Tuesday, 17 November 2009

NOONAN, J: A Church That Can and Cannot Change

The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching
Univ of Notre Dame Press, 2005

312 pages

Catholic, Moral Theology, Church History

Using concrete examples, John T. Noonan, Jr., demonstrates that the moral teaching of the Catholic Church has changed and continues to change without abandoning its foundational commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Specifically, Noonan looks at the profound changes that have occurred over the centuries in Catholic moral teaching on freedom of conscience, lending for a profit, and slavery. He also offers a close examination of the change now in progress concerning divorce.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

“Homosexuality & Civilization”: on Reading Louis Crompton.

There are many good books available on homosexuality in history, and thank God for that. These have a range of approaches, including scholarly, specialist tomes, more accessible pen-portraits of single notable people, or of single eras or regions. There is after all, an awful lot of history, containing an awful lot of queers.

For any historian, trying to make sense of the full sweep of history is an impossible task – there is just too much of it. Try to be too inclusive, and the reader will drown in the detail. Try to provide an intelligible, rounded account of particular periods in particular places, and far to much will be omitted. Louis Crompton goes for the latter approach, and provides a valuable, immensely readable book – but with some unavoidable but notable gaps (about which more below).

I prefer to begin by reflecting on the strengths, of which there are many. Reputable experts have been enthusiastic in their praise, so I make no attempt to assess its value as historical analysis. Instead, I will comment only on my personal reaction, as a general reader with some prior knowledge, but no specialist expertise.

Crompton has done a fine job of negotiating a careful balance between inserting too much detail for the specialist, and the superficial for the casual reader. The result, is a book that reads easily, with vivid, lively prose, but is always informative and thought-provoking. There is enough material in its 622 pages to be satisfying, but not daunting. (The 16 self-contained chapters which can be read in sequence as a whole, or savoured one bite at a time. ) I also loved the pictures, which are big enough to be appreciated, spread through the text and sufficient in number to be illustrative and satisfying, but not so many that they crowd out the text.

There are numerous arresting details. Right on the first page of the main text, a section heading reads: “A Millenium of Greek Love”. One thousand years? If Boswell is to be believed, that the clear and formal condemnation by the Christian churches dates only from the second millenium, then this Greek millenium of acceptance is longer than formal Christian proscription. This alone is worth thin king about – and comes even before reading the text proper.

Crompton of course, does not accept that Boswell is to be believed on Christian “toleration” in the early church, and presents a substantially harsher judgement on the teaching and practice of he Christian church. Against that, his two chapters on China and Japan includes tales of monastic love by Buddhist monks, some of which have comes down not just as historic tales, but as inspiring spiritual lessons. (Buddhism i s just one of many religious faiths that makes absolutely no moral judgement against homoeroticism, or any other form of sexuality.)

Regrettably, providing adequate space for the satisfying treatment of the periods and cultures he does include have led to some unfortunate omissions. For a work published in the 21st century, he has a curiously limited, Eurocentric view of “civilization”: He does include a chapter each on Judea, China and Japan, but nothing on the great flowering of Islamic civilization, which was so important during the European dark ages, nothing the early civilizations of India or the Middle East, and nothing on the Americas, neither pre-colonial nor the US, and nothing even from Europe of the last two centuries.

To give some idea of the challenges he has grappled with, consider the case of the section on Judea, which is important to make sense of the Christian response which followed. Slotted awkwardly between early chapters on Early and Classical Greece, Crompton dispenses with 1500 years of Jewish history in a single chapter. To resent these gaps would be unfair – he had to make some choices, we must accept the ones he has made, and enjoy the excellent book he has written, not the one somebody else might have done.

This is one I heartily recommend, for reading, to keep, and for occasional reference or rereading.


“An encyclopedic survey of homosexulaity in Western and no-Western civilizations. Compton’s writing is vivid, lively and refreshing.” – David Greenberg (“The Construction of Homosexuality”)

“A minor masterpiece. Each chapter is a work of art in itself”. -William A Percy (“Encyclopedia of Homosexuality”)

“A master work of interpretative scholarship.” - Richard Labonte “A Different Light” bookshop).

“A one-of –a –kind, page-turning tour through gay history” – David Rosen (InsightOutBooks)

Monday, 9 November 2009

Same Sex Unions in Church History

One of the delights I find in taking that “bracing walk in history” is the frequent discoveries that what we usually assume to be the “common sense” understanding of modern practices and institutions is nothing of the source, forcing us to rethink what in fact these mean. Two of these examples are of “traditional marriage”, and of priestly celibacy. Both of these I have referred to (separately) before, but never thought of combining them. Now I have come across a source that does consider them together, and presents the remarkable observation:

Indeed, the most learned authority on the subject argued forcefully that for the first thousand years Christianity required nuptial blessings only for priests; for the laity, an ecclesiastical ceremony was an honour, only permitted to those being married (to their own class) for the first time.

This statement comes from John Boswell, referring to the work of Korbinian Ritzer, in “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” which I am now rereading. This was one of the first books on homosexuality and the church that I ever read, but I foolishly gave it away some years ago, thinking I would soon replace it – but never did. For a long time now I’ve been feeling the need to read it, and am now delighted finally to have a replacement copy.

In rereading a book, one often gets to see different aspects to those that were apparent on first reading, and so it is here. first, for the perspective that it offers on heterosexual relationships and “marriage” in classical and medieval times, which was so different to our modern conception of what “Traditional” marriage is supposed to have looked like, and also for the aside on the priesthood. Last month I came across a question on the New Zealand blog “Liturgy”, which bothered me, because it looked so simple, but there was no clear answer. The question out by Fr Bosco Peters was simple: It is clear that in the early church ordination was possible for married men, as it is today in the Eastern church, but before the reformation, is there any evidence that priests could marry after ordination? Fr Peters seemed to think that there was no such evidence:

I have been involved in some discussions about this. The contention is that there is no evidence in the Tradition of marriage after ordination. None! There is, according to that position, not a single example of marriage after ordination until the Reformation. I find this an astonishing and fascinating claim. I would be fascinated if any reader could come up with a refutation. Or, of course, references to this being correct.

I would imagine that Boswell’s quotation from Ritzer clearly settles that question: there would be no requirement for priests to marry in church if it were nto permitted fro them to marry at all. But my primary interest in “Same sex Unions” is of course the one that has caused all the fuss.

This book, like its predecessor Christianity Social Tolerance and Homosexuality is justly famous and celebrated among gay historians, activists and Christians for bringing to light a forgotten but important part of our lost history: that for many centuries the Christian Church in the East celebrated, in church, the union of same-sex couples in a liturgical rite. Unlike the earlier book, “Same Sex Unions” has evoked bitter controversy and come under fierce attack for the suggesting that ti might be in any way comparable to conventional, heterosexual marriage. It may have been for this reason that the English scholar Alan Bray was far more cautious in his alter book on the comparable rite in the Western church. Noting that the Western rite was called simply “sworn brotherhood”, (a close equivalent to the Eastern “adelphopoeisis”, which is quite literally “making of brothers”), Bray called his book simply The Friend”, describing it as a discussion on “friendship”.

It is for this reason that I found the opening quotation above striking. Arguments over how far adelphopoesis in the East, or “sworn brothers” in the West, resemble modern marriage are completely misplaced: they should rather be compared with opposite sex relationships at comparable times, which were not necessarily blessed in church, were certainly not seen as sacramental until relatively late, and were most unlikely to have been about love or even friendship, but were essentially civil contracts to protect property and inheritance considerations.

I will leave it to the scholars to dig further into the ongoing controversy over the precise relationships conferred, and the significance of these liturgies for us today. Rather, I appreciate both these books just for reminding us of the indisputable evidence that male same sex couples in close relationships were known throughout the early church, both Eastern and Western, in both fact in in myth. In the East, Sergius & Bacchus (pictured on the cover of Boswell’s book) are the best known, but there are also Polyeuct and Nearchos, and the “two Theodores” (one of them better known to us as St George, of alleged dragon –slaying fame.”). In the Western church, for all Bray’s protestations that the “sworn brothers” signified nothing necessarily more than friendship, he cannot gloss over some key points. while some of the couples he describes were married and may well have had relationships that were not in any way erotic, that certainly does not apply to all. Just among the English kings, Edward II and Piers Gaveston, and later James I and Buckingham, had relationships that are well known were certainly more than simply platonic . Among the lesser known couples he describes, some were buried in shared graves, in a manner exactly comparable to some husbands buried with their wives. Let us also remember that an alternative word for the “sworn” brother was the “wedded” brother, united in a wedding -exactly the same as the word currently used for the celebration of a marriage. Sure, “wedding” then did not mean quite what it does today, but that is precisely the point.

A third gay Catholic medieval historian has a completely different approach to the issue, which I rather like. Blessing Same Sex Unions makes the important point that

At most church weddings, the person presiding over the ritual is not a priest or a pastor, but the wedding planner, followed by the photographer, the florist, and the caterer. And in this day and age, more wedding theology is supplied by Modern Bride magazine or reality television than by any of the Christian treatises on holy matrimony. Indeed, church weddings have strayed long and far from distinctly Christian aspirations. The costumes and gestures might still be right, but the intentions are hardly religious. Why then, asks noted gay commentator Mark D. Jordan, are so many churches vehemently opposed to blessing same-sex unions? In this incisive work, Jordan shows how carefully selected ideals of Christian marriage have come to dominate recent debates over same-sex unions. Opponents of gay marriage, he reveals, too often confuse simplified ideals of matrimony with historical facts. They suppose, for instance, that there has been a stable Christian tradition of marriage across millennia, when in reality Christians have quarrelled among themselves for centuries about even the most basic elements of marital theology, authorizing experiments like polygamy and divorce.

-Book Overview from “Google Books”

Monday, 26 October 2009

Finding God in Gay Lovemaking

An Erotic Encounter With the Devine” is the title of a post by Eric L. Hays-Strom at "Jesus in Love". In his post, he has a moving account of how deliberate prayer immediately before making love with his husband has led to intensely spiritual experiences – especially on one notable occasion in particular.

It would be unfair to copy too much of this personal story here, but some things are worth noting. Eric’s journey in combining the sexual and the spiritual came after listening to some tapes prepared by Michael B Kelly, who is a noted spiritual director and writer, specialising in the contribution that gay men’s erotic experiences can give to the the church’s fuller understanding of spirituality:
..we discovered a tape series about spirituality and sexuality, “The Erotic Contemplative” by Michael Bernard Kelly. I was immediately intrigued. On our two-ay drive home from Los Angeles to Omaha, we started listening to the tapes and discussing the questions that came in a guide with the tapes. It was probably amongst the most intimate conversations of sex, sexuality and spirituality I have ever had.

Through the years our lovemaking has risen to an entirely new level when we intentionally invite God to be present to and with us. That is, when we prayerfully invite God’s Divine Presence to bless our lovemaking and to join with us in our lovemaking.
In my blog (
http://scottneric.com/ontheroad) I have written about several experiences in my life in which I have known God’s presence, either as God or in the person of Jesus or of the Holy Spirit. So, in my own heart, and in my own soul, I know what the ecstatic experience of the Divine is like.

(Here Eric recounts a particularly intense experience. To read it in the original, go to An Erotic Encounter With the Devine at Jesus in Love).

This is an important experience, and not uncommon. It gives the lie to official teaching, as do all other such experiences. If we are able to find God in our lovemaking, how can it possibly be wrong? (Michael B. Kelly is collecting personal stories of these kind of stories as part of his research for his doctoral degree in spirituality and gay men's erotic experiences. I again urge anyone who has such stories to tell, to share them with Michael. I know he will them most useful.)

Further reading:

Homoerotic Spirituality

The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality

Come Out, stand Proud. ( The Catechism Commands It)

Chris Glaser: Coming out to God

Chris Glaser: Coming Out as Sacrament

Daniel Helminiak: Sex and the Sacred

Michael B. Kelley: Seduced by Grace

John McNeill: Sex as God Intended

P Sweasey: From Queer to Eternity

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality

I would expect that most of my lesbian & gay readers have known the liberating growth experience of coming out: at least to themselves and to close friends, or (where realistically appropriate), to family and colleagues. But how many, I wonder, have found the even greater joy of coming out to God? I mean here not just superficially, but fully and frankly, taking your sexuality deep into your prayer life, giving thanks for the joys and satisfactions, even the exhilaration of orgasm; sharing the pain of the frustrations and disappointments; even building the Lord into your sexual fantasies, or turning your fantasies into prayer?

This appears to be heretical, sacrilegious, but is not. It is an old idea, going back at least to the Song of Songs, and to the great mystics: St John of the Cross, St Theresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich. Modern writers who have discussed this idea from a gay perspective include Daniel Helminiak, Michael B Kelly and John McNeill. (Jim Cotter and Jack Dominian are just two I know of who have done so from a more traditional heterosexual perspective).

Now I have come across another who has done so directly – Chris Glaser, who has put together a prayer collection under the title “Coming Out to God.”

I first heard of this book when it was recommended to the congregation by the celebrant during Sunday Mass - so it has the warm approval of at least one Catholic priest in good standing. Looking into it, I was particularly impressed by the powerful and moving writing of the introduction.

Glaser shares with us his own early struggle, torn between his innate sexuality and spirituality, which he believed, like most Christians, to be in some kind of conflict. Using a striking metaphor, picturing each of these two as strangers wary of each other at a dance, he tells how they first put out tentative feelers, then began cautiously to dance, each struggling for dominance and attempting to lead – before finding true partnership, and allowing the dance to lead them:

Leather Dancers

"When my sexuality began to emerge, my spirituality froze in fear, then nearly ran out of the room. But then it noticed other souls dancing gracefully, and realised it was missing their grace. My spirituality wondered if the lack of grace had something to do with rejection of the stranger on the other side of the room, my sexuality.

Timidly, one invited the other to dance. At first, they scarcely looked at each other… they were lousy dancers. Then they cast furtive glances at each other, sometimes angry or resentful, sometimes flirtatious and seductive….Finally they found times when the dance led them, and for brief moments they became perfect dancers, full of grace, true to each other. They danced together as my soul."

He also draws an important parallel between sexuality and spirituality, stating that they are both routes to intimacy in relationships: sexuality builds intimacy in human relationships, spirituality does in our relationship with the Lord. This equivalence thus makes them natural partners.

"Sexuality and spirituality are not opposing forces, as is frequently supposed today. Instead, both draw people into relationship. Sexuality draws us into physical relationships: touching, hugging…… kissing and intercourse. Spirituality draws us into relationships that both incl ude and transcend bodies because it includes and transcends that which is visible……Both our sexual and spiritual powers are holy, and therefore both my be profaned. At their holiest, these powers lead to love in all its many expressions. At their most profane, they may lead to apathy or hate. The integrity of both sexual and spiritual powers is called the soul."

The final observation that struck an enormous personal chord with me, was his statement that when we come out to God, we allow God to come out to us: to enter more fully into our own lives, which is the best defence we can develop against the homophobic bigotry that masquerades freely under the name of religion:

"In prayer, coming out to God as sexual-spiritual beings opens us up, I believe, to God coming out to us in the dance of Substance and Sensuality, spirituality and sexuality. Prayer becomes a place wherein the choreography of the dance of spirituality and sexuality gets worked out. When we allow the Lord of the Dance to lead, sexuality becomes responsible and spirituality becomes responsive."

For more details, and extracts from the introduction, see "Coming out to God".

See also:

Homoerotic Spirituality

Coming Out as Spiritual Experience

Daniel Helminiak: Sex and the Sacred

John McNeill: Sex as God Intended

Michael B Kelly: Seduced by Grace

At The Wild Reed:

Making Love, Giving Life

Song of Songs - The Bible's Gay Love Poem

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Sweasey, P: From Queer to Eternity: Spirituality in the Lives of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People.

Diane Pub Co, 1997

239 pages

Multi-faith, Lesbian and gay, Spirituality

Asks why any self-respecting queer would want to have anything to do with spirituality. Answers come from a diverse collection of homosexuals, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Neo-Pagans and New-Agers, as well as queers who seek spirituality through drugs, nature, massage, dance, art, and sex. Contributions from 60 religious teachers that address: Do gays have a different perspective on life's mysteries, ecstasies and meaning? Can queerness be a spiritual advantage? What are the connections between sex and spirituality? What implications do spiritual beliefs have for politics, identity, and sexual behavior. Challenges social, religious and sexual orthodoxies.

O’Keefe, T; Fox, K: Trans People in Love

Routledge, 2008

275 pages


Trans People in Love is an illuminating resource for members of the trans community and their partners and families; gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and intersex people; sexologists; sex therapists; counsellors; psychologists; psychotherapists; social workers; psychiatrists; medical doctors; educators; students; and couples and family therapists. Trans People in Love provides a forum for the experience of being in love and in relationships with significant others for members of the trans community. This honest and respectful volume tells clinicians, scholars,and trans people themselves of the beauty and complexity that trans identity brings to a romantic relationship, what skills and mindsets are needed to forge positive relationships, and demonstrates the reality that trans people in all stages of transition can create stable and loving relationships that are both physically and emotionally fulfilling.

ROGERS, J: Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality

Westminster John Knox Press, 2009

208 pages

Christian, Gay and lesbian, Scripture

In this revised and expanded best seller, Rogers argues for equal rights in both the church and society for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people. He describes how he moved away from opposition to that support, charts the churchżs history of using biblical passages to oppress marginalized groups, argues for a Christ-centered reading of Scripture, debunks stereotypes about gays and lesbians, and explores texts used most frequently against homosexuals and gay ordination.In this newly revised edition, he maps the recent progress of major U.S. denominations toward full equality for LGBT persons, adds a new chapter that examines how Scripture is best interpreted by Jesus’ redemptive life and ministry, and updates his own efforts and experiences. The book also includes a guide for group study or personal reflection.

Garner, Abigail: Families Like Mine

Children of gay Parents Tell It Like it Is

What is it really like to grow up with gay parents?

Abigail Garner was five years old when her mother and father divorced and her dad came out as gay. Growing up immersed in gay culture, she now calls herself a "culturally queer" heterosexual woman. As a child, she often found herself in the middle of the political and moral debates surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) parenting. At the age of twenty-two, she began to speak publicly about her family and has since become a nationally recognized advocate for the estimated 10 million children growing up with LGBT parents. The creator of FamiliesLikeMine.com, Garner has written a deeply personal and much-needed book about gay parenting, from the seldom-heard perspective of grown children raised in these families.

Based on eight years of activism, combined with interviews with more than fifty sons and daughters, Families Like Mine debunks the anti-gay myth that these children grow up damaged and confused. At the same time, Garner's book refutes the popular pro-gay sentiment that these children turn out "just like everyone else." In addition to the typical stresses of growing up, the unique pressures these children face are not due to their parents' sexuality, but rather to homophobia and prejudice. Using a rich blend of journalism and memoir, Garner offers empathetic yet unapologetic opinions about the gifts and challenges of being raised in families that are often labeled "controversial."

As more LGBT people are pursuing parenthood and as the visibility of gay parenting is rapidly increasing, many of the questions about these families focus on the "best interests" of their children. Eloquent and sophisticated, Families Like Mine addresses these questions, providing an invaluable insider's perspective for LGBT parents, their families, and their allies.

Compellingly written…this should quickly become a mainstay resource for many family service agencies and public libraries serving LGBT patrons – American Library Association

Many people will find this a helpful book; its all-encompassing approach should draw in not only children of LGBT parents, but also friends and family, teachers, therapists and clergy who work with them. –Publishers Weekly

Children of gay parents shoot from the hip in Abigail Garner’s indispensible Families Like Mine. – Vanity Fair

Families Like Mine [is] a sort of Feminine Mystique about the children of gay parents, articulating their pride and their struggles with homophobia but also the grievances they have with their families - NY Times Magazine

Smart and impassioned…This is the new essential reading for LGBT families - Advocate

Garner offers humorous and often poignant insights not only into the joys and complexities of gay families, but the hardships the children in particular endure because of social resistance to their parents’ union- Publishers Weekly

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Loughlin (ed):QUEER THEOLOGY:

Blackwell Pub, 2007

351 pages

Queer theology;

Contributors: James Alison, Tina Beattie, Daniel Boyarin, Virginia Burrus, Gavin D’Costa, Paul Fletcher, Christopher Hinkle, Amy Hollywood, Grace M. Jantzen, Mark D. Jordan, Gerard Loughlin, David Matzko McCarthy, Rachel Muers, Catherine Pickstock, Eugene F. Rogers Jr, Kathy Rudy, Jane Shaw, Elizabeth Stuart, Graham Ward, Linda Woodhead

“Well researched and passionately argued, this important collection of essays makes an original contribution to queer theology and to the debate about theology and sexuality in the 21st century.” Marcella Maria Althaus-Reid, University of Edinburgh

“Several elements combine to make this collection the most impressive outing yet for queer theology: the intellectual stature of so many of its contributors; the principled threading of theoretical rigor with an activist ethos that characterizes so much of its contents; and the panoramic historical sweep of the project as a whole. This volume is essential reading for all theologians and not just queer ones; for, as its editor rightly notes, theology has always been a much queerer enterprise than most of us have recognized.” Stephen D. Moore, Drew University

“Queer Theology makes an important contribution to public debate about Christianity and sex. A remarkable collection of specially commissioned essays by some of the brightest and best of Anglo-American scholars Edited by one of the leading theologians working at the interface between religion and contemporary culture Reconceptualizes the body and its desires Enlarges the meaningfulness of Christian sexuality for the good of the Church Proposes that bodies are the mobile products of changing discourses and regimes of power.”


  • Subjectivity and Belief
  • Following the Still Small Voice
  • Sacramental Flesh
  • There Is No Sexual Difference
  • Sex and Social Reproduction
  • Eros and Emergence
  • Omphalos
  • Textual Reasoning and the Jewish
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • Reformed and Enlightened Church
  • Sex and Secularization
  • A Queer Language of Life
  • Queer Trinity
  • Queen of Heaven

WEAKLAND: Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church

Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2009

385 pages

“For many people, the name of Archbishop Rembert Weakland brings to mind only connotations of scandal ż the titillating tale of a prominent priest disgraced. But that whiff of dishonor barely begins to tell the whole story.In these pages Archbishop Weakland recounts his life from his childhood in rural Pennsylvania to his retirement from the archbishopric in 2002 at the age of 75, all in the context of the Church that he long served. Weakland takes readers with him to Rome, where he discovered the splendor of a whole new intellectual world, and then to New York for his extensive musical study at Julliard and Columbia University. From his early days in the priesthood to his struggles with pontiffs, Weakland details how he learned to become a leader and minister to his people and how his famously liberal beliefs affected his ministry. While he presents an honest account of the scandal he is so often recognized for, the complete picture beyond rumor and accusation may come as a surprise to many readers.Throughout his book Weakland describes with poignant honesty his psychological, spiritual, and sexual growth. Evocative and inspiring, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church tells the story of a life fully lived.”

MARIN, A: Love is an Orientation

[Love Is an Orientation] is a book that will put most of you into an immediate struggle. You are going to read what Marin says about the situation between Evangelicals and the Gay community with intense appreciation, but part of your ingrained evangelical training will be talking to you the whole time, telling you to stop thinking about anything other than the abomination of Gay sex and the verses that apply. You’ll want to shut it and you’ll want to keep reading. You’ll know you need this and you aren’t hearing it anywhere else, but part of you will say you’re slipping into squishy, emerging liberalism.
You aren’t. You are applying the Gospel.

Internet Monk

Monday, 28 September 2009

Reflections on Brooten: Love Between Women

I have just finished reading (for the first time - I will re-read it later) Bernadette Brooten's "Love Between Women", which has been a stimulating, enriching experience. Now, I totally lack the academic credentials to offer a formal review. 6000 miles from home, I am also without some of my standard books that I would normally consult to check the contents of my memory, further limiting any scope for accurate statements of fact.. However, in a former life I worked professionally as a market research analyst, presenting and interpreting research data for marketing managers at leading grocery manufacturers. I regularly told my clients that I didn't claim to have all the right answers, but I hoped to find the right questions. Brooten's book certainly raised a lot of good questions for me, and it is in a similar vein that I now share with you some thoughts.

First, the key purpose, methods and findings of the book. The purpose, of course, is clear from the subtitle: "Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism" - with a clear emphasis on "female". In this, it is the first such investigation, and represents an important complement to John Boswell, who in practice focuses heavily on male history. Like Boswell, she precedes her discussion of specifically Christian responses with a general survey of attitudes and practices in the wider Mediterranean world. Her methods are innovative, as she goes beyond the standard classical texts, adding to them records from magic, astrology and medicine. These are useful, because the standards texts, by an educated male elite, tend to focus on a male elite, with far fewer references to women. But magical binding spells to attract demonstrate the existence and public visibility among non-elites of female homoerotic desire, astrological writings show that the astrologers at least believed that sexual orientations of all kinds were determined at birth, and medical treatises showed a belief that some orientations were seen as diseased.

The two most important conclusions, though, which apply to both Christian and pagan perspectives were that the important distinctions in sexual partners were not on gender itself, but on the appropriate gender roles (that is, as the insertive or receptive partner in sexual penetration), and that there was a marked asymmetry in attitudes to male and female homoeroticism.

By this is meant that men thought of sexual intercourse only in terms of penetration, real or simulated, requiring an active, penetrating partner and a receptive, passive partner. It was further assumed that the natural role for men was active and inserting, the natural role for women was passive and receptive. It then follows that a woman taking an active role, or a man taking a passive role, was stepping outside of approved gender roles, which was at best shameful, and possibly mentally diseased, immoral or sinful.

The asymmetry arises in that the male and female conforming partners are treated differently: passive females are condemned together with their active female partners, while active men who penetrate other men, especially lower status men, generally escape criticism. (In addition to gender, other factors also influenced approved roles, notably age and status. Gender asymmetry continues with many more permutations for men than for women, but I ignore these here.)

This asymmetry is clearly demonstrated in "Love Between Women", but I thought less clearly explained. Brooten makes clear that the opprobrium on women who are passive partners is because the complete proper role is not just to be receptive, but to be receptive specifically to the male penis and seed. But then why is the proper male role not equally to be not just insertive, but specifically insertive into a woman? But many sources of the period (not all, but I summarise) clearly see no problem with males penetrating other males. Why not? With her focus primarily on women, this is one area where I think Brooten could have done more. Specifically, I wondered if the key might lie in the point made so clearly by Countryman in "Dirt, Greed and Sex": that women were seen as, and in law treated as, the property of men. Hence the sin of adultery was seen as a crime against another man's property - and even a receptive women having intercourse with another woman was offering what should have been reserved for a future lord and master.

High status men, however, were seen as naturally dominant, and so could take their pleasures (almost) where they chose without criticism. As Mark Anthony, who had affairs with both genders, has been quoted as saying (but not in this book), "What does it matter where a man puts his dick?" .

Love between WomenAnd now my questions, which begin to diverge from Brooten, as my interests are from the male perspective. First, those nasty words "para physin" which are widely assumed to refer to the gender choice of a partner. Would male readers or listeners have interpreted them so? Certainly, for a Roman citizen, "against nature" would have had a different meaning: to take the passive role. Otherwise, penetration of any other man would have been seen as natural, and of his slave as a recognised legal right. (Penetration of another citizen, especially an underage boy, was dishonourable, but not unnatural). Men in other societies would have seen things in similar terms.

Secondly, if the above surmise is correct, then the only reason that other forms of same sex intercourse are not acceptable is that they out the receptive male partner into the position of a woman, or in the case of a woman, she is not taking her "proper" place, receptive to a man. That is, the entire system is based on the now outdated belief that a woman is inherently inferior to a man, subjugated to his will (either husband or a male relative), and hence thought of virtually as his property. This was clearly stated by Clement of Alexandria (as reported by Brooten):

For him, nature allows people to enjoy lawful unions as fundamentally asymmetrical. for him, nature allows people to enjoy lawful unions for the purpose of procreation. Clement saw these lawful unions as fundamentally asymmetrical. A husband was head of his wife, and she had to be subservient to him. As a preventive against adultery, women were to shut themselves in their houses, avoiding unnecessary contact with any nonrelatives. If her husband behaved abusively to her, a wife had to endure the abuse and had no option except to leave. The wife may "never do anything against his will, with the exception of what is contributing to virtue and salvation." Like Philo, Clement assumes that males have been allotted an active role and females a passive role in life: this view forms an important basis for Clement's teachings about marriage.

But note also Clement's other views on men. Not only must they not behave as women sexually, they must at all times present a physically appearance which clearly affirms their masculinity:

"Clement particularly opposes shaving off one's beard or depilating one's bodily hairs. He argues that men must display their greater physical similarity to Christ by wearing beards, which symbolise men's stronger nature. their male nature, and their right to rule........"He who denies his masculinity in broad daylight will certainly prove himself to be a woman at night."

Now, Clement is an important figure in the development of a heterosexist theology hostile to same gender relationships. So the obvious next question : if the Magisterium has accepted and built on his hostility to homoerotic relationships, why has it not also built on his insistence on beards, male rule, and female submission? Conversely, if it has seen the wisdom in accepting male shaving and more balanced marital relationships, why has it not also seen the injustice in denying the validity of homoeroticism ? This is yet another example of the self-evident selectiveness inherent in the Magisterium.

The answer, I suspect, is that the plain truth of the matter is that for all its insistence to the contrary, in matters of social relationships the Magisterium follows and does not lead social attitudes. This was dramatically demonstrated n the notorious church support for slavery, and was strongly argued by John Boswell in the case of intolerance towards homosexuals.

So take heart - as society continues to accept our relationships, the Magisterium will inevitably be found to support them too.

More reading:

Brooten, Bernadette - Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism

Boswell, John - Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality

Boswell, John - Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe

Jordan, Mark D - The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology.

Sullivan, Francis A - Magisterium: Teaching Authority of the Catholic Church

Friday, 4 September 2009

My Holiday Reading: Gay Religious Books

It has been a long time since I have felt able to spend any money on new books, so I was delighted over the last few weeks to find that I have been able to stock up, in two batches.

These are my new acquisitions, from which I will be selecting my holiday reading:

Bernadette Brooten: Love Between Women.

I was delighted to find this on the shelves of Foyle's yesterday, as it has long been on my wanted list. John Boswell and many other of the best known writers have a clear male bias, for which Brooten is often quoted as a female balance. However, she is also much more than just Boswell's female counterpart: she has a formidable reputation of her own for the quality of her scholarship. Her book appeared well after Boswell's,and quickly established itself as an equal classic. I look forward to reading her work for myself.

Chris Glaser: Coming Out as Sacrament

I have already had a quick read of this, and quoted from it here, but I definitely want to have another look and to digest it more slowly.

Marcella Althaus-Reid: The Queer God

This writer has intrigued me, ever since I read of her work in Elisabeth Stuart's helpful guide, Gay & Lesbian Theologies. I am expecting this book, which comes out of a starting point of Latin American liberation theology and queer theology, to be radically different, provocative and challenging. I do not expect to completely agree with her, but do fully expect to have my mental boundaries heavily pushed.

Friday, 28 August 2009

'The Best Cardinal Africa Never Had'

(from the National Catholic Reporter)


Guardian of the Light: Archbishop Denis Hurley: Renewing the Church, Opposing Apartheid
By Paddy Kearney
Published by Continuum, $34.95

When I write my novel about Vatican II, one of its main characters will look a lot like Denis Hurley. He will be a bishop -- no, an archbishop. A very tall, very handsome, very well-spoken archbishop from South Africa. But he won't be a cardinal, because he will be the rarest kind of prelate, a man who tells the truth to power, even to the pope.

My imagination got running along these lines when I was racing this week through a new biography of the real Archbishop Hurley, one of my closest friends among the fathers of Vatican II. This magisterial work was written with loving care by Paddy Kearney. For three decades, Kearney headed a social action team in Durban, South Africa, called Diakonia, which Hurley founded.

In 1951, as chairman of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, Hurley drafted the first of a series of pastoral letters denouncing apartheid as "blasphemy" and "intrinsically evil." And then he put himself, body and soul, into a frankly political campaign to walk those ideas around the country. He marched in demonstrations alongside Desmond Tutu and Alan Paton. He encouraged Catholic schools to start admitting nonwhite students. He confronted Koevoet, the state security police, over its atrocities in Namibia, and found himself brought up on charges of sedition. (He beat the charges and won 25,000 rand from the state for malicious prosecution.)

At the age of 16, Hurley had been "very much a white boy," heading off in 1932 from his native Pietermaritzburg to priestly training in Ireland and then for seven years in Rome. There, he was captured by the social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI. "We ate and slept and pondered over Quadragesimo Anno," Hurley recalled, side by side with dusky seminarians from Sri Lanka whom he accepted as equals. He did his graduate thesis on the banks and big mining companies of South Africa, skewering them for their oppression of the poor and working classes.......

Read the full review at the National Catholic Reporter.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Common Journey, Different Paths

Spiritual Direction in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Queer Bible: Beyond family Values

Under the heading, "A Way Back Behind Christian Homophobia", Adam Kotsko writes at the blog "An und fur sich" about a trilogy of books byTed Jennings: Jacob’s Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel, The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives in the New Testament, and the third in the set, Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Homophobia:

"The strategy here is clear, aggressive, and absolutely necessary: he absolutely abandons the defensive stance -of “explaining away” the supposedly “obvious” homophobic elements in the Bible that “everyone knows” about and instead presents us with a scriptural account that is deeply homophilic, even to the point of presenting us with a possible male lover for Christ himself."

Setting aside the weapons of hate

Even discounting the possibility that Jesus had a male lover (there are at least two candidates: John, the "apostle Jesus loved", and Lazarus), this is an approach I love. Given the way in which queers have for centuries experienced Scripture as a weapon of hate, it is understandable that after one has overcome a natural antipathy to dealing with Scripture at all, the first enquiry from lesbigay people is to find ways to respond to the infamous clobber texts, to learn to set aside the weapons of hate. This is technically relatively easy - the actual texts are few, out of 30 000 verse in a Bible written against a cultural background where homoeroticism was commonplace, and many scholars have shown how they have either been misinterpreted, or are of limited relevance to modern gay relationships.

More difficult is dealing with the residual emotional baggage: this is where books pointing to positive interpretations of Scripture are so valuable. Again, this should be easy - the fundamental message of the Gospels has nothing to do with hatred against anybody, but stresses love and inclusion for everybody - most especially social outsiders and the otherwise afflicted and oppressed. Still, for people with a homophile orientation, we can go well beyond the simple message of generic inclusion. Writers on Scripture have pointed to specifically queer values in Scripture, while historians have shown that the roots of popular hostility did not lie in Scripture at all: the Church followed popular prejudice, not the other way around.

I do not yet have personal knowledge of Jennings' books (but will explore further). There are other writers though who have covered much the same ground, with whose work I am more familiar.

Setting aside family values

Chris Glaser, in his excellent book, "Coming Out as Sacrament", has a chapter on "Coming out in the Bible", in which he reads several well known Scripture stories, from Adam & Eve in Genesis to Pentecost in Acts, as coming out tales. Among these, he presents the story of Jesus Himself as "Coming out of Family Values". The evidence he produces in support of this argument is that:

  • "his mother Mary was told that Jesus' own coming out would mean "that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed - and a sword shall pass through your own soul too (Luke 2:35)";
  • At twelve years of age, Jesus ignored his family's departure from Jerusalem to sit in the temple, his "Father's house" (Luke 2:49);
  • He left His family and as far as we know, never married and never "begat" children;
  • He called his disciples away from their families (9:59:62), told them he had no home (9:57) ,, and claimed that His gospelk would "set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother." (Mathew 10:35-36);
  • When His family came to see Him, He declared, "Whoever does the will of god is my brother and sister and mother"(Mark 3:35);
  • Members of the new faith community addressed each other as brother and sister;
  • Jesus' own family of choice were three unmarried people - Martha, Mary and Lazarus;
  • In the New Testament, the biological, polygamous, prolifically procreative family of the Old Testament was superseded by the more vital, eternal and extended family of faith, a family to be expanded by evangelism and inclusivity rather than mere procreation;
  • Jesus had a special word of defence for the eunuch, who was an outcast in Israel because his body was mutilated, but more importantly because he could not procreate. "

I don't know about you, but to me, but none of this, neither Old Testament nor New, sounds particularly like the "traditional family values" that the fundies claim to be protecting because they believe them to be at the heart of Christianity.

Urban gay men as role models

Going beyond queer values in the Gospels to queer lives today, the American theologian Kathy Rudy argues that this Scriptural denial of modern "family values" implies that modern urban gay culture is more in tune with the Gospel message than the biological family which Christ's teaching rejected

"The church needs the model of gay sexual sexual communities because Christians have forgaotten how to think about social and sexual life outside the family".

Writing about Rudy's work, Elisabeth Stuart notes that

"The church has forgotten how to be a community, how to be the body of Christ and perhaps gay men have the grave task of teaching it to be a community wider than a family."


How far have we come? Instead of simply sitting back and accepting the knee jerk, unfounded accusations of "Sodomy", we find that there are serious, credible Scripture scholars and theologians who have first, shown that the traditional use of the clobber texts to atack us is at best inappropriate, or possibly totally unfounded; that there are positive role models in Scripture, in both the Old Testmament and the New; that far from encouraging traditional family values, the Gospel message opposes themwith what are quite frankly queer values, and that far from the fundies being in a position to lecture us on how to behave, we should be teaching them a thing or two about the Gospels and how to move beyond an unChristian "Focus on the Family" to a wider "Focus on Community"!

Beyond gender.

Rudy continues, says Stuart, to "construct a sexual ethic which is communal in nature and queer in its politics." Because in recent centuries there has been so much emphasis on first reproduction and then on complementarity as the sole purposes of sex, the result is that "celibacy, singleness and communal life, which have been valued for so long in Christian history, no longer have a place in Christian life."

In a neat inversion of the story of Sodom, "for Rudy the story of Sodom teaches us that what is ultimately pleasing to God about sexuality is the quality of its hospitality. This is not to say that every stranger must be offered sex, but that sex must cultivate an openness and warmth to strangers, it must open our hearts, break down our boundaries, and push us beyond ourselves. Hospitality is procreative, it expands and widens the community. When we open our homes to outsiders, the private space of the home becomes the public space of the Church, and so not only is gender collapsed but so is the dualism between private and public. The cult of domesticity is destroyed and replaced by an ethic which subverts worldy concepts of gender and understands sex in the context of building up the body of Christ."

How far from James Dobson is that?

See also:

The Gospels Queer Values


Althaus-Reid, Marcella: Indecent Theology

Horner, James: Johnathan Loved David

Glaser,Chris: Coming Out as Sacrament

Moore: God's Beauty Parlour

Rudy, Kathy: Sex and the Church

Stuart, Elisabeth: Gay & Lesbian Theologies

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Where to Begin Reading?

With such a wealth of titles available, and the field constatnly expanding, the obvious question is where to begin? To which the obvious reply is, where are you starting from?

The question matters. You need to be clear on whether you want a simple introduction, a general but comprehensive overview for playpeople, or a scholarly tome filled with notes, sources and all the necessary qualifications, ifs and buts. Are you looking for approaches rooted in Scripture, or Church teaching, or both? From a gay male, lesbian, or trans perspective? All these questions, and more, will influence your choice. In my detailed posts for each book, I have attempted to provide answers to these questions. The labels included in each post will help you to find books on a specific topic. With time, I will be building in thematic lists, a search engine, and other means to access exactly what you personally will find helpful - but all these refinements take time, while I am simultaneously trying to expand the number and range of books included. I crave your patience.

In the meantime, I offer some suggestions of what might be the most useful for specific purposes:

Theology /Sexual Ethics: Catholic

"Theology" and "Church Teaching" are here used very broadly. The books listed are not necessarily in accordance with church teaching - some may not be recognised as theology at all by traditional theologians. (The list includes titles from the emerging disciplines of queer theology and indecent theology, as well as more familiar approaches). Nor should listing be taken as recommendation - that depends very much on your own staring point. But all are serious, respected contributions from a Catholic perspective. Follow the links to find out more.

(This is a new site. Some of these titles do not yet have full descriptions, but be assured I am working them. Patience, please.)

Alison, James: Faith Beyond Resentment 2001, 239 pages
Althaus - Reid: The Queer God
Althaus - Reid: Indecent Theology
Althaus - Reid: Sexual Theologian
Cleaver: Know My Name 1995, 161 pages
Comstock & Henking: Que(e)ryig Religion
Davies & Loughlin: Sex These Days
Goss: Jesus Acted Up

Monday, 17 August 2009

What to read next?

Earlier, I discussed some books that might be suitable for the lesbigay Christian who is just beginning the attempt to reconcile faith and sexuality ("Where to begin reading?"). These, generally speaking, may be thought of as the "defensive" books, providing us with the means to answer the standard hostile arguments.

Once these arguments have been dealt with, though, many people will want to explore faith from a more positive, more assertive perspective - for example, exploring Scripture or prayer & spirituality from a gay perspective.

Horner's "Johnathan loved David" is a well-known & widely recommended look at same- sex relationships in the Bible. "Take back the Word" (ed Robert Goss) does not look at specfically gay or lesbian passages in Scripture, but rather looks at other well-known passages and offers interpretations from a queer perspective.

This is precisely what James Alison does. He is a former Dominican priest and lecturer in theology, who is now an independent theologian, writing and lecturing to groups around the world. He does not write only about gay issues, but in a notable set of three books, he writes specifically "theology from a gay (male) perspective" - not gay theology. These books, all much admired and commended, present sound, tightly reasoned theology, but in an informal, non-academic style. These three books, best read in sequence, are "Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay", "On Being Liked", and "Undergoing God."

For those willing to work with a more academic treatment, a book I found immensely useful is Elisabeth Stuart's "Gay & Lesbian Theology: Repetitions with Critical Differences." The value of this book for me was in its concise summary of the development of different approaches to theology from an LGBT perspective, from its early beginnings, through liberation theology, queer theology, indecent theology and beyond. In summarising the key ideas, she also introduces the reader to some of the important thinkers and writers presenting these new strands in theological thinking.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Spirituality & Prayer Booklist

BOISVERT: Out on Holy Ground
GLASER: Come Home
MATTMAN, Urs: Coming In

History Booklist

BOSWELL: Same-sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe
BOISVERT: Sanctity and Male Desire
CARROL, James: Constantine's Sword
KRAMER & D'ANGELO: Women & Christian origins
MACY, GARY: The Hidden History of Women's Ordination
MADIGAN & OSIEK: Ordained Women in the Early Church
PUTERBAUGH, DYNES (eds): The Crucifixion of Hyacinth

Priesthood and Clerical Abuse Booklist.

Boisvert & Goss: Gay Catholic Priests and Clerical Abuse - Breaking the Silence
Cozzens, D: The Changing Face of the Catholic Priesthood.
FRAWLEY–O’DEA: Perversion of Power
RIGERT, Joe: An Irish Tragedy