative image for Goss’s “Take Back the Word”. It is one thing for us to move beyond a fear of Scripture to a point where it is the “water” of life: but how can we go beyond even that, to the “wine” of celebration?  This, I thought, is what Elizabeth Stuart does in a short piece “Camping Around the Canon”, which (as it happens) she ends with some thoughts on weddings. Stuart’s point is that we need to be able to approach Scripture with laughter, which is too often absent from religious practice. After a concise exposition of the historical and theological justification for the approach, she offers just one illustration of what she means,  discussing Ephesians, 5:21-33 (“Wives, submit to your husbands”), which is so often used at weddings, and which for women can so easily become a text of terror. Hearing it read at weddings, she says, left her “churning with anger”. But an analysis by Gerard Loughlin changed her reaction from tragic to comic, as the “heteropatriarchal” readings are

undermined and washed away in the deeper waters of the Christian symbolic, for insofar as as women are members of the body, they too are called to be Christ to others; so that they too must also act as “groom” and “husband”; to the “bride” and “wife” of the other, whether it is to a man or woman.  For it cannot be said that within the community only men are called to love as Christ does.”

-Gerard Loughlin, “Baptismal Fluid“, unpublished paper quoted by Stuar

Stuart comments:

Loughlin’s reading of the text had transformed it into a queer text. The very incongruity of this reading with the “original” reading is enough to stimulate laughter. I find it funny that this passage should be read so often and do solemnly at weddings, the great ceremony of heteropatriarchy.

-Stuart, Camping Around the Canon, in Goss “Take Back the Word

I remember a comparable insight and laughter from my own experience. Once on retreat, I found myself reflecting on the familiar image of the Church as the bride of Christ, and realized that as a gay man, I was spared the oddity (for straight men) of imagining myself as “bride”, and instead was able to picture myself in my meditation as “groom” of Christ – a meditation that became extremely powerful. Looking  back on it later, I found satisfaction and humour in the realisation that my orientation had given me a unique advantage in my prayer.

This left me with a predisposed receptivity to Loughlin’s main ideas concerning the wedding at Cana.  Instead of considering the miracle of transformation, he asks instead, “Who is it that was married?”. He answers the question in stages.

First, he points out that the story should be read as a parable, with distinct anticipation of the Last Supper,  Passion and Resurrection. The wedding takes place on “the third day” (anticipating the resurrection) after He has talked with Nathanel (John 1:43 -51), and the transformation of water into wine anticipates the transformation of wine into His blood. In a liturgical setting, the Mass recalls these three days. So, it is a standard idea that symbolically, in the church’s recollection of the story, we are all guests at the wedding, where Christ is marrying his Church.   At one level closer to the literal, it is Christ marrying his disciples. Loughlin then goes on to discuss a fascinating more literal idea from the early and medieval church – that it was indeed Christ who was married – to John, the beloved disciple. This idea was articulated in the apocryphal Acts of John, in which it is said that John broke off his betrothals to a woman to “bind himself” to Jesus. This was apparently a common strand in some German medieval thinking, right up until the Reformation, and is visually illustrated in some surviving art.  In a  “Libellus for John the Evangelist”, a painting of the wedding feast is said to feature a bearded Christ seated next to a beardless, androgynous John – whom, says Loughlin, he appears about to kiss.  In the “Admont Codex” illustrated manuscript of  St Anselm’s “Prayers and Meditations”, an illustration in two parts shows John’s story. In one, John is seen leaving his female betrothed. In the companion piece, he is lying on the ground with this head on Jesus’s breast, while Jesus himself is tenderly caressing his chin.

Is this tradition “true”? We cannot know. Like so much much else in Scripture, it is impossible to get through the mists produced by unfamiliar language, a different literary tradition, and remote historical /cultural context to get close to the literal “truth” behind the text.   No matter. Even without accepting  this idea literally, it is enough for me to know that it was once widely accepted in the mystical tradition, and to incorporate it into my reader response.

It is when Loughlin moves beyond the “meaning” of the text to its multiple ironies that the fun starts. This where, in sympathy with Elizabeth Stuart, I found myself quite literally laughing with Scripture.  For if it is true that the consecration of Eucharistic wine into Christ’s bloods is prefigured in the Cana transformation of water into wine, then we can see that in every Mass we are commemorating  Christ’s own wedding with His (male) disciples. Every Mass can be seen as a mystical gay wedding.  That Mass is celebrated by a priest who has committed himself to celibacy, and so forswears procreation himself, but is expected to preach against gay marriage or others – because homosexual intercourse, being unable to procreate, is “intrinsically disordered“. The priesthood in turn, is run by a a similarly celibate coterie in the Vatican which reproduces itself by recruitment not biological reproduction – and castigates the homosexual community for its own social, not biological reproduction.

The threat posed by gays and lesbians to family and society is often proclaimed by men – named “fathers”- who have vowed never to to beget children. The pope lives in a household of such men – a veritable palace of “eunuchs”for Christ  – that reproduces itself by persuading others not to procreate. Why us the refusal of fecundity – the celibate lifestyle – not also a threat to family and society?

-Loughlin, introduction to “Queer Theology”

Goss, Robert (ed): Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible

Loughlin, Gerard (ed): Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body (BBPG)

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Fishing for Souls: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 7th February.

Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 137: 1-5, 7-8

1 Corinthians 15: 1-11

Luke 15: 1-11

What does “apostle” mean to you?  For many people, there is an assumption that it ahs something to do with being of the elect, one of “the twelve”, or the inner circle.  But the word itself has nothing to do with this- and Scripture itself is not at all clear that there were just twelve apostles:  where the word is used, it refers in different contexts to different groups.  At times it is indeed used to refer to the twelve- at other times it is used interchangeably with “disciples”, to refer to a wider body of followers (and at least one woman, Junia, is described as an apostle).
The word itself simply means one who is sent – derived from “apostello” – I  send.  Today’s readings from Isaiah and from Luke remind us that in this sense we are all apostles. Isaiah tells how, seeing himself as unworthy, as a wretch, he nevertheless heard the Lord asking “Whom shall I send?”, to which he answered (to his own surprise, I suspect), “Here I am, end me.” Simon, on the lake shore after the miracle of the fishing boats, is overwhelmed by his own unworthiness, and pleads with the Lord to be left alone in his sinfulness. But the Lord will have none of it, and assures him that henceforth, he will be a fisher of men.
Now, being chosen does not mean that Isaiah and Simon were mistaken in their earlier self-assessments.  They believed they were wretched sinners – and so they were, just as we all are.

When Jesus went recruiting his band of twelve, he did not go among the recognised holy men and religious leaders:  instead, they (the pharisees and scribes) were the ones who later came under frequent attack for their misplaced  religiosity and legalistic scruples. No, the ones who were chosen, for their very ordinariness, were definitely not the religious elite.  People like us, in fact.
Just like Isaiah and Simon Peter, we too are wretched sinners, not because we are gay but because we are human. As humans, we too are fallible, just like the others, and we too are called.  Paul, in telling the story of his own calling, reminds us that is is not by his own words and actions that he is doing God’s work, but the grace of God within him that is doing it.
As gay men and lesbians it is too easy to be misled by the arrogance of the self-righteous into believing that we are somehow more sinful than anybody else, and are on that account  “excluded from God’s people” in the offensive words of the CDF. But today’s readings remind us that in our sinfulness we are no different from the mass of humanity- and like them , are equally chosen. So, next time you hear in the depths of your heart, “Whom shall I send?” reply with Isaiah, “It is I, Lord.”

(For a more extended reflection on the Gospel from a gay perspective, see Gospel for Gays: Gayness at its Best: That’s Peter)

For a discussion of all of today’s reeadings, from a multi-denominational perspective, go to Out in Scripture. This week’s panel are

Michael Miller, Charles Allen and Helene Tallon Russell.

For a seasonal reflection for Ordinary Time from a trans perspective, go to  Out in Season)

Ruth & Naomi

The story of Ruth and Naomi is widely quoted by queer writers as an example from Scripture of possible lesbian love:  but how relevant is it?  Superficially at least, it is just a simple story of exceptionally strong family affection and loyalty, between mother- and daughter- in-law. Whether in any way “lesbian” or not, the story is relevant, but not perhaps in the way usually told.  To unravel  the lessons it may hold for us, let’s begin with the simple story.
Naomi was an Israelite widow, living for a while (on account of famine) in Moab, where she married her two sons to Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The sons later died, leaving Naomi “all alone, without husband or sons” ,
She did have two daughters-in-law, and when she heard that conditions back in Israel had improved, she returned, initially taking her two daughters-in-law with her. She then had a change of heart, and encourages the two women to return to their own home in Moab. After some persuasion, Orpah did so, but Ruth refused.

Do not press me to leave you
Or turn back from following you!
Where you go I will go,
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people will be my people, and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die –
There  will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you
.
(Ruth 1: 16-17)

After their arrival in Bethlehem, Naomi arranged a second husband for Ruth, to Boaz. She then bore a grandson for Naomi, a grandson who would support them both in old age, and who would in time be part of the lineage linking Naomi to David, and hence to Jesus. (Ruth becomes King David’s great-grandmother: Ruth is the mother of Obed, who is father of Jesse and grandfather of David.)
It is obvious from the above that Naomi was mother-in-law to Ruth –twice over.  It is equally obviously a story of great affection and loyalty between two women.  Is it more?

John Boswell doesn’t think so:
“There is little in the Book of Ruth to suggest that anything other than loyalty bound Ruth to Naomi (who had, in fact, suggested that Ruth depart, along with her other daughters-in-law; but Ruth refused to do so.)”
He also points out that the obvious devotion of Ruth to Naomi is instrumental in securing the attention of Boaz. What would be the point of remembering a lesbian relationship that serves to attract a husband for one of the women?
Paul Halsall asks, but does not answer, the question,
Is this a story about Lesbianism, which was not forbidden at all in the Law? Whatever the answer, it is a story of love and loyalty between two women.
However, he does point to another aspect of the story which is less commonly remarked on, that it is a story of the outsider, and how outsiders can become insiders.  As a Moabite woman, Ruth is very much an outsider in Israeli society.  Yet she accepts this in her loyalty to Naomi, and is ultimately rewarded by becoming the mother of  Obed, the grandmother of King David, and ultimately an ancestor of Jesus himself.
This is a book of the inclusivity of God’s call, and another Biblical illustration of the limits of the Law
Paul Glaser also sees this as a story of devotion, but reads it as a “coming out” story:
All of us who grow to accept and affirm our sexuality have in some sense heard this call to come out.  In grief and regret, some of us may feel forced to leave a family, a congregation, or a community (much as Ruth did) to make our commitments. Following Ruth and Naomi’s strategy, we may use whatever is available to us in the church and society to survive.  Yet, alongside Ruth and Naomi, we use our commitment to lovers, our fresh understandings of God, and our new communities of faith – maybe a support group, a network, an organization, a congregation  – to survive.
A comment placed on this site  by a Baptist pastor ( “ hinbww ”) responding to an earlier article on the Bible (Is the Bible Anti-gay?”), stated unequivocally:
Ruth & Naomi were married.
He later elaborated:

Ruth 1:14, referring to the relationship between Ruth and Naomi, mentions that “Ruth clave onto her.” (KJV) The Hebrew word translated here as “clave” is identical to that used in the description of a heterosexual marriage in Genesis 2:24: ” Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (KJV)

This book was probably included in the Hebrew Scriptures because King David was one of the descendents of Ruth. Although this same-sex friendship appears to have been very close, there is no proof that it was a sexually active relationship.

How valid this interpretation is, I have no idea.  I have no knowledge of Hebrew, but if the word used in Ruth 1:14 is the same as that in Genesis 2:24, as stated, then the suggestion is an important one which needs to be taken seriously. It is also worth pointing out though, that Naomi’s arrangement of a marriage to Boaz does not eliminate the possibility of a lesbian relationship between the two women; and that a lesbian relationship does not necessarily imply a sexual relationship.  (We recognise a number of gay clergy as saints who clearly demonstrate a homosexual orientation, and who had deeply intimate emotional relationships with men, who are nevertheless accepted as having remained celibate).
What do I think?
I don’t see the need for just a single, “correct” interpretation.  I think the reading of “cleave” suggested above is worth taking seriously and one which I will try to explore further.  I also think it is worthwhile to use the passage as a reflection on female loyalty, or on inclusion and outsiders, or on coming out. But I also see this passage in another light, which is instructive but not inspirational.
When I read Ruth as a gay man, I am struck by another theme entirely how totally dependent women of that time were on men, for their very survival.  When Naomi’s sons died, she is described as being left all alone.  She was not – she had two daughters in law, but they didn’t count.  Much later, during the negations leading up to the marriage of Ruth to Boaz, there is a complicated bit about the sale of a piece of land.  The critical point is that the purchaser of the property is obliged to take the woman with it – women are sold as property along with the land,  The joyful climax of the story is the birth of a son, who can take care of both women in their old age,
This reminder of the total dependence of women on men goes to the heart of the problems of the church on matters of gender and sexuality.  Women continue to be seen as inferior to men, and are treated accordingly. The inferior status is also why the Leviticus prohibition is on men who lie with men “as with women”, and why so many societies, then and now, see it as shameful for a man to take the “female” part in male intercourse, but to take the “masculine”, active, role, is not regarded as gay at all.  These attitudes , coupled with some bizarre ides about animal behaviour,  were behind the condemnation of same sex relationships by some (not all) early church fathers.
The social attitudes of Jewish society revealed by the story of Ruth and Naomi are at the heart of the modern oppression by the church of women and gay men. Ruth and Naomi found a way to survive and flourish working within the system.  For us today, in a world where the attitudes outside the church (informed by science and reason) are very different, should not have to work within an unjust system  to flourish ourselves. Instead, we should work to subvert and destroy those elements that are unloving and unjust.

Kittredge Cherry has also written on these two: see Jesus in Love blog.

References:

John Boswell, Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, (Harper-Collins)

Chris Glaser, Coming out as Sacrament (Westminster John Knox Press)

Paul Halsall, Calendar of LGBT Saints (on-line)