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      Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone magazine has written a heartfelt and insightful appreciation of the life and music of Christine McVie, who died last Wednesday, November 30.Following, with added images and links, are excerpts from Sheffield’s tribute that particularly caught my attention.Christine McVie always came on like the grown-up in the room, which admit […]
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      President Donald J. Trump 2 March 2019, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, MD; official White House photo by Tia Dufour, at Wikimedia CommonsHeather Cox Richardson, "Letters from an American: December 3, 2002":The leader of the Republican Party has just called fo […]
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    • A saint for the millenials: Carlo Acutis beatified today in Assisi. October 10, 2020
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Joy in Adversity: Petr’s Vocation as Minister to Gays

(Photo is of Jan Hus, Catholic reformer burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1414 for teaching the fundamental equality of laypersons and priests, insisting that both should receive communion under both species. He is frequently and mistakenly described as a “Protestant Reformer,” but at the time of his death he considered himself a full member of the  Catholic Church, despite its ban of excommunication against him. His witness and death gave inspiration to the Czech Hussite Reform Churches, including the Czech Brotherhood. Nearly six centuries after his death, Pope John Paul II expressed “deep regret for the cruel death inflicted upon Jan Hus.”)


Just had dinner tonight with my young gay Christian friend, Petr (pronounced Petra), who is studying for his Master’s in Divinity with the seminary of the Czech Brotherhood Reform Church, of which he is a member. His seminary shares many of the same professors as the Catholic Faculty of Theology of St. Charles University. Petr has a strong sense of calling to be an openly gay minister in his Church, even though ‘officially’ the Czech Brotherhood is not at all open  to acknowledging gay people and their relationships. In fact, Petr was eligible for ordination two years ago, but was denied this privilege because his Church elders are quite suspicious of what he might do with his ministry. So he is being monitored closely and his Master’s thesis is also being carefully scrutinized. He is being required to read a great many books (in English!) on reparative therapy, designed to ‘turn’ homosexuals into decent, healthy, well-adjusted heteros. I felt a certain chill go through me as he showed me his extensive library on the subject, but Petr is such a sensitive, fair-minded, tolerant soul that he gently protested that, in fact the books, have some worth, and many of the authors are genuinely sympathetic to gay persons and only suggesting that, perhaps, they might be happier and more well adjusted if they could turn their sexual orientation around. Furthermore, many of the gays they deal with are coming from profoundly addictive lifestyles and the therapy does have some benefit in healing them of their addictions, which then allows them to see themselves with greater clarity and objectivity. Many of them discover that they are in fact bisexual, and therefore capable of harmonious and fulfilling sexual relationships with the opposite sex. Many, as well, discover after the therapy that they truly are same sex orientated, for which the therapy is a blessing for making that clear. Petr says he stays clear of the more aggressive and intolerant forms of reparative therapy in his studies. He also said it was very good for his thesis to be able to understand and evaluate both sides of the argument, and that his professors were not insisting that he endorse reparative therapy, only that he give evidence of having fairly considered it. In the face of Petr’s gentle charity and  wise tolerance, I felt somewhat chastened in my own resentment and anger towards such treatments, though I remained concerned that Petr not be too ‘brainwashed’ by these studies he is compelled to make. However, in his library he also has extensive literature on the spiritual values and gifts of being gay and being gay partnered. There is no question of Petr’s own very strong sense of calling as a gay Christian man, who is open to normal same sexual relations with other gay persons (at 26 Petr is not yet partnered, but open).

And as I sat on the carpet in his small upstairs study, with the books scattered all around us on the floor, with gentle flute music from the mountains of Northern Thailand playing in the background, I was conscious of Petr’s own special gift as a charismatic gay man chosen ‘in the Spirit’ to remain within a suspicious religious congregation and to seek to change it from within. For some reason, I was reminded of the fourth vow of stability Trappist monks take, promising to remain in their monastery for life. This vow is a gift as well as a promise, one which  the monk cannot make without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. So, too, Petr seems to have received a similar gift of perseverance, which gives him his inner strength and his radiant serenity within a trying situation. Many of his church members, he tells me, are closeted gays, too afraid to come out, yet unwilling to leave the church which they love and which feels like their spiritual home. They come to Petr for advice as to  how they, too, may persevere in their faith and within an unwelcoming community. Yet, as Petr described his elders to me and their relationships to him, it sounds like his gentle, compassionate, understanding self is gently wearing away the walls of intolerance and suspicion. They are, after all, allowing him to complete a Master’s thesis on the topic of Gay Christianity, and to take a primarily positive approach, but they are not quite ready yet to allow him access to full ministry in the Church. However, I’m confident this will come in time.

Feeling Petr’s inner serenity and grace – which is as palpable in the room as the fragrance of  incense – I had to marvel at the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, calling us each to our own special place in our own  special time. Some gay Christians are being given the grace to move beyond their intolerant communities and to find more welcoming, life affirming sources of spiritual support. Others are being given the grace of heroic perseverance, to remain where they are, giving a firm, but gentle, persistent,  and loving non-violent witness to the holiness of being a fully sexualized gay human being. I had to marvel at the signs of the Spirit at work everywhere in a wide variety of religious communities in such a similar fashion. Petr’s grace and serenity, wisdom and compassion testify to the life giving fruits of his own religious community, which is the locus of God’s grace for him, despite its present intolerance towards gay persons. Such a witness makes relative any claims to exclusivity or superiority on the part of any religious community. Many gifts, one Spirit, working her own wondrous miracles of openness and tolerance, but doing so through the life giving, long suffering passion of  devoted Christians such as Petr.

As a further sign of the Spirit’s synchronicity,  I casually opened one of Petr’s books resting on the carpet,  Donald Bloesch’ Spirituality Old and New, and I came across this remarkable passage which I felt encapsulated our entire evening with its spiritual colloquy.

The Church Within:

One of the hallmarks of mystical spirituality is to uphold the invisible church over the visible church. The true church is the company of the committed who reside in all denominations and sometimes outside of any particular religious fellowship. According to Gerad Heaard, the true church is comprised of holy souls in all religions. The real people of God are those who are making progress toward sainthood. They are those who have put to death the animal nature within them and have become fully or purely spiritual.

Christian mystics, in contrast to generic mystics, continue to affirm the role of sacraments and rituals in the life of faith; yet they consider these things expendable or at least not absolutely essential. Meister Eckhart regarded the sacraments and even the “human shape of our Lord Jesus Christ” as obstacles to spiritual grown. The important thing is to get beyond visible signs to invisible reality. According to Geert Grote, founder of the mystical Brethren of the Common Life, the valiant soul will leave “the scriptures and external signs behind” as he or she makes progress in the Christian life toward the perfection of faith.

As a type of religious association, the mystical society is a fellowship of kindred souls, not a mission station to convert the world. The mystical society will often take the form of a parachurch fellowship that is generally supportive of the church as a social institution. Yet mysticism in its celebration of religious experience unwittingly loosens the tie to the institutional church. …

As I have noted earlier, institutional Catholicism has always mistrusted mysticism, though it has sought to use the mystical witness to consolidate its hold over the faithful. Christian mysticism at its best calls us to rise above parochial loyalties to a genuinely catholic vision of the truth.

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Condoms and the “Marital Act”.

I got home late last night to find the news sites ablaze with reports that Pope Benedict has conceded that there could be some justification for the use of condoms “in certain cases”. Most reports see this (very slight) shift as significant: the Daily Telegraph headline calls it “historic”. Others are less convinced, noting that the example he gives is very specific, that of a male (homosexual) prostitute, for whom contraception is clearly a non- starter in the first place. This  does not seem to leave much for female prostitutes, for whom the same concern for avoiding the spread of infection would simultaneously prevent the transmission of life.

Condom Permitted?

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The Spiritual Gifts of Gay Sexuality

Spiritual direction is one of the best -kept secrets of the Catholic Church.  This is unfortunate- the process needs to be better known and used.  This is how Jesuit theologian James L’Empereur describes it:

the process in which a Christian accompanies others for an extended period of time for the process of clarifying the psychological and religious issues in the directee so that they may move toward deeper union with God and contribute to ministry within the Christian community.

I have unexpectedly been able to borrow L’Empereur’s “Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person”, which I would now like to prescribe to all my readers as required reading, with a 3 hour examination at the end of the course.  I began reading last evening, and have been devouring it with enthusiasm.  I am now about half way through, and not yet ready to offer a full and balanced assessment.  (That will come later).  Still, every page has important insights that I want to share or explore further.  As an appetizer before the main course to follow, I offer some snippets today:

Here are the opening sentences:

Homosexuality is one of God’s most significant gifts to humanity.  To be gay or lesbian is to have received  a special blessing from God. to be gay or lesbian is to have received a special blessing from God.  All humans receive their own special graces from their creator, but god has chosen some to be gay and lesbian as a way of revealing something about Godself that heterosexuals do not.

This is a startling, unexpected beginning, but of course he goes on to explain and fully substantiate it, in a chapter that had me engrossed, and anxious to explore also all his references and sources (a task, I fear, which may be well beyond me.) Elsewhere, he makes another startling claim:  he calls the gay state a “charism”, exactly comparable to the charism of celibacy embraced by Catholic clergy. Both are charisms granted to just a few, from which the wider church can learn.  Here I was reminded of an observation in one of our Soho Mass homilies, that if “homosexuality” is an environmental threat because it cannot lead to procreation, so is celibacy.)  The key manner in which we who are gay or lesbian can teach the wider Church is in the manner of our sexuality, which is not exclusively about genital contact (in complete contradiction to the popular stereotypes), nor is it based in patriarchal patterns of domination and submission.

I should stress here that L’Empereur very carefully does not either endorse or condemn any specific form of sexual expression, whether in committed, faithful relationships, in recreational sex, or in voluntary celibacy: those decisions are to be reached by the person being directed, through the process, and not decided a priori.   However, he does argue strongly that for all people, gay or otherwise, the historic dichotomy between sex and spirituality has been destructive.  Instead of thinking of spirituality OR sexuality, we should be looking for spirituality THROUGH sexuality , possibly (but not necessarily) including genital sexuality.  Gay people, he says, may find this easier than heterosexuals, who are often startled during counselling before , when he asks whether they expect to use their sexual union as a form of prayer.

In this book L’Empereur presents with great clarity and authority a number of the themes I have been grasping at on these pages. Another is the view that authentic Catholic teaching fully supports, not condemns, the homosexual and his/her struggle. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.  We know from painful experience of course, that approached from the perspective of sexual ethics, standard Catholic teaching is deeply hostile.  L’Empereur reminds us that Catholic teaching is far broader than just sexual ethics.  Approached from social justice, which is at least as important to the totality of teaching, a completely different picture emerges, one which demands compassion and support for the marginalised and oppressed, and requires that we work towards justice.  This latter perspective has been profoundly influential in my own faith as it was formed under South African apartheid, and why I found Cardinal O’Connors instruction to the Soho Masses to present Catholic teaching on sexuality “in full, and without ambiguity”.  This is impossible:  “in full” implies from a range of approaches, which are self-contradictory.  When we think of the structure of Catholic teaching on homosexuality, far too often we see only the dominating monolith of the official Vatican teaching on sexual ethics, and especially the scaled down, reduced travesty that we find in the catechism.  Reading this book, I am reminded that the teaching “in full” more closely resembles a crowded, diverse city, with many strands coming from the Vatican centre – and also important subsidiary nodes, such as those presented by theologians like L’Empereur.  Historically, cities grew around single, strong centres.  During the twentieth century, the development of private transport led to dramatic changes in city morphology, with the major growth occurring on the suburban or exurban fringes and  in suburban business nodes.  In some cities, it has been suggested, the traditional centre has virtually disappeared.

We may be seeing the same thing in theology. Comparable to private transport, the emergence of lay theologians and secular schools of theology have privatised the construction of new ideas.  Instead of the ancient central monolith dominating the skyline, steadfastly preserving and protecting its traditional inheritance, suburban nodes are bubbling away, creating new forms and structures: liberation theology, feminist theology, gay and lesbian theology, queer theology;  theology by discerned experience, theology of spirituality through sexuality – and so many more I have not yet encountered.  With so much vitality at the suburban fringes, the “margins” lose conceptual significance.  Will Vatican City in time become irrelevant, as some physical central cities have done?

Jayden Cameron thinks so, at the Gay Mystic.  Read “Life Finds a Way“.

(I will have more on this important book later – probably repeatedly.)

See also:

The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality

Finding God in Gay Lovemaking

Homoerotic Sexuality

The Churches and Sexual Wholeness: A Progressive View

The glory of God is humans fully alive”, St Irenaeus teaches us.  A crucial, indispensable part of that life is sexuality. (Although some individuals can and do voluntarily forgo it for a life of celibacy, this is not so for the overwhelmingly majority, and is absolutely not feasible for us collectively.) Unfortunately, for most of us, the only time we hear the churches talking about sexuality it is in the context of prohibitions, or grounded in understandings of sexuality so rooted in inappropriate historical and cultural circumstances,  and oblivious to the findings of medical or social science, that it comes across as nothing more than a string of prohibitions against specific acts. This has nothing whatever to do with “humans fully alive”.

Reading a report this morning from Religious Dispatches, I was delighted to learn of an organization of the name “Religious Institute” (on Sexual Justice, Morality and Healing) to correct this imbalance. Ten years ago they issued a report, “Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing”, which strikes me as a sensible starting point for any discussion of faith and sex, and which I reproduce in full below, highlighting some portions that I believe are particularly important.

The news story that led me to this was about a new (and detailed) report they have just issued, “Sexuality and Religion 2010: Goals for the Next Decade.” This is long (over 50 pages), so I will not be attempting to write about it until I have had a chance to read and digest it in full – but I will certainly return to it within the next few days. In the meantime, think about the principles in the original  declaration, and read more about their work at the Religious Institute, or follow the links to Religious Dispatches for their summary and commentary,  or got to the institute and read the report in full.

Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

Sexuality is God’s life-giving and life-fulfilling gift. We come from diverse religious communities to recognize sexuality as central to our humanity and as integral to our spirituality. We are speaking out against the pain, brokenness, oppression, and loss of meaning that many experience about their sexuality.

Our faith traditions celebrate the goodness of creation, including our bodies and our sexuality.  We sin when this sacred gift is abused or exploited.  However, the great promise of our traditions is love, healing, and restored relationships.

Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure.  Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.

God hears the cries of those who suffer from the failure of religious communities to address sexuality. We are called today to see, hear, and respond to the suffering caused by violence against women and sexual minorities, the HIV pandemic, unsustainable population growth and over-consumption, and the commercial exploitation of sexuality.

Faith communities must therefore be truth seeking, courageous, and just. We call for:

· Theological reflection that integrates the wisdom of excluded, often silenced peoples, and insights about sexuality from medicine, social science, the arts and humanities.

(This point is of particular importance in the Catholic Church, where the insistence on clerical celibacy and centralized power means that in effect, the wisdom of all those who have any real life experience of sex are excluded from formulating teaching. In the Catholic church it is not only the obvious sexual outsiders who are silenced and excluded from formulating sexual theology, but all who are not ordained priests.  I find it absurd that a bunch of celibate – or supposedly celibate- old men in Rome can take it upon themselves to legislate on sexuality for the rest of us:  and appalling that we in turn allow them to do so.)

· Full inclusion of women and sexual minorities in congregational life, including their ordination and the blessing of same sex unions.

Doing so would simply expand the practice of the early church, when women were included in ministry, at least to some degree, and where liturgical rites existed for blessing same sex unions in church.

· Sexuality counseling and education throughout the lifespan from trained religious leaders.

· Support for those who challenge sexual oppression and who work for justice within their congregations and denomination.

Faith communities must also advocate for sexual and spiritual wholeness in society. We call for:

· Lifelong, age appropriate sexuality education in schools, seminaries, and community settings.

It is also important here, to remember the need for religious leaders themselves to receive appropriate sexual education, which in most ministerial training programmes is today woefully inadequate.  The lack of proper understanding of sexuality by those who are expected to guide us in its moral negotiation, is scandalous – and a contributing factor in the Catholic Church to the problems of clerical sexual abuse.

· A faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment.

· Religious leadership in movements to end sexual and social injustice.

The Catholic Church (and others) has often been notable for its struggles on behalf of the oppressed and marginalised, and against social and political injustice. It must now face up to the problems of sexual and gender injustice, in society and also in its own structures.

God rejoices when we celebrate our sexuality with holiness and integrity.  We, the undersigned, invite our colleagues and faith communities to join us in promoting sexual morality, justice, and healing.

See also the following, from the Religious Institute website:

Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual and Gender Diversity

Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Adolescent Sexuality

Open Letter to Religious Leaders about Sex Education

and the research reports:

Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Health and Justice

Survey of Religious Progressives: A Report on Progressive Clergy Action