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!

02/17/17

The clergy has moved on. It’s the bishops who are out of touch

Synod’s rejection of the same-sex marriage report shows the problem of having glorified administrators focused on unity at the head of the church

A delegate walks past protesters outside the General Synod at Church House in London on Wednesday. ‘The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.’

By

It rained in London on Wednesday afternoon. Then the sun came out. And so it was that when the General Synod of the Church of England met to discuss the acceptability of same-sex marriage, a huge rainbow appeared over Church House, Westminster. Even God, it seems, was making his feelings known on this one.

The bishops had produced a report after a three-year listening process. This itself was just another kicking-into-the-long-grass exercise. After all, who can refuse listening? So church reports that seek no change always call for another report and more listening. But had anybody heard anything useful? The report called for a “change of tone” towards LGBTI people – yes, they always do that, and always in the same patronising tone – but no change of doctrine. The bishops refused to budge on the question of same-sex couples getting married in church. And so the clergy of the C of E threw the report out, leaving the bishops angry and embarrassed.

Recalling the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel in the book of Genesis, Canon Simon Butler – gay, out and partnered – told synod: “I will not let go until you bless me.” Those of us wrestling for equal marriage will not stop until gay people are offered the church’s blessing. We bless battleships with missiles. But not the love between two people. And the problem here is not the clergy or the people in the pews. The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.

On the same day the report was being sunk by synod, a British Social Attitudes survey found that only 17% of Anglicans now believe that same-sex relationships are “always wrong”, the lowest level since 1983 when people started measuring these views. Back then, the figure was 50%. In the intervening years churchgoers, like the population in general, have dramatically changed their mind over homosexuality. And hurrah for that.

But don’t believe that this is all the church wants to talk about. In my parish, it’s a non-issue. We’ve had openly gay clergy ministering here and many gay people in the pews. While the bishops take themselves away to discuss fictional case studies involving problematic gay-related situations (NB don’t say problem gay people – that’s all part of the “change of tone” directive), we in the parish just get on with doing the stuff we’re supposed to. No, the problem is within the episcopate. They voted 43-1 for the report. And the one who voted against wasn’t some brave bishop registering dissent. It was the bishop of Coventry who couldn’t figure out how to work his voting console.

Such is the high degree of corporate responsibility the bishops feel, that even those sympathetic to same-sex marriage voted for a report that condemned it. Thus the bishop of Liverpool wrote: “For some, the sense of betrayal is particularly acute when applied to people like me, who have spoken of the need for change in the church. Where was I? What happened to my voice? How could I have been so weak as to stand with this document?”

The answer is always the same. The job of the bishops, the current lot insist, is to provide a “focus of unity”. That’s why when bishops retire, and are freed from the responsibility of keeping their dioceses together, they write letters to the papers saying how much they disagreed with what they used to have to support. The bishops tell themselves that they sacrifice their personal views for the greater good. And they ask us to feel their pain. Responsibility for the way in which this need for corporate double-speak has blunted the prophetic witness of the episcopate is squarely on the shoulders of the secretive process by which bishops are selected. It’s a process that promotes the same sort of people – glorified administrators who are good at “tone” and are not given to bursts of independent mindedness. None of which are qualities associated with the prophets of the Bible.

What Wednesday’s synod vote revealed was not only that the church continues to move in a progressive direction – though with the engine of a lawnmower and the brakes of an articulated lorry. It also demonstrated the widening gap between bishops and their clergy. The C of E works best at the local level. Head office is out of touch.

Complete Article HERE!

02/15/17

Church of England in turmoil as synod rejects report on same sex relationships

Clergy vote against report by 100 to 93 in blow to archbishop of Canterbury as he tries to chart course between apparently unreconcilable wings of church

A member of the St Anselm community at Lambeth Palace walks past activists from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement outside the General Synod at Church House in London.

By  

The Church of England has been plunged into fresh turmoil after its general assembly threw out a report on same sex relationships in a rebuff to bishops following almost three years of intense internal discussion and intractable divisions.

The C of E’s synod, meeting in London this week, voted on Thursday to effectively reject the report, which upholds traditional teaching that marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman.

Although there was a clear overall majority in favour of “taking note” of the report, it needed the support of all three houses – bishops, clergy and laity. The clergy narrowly voted against, by 100 votes to 93, meaning the motion was lost.

The de facto rejection of the report is a blow to the authority of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who pleaded with the synod to accept the report as “a basis for moving on, a good basis, a roadmap”.

Welby presides over the House of Bishops, which has met four times since internal discussion groups wound up last July to chart the way forward between two apparently unreconcilable wings of the church.

Responding to the vote, Graham James, bishop of Norwich, said: “I can guarantee that the House of Bishops will consider carefully and prayerfully all the contributions made in the debate today.”

He added: “We have listened to those who have spoken, and those others who have made contributions to us directly. Our ongoing discussions will be informed by what members of synod and the wider church have said as a result of this report.”

Acknowledging that the next steps were unclear, Pete Broadbent, bishop of Willesden, said: “In this debate, we haven’t even begun to find a place where we can coalesce…. More conversation is needed. We don’t yet know the next stage – nor yet when and whether we can bring any further report to synod.”

The issue has dominated the current four-day session of the synod, and has been the subject of bitter debate within the C of E – and the global Anglican communion – for decades. At the moment, gay clergy are forbidden from marrying or having sexual relationships, and same sex marriage services are prohibited in churches.

In a debate lasting more than two hours, about one in three members of the synod requested to speak from the packed floor of the auditorium. Many contributions included personal testimonies from lesbians and gay men.

Jayne Ozanne of Oxford accused the bishops of putting “political expediency ahead of principle”. Fearing a split, they had “chosen not to lead but to manage”.

Simon Butler of Southwark, an openly gay member of synod, said that “only when fracture comes can new possibilities emerge”, and quoted Genesis: “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Lucy Gorman of York told the synod that “outside these walls, we are being heard as lacking in love”. No wonder, she added, that fewer young people were coming to church. “Why would people become part of a church that is seemingly homophobic?”

But those on the conservative wing of the church also expressed criticisms and some voted against the report. Andrea Minichiello-Williams of Chichester said: “All sexual expression outside a lifelong permanent union on one man and one woman is sinful.” Sexuality was a “first order issue”, one on which salvation depends. “That’s why it’s so important to speak clearly with regard to sexual sin.”

Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool, said: “I honour the anger and, indeed, fury, of the LGBTI community who see in this report hard stones when they looked for bread.” However, he urged the synod to back the report, saying its encouragement for clergy to exercise maximum freedom within existing doctrine “may carry us to places we have not previously gone”. The report, he said, “cannot, will not and should not mark the end of the road” on the issue.

Welby, the final speaker to be called, said “how we deal with profound disagreement… is the challenge we face”. The church needed to be “neither careless in our theology nor ignorant of the world around us”, he added.

Before the debate, both James and Broadbent, who led the bishops’ group which wrote the report, apologised to its critics. “It has not received a rapturous reception in all quarters, and I regret any pain or anger it may have caused. And if we’ve got the tone wrong, we are very sorry,” said James.

Broadbent acknowledged it was “a pretty conservative document”, adding: “I do want to apologise to those members of synod who found our report difficult, who didn’t recognise themselves in it, who had expected more from us than we actually delivered, for the tone of the report. On behalf of the House [of Bishops], and without being trite or trivial, I’m sorry.”

While upholding traditional doctrine on marriage, the report said teaching should be interpreted with “maximum freedom” for same sex couples and called for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbians and gays while proposing no concrete change.

Following the vote, Ozanne, a leading gay rights campaigner on the synod, said: “I am thrilled that this report has been voted down. We now look forward to working together to build a church that is broad enough to accept the diversity of views that exist within it, courageous enough to address the deep divisions that exist between us and loving enough to accept each other as equal members of the body of Christ.”

Simon Sarmiento, chairman of LGBTI Mission, said: “I’m pleased the report was not accepted. I am sure the bishops will have learned a lesson from this experience which I know has been painful. I hope they will now consult widely and proceed wisely.”

Andrea Williams, from the conservative Christian Concern, said the report had tried “to straddle positions that cannot be reconciled”. She added: “This shouldn’t be read as a victory for the LGBT activists within the Church. The reason why this happened was because there was no clarity in which direction the church will go.”

LGBTI Christians and supporters of gay equality held a vigil outside Church House in Westminster, the venue for the synod, during the debate.

Complete Article HERE!

01/27/17

C of E bishops refuse to change stance on gay marriage

Report says marriage can only be between a man and a woman but says church must stand against homophobia

Bishops have met four times since last July when the two-year process of ‘shared conversations’ on sexuality ended.

BY

Church of England bishops have upheld traditional teaching that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, in a move that has infuriated campaigners for gay rights and risks further alienating the church from wider society.

After two years of intense internal discussion involving clergy and laity – and at least two decades of bitter division within the church – the bishops have produced a report reaffirming that marriage is “a union permanent and life-long, of one man and one woman”.

The church should not “adapt its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time”, said Graham James, the bishop of Norwich, at a press conference to present the report.

However, church law and guidance should be interpreted to provide “maximum freedom” for gay and lesbian people without a change of doctrine – meaning clergy will have some leeway in individual cases – the report said. “Maximum freedom has no definition but it’s part of this exploration we’re engaged in,” said James.

While calling for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbians and gays, the report offered no concrete change.

Gay campaigners within the church denounced the report as “cruel” and an “utter failure” that could herald an increase in clerical disobedience over issues around sexuality.

Bishops have met four times since last July, when the two-year process of “shared conversations” on sexuality ended. Their report will be discussed at next month’s synod but no vote will be taken on its substance.

The report suggests that everyone seeking ordination or appointment as bishops should face questions about their lifestyle, irrespective of their personal sexual orientation. At the moment, gay ordinands and clergy are required to commit to celibacy even if they are in long-term relationships.

James denied the bishops were proposing a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. All ordinands and clergy were expected to commit to “fashion [their] own life … according to the way of Christ” but, James said, current questioning was overly focused on sexual activity, with an explicit expectation that gay and lesbian clergy should be celibate.

Instead, “questioning about sexual morality should form a part of a wider examination” or heterosexual and gay ordinands and clergy.

The bishops also say the church needs to repent of homophobic attitudes of the past and stand against homophobia.

Current advice to clergy, which allows them to provide “informal prayers” to same-sex couples in civil partnerships or marriages, should be clarified, the bishops said. However, the report does not propose official church blessings.

The church said the document represented the consensus of opinion among bishops rather than a unanimous view. The bishops also stressed their report was part of a process rather than an attempt at a final resolution.

However, James acknowledged “it’s possible there will never be an end [to the process]”.

He said: “We hope the tone and register of this report will help to commend it, though we recognise it will be challenging reading for some.

“This is no last word on this subject. For there are very different views on same-sex relationships within the church, and within the house of bishops, mainly based on different understandings of how to read scripture.”

At the press conference, the bishop acknowledged the church faced a tension between “fidelity to the scriptures, the traditions … and the culture of our times. This is why it’s such a testing issue for the church to deal with. But I don’t think that if the church adapted its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time, that would mean it would be expressing the historic faith.”

Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for equality within the C of E, said the report was “unbelievable, unacceptable and ungodly”.

“Being nice to us whilst hitting us is still abuse,” she said, adding: “The nation will look on incredulous, and yet again will recoil from a church that fails to show love or understanding to those it has constantly marginalised and victimised.”

The report “fails to recognise the mounting evidence that was given of the prolonged and institutionalised spiritual abuse that has been meted out against the LGBT community. To demand that they be celibate for life because of their sexual orientation, and to only recognise one interpretation of scripture on the matter is cruel, unjust and ungodly.”

Andrew Foreshew-Cain, a vicar who married his partner in 2014 in defiance of church rules, said the report was an “utter failure of leadership”.

The trust that bishops had demanded from gay and lesbian Christians had been betrayed, he said, adding: “Now it’s time to get on with it ourselves, to start trying to provide what they have failed to provide: a genuine welcome to gay Christians.”

He anticipated an increase in clergy offering de facto services of blessing to same-sex couples in civil partnerships or marriages.

The church said it recognised that some clergy were defying church rules at the moment. “But there’s much less disobedience than people imagine,” said James. “Rebel clergy” would be dealt with on an individual basis by bishops, the church said.

Simon Sarmiento, the chair of the LGBTI Mission, said the key feature of the report was procrastination. But he added: “The bishops’ intent to change the tone of the C of E debate will be a serious challenge for conservative Christians.”

Reform, a conservative organisation within the C of E, said it was grateful that the bishops were not proposing changes to the church’s doctrine of marriage. But it voiced concern about “permitting maximum freedom within this law. In adopting a framework which seeks to take a middle path between biblical truth and cultural sensitivities, the bishops have ensured theological incoherence and hypocrisy will prevail for the foreseeable future.”

Complete Article HERE!

01/24/17

Church of England considering plans to drop celibacy question for gay priests

Canterbury Cathedral

by Jardine Malado

The Church of England is considering plans to stop asking its gay clergy whether they are living a celibate lifestyle.

Under the new proposal by Anglican bishops, gay priests are still expected to remain celibate, but they will no longer be asked about their personal lives when they join the church, Premier reported.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who is in a civil partnership, criticized the proposal as it would still require the clergy to be celibate.

“It is progress for them to stop asking the celibacy question but it still leaves the Church of England policy based essentially on dishonesty and encouraging its clergy to lie,” Bradshaw said, according to the Daily Mail, citing Sunday Times.

Under the current rules, gay and lesbian clergy are required to vow celibacy when they seek ordination or promotion to positions such as a bishop.

The Church has been debating the subject of homosexuality since same-sex marriage was legalized by the Parliament in 2013. The clergy members are still forbidden from performing same-sex marriage services or marrying their same-sex partners.

The recommendation put forward by the House of Bishops will be considered by the General Synod next month.

Bradshaw suggested that the government could intervene in the affairs of the church if change does not come soon.

“There is a growing sense that if the church can’t sort this out for themselves, then parliament may have to do it for them,” he said.

The proposal came just a few months after the gay clerics alleged that 11 bishops were gay in September. That same month, Nicholas Chamberlain, the Bishop of Grantham, admitted that he was gay and in a celibate same-sex relationship. His admission came after a Sunday newspaper threatened to reveal his sexuality.

“It was not my decision to make a big thing about coming out. People know I’m gay, but it’s not the first thing I’d say to anyone. Sexuality is part of who I am, but it’s my ministry that I want to focus on,” Chamberlain told the Guardian.

An increasing number of priests have married or expressed plans to marry same-sex partners in defiance of the current policies of the Church.

Complete Article HERE!