Might This Be Joy: LGBTQ People’s Witness to Audacious Love

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College.  The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10; Psalm 146:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

alfred-pang
Alfred Pang

Today’s reflection is from Alfred Pang, a doctoral student in theology and education at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. To read Alfred’s previous posts on Bondings 2.0, click here.

I struggled to write this reflection. The central focus of Gaudete Sunday, this Third Sunday of Advent, is the joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth, but how to write convincingly about joy when it eludes me as I wrestle as a single, gay Catholic away from home with the pain of loneliness?

The long stretches of night and blistering winter cold now encroaching have only deepened my sense of isolation. Doctoral study is terribly long, and all that mental digging has left me craving for companionship. In these days of political anxiety that have left so many bruised, I am muted by and aghast at the bleakness of violence and division consuming our world. In such wearying circumstances when stupefied hearts do not feel free to rejoice, how do I–and how do we as people of faith– properly celebrate Gaudete Sunday?

At least, by God’s grace, there is something in today’s Gospel that could still speak to me. It is a small textual detail: John the Baptist is in prison. Despite being in prison, he hears of the works of Christ and sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Even imprisonment does not deter John from being prayerfully alive to the signs of life he senses in Jesus Christ.

It strikes me that part of being prayerfully alive means engaging our capacity for amazement. If this is so, John exemplifies a posture that challenges us this Gaudete Sunday: in the prisons that we find ourselves – of discouragement, despair, and depression – how might we remain attentive to and discerning of the signs of the times that herald God’s liberating love? How are we invited this Advent to pause and make room for radical amazement at God’s divine life, which is always at work in spite of and through the fragility of human love that can disappoint and has failed?

As the Gospel reminds us, Jesus must be the source of amazement that is reflected in Christian witness. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” What is proclaimed here is that in and through the Incarnation, God will and has come as audacious love that transgresses, subverts and heals.

thevisitationYet, Jesus who reveals God’s sovereignty does something else in this passage: he lifts up the witness of John the Baptist as “more than a prophet,” as the “messenger” that Isaiah prophesied. This mutual confirmation and affirmation between John and Jesus echoes the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1:39-45. John, as a baby in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for joy upon the greeting of Mary who bears the good news, Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. Echoing this encounter, joy is the subtext in today’s Gospel.

In these dramas of mutual recognition, I find consolation: that in the midst of my darkness that renders me invisible to myself, God sees and understands. There is also profound strength felt in knowing that God sees our giftedness as LGBTQ persons and calls us out to be fruitful witnesses of an audacious love as siblings, friends, lovers and neighbors. Might this be joy? Is joy the fruit of being fully alive in God who takes delights in us as beloved children, standing with and living within us?

I suspect the joy that we anticipate in Christmas is not based on our own striving to make room for Jesus at all. Rather, it is the joy that comes when we make room for amazement to see that God has chosen to meet us down below in the shoddiness and messiness of the manger. As theologian Karl Barth preached in a Christmas homily to prisoners:

“Down there Jesus Christ sets up his quarters. Even better, he has already done so! Yes, praise be to God for this dark place, for this manger, for this stable in our lives! There we need him, and there he can use each one of us … There he only waits that we see him, recognize him, believe in him, and love him.”[1]

God is nearer to us than we imagine, and for this we can rejoice. Should not we then rejoice?

Still, I find joy ungraspable. Maybe this absence allows me to clear a space in my heart to be attentive and amazed once again so that joy can then grasp me. I stare at the trees shedding their leaves. They stand barren in the blasting cold of winter. Yet, in the crisp sharp air, I stand amazed at the sturdiness of these trees. They do not shiver, but speak back to me the words of Isaiah – “Be strong, fear not!” They remain firm, deepening their roots. I wonder at life on the underside, beneath the ground and in the soil.

This, I suggest, is the call of Advent: to be astonished at and delight in the small signs of life found at the most unexpected places in the bleakness of time. Where there is life, there is God – with the possibility and reality of indefatigable joy, still elusive, but ever graced.

[1] Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, trans. Marguerite Wieser (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), 142.

Alfred Pang, December 11, 2016

To read the Advent reflection for the First Sunday, click here, and for the Second Sunday, click here. For all of Bondings 2.0‘s Advent reflections from past years, click here.

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What Pro-Gay Catholics Can Learn from Evangelicals About LGBT Issues

One of the most popular LGBT religion books to be published recently is Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian.  A young evangelical author, Vines’ received wide attention for his work both in the religious and secular press.  It appeared just as a movement seems to be growing in the evangelical church for greater acceptance of LGBT people–a movement which has some important lessons for Catholics who work for LGBT equality.

Bondings 2.0’s Bob Shine reviewed Vines’ book for The National Catholic Reporter, and he noted the importance of the work for Catholic advocates:

“God and the Gay Christian has value for the literate scholar of LGBT issues, the parent struggling to accept their newly out gay child, and the Christian striving to reconcile belief in Scripture with a desire to accept LGBT people. Vines’ writing is scholarly without being prohibitively academic.

“Catholics will find it beneficial to further understand how homosexuality relates to Scripture in an affirming way, though Vines’ engagement with the Catholic tradition is understandably marginal. Parish-based LGBT ministries would do well to study this work, and church justice advocates might even ship a copy to their local bishop.”

Shine notes that Vines’ book is not only analytic, but personal, and provides an important message for all Christians, not just evangelicals:

‘The book is the product of Vines’ own family’s struggle to accept him as a gay Christian, which comes after the author and his father concluded a yearlong study of homosexuality through their theologically conservative and scripturally based perspective. His conclusion is clear: Same-sex relationships are not only permissible within a conservative Christian paradigm, but must be affirmed as blessed and intended by God. Further, marriage equality is the pro-family, pro-God belief.”

And there is one lesson that Shine notes in Vines’ book that is one that we all need to keep re-learning every day:

“. . .[O]ne senses a secondary mission in God and the Gay Christian: the reconciliation of affirming and non-affirming Christians, which is the terminology Vines uses for proponents and opponents of same-sex relationships.”

Change in the religious world on LGBT issues would also have an important impact on the rest of the world:

“. . . Vines offers one final, important thought: The stakes are high when it comes to God and the gay Christian. Religious rejection inflicts tremendous suffering on LGBT people, including alarming rates of self-harm and suicide among youth. He writes in the conclusion:

‘When we tell people that their every desire for intimate, sexual bonding is shame-           ful and disordered, we encourage them to hate a core part of who they are. And                 when we reject the desire of gay Christians to express their sexuality within a life-             long covenant, we separate them from our covenantal God, and we tarnish their               ability to bear his image.’

“. . . .Given the power that both evangelical Christianity and Catholicism possess to influence global culture and politics, I pray many will read God and the Gay Christian — particularly those who struggle to accept same-sex relationships. Vines lays the foundation for Christians to create inclusive church communities where all are  welcomed as made in God’s image.”

You can read Bob Shine’s entire book review by clicking here.  A Religion News Service story about Vines’ ministry project can be found by clicking here.   A sampling of evangelical reaction to Vines’ ministry can be found by clicking here and here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

Australia’s Catholic Prime Minister Defends Marriage Equality

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia

As Australians cast their ballots this weekend, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s promise to pass marriage equality within 100 days of the election will be fresh on their mind. Rudd, who is Catholic, made a strong defense of equality on national television this past Tuesday while responding to an audience member’s question, and cited his Catholic faith at several points.

Abbot led in recent polls, but regardless of the election’s outcome, Rudd’s public witness as a practicing Catholic is worth celebrating. A full essay on why he evolved in favor of equal marriage can be read on The Australian‘s website.

A local Christian pastor asked the prime minister about his evolution on marriage equality on the popular Australian television show “Q&A,”  The pastor wondered whether this evolution was merely politicking to win votes,  BBC News reports that Rudd changed his position on the issue in May, while his opponent, Tony Abbot, remains sharply opposed to equal marriage rights.

You can view the video and text for key moments of the exchange this week on “Q&A” below.


After the pastor finished his question, Rudd first addressed the issue of sexual orientation using the language of an ‘informed conscience’:

” ‘I concluded in my conscience — through an informed conscience and a Christian conscience — it was the right thing to do [supporting marriage equality] and let me tell you why. Number one, I do not believe people when they are born choose their sexuality…And therefore the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is just wrong. I don’t get that…Secondly if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay because that’s the way they are, then it follows from that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here who are in love with each other and of the same gender should be denied the opportunity for legal recognition of the duration their relationship by having marriage equality.’ “

Afterwards, Rudd asked for clarification from the pastor on why Christians should oppose equal marriage rights. The pastor cited Scripture and ended with the challenge, “If you call yourself a Christian, then why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?” The prime minister responded with a rejection of fundamentalism by saying:

“If I were to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition…For goodness sake, the human condition and social conditions change. What is the fundamental principle that the New Testament? It is one of universal love. Loving your fellow man. And if we get obsessed with a particular definition of that through a form of sexuality then I think we’re missing the centrality of what the gospel — whether you call it a social gospel, a personal gospel, or a spiritual gospel is all is all about…If you think homosexuality is unnatural condition then, frankly, I cannot agree with you based on any element of the science and, therefore, if a person’s sexuality is as they are made, then you’ve got to ask the second question: should their loving relationships be legally recognized and the conclusion I’ve reached is that they should.”

Prime Minister Rudd echoes the beliefs of many Catholics that same-gender relationships are both good and deserving of legal recognition from the government.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobia a “Mental Illness”

A Mexican Catholic bishop who has been a strong supporter of LGBT issues has declared that homophobia is a “mental illness.”  Is that really an accurate classification?

The Billerico Project is reporting on an interview given by Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez to a television show, “Terra Mexico,” in which he stated:

“Why would I immediately think a gay or lesbian person is perverse or depraved the moment they approach me? That’s how people who are homophobic react. It’s a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

Bishop Vera Lopez, who is the head of the Diocese of Saltillo, Mexico,   You can view a two and a half minute  video clip from the interview complete with English subtitles here:

Here are some other notable quotations from the interview in regard to lesbian and gay people:

“They are human beings and deserve respect.  The Holy Father knows it’s a. . . .I am certain he knows because the reality is that many in the church do not want to acknowledge the scientific reality on the issue of sexuality.  They want to keep homosexuality as a form of human perversion, an illness.  But that is no longer the case, scientifically speaking. “

Bishop Vera Lopez also commented on Scripture citations which seem to condemn gay and lesbian persons:

“We just have to read the Bible more carefully within a historical context and within a real context.  The Biblical texts we have used to bash the heads of homosexuals to say they are condemned by the Bible?  We have to read them much more carefully.”

Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez
Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez

It is wonderful to know that this bishop is speaking out so strongly for lesbian and gay rights.  One caution:  I don’t think that he was using “mental illness” as a technical or clinical term.  From the manner in which he is speaking on the video, he seems to be using it as a rhetorical flourish, more than a diagnosis.  It is interesting to see him turn the tables on homophobic people:  it is usually they who are calling lesbian and gay people “mentally ill.”

And because lesbian and gay people have so often been so mislabeled with that diagnosis, I think we have to be very careful of labeling their opponents in the same way.  In my experience in working with LGBT issues, homophobia is more often a result of ignorance and misguided piety than by a clinical disturbance.

Another comment worth noting is that during the interview, Bishop Vera Lopez discusses the genesis of sexual orientation as being a result of hormonal influences in the womb.  With all due respect to the bishop, while that is one theory, it is still simply a theory, and not totally conclusive as the effective cause of one’s homosexuality.  The scientific community is still debating various theories as to the origin of sexual orientation in an individual.

Despite these cautions, I am delighted to read these statements from this courageous bishop.  Our church needs more leaders like him who are willing to approach LGBT issues from a knowledgeable and compassionate perspective.

Bishop Vera Lopez has spoken out many times before on lesbian and gay equality.  In fact, he was even summoned to the Vatican to defend his point of view, but no sanctions were administered to him.  You can read more about him in an article that appears on page three of this PDF of the newsletter version of Bondings.   You can also read more about other social issues with which this Nobel Peace Prize nominee is associated by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Writer to Conservative Bishops: “Watch. Listen. You Might Learn Something.”

Pope Francis’ press conference on the return flight from Brazil

Last week, Bondings 2.0 reported on Catholic bishops’ varied responses to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment. Some welcomed the remark, others disapproved, and yet more tried to convince the world there was nothing new to it.  Michael Sean Winters comments on bishops’ responses in National Catholic Reporter with an eye towards those bishops struggling with the pope’s new leadership.

The responses of anti-LGBT Catholics caused Winters to rethink the role of and vision for bishops in our Church, as he writes:

“It would be amusing, if it were not so sad, to see many conservative Catholics attempt to qualify Pope Francis’ comment – ‘who am I to judge?’ – when asked about the circumstance of a Vatican prelate against whom charges of homosexual conduct were leveled…

“More troubling have been the reactions of some bishops. Emblematic would be the statement issued by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

“Here is a man who clearly thinks that his primary duty as pastor is to defend the moral law. Certainly, his words do not suggest he has ever talked to gay people and acquired the ‘smell of the sheep’ from them. In an early section of the statement, in which he affirms the dignity of all people, including gay people, there is a lack of human warmth that is astounding.”

Winters points out that American bishops have reduced the moral law to sexual ethics as a sole focus, but instead of criticizing this errant narrowing he asks the larger question: are bishops first and foremost supposed to defend the moral law?

The columnist provides a brief historical rundown on morality from Scriptural roots to contemporary contexts. Of Jesus’ teachings and the first Christians, Winters writes:

“More importantly, Jesus called His disciples not just to a strict moral life, but to a prior stance towards other human beings, especially those in need, and reserved to Himself the judgment of others, a judgment He dispenses with great mercy: ‘Than neither do I condemn you,’ he said to the woman caught in the act of adultery.

“The early Church was certainly aware of the need for the moral law, but that concern did not dominate the early Church.”

Michael Sean Winters
Michael Sean Winters

Of the modern world, Winters makes two points. First, religions are forced to jettison faith and keep just their ethics when they speak publicly. When a Catholic bishop’s primary role is just a defender of the moral law not only are they ignoring the broader thoughts of early Christianity, Winters also contends they concede to negative modern trends of secularization:

“A religious leader who presents himself primarily as a defender of the moral law has accepted secular norms in restricting his ministry. The leaders of the Church must be ministers of God’s mercy as much as they are teachers of the moral law. That, it seems to me is the essence of what Pope Francis is trying to tell the entire Church, but especially the clergy. Francis is trying to re-establish the authority of Jesus by following His admonition to leave the judging to God.”

Second, Archbishop Cordileone’s statement, among others, employed the argument that Catholics judge actions, not people and this thinking furthers the modern notion that morality is an abstract exercise. Referencing the philosopher Immanuel Kant, Winters criticizes those who fail to concern themselves with the “messiness of actual moral decision-making” and “live at the level of abstract principles” alone. He quotes a priest friend who writes:

“…it was bizarre [for Cordileone] to state ‘that we don’t judge people but we judge actions. Actions are done by people so how can you not really judge an action without some of the judgment falling on the person? The pope of course did not make this distinction because he saw that mercy has to enter into the equation and also because the pope is not a Kantian…”

These realities mean a negative answer to his initial question, namely that bishops are not primarily defenders of the moral law. Bishops are more than ethical voices, they should be pastors foremost, and Winters suggests this is one of Pope Francis’ major themes for his fellow clergy. Bishops must preach about Christ first and enter into life of those whom they serve (certainly themes Pope Francis has preached heavily on). Bishops, like all clergy, should express mercy.

And Winters’ suggestion for those uncomfortable with a pope who wants bishops to show mercy and enter the messiness of real life ethics? He concludes:

“Instead of trying to parse the new pope’s words in ways that empty them of their content, I suggest that those bishops who are wrestling with how to respond to Pope Francis’ way of leading the Church be quiet for bit. Watch. Listen. You might learn something. Pope Francis is getting us back to the basics of discipleship. When he stated, ‘who am I to judge?’ he was not overturning 2,000 years of moral teaching but he was inviting Christians to place themselves in the crowd, stones in hand, gathered around the woman caught in adultery, and to listen to the words of the Master: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Australian Priest Publicly Endorses the Goodness of Same-Gender Relationships

Fr. Michael Fallon

A priest in Australia is calling for public recognition of same-gender relationship and says they should be celebrated joyfully.  While not extending this recognition to marriage, he advances the Catholic position by speaking to the goodness of these couples’ relationships.

Fr. Michael Fallon’s comments were reported in The Canberra Times:

“In a notable departure from the public teachings of some church authorities, Dickson-based priest Michael Fallon called for a ‘public celebration of committed love for homosexual couples’, saying he feared ordinary people were being driven away from the Catholic faith by views they saw as hardline and irrelevant.’…

“‘[The public should offer] not just recognition, but joy, public joy in their communion with each other, that’s the least we can offer people,’ he said.”

He credits time as university chaplain, including ministry with LGBT students, as a key step in overcoming personal homophobia. He also appeals to his academic work as a scripture scholar for his position:

“…there were church authorities who saw homosexual behaviour and partnerships as immoral, but many priests he spoke to supported recognition of committed same-sex relationships.

“He said biblical references to homosexuality should be seen within the context of the time, rather than taken literally. ‘When Paul spoke about homosexual behaviour, the key is what was he actually speaking about? Did he know about two adults lovingly committing themselves to each other? We haven’t the faintest idea, and it’s quite unlikely,’ he said.”

This Australian priest is the latest among clergy calling for legal protections of LGBT people, with several bishops supporting civil unions in recent months and other priests speaking strongly for a rethinking of the Church’s sexual ethics.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry