03/9/17

LGBT Catholics — this is our faith, too

Catholics for Fairness and others rally at the Cathedral of the Assumption

By

The Rev. Joseph Fowler has been a priest for 56 years, but he stood with other Catholics on the steps of Louisville’s cathedral again this year to disagree with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, urging him to change his stance on LGBT rights.

Fowler, along with Catholics for Fairness, gathered Sunday to ask Kurtz to support Fairness laws that would prohibit discrimination in Kentucky on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s not endorsing gay marriage, etc. It’s basic human rights everyone should have,” said Fowler. “I don’t know why our leadership would not be in favor of that.”

This was the sixth annual LGBT Pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Assumption organized by Catholics for Fairness, a part of the larger Fairness Campaign Coalition. The marchers have varying relationships with the Catholic church, but all want equal treatment and protections for the LGBT community. It is a goal they believe is popular among Catholics, but not among the church hierarchy.

In response to LEO Weekly’s request for comment, the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville said in a statement that “the Catholic Church is a leading advocate for the dignity of all people,” but has concerns about any legislation that “might go beyond prohibiting unjust discrimination and cause unintended consequences.”

“Concerns could include an inadequate distinction between sexual inclination and behavior and religious liberty protections,” said the statement.

Under Kurtz, the Archdiocese refused to approve a headstone engraved with an image of the Supreme Court building and wedding rings, sought by Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, plaintiffs in the landmark marriage equality Supreme Court case. In a letter to the couple, the Archdiocese said engravings “are permitted so long as they do not conflict with any teaching of the Church. Your proposed markings are not in keeping with this requirement.”

The Archdiocese also refused to allow Bourke to return as a Boy Scout leader in a local Catholic parish troop, after he was forced to resign in 2012 for his sexual orientation.

On Sunday, De Leon said at the vigil outside the cathedral that people often ask him why he continues to fight for acceptance in the Catholic church, when there are other more tolerant Christian denominations.

“It’s hard to describe that feeling in your heart, when you’re with your brothers and sisters in a faith community, and that’s ours,” said De Leon.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said getting the Archdiocese to support a statewide Fairness law could be crucial to its passing. “It would open dialogue and acceptance from a faithful perspective to families and churches that hadn’t existed before,” he said in an email interview.

Hartman is optimistic, even in an overtly religious state like Kentucky, because other Christian denominations have already voiced support. “I think most faith traditions now have broader public support for LGBT people, but church leadership is lagging behind, like our legislature.”

Hartman referenced remarks made by Kurtz’s predecessor, Archbishop Thomas Kelly, who leaned toward a Louisville Fairness ordinance. Kelly said in 1995: “The Catholic Church supports the basic human rights of all persons, and affirms the fact that homosexual persons have the same rights as all persons, including the right to be treated in a manner that upholds their personal dignity … The intrinsic dignity of each person must be respected in word and in action.”

State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-35, who attended the pilgrimage and is a Catholic, also believes support from Kurtz could be instrumental in passing statewide Fairness legislation. “[It] would help convince, especially Catholic legislators and other Christians who base their discrimination on the Bible that you don’t do that.”

Another event attendee, Maria Price, 51, said it isn’t hard for her to reconcile being Catholic and a supporter of Fairness laws. She looks to the Bible for guidance, not the church hierarchy.

“Our call [is] to change unjust systems that make people poor and keep people stuck in poverty,” said Price. “And there is not one word from the lips of Jesus about homosexuality. So really, it’s misplaced energy.”

Susanna Sugrue, 58, said the church hierarchy is losing touch with its parish members.

“They’re not thinking about these issues on a human level, they are thinking about them on a theological level,” said Sugrue. “But we do have a very open pope now, so that is very encouraging.”

Ernesto Flores is also encouraged by Pope Francis, who said the church should ask forgiveness for its treatment of LGBT people. “I can’t walk away from being Mexican, I can’t walk away from being Catholic and I can’t walk away from being gay. Those are intrinsic parts of me,” said Flores. “So I decided to stay and make it a better place for myself.”

Complete Article HERE!

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!

01/29/17

Gay pastor returns to Kenosha after being outed and ousted

First United Methodist Church to publicly apologize

First United Methodist The Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe of Kenosha\’s First United Methodist Church, center, stands with members of the reconciling committee, from left, Jessica DeBoer, Len Wojciechowicz and his wife Laura. The church is welcoming back to Kenosha a gay clergy member who was outed and ousted from the congregation more than 30 years ago.

BY DANIEL GAITAN

The Rev. Kevin Johnson was outed and forced out of First United Methodist Church in Kenosha when he affirmed his gay orientation in 1981.

Now more than 30 years later, the church, 919 60th St., will publicly apologize for its actions during its Weekend of Reconciliation.

Johnson, 63, and his husband, Michael Shear, will travel from Palm Springs, Calif., to Kenosha for the Feb. 4-5 festivities, which will include plenty of preaching, prayer and tears.

“The invitation to host my husband and me was a long time coming. It was welcome, though it will not be easy,” Johnson wrote in an opinion piece published in The Desert Sun, the Palm Springs newspaper.

‘Devastated’

“More years have passed since my dismissal than my age when I first entered the church’s doors,” Johnson said. “Their 1981 rejection devastated my career dreams. I had to build a new life in the business world.”

For 20 years, Johnson said he was separated from his professional calling.

“That hurt badly. But I was never separated from my faith. I always sensed God’s love,” he said.

That helped him co-found Bloom in the Desert Ministries in 2002.

He said this is the first time since 1972 — when the United Methodist Church said, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” — that a local church is reconciling publicly with a former pastor affected by the decree.

News of Johnson’s return has sparked warm headlines across the nation.

“Times have changed, and young gay men are more confident in themselves,” Johnson told the Kenosha News.

Opposition

Official United Methodist Church law prohibits gay clergy, but the Kenosha church is one of a growing number of congregations now fighting it.

First United overwhelmingly voted last summer to identify as a Reconciling Ministries Congregation. It decided to welcome the LGBTQI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex) community, despite official restrictions still imposed by the church’s official disciple book.

“I’m thrilled to be able to come back and spend time with friends and meet new people having an influence on the congregation to be more inclusive,” Johnson said. “I am coming back with a full heart.”

Outed and ousted

The Rev. Kevin Johnson

Johnson said being outed and publicly forced out of a job in his late 20s devastated him.

He said a private conversation with a church member who questioned his sexuality was made public, which triggered the backlash against him.

“For years, it was very difficult for me to be a part of a church organization,” Johnson said.

“It was very difficult for the first decade after. I barely went to church at all. I had lost all confidence in human beings who claimed to be loving persons in the Christian church.”

Although Johnson made a career in business around the turn of the millennium, he felt called to launch his own ministry.

Bloom in the Desert Ministries in Palm Springs is designed to be a safe space and sanctuary for anyone experiencing spiritual abuse and religious discrimination related to gender identity, sexual orientation or ethnic heritage.

“I hope other churches who dismissed pastors for this very reason will do the same thing and decide that they want to be reconciled with the people they wronged in the past,” Johnson said.

Johnson left the Methodist Church and joined the United Church of Christ.

Accepting all Christians

The Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe, pastor of First United, said he is proud of his congregation for its support of Johnson.

Lowe said homosexuality and Christianity are not incompatible, so reaching out to this community is honoring Christ.

“I think the whole idea of sexuality in the Bible and what kind of gets explained as the ‘Christian’ understanding of sexuality isn’t quite accurate and isn’t quite theologically grounded,” Lowe said, adding that the Bible fails to offer a clear-cut set of teachings regarding sexuality, gender and even marriage.

He said the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality are far more complex than a sound bite or single verse pulled out of context during Sunday service.

“People just say ‘(homosexuality) is in the Bible; here’s what it says,’ when there are so many layers and things are misinterpreted between Greek and Hebrew to English,” Lowe said. “You can be a Christian and be gay — and practice your sexuality.”

At the core of Christianity, Lowe said, is a spirit of radical reconciliation.

Welcoming everyone

Jessica DeBoer, a member of the church’s Reconciling Committee, said the church has made a commitment to welcome everyone as equals.

“It’s very exciting,” DeBoer said. “I think as more people know about it, it will help bring people in. It’s really important that we welcome everybody.”

DeBoer said few members of the church were around when Johnson was forced out, but the “wound” remains in the minds of many.

“This is absolutely a huge part of our past as a church family,” DeBoer said. “It was the elephant in the room, especially now that we have openly become this accepting congregation.”

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!