04/10/17

The Queerest Week –Palm Sunday 2017

 

By Rev. Dr. Robert E. Shore-Goss

I have written queer theology for the last 27 years, and I now write about a period of 8 days, the queerest days that I can imagine. I am speaking from the moment that Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on a donkey to God’s resurrection of Jesus from the death.

Now let me dispel a notion: I am not writing about LGBTQI concerns, they are included but not the focus this morning. Queer theory and queer stories focus usually on LGBTQI concerns and inclusion in history, but I am speaking about God’s dream for life and humanity, and that dream is very queer. It is God’s unconditional grace and love for creation and all life.

Let me define queer for a moment. To “queer” is to interfere or disrupt. It is to transgress exclusive categories, notions, boundaries, and all boxes. I queer Christianity because it has remained exclusive, often violent and oppressive of someone or some life. Queering exclusiveness is to interfere and spoil exclusiveness and make it more inclusive.

My colleague and friend Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng, understands queering as eliding dualism. Dualism is a destruction form of binary thinking used by dominant theologies, church leaders and politicians. It separates the world into male and female, culture and nature, the have and have-not, human and non-human, and so. For Patrick, God’s love is queer because it elides such thinking and behaviors. Dr. Justin Tanis comprehends queer as dawn or dusk, that liminal or ambiguous space between night and day. My deceased theologian and friend speaks of indecent and perverse. In Luke’s gospel, the Temple high priests bring a charge against Jesus before Pilate: “This man has perverted the nation.”

I have engaged with God’s Christ in Jesus of Nazareth. God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit have made me “queer” and more so over time. I describe myself as “a queer seeker of God and disciple of an even queerer God.” Jesus laid the foundations of ministry and message of the companionship of empowerment or kindom of God as a “topsy-turvy and upside-down kindom. He opens God’s table to everyone and upsets nearly every religious Jew of his time. Just listen to the parables of Jesus—the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the mustard seed, the baker woman who sneaks leaven into 50 pounds of flour, and so on. They provoke and disrupt religious exclusivism that reserves God’s grace and favor for the chosen “holy.”

My often quoted author, Diarmuid O’Murchu, calls the parables as “enlightened confusion.”

The story Jesus told them turned their world upside-down,
Bombarding every certainty they knew.
The boundaries were disrupted,
Their sacred creeds corrupted,
Every hope they had constructed,
Was questioned to the core!
By the story ended,
Stretching meaning so distended,
What they had known for long before.

O’Murchu speaks about Jesus’ parables. But what if we understand the gospel stories of Jesus as a parable about God? God is queering in the story of Jesus on a massive and unprecedented scale, not since the big bang. God has incarnated in a human being—such a queer and scandalous notion. God is queering and communicating a thoroughly queer and radically inclusive love. All are beloved—all humanity, all life, and all creation. No on is left behind or out.

Let me point out the queer highlights of this week:

For Jesus, God was a king unlike all kings and rulers. God’s rule was “queer,” meaning “not fitting in, strange, at odds with, out of place, disruptive, blasphemous, revolutionary, dangerous, outside the box, or my word “mischievous.” It is a topsy-turvy non-ruling but luring us through unconditional gift and love. God’s strategy is never coercive but always luring us through unconditional grace and love.

The Temple high priest and his colleagues brought Jesus before Pilate with the charges: “He perverted the nation.” Here “perverted” means inverting religious values, hierarchies, breaking all sorts of purity codes and religious laws for the sake of compassion. Jesus was always out of place; a peasant was meant to be quiet and subservient to the rulers of the Temple. Jesus spoke out compassion and was not afraid to break religious rules to extend God’s compassion.
Let’s examine today’s gospel a little more carefully. Unfortunately, the distribution of palms on Palm Sunday has become a spiritual blessing for us today. Many Christians tie up their palms into a bow and hang the palm crosses in their homes. And I am not opposed to anyone doing so if you determine to ask God to make you a bit queerer. But Palm Sunday has a deeper meaning than just the palms. Jesus rides on donkey into Jerusalem accompanied by a ragtag group of male and female disciples.

Jesus enters Jerusalem or to use biblical scholar Warren Carter’s phrase “making an Ass of Rome:” The conflict between Jesus and Pilate begins the day that Jesus enters in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and praised as the “Son of David.”

Roman entrances into city were always triumphant. No red carpets, but soldiers trumpeting, followed by cadence war drums sounding the entrance of the conquering hero. In this case, it was Pilate who represented the triumphant Roman Empire and Emperor Tiberius. Days before Pilate rode on a war horse from the sea resort of Caesarea followed by marching his Roman legionnaires with standards, Pilate entered Jerusalem as conqueror and made it clear to the populace that the Rome was in charge of their city and their lives. They paraded and displayed extravagantly the power of Tiberius Caesar and Rome. It communicates Roman greatness and military power, reminding the crowds that they were conquered by the powerful Roman legions—the greatest power in the world blessed by the Gods. Augustine was the true Son of god Apollo, and the savior of the world.

But Jesus intends to literally make an ass of Pilate and Rome. He choreographs his own dramatic and symbolic entrance into Jerusalem. He queers some of the Roman ritual entry or rather mischievously reframes them as symbolic challenges. His entrance into Jerusalem reminds the Jews of their religious history in which God enters the holy city to serve, not dominate. He chooses an ass, not a war horse in which Pilate rode into the city. Matthew remembers the line from the prophet Zechariah: “Tell the daughter of Zion, your king is coming on an ass”(9:9). The rest of the verse states that your king comes triumphant and victorious, and humble riding an ass.

Jesus is recognized not as a king but more likely anti-king. He teaches humility, non-violence, compassion and love, forgiveness, and peace-making, empowerment through mutuality and service, not conquest and domination. God’s community is constituted by a new a kinship as children of God—not be wealth, prestige, gender, or ethnicity. It is constituted by God as Abba, our parent in love with all and equally. And God lives within us and in our midst.
Another example of this last week of Jesus’ life that reveals God’s queer activity among people as empowering mutual companionship is the Last Supper. Companionship is created when we share food together, and we eat with God in our midst. Companionship was based on exclusion but gathering together to eat with God and one another.

I want you to remember the video from Centering Prayer this morning, Eating Twinkies with God. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9N8OXkN0Rk It expresses the incarnational vision of the Last Supper and Jesus’ ministry of eating together with God and finding God present.

There is no question that for Jesus the Last Supper had to be open and inclusive. I cannot accept the readings of the Last Supper as an exclusive meal. It goes against the very queer nature of who Jesus was and who God is. People from the highways and byways were to be invited into the meals. It was populated with diversity: outcasts, prostitutes, abominable people, tax collectors, those folks that terrify Pharisees and Christians alike. He did not moralize, berate them how to change their lives, or threaten them that could not share the table if they did not change their ways.

In Christianity’s Dangerous Memory, Diarmuid O’Murchu describes Jesus’ parables, healings, and ministry. The description is equally applicable to his meals and his to Last Supper:

They defy the criteria of normalcy and stretch creative imagination toward subversive, revolutionary engagement. They threaten major disruption for a familiar manageable world, and lure the hearer (participant) into a risky enterprise, but one that has promise and hope inscribed in every fiber of the dangerous endeavor.

There were no hierarchies at table, no one in charge and in power. There were only those who voluntarily served others, gladly washed the feet of their companions, who assisted folks at table to heal from the years of religious abuse and oppression. And God was mischievously present through each other. Jesus encouraged them to dream a future with hope, with God with shared resources and the abundance of food created by the companions of the bread and the cup.
Jesus’ Last Supper, like all his meals, undid social ordinary patterns and hierarchical behaviors, introducing people into a new egalitarianism, an equality before one another and God. No Roman official like Pilate would ever serve food to another person, especially with a male lesser of status or serve even his wife. No religious Jew would invite men and women together at table, suspected impurity and sinfulness.

And then there is the radical service of Jesus at table that evening– washing the feet of his male and female disciples. This was the service of only household slaves or women. No free male would do such a washing service because it demeaned his masculinity and patriarchal authority. Jesus turns the social hierarchies inside out, breaking down the gender boundaries and social hierarchies. There is only table fellowship of mutual service and equals, revering those who were the socially least, and inviting the disciples to imitate Jesus in his act of foot-washing.

Finally, Jesus dies a cruel death inflicted by the powers of imperial domination and religious exclusivism, always an unholy marriage of violence. It is an ultimate queering of human expectation, God’s vulnerability and suffering on the cross. God understood vulnerability in the incarnated Christ on the cross, and God identified with the suffering Christ and the least and vulnerable humanity and life in history. We have no comprehension of the depths of God’s suffering for all suffering life, but we do have a window into the depth of God when Jesus told his disciples: “Be compassionate as Abba God is compassionate.” Abba God suffered and died with Christ out of compassion, for God has suffered with all suffering life and human life. God the Creator becomes vulnerable and experience suffering the incarnated Christ on the cross and the Holy Spirit that groans and suffers with all created life. This is the queerest notion of God in history—God who becomes vulnerable and experiencing suffering. God is with us in so many unimaginable ways.

But the queer God surprised all of us. God said “no” to such violence and cruelty, God proclaimed a “yes to unconditional love” on Easter Sunday. Next Sunday I will speak how the queer God queers death for resurrected life!

04/8/17

Top Vatican, U.S. church officials back gay-friendly book

by David Gibson

The Vatican’s point man on family issues and a U.S. cardinal who is close to Pope Francis have both written blurbs for a new book by a Jesuit priest and popular author that calls on the Catholic Church to be more respectful and compassionate toward gay people.

They called it “brave, prophetic, and inspiring” and a “much-needed book.”

Such positive language from such senior church leaders is extraordinary and another sign of how Francis is reorienting the church toward a more pastoral focus.

Building Bridges: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, by Rev. James Martin of America magazine, does not advocate for any changes in doctrine nor does it touch third-rail topics like same-sex marriage; nor do the churchmen who praise the book, to be published by HarperOne on June 13.

But simply using terms like LGBT to describe people is highly controversial for many in the church who insist that gay people be described as “homosexual” or “same-sex attracted” rather than by words that seem to affirm their orientation.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who was recently chosen by Francis to head the Vatican office on laity, family, and life issues, praises Martin’s writing in his blurb: “A welcome and much-needed book that will help bishops, priests, pastoral associates, and all church leaders more compassionately minister to the LGBT community.

“It will also help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church,” said Farrell, the former bishop of Dallas.

“In too many parts of our church LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome, excluded, and even shamed,” Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who Francis personally picked for the New Jersey archdiocese, adds in a blurb.

“Father Martin’s brave, prophetic, and inspiring new book marks an essential step in inviting church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our church as any other Catholic.”

“The Gospel demands that LGBT Catholics must be genuinely loved and treasured in the life of the church. They are not,” writes Bishop Robert McElory of San Diego, also a rising star in the U.S. hierarchy, in another endorsement.

McElroy says Martin “provides us with the language, perspective, and sense of urgency to replace a culture of alienation with a culture of merciful inclusion.”

Francis himself sparked controversy when he used the term “gay” last year in saying that the Catholic Church should apologize to LGBT people, among others, that it has “offended.”

The pope’s comments came in the wake of the shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in June that left 49 dead, and Martin’s book also emerged from that tragedy.

Martin, whose books about Jesus and Catholic spirituality and related topics have landed on the best-seller lists, has often written about the role of gays and lesbians in the church, and about the need for the church to do more to welcome them.

But he was struck by the relative lack of compassion from U.S. bishops for gays and lesbians who were targeted in the Orlando shooting and elsewhere, and he voiced his concerns in a powerful Facebook video that went viral.

The video prompted more than the usual level of anger and criticism of Martin, and prompted him to begin writing about how to address the rift between LGBT people and church leaders.

He outlined his views in an October talk — an address that would become the basis of “Building Bridges” — as he accepted an award from New Ways Ministry, a group for LGBT Catholics and causes that in the past has been condemned by church leaders who said it was not authorized to represent itself as a Catholic organization. (The talk was reprinted in America magazine.)

A co-founder of New Ways Ministry is Sister Jeannine Gramick, whose views were considered so far outside the bounds of Catholic teaching that she was barred by the Vatican and her order from speaking about homosexuality. She transferred to another order and has continued to minister and speak and write on the topic.

In fact, Gramick also blurbs Martin’s book, writing: “Father Martin shows how the Rosary and the rainbow flag can peacefully meet each other. A must-read.” That she is endorsing the same book as senior church leaders is an indication of the sea change under Francis.

“I was delighted that Cardinal Farrell and Cardinal Tobin found the book helpful,” Martin said in an email to RNS. “To me, it’s a reminder that many in the hierarchy today support a more compassionate approach to LGBT Catholics.”

In his talk, as in the book, Martin called on church leaders and all Catholics to treat gays and lesbians with greater respect and sensitivity.

He said church leaders should address LGBT people by the term they call themselves, and he called for an end to the indiscriminate firings of church employees who are discovered to be gay or who make their sexual orientation public. Such firings selectively target LGBT people, he said.

But he also called on gays and lesbians to be more considerate and respectful of the hierarchy, saying both sides must listen to each other and learn from each other.

“This may be very hard for people who feel beaten down by the church to hear,” Martin writes in the book.

“One gay friend recently told me that this mockery comes not from a place of hatred, but from a sense of betrayal. But being respectful of people with whom you disagree is at the heart of the Christian way. And part of this is surely about forgiveness, an essential Christian virtue.”

Complete Article HERE!

04/7/17

Pope dismisses priest who stole $300K from bishop, hospital

Edward J. Arsenault

Pope Francis has dismissed a Roman Catholic priest from New Hampshire who was convicted of stealing $300,000 from a hospital, a bishop and a deceased priest’s estate.

Monsignor Edward Arsenault, who served as the face of the church in the state during a sex abuse scandal, pleaded guilty to three theft charges in 2014. He was transferred Tuesday to home confinement and is up for parole Feb. 19, 2018.

The Diocese of Manchester said Friday that Arsenault was removed from the priesthood Feb. 29 and no longer has “faculties to act, function, or present himself as a priest.”

“Dismissing a priest from the clerical state is very serious and taken very seriously by the Holy See,” said Father Georges de Laire, the Diocese’s vicar for canonical affairs, who conveyed the decision to Arsenault on Thursday.

“It is not a decision that is reached lightly as it implies pain for the former cleric and those who may have been affected by him,” he said.

Arsenault could not be reached for comment Friday. Prosecutors said Arsenault billed the church for lavish meals and travel for himself and often a male partner.

He was convicted of writing checks from the dead priest’s estate to himself and his brother and billing a hospital $250 an hour for consulting work he never did.

Arsenault held senior positions in the New Hampshire diocese from 1999 to 2009. He had been the top lieutenant for then-Bishop John McCormack, handling both a clergy sexual abuse crisis in New Hampshire and orchestrating the church’s new child protection policies.

In 2009, Arsenault became president and CEO of Saint Luke Institute in Maryland. He resigned in 2013 as allegations arose over the misuse of church funds.

The investigation did not involve Saint Luke, a prominent education and counseling center based in Silver Spring, Maryland, with sites in other parts of the United States and in Britain. The center treats priests with a range of mental illnesses and has played a key role in addressing the problem of sexually abusive clergy.

Complete Article HERE!

04/7/17

If God doesn’t make mistakes why are you transgender?

By Shannon T.L. Kearns

Every time I tell my story in front of a religious group the question comes up. I know it’s coming. I dread its coming. Because I still haven’t come up with a good answer.

What is the question?

“If God doesn’t make mistakes, then why are you transgender?”

Ooooof, right? I mean, where do you even start?

On the one hand, I kind of want to say, “Don’t know. Don’t care.” Mostly because the question never quite feels genuine. Or it feels like it’s a way to say that I am not really who I say I am. And listen, whatever your feelings about transgender people, we do actually exist. I am one of them.

So I tend to hem and haw a bit, trying to come up with something that will make sense and actually do what I believe justice.

Here’s the answer that I think doesn’t work (though I might have been guilty of giving it early in my transition): There are lots of things in the world that are bad: cancer, death, terminal illness, violence, war. The fact that those things exist isn’t a result of God making mistakes, it’s a result of the world being not as it should be.

Here’s why that answer no longer works for me: Cancer, death, violence, all of those things are unequivocally bad. There is no question that they are evil and terrible. So to equate being transgender with those evil things? It just turns my stomach. It makes being transgender a pathology. A liability. It makes it something to be eradicated. And there are enough people who are trying to eradicate transgender identity. We don’t need to throw fuel on that fire.

Another answer that seems slightly better but still leaves me unsettled is this: Well, there are a lot of things in the world that aren’t the ideal; they aren’t “God’s best” (to use an evangelical term). The reason it’s slightly better is that it acknowledges that being transgender is hard for a lot of people. It’s something we had to work hard to come to grips with. It adds stress and trauma into our lives. For some of us we do wish we weren’t trans (but that usually means we wish we were born with everyone knowing our actual gender). Again, though, this pathologizes being trans. It makes us seem like people to be pitied. It steals our agency. 

And it also erases this simple truth for me: I am a better person because I am transgender. I am a better man because I am transgender.
Had I been born a cisgender man I would have had a very different life. See, I was born into a fundamentalist evangelical household and church. I was born with a calling to ministry and an ability to lead. Had I been born a cisgender man those abilities would have been nurtured. I would have been given everything that I ever wanted probably without having to work very hard. I wouldn’t have had to question my faith or my place in the church. It would have been all laid out for me. It would have been easy.

But it’s been the hard that has taught me the most. It’s been the hard that has made me concerned with the outcast and the marginalized and brought me closer to the heart of Jesus and the Gospel. I have questioned my faith which means that it is mine. It’s not what was handed down to me, no it has been tried and tested. It has been strengthened. It has been made beautiful in the struggle.

My gender journey has taught me empathy and compassion. It’s opened my eyes to oppression and systemic injustice. Might I have learned all of that as a cisgender man? Maybe. But it’s unlikely.

So do I wish I had been born a cisgender man? Yes. And no. And yes. And no. 

Bottom line: This is who I am. And my faith is strong.

Does God make mistakes? Maybe God wanted me to be born a transgender man because God wanted me to learn all of the lessons I’ve learned and be exactly who I am. 

That is an answer I can live with.

Complete Article HERE!

04/6/17

Renegade Catholic order in UK ‘harbours clergy accused of sexual abuse’

Two priests accused of abuse allegedly found refuge in Kent with Holocaust denier Richard Williamson’s SSPX Resistance

Richard Williamson ordained a bishop without papal approval in 2015 and was excommunicated by the Vatican.

By

A British Catholic priest who has been excommunicated twice by different popes is allegedly harbouring clergy accused of sexual abuse in his renegade religious order.

Richard Williamson, who was illicitly ordained as a bishop in 1988 by an ultra-conservative group, the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), and later convicted of Holocaust denial by a German court, is now head of the “SSPX Resistance”, based in Broadstairs, Kent.

Two Catholic SSPX priests who have been accused of sexual abuse have found a refuge in Williamson’s breakaway movement, according to an investigative documentary to be aired on Swedish television on Wednesday.

The Golden Jail, made by Ali Fegan, a Swedish journalist whose interview with Williamson about his Holocaust denial was broadcast in 2009, claims that the SSPX protected priests and failed to report claims of abuse to the police or civil authorities. Internal canonical trials of two men – one French, one English – were allegedly conducted with Vatican approval.

The English priest, referred to as Father S, left the SSPX before the conclusion of the trial to join the SSPX Resistance in 2014, going to live in Broadstairs. He declined to speak to the documentary team.

The French priest, Father P, was found guilty and banned from working with children. He joined the SSPX Resistance, and was filmed celebrating mass at a church in Bordeaux last November. He also refused to discuss allegations against him with the TV journalists.

Williamson’s movement, also known as Respice Stellam, describes itself as “a group of traditional Catholics who wish to practise their faith without compromise to liberalism or modernism”. It says reforms over recent decades have “contributed and are still contributing to the destruction of the church, to the ruin of the priesthood, to the abolition of the sacrifice of the mass and of the sacraments, to the disappearance of religious life.”

More than 100 former SSPX priests around the world have joined the renegade order, according to the documentary. Its headquarters is in a detached property in Broadstairs, named Regina Martyrum House, with a statue of the Virgin Mary in the front garden.

Members of the UK branch of SSPX Resistance celebrate mass each Sunday in a hired room in Earlsfield public library in south London, which recently put on a display of books for Holocaust Memorial Day. A spokesperson for GLL, which manages the library, said: “The hall booking is with the Stella Maris Mass Fund – which is a registered charity.” The booking had been running since January 2015 with no problems reported, the spokesperson said.

Mass is also celebrated by the group in Bingley, West Yorkshire, and Liverpool.

The SSPX confirmed that Father S and Father P were accused of sexual abuse when priests in the order, that canonical trials were held, and that both men later joined the SSPX Resistance.

In the case of Father S, an allegation of sexual abuse was reported to civil authorities in France where he was based at the time, the order said. The SSPX moved Father S to Bristol, where he had therapy for several years. The civil authorities closed the case without further action, according to SSPX. His canonical trial was still in process when the priest left the order to join Williamson’s group.

Father P was found guilty and forbidden to work with children, although permitted to celebrate mass. The families of his alleged victims said they did not wish a complaint to be made to the civil authorities.

“The SSPX, under no legal obligation to report at that time, chose to respect the wishes of these parents,” said the SSPX statement. An alleged victim did make a complaint 25 years later to the police, who are currently investigating, it said, adding: “A number of our priests are cooperating.”

Williamson, who did not respond to Fegan’s or the Guardian’s requests for comment on the allegations regarding the two priests, has a turbulent history in the Catholic church.

The son of an Anglican vicar, he was educated at Winchester College and Cambridge, and later converted to Catholicism. He joined the SSPX, which was highly critical of what it saw as a moral and theological crisis in the church in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which sought to make Catholicism more relevant to the modern world.

In 1988, Williamson was one of four SSPX priests ordained as bishops by the SSPX founder, archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, against the orders of Pope John Paul II. All four were instantly excommunicated.

But in January 2009, the excommunication was reversed by Pope Benedict XVI in an attempt at reconciliation with the order. Three days earlier, in a filmed interview with Fegan, Williamson insisted that no Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers. The Vatican said it had not known of Williamson’s Holocaust denial when it lifted the excommunication.

The move came under fire from Jewish groups and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. In February 2009, a German court fined Williamson €12,000 after convicting him of Holocaust denial. In 2014 the conviction was upheld on appeal but the fine reduced to €1,600.

The Vatican’s rapprochement with SSPX has continued under Pope Francis, who this week paved the way for recognition of marriages conducted by the order’s priests.

In 2012, Williamson was expelled from SSPX, allegedly for failing to show respect and obedience. He immediately called for a Catholic “resistance”.

Two years ago, Williamson ordained without papal approval another former SSPX priest, Jean-Michel Faure, as a bishop at a ceremony in Brazil. Both Williamson and Faure were excommunicated by the Vatican.

In an email to his supporters around the time of the illicit ordination, Williamson said the “nightingale’s nest” of the Catholic church had been occupied by “modernist cuckoos”.

“Wherever the remainder of the true nightingales are visibly gathered, in whatever makeshift nest, they are in the church, they are the true visible church, and their beautiful song testifies to anyone who has ears to hear that the cuckoos are nothing but cuckoos who have stolen the catholic nest which they presently occupy,” he wrote.

Complete Article HERE!