LGBTQ+ Catholics recall ‘tremendous damage’ Pope Benedict XVI caused during his ‘painful’ reign

Pope Benedict XVI died aged 95.

By Patrick Kelleher

Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned as head of the Catholic Church in 2013, died on Saturday (31 December) aged 95, the Vatican confirmed in a statement.

As tributes poured in for the Pope Emeritus, LGBTQ+ Catholics recalled how his time in the Vatican marked a dark, painful era for queer people.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of LGBTQ+ Catholic organisation DignityUSA, said Pope Benedict XVI’s words harmed queer people and damaged families.

“The death of any human being is an occasion of sorrow. We pray for Pope Benedict’s soul and express our condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones,” Duddy-Burke said in a statement.

He refused to recognise even the most basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ people.

“However, his death also calls us to reflect honestly on his legacy. Benedict’s leadership in the church, as Pope and before that as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), caused tremendous damage to LGBTQIA+ people and our loved ones.”

Pope Benedict XVI leads the Ash Wednesday service at the St. Peter's Basilica on February 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Ash Wednesday opens the liturgical 40-day period of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, penitence and alms giving leading up to Easter.
Pope Benedict XVI leads the Ash Wednesday service at the St. Peter’s Basilica on February 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.

She continued: “His words and writings forced our community out of Catholic Churches, tore families apart, silenced our supporters, and even cost lives.

“He refused to recognise even the most basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ people. Many of us experienced the most harsh and blatant religiously justified discrimination of our lives as a result of his policies.”

Pope Benedict XVI labelled queer people ‘objectively disordered’

DignityUSA pointed out that, as leader of the CDF, Pope Benedict XVI was responsible for a 1986 letter which labelled gay men and lesbians as “objectively disordered”.

The same letter said same-sex sexual relationships were “intrinsically evil” and “essentially self-indulgent”.

It is impossible to overstate the damage Pope Benedict’s repeated dehumanising of LGBTQIA+ people has caused.

Furthermore, DignityUSA condemned the former pontiff for banning the distribution of condoms by Catholic health and social services agencies – a move which impacted the spread of HIV.

In 2012 – during his final year as leader of the Catholic Church – he spoke out against same-sex marriage, saying it “destroyed the essence of the human creature”.

He also said allowing same-sex couples to adopt represented an “attack” on the “traditional family”.

“It is impossible to overstate the damage Pope Benedict’s repeated dehumanising of LGBTQIA+ people has caused,” Duddy-Burke added.

Pope Benedict XVI attends his final general audience in St. Peter's Square on February 27, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI attends his final general audience in St. Peter’s Square on February 27, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.

“Individuals, families, and whole communities across the globe suffered tragic consequences, many of which are still felt today.

“We pray that the church will use the period of reflection following Pope Benedict’s death to acknowledge that in many cases he used his power in ways that failed to further the gospel message of love, human unity, and the responsibility to care for the marginalised.”

‘God’s Rottweiler’

Pope Benedict was a polarising force within the Catholic Church, and he was dubbed “God’s Rottweiler” during his time as pontiff for his careful adherence to traditional interpretations of church doctrine.

One of the biggest challenges he faced when he took over from Pope John Paul II was to tackle various sexual abuse scandals within the church – but he ultimately failed to take appropriate action.

In January 2022, a report found that he failed to take action against priests who abused children during his tenure as archbishop of Munich, even though he knew of allegations against them.

Honouring Pope Benedict XVI now is not only wrong. It is shameful.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an organisation that advocates for survivors, described Pope Benedict XVI as an “abuse enabler” in a press release shortly after news of his death was confirmed.

“Any celebration that marks the life of abuse enablers like Benedict must end,” the group said.

“It is past time for the Vatican to refocus on change: tell the truth about known abusive clergy, protect children and adults, and allow justice to those who have been hurt.

“Honouring Pope Benedict XVI now is not only wrong. It is shameful.”

Complete Article HERE!

The synod, the pope and the ordination of women

— Allowing women only in management and not in ministry ignores church history.

Newly ordained priests pray during a ceremony led by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on May 12, 2019.


The Synod on Synodality is exploding ideas all over the church. Some on the extreme right hope for Tridentine Masses. Some on the far left hope for changes in teachings on sex and gender. Folks in the middle just want more respect for and better recognition of women.

To no one’s surprise, the working document for the synod’s “continental phase” recognized women as the backbone of the church. It also admits that many women feel denigrated, neglected and misunderstood, symptomatic of narcissistic clericalism infecting clergy. Many national synod reports sent to the Vatican from bishops’ conferences around the globe presented the desire for women to be present in church governance, certified as preachers and in the diaconate.

Pope Francis’ recent comments about women are not helpful. Yes, on the aircraft returning from Bahrain in early November, he decried treating women as “second-class citizens.” But in a Nov. 24 speech before the International Theological Commission (27 men, five women) Francis took aim at dissident Old Catholic Churches that ordain women — he did not distinguish whether as priests or as deacons — while at the same time saying he would like to increase the number of women on that very commission.

Speaking with America, the Jesuit magazine, a few days later, Francis used the theology of Swiss priest Hans Urs von Balthasar to cancel the idea of women in ministry, while approving of women in management. Von Balthasar, a close associate of Joseph Ratzinger (the retired Pope Benedict XVI) presented two principles that put women in their place: the “Petrine principle,” which defines ministry as masculine, and the “Marian principle,” which defines the church as female.

As Francis told America’s interviewers: “And why can a woman not enter ordained ministry? It is because the Petrine principle has no place for that. Yes, one has to be in the Marian principle, which is more important. Woman is more, she looks more like the church, which is mother and spouse. I believe that we have too often failed in our catechesis when explaining these things.”

Toward the end of his comments on women, he recommended a “third way”: Increase the number of women in administrative positions, in management.

So that is that. Management, but not ministry.


The Petrine theory is the root of the so-called argument from authority against women priests: Jesus chose male apostles, and the church is bound by his choice. Only priests can have governance and jurisdiction; they are ordained “in persona Christi capitas ecclesiae” — in the person of Christ the head of the church. That rules out women in positions of genuine authority.

The surprise in the Marian theory is that older documents say the diaconate is and acts “in the name of the church.” So, if the church is female, then ordained deacons should mirror that fact.

To complicate matters, the priesthood came about some two centuries after the diaconate. History records ordained women deacons up through the 12th century, with bishops ordaining women as deacons using liturgies often identical to those for male deacons. The bishops invoked the confirmation of the Holy Spirit and placed a stole around the ordained women’s necks. Most importantly, the bishops called these ordained women deacons.

For too long, theologians battled over whether diaconal ordination was a sacrament, but that was apparently first resolved at the 16th century Council of Trent. So, women were sacramentally ordained as deacons. It will not take a third Vatican Council to reaffirm that.

Or will it? Lately, the question of ordination for women seems restricted to the growing requests for women priests. Even Francis uses that shorthand. But the tradition of ordaining women as deacons could easily be restored. Benedict XVI even changed canon law in 2009 to emphasize the fact that the diaconate is not the priesthood.

o, which is it? As the Synod on Synodality enters its “continental phase,” the tide could be turning against women in ministry. Does the working document’s call for “a diaconate of women” mean ordained women deacons, or something else? If it means something else, why? Is it because the deacon is ordained to act and to be “in the person of Christ, the servant?” Does it indicate an official teaching that women cannot image Christ?

No doubt, the theological hair-splitting is lost on the people of God. But the church is dangerously close to losing even more members when it states — or seems to state — that women cannot image Christ — that is, that women are not made in the image and likeness of God. That is not a good stance for the Vatican. It is something papal briefers and speechwriters need to recognize, and soon.

Complete Article HERE!

Wide rift on Christian views of LGBTQ community continues


As Congress decided last week to codify federal protection of same-sex marriage, a high wall continues to divide the debate on religion and LGBTQ issues.

Some Christians consider same-sex relationships and gender fluidity to be sinful and contrary to biblical teachings.

Other Christians affirm LGBTQ distinctions and support same-sex unions and ordination of gay and transgender clergy.

The theological weeds are thorny.

While a 2019 Pew Research Center survey showed that 66% of religiously affiliated Americans thought “homosexuality should be accepted by society,” disputes over sexual orientation and gender identity have led to schisms among United Methodists, Anglicans and American Baptists.

Believers on both the conservative and liberal sides point to the other as despising one another, but one thing they agree on is that the dichotomy is a shame.

“It’s a major divisive issue, and it’s very unfortunate,” said Jeffrey Scholes, Ph.D., who heads the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where he’s also an associate professor of religious studies.

The Nov. 19 shooting at Club Q, a LGBTQ+ bar, which left five people dead and 17 others injured by gunshot, has heightened the rift “much more profoundly than otherwise,” Scholes said.

There’s no question that a few biblical passages in the Old and New Testaments are “prescriptions against sexual acts of people of the same gender,” he said.

Jesus, however, never mentions a word about it, Scholes said.

Which leaves room for extensive and divergent biblical interpretation.

“It’s completely unclear what the Bible says about homosexuality,” Scholes said.

But the Bible is very clear to clergy like the Rev. Kelly Williams, founder and pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, a congregation of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“We believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin,” he said.

But it’s not THE sin.

“It’s really important that we not single it out as ‘This is worse than …’” Williams said. “Sin is sin.”

Jesus didn’t speak of many things in the New Testament, Williams said, including affirming a same-sex lifestyle or marriage, or saying whether people are born gay.

“We live in a world and a country where you can make a choice,” he said. “The need to make everyone agree with you is unhealthy. If you ask me the question, ‘Are people born gay?’ the answer is ‘I don’t know, the Bible doesn’t address it.’

“You cannot go to the Bible and find an answer to that question, so where the Bible is silent, we have to be silent.”

That same silence in the Bible leaves room for determining the meaning of text not just by words but also by who wrote it, when it was written and in what context, Scholes said.

“For people whose beliefs are set on a literal interpretation of the Bible, there is no such thing,” he said. “The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, and by the time we get it into English, there is no such thing as a literal meaning.”

To clergy like the Rev. Dr. Joanne Sanders, a gay priest who’s assisting at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs, same-gender relationships are not a sin.

“I’ve been called to ministry to educate and teach from a critical theological perspective that counters some of the misguided theology that’s out there and causing serious harm to the LGBTQ+ community,” she said on a recent day in front of the memorial outside Club Q.

Progressive clergy have been taking shifts at the site to provide spiritual support and act as a watchdog, as they said there was concern that Christians who oppose LGBTQ+ people would harass memorial onlookers.

Protests at funerals, memorial sites and other locations around the nation have occurred in the past, including by such notorious groups as the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan. The church has been labeled an official hate group for its vilification of not only gays and transgenders but also some religious denominations.

But that’s not how the majority of Christians treat LGBTQ+ people, say conservatives such as Jim Daly, president of Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian communications ministry.

“As a Christian leader in Colorado Springs, I’m never in a conversation that’s denigrating the LGBTQ community or the movements,” he said.

“Most Christians that I know and interact with, we’re big believers that everybody’s created in the image of God, and everybody’s due respect — even if we disagree,” Daly said.

Focus on the Family publicly opposes same-sex marriage, transgenderism and related issues and has offered “conversion therapy” to restore people to heterosexuality, a controversial practice.

“We’re Christian folks following Scripture that indicates how we should behave and treat people, how marriage is defined by God in our opinion,” Daly said. “When we express opinions in a constitutional republic, we feel we’ve done it with no ill will or meanness toward anyone.”

Scholes, the UCCS professor, disagrees.

“By challenging something so deep-seeded as sexual attraction and promoting gay conversion therapy, they may not say that’s hate, but what they’re saying is it’s wrong, and if it’s not hate, it comes across as animosity, and is at the very least a serious level of disrespect,” Scholes said.

Said Daly, “We’re the first to say we’re sinners and saved by grace. We’re trying to espouse what we believe as Christians, and it’s gotten to the point where you get beaten down for just expressing that.

“We’re the ones receiving the ridicule.”

Bible as a weapon

Sanders spent a significant amount of her life enmeshed in evangelical communities before she “was able to come out (as lesbian) and see myself in the image of God.”

During that process, the priest said, her faith deepened and became “more authentic and real.”

“One of the most heart-breaking things is how the Bible is used as a weapon,” Sanders said.

“It’s irresponsible to say, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin,’” she said. “What that says to me is a lack of willingness to go to a deeper place together as humanity and recognize what those kinds of things are doing to people, and how it’s so much the antithesis — if we really are willing to look honestly at the life of Jesus.”

Sanders said she’ll spend the rest of her life “working to be a voice and always being willing to be in conversation with others that may have a different point of view.”

Williams, the Southern Baptist pastor, said, he, too, is willing to speak with anyone who wants to talk. His church hosted community conversations following blowback against conservative Christians, who led a 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment banning rights for gays, lesbians and bisexual people, which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned.

“I have no animosity or hard feelings toward the homosexual community,” he said. “I want our church to be in relationship with people who are wrestling with this issue; we want to create an environment where we add a name and a face so we can show love and respect to one another.”

Said Williams, “The Bible teaches the rejection of Jesus is what sends you to hell; it’s not sin.”

Everyone’s a sinner, said The Rev. Gary Darress, a deacon at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, who also recently was offering support at the Club Q memorial.

He points to Jesus’ admonitions to his followers not to judge others, to examine one’s own sins before disparaging actions of others and to love your neighbor as yourself.

“So why are we as Christians pointing fingers at another person’s so-called sins?” he said. “In the Gospels, Christ met people where they were at. Jesus opened his heart to the Israelites, Gentiles, Romans, Samarians — why are we having such a hard time opening our hearts to the people who identify as LGBTQIA?”

Darress said he knows that people who criticize LGBTQ people may be scared by the way someone looks or acts or has an alternative lifestyle.

“But, why does it have to be, ‘You have to change, you’re acting differently from how God made you’? Do we really know how God made you? Why do we have to confine God to a box and say what God’s love is?”

‘Everybody’s on a journey’

In daily life, as LGBTQ people seek acceptance and understanding, some Christians struggle with inner spiritual conflict.

“We’re all in one way trying to wrestle through this painful and delicate issue because we do have loved ones we care about, whether friends or relatives, that identify as same-sex,” said Williams, the Southern Baptist pastor.

Gayle Rappold started an LGBTQ support group eight years ago at Holy Apostles Catholic Church and then moved it to her home. One year ago, it relocated to Sacred Heart Catholic Church under the name “Journey.”

“Because we know everybody’s on a journey with this,” the 82-year-old mother of five said.

A dozen or more parents and loved ones of LGBTQ people show up monthly, not to debate religious doctrine or beliefs but to share stories and lean on each other on what can be a difficult path to walk.

“There’s a conflict between our faith, when we’ve been taught homosexuality is wrong, it says so in the Scriptures, yet I love my child and don’t want to reject my child,” Rappold said. “There’s also a shock that comes when your child comes out and you don’t expect it.”

As per its mission, the group is a safe place, a nonjudgmental atmosphere where people bond and “primacy of conscience” is understood.

While Rappold, who has a gay son, is a practicing Catholic, a denomination that accepts LGBTQ+ people but does not allow for same-sex marriage and promotes chastity regarding same-sex attraction, she said her personal conscience dictates that she love and accept her gay child.

“And if that gay child falls in love and gets married, then I accept that,” she said. “I love and welcome gay people without questioning the life or lifestyle.”

Rappold said she does not speak for the Catholic Church.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has reaffirmed primacy of conscience, the belief that God reveals himself to followers while they navigate tough moral questions.

But some Catholics have criticized the Pope for doing so, and some bishops do not permit such groups as Journey under their leadership, Rappold said.

Rappold said she learned years ago not to try to change anyone’s opinion.

“My response is, ‘I’m sorry, but I feel differently than you do — I love my child and don’t judge my child,’” she said.

The Bible’s ‘consistent message’

Respect is part of what it’s going to take to bridge the disunity, religious leaders say.

“In this debate and discussion, I say don’t be so quick to villainize everybody who disagrees with you — you might find they have more compassion for you than those who agree with you,” said Williams, the Southern Baptist pastor.

Williams said while he doesn’t personally force his views on anyone, he can’t stop speaking about or change what he believes the Bible teaches, because then he wouldn’t be faithful to what he believes God has asked him to do.

“I know that I will be perceived because of my stance as hateful or unloving,” he said, “and all I can say to that is I’m trying to be faithful to my understanding of what Scripture teaches, and I’d love the opportunity to demonstrate love to anyone who disagrees with me.”

Love, the most-preached topic that appears throughout the Bible, is what potentially could bring both sides closer together, said Scholes, the UCCS professor.

“Loving one another is the consistent message that is always applauded in the biblical texts,” he said. “Jesus would be all in favor of two men or two women in love. There’s no question in my mind about that.”

Sometimes people change their minds, Scholes said, pointing to the family of former Vice President Dick Cheney, some of whom opposed same-sex marriage until the youngest daughter said she was a lesbian. Former President Barack Obama also was against gay marriage but then reversed course, Scholes noted.

Sanders, the lesbian Episcopalian priest, said willingness and humility must be employed for religious factions to come together.

“Stop causing the human pain and suffering that religion and people who speak in the name of Christianity in particularly hateful ways do, which is so destructive,” she said.

Fear of the body and of sexual relationships is “propelling so much of this hate speech,” Sanders said.

Both sides call for civility.

“It’s sad to think we can’t have different opinions on how we should live,” said Focus on the Family’s Daly.

“If they’re saying there will be no more violence if conservatives shut up and simply stop criticizing the world, I don’t think that’s an equation that works,” Daly said. “They rarely have the shoe on the other foot …

What do we do as a culture?”

Complete Article HERE!

LGBTQ people of faith

— From LDS to Catholics to Jews to Muslims — find ways to belong where doctrine rejects them

“I embrace my faith,” says former leader of Affirmation, a support group for queer Latter-day Saints, “but I don’t fully embrace the institution.”

By Kathryn Post

When queer students at Yeshiva University sued the school for discrimination in spring 2021, critics were quick to question why LGBTQ students would opt for an Orthodox Jewish university in the first place.

But for many LGBTQ Orthodox Jews, as with believers of other faiths, their religious identities are as nonnegotiable as their queer identities.

“A lot of people ask, why would somebody who is queer stay Orthodox? It’s like saying, there’s conflict in your family — why don’t you just leave?” Rachael Fried, a Yeshiva alum and executive director of JQY (Jewish Queer Youth), a nonprofit that supports Orthodox Jewish queer youths, told Religion News Service.

In churches, synagogues and mosques, as in families, religious teaching and texts are often cited in rejecting LGBTQ members, and many queer believers feel they have no choice but to leave. Many end up rejecting religion as a whole; others find meaning in accepting faith communities. But some LGBTQ religious people are reconciling parts of themselves that their faith’s doctrines frame as incompatible, continuing to serve and worship even where they are officially considered in violation of divine law or are barred from leadership.

A Catholic

For Madeline Marlett, it was the Jesuits who first showed her that being a Catholic, queer transgender woman was possible.

Growing up in Texas, in a devoutly Catholic household of 10, Marlett told RNS, she would pray every night that she would wake up the next morning in a different body. Years later, as a student at the College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school in Worcester, Mass., the body dysphoria hadn’t subsided.

“I was hoping that this trans thing would disappear, but through Holy Cross, the Jesuits showed me a different flavor of Catholicism. It was more about ‘God is love,’ less about ‘these are the rules,’” said Marlett, now 25 and living in Boston.

In a class called “Understanding Jesus,” Marlett said she first encountered the idea of a radical Christ who ministered to outcasts. “That became my barometer as I was unpacking what I believed. Is this rule loving? That’s what helped me rebuild my sense of religion to include myself and the people next to me.”

After graduating, she joined Dignity USA, a Catholic LGBTQ advocacy organization, changed her legal name and began presenting as Madeline.

Jodi O’Brien, a sociology professor at Seattle University, said many LGBTQ Christians have had the ‘aha’ moment Marlett did when she encountered stories of Jesus ministering to those on the margins.

“They rewrote themselves in the script of Christianity,” said O’Brien. “Instead of being the sinners, or the cast off, they were the ones who most embodied the love of Christ.”

A Latter-day Saint

For some, pursuing an accepting version of their faith means leaving institutional religion behind. For Randall Thacker, a Latter-day Saint and former president of Affirmation, a global organization that supports LGBTQ members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, separating God from the church was key.

“I would say I embrace my faith, but I don’t fully embrace the institution,” he told RNS. “That’s pretty hard in this kind of faith, where everything revolves around (the church).” Over the years, Thacker has learned to treasure doctrines he loves while ditching harmful teachings, a move that allows him to claim a faith that “feels like it’s in my DNA.”

A Muslim

Jordan Jamil Ahmed, 31, takes a similar approach. “Organized religion, not just in Islam, is often a way to express political power over people. Whereas, for me, the idea of faith is more innate or intuitive.”

Ahmed is a Shiite Muslim who grew up in a multiracial, multiethnic household in central Ohio. After years of wrestling with their queer and Muslim identities, Ahmed joined the Queer Muslims of Boston in 2020 and eventually connected with Union Square Halaqa, a group of marginalized Muslims who gather to study Islam.

“The halaqa is the first space where I’ve really come into my understanding of queerness and Muslimness together,” Ahmed said. The expansiveness of the divine, Ahmed believes, can’t be limited to the male-female binary. This widened view of spirituality has also allowed them to experience God, said Ahmed, who uses they/them pronouns, in everything from prayer to tarot cards to dancing at gay clubs.

But Ahmed’s spiritual fluidity, as much as their gender, has meant exile from some Muslim settings. “I’ve definitely built my community outside of traditional institutions. There aren’t really mosques where I feel comfortable.”

Tyler Lefevor, a counselor and psychologist, has found that queer believers can face exclusion in and outside of religious contexts. In a study published by the American Psychological Association this year, Lefevor and his co-author found that more than half the LGBTQ Latter-day Saints responding to a survey said they lacked belongingness in their faith community, the LGBTQ+ community or both.

The struggle to belong is what leads LGBTQ believers to create explicitly queer religious spaces like Affirmation, JQY or Dignity USA, Lefevor said. “A lot of these communities provide some of the theological tools queer religious folks need to stay within these conservative congregations. They are a group of people who get what it’s like to constantly explain yourself to people on both sides.”

The groups often go beyond theology. During the standoff at Yeshiva, JQY stepped in to fund the Pride Alliance, the student club at Yeshiva, after the university refused. It also hosts a weekly drop-in center in Times Square, where LGBTQ youth get free pizza, check in with social workers and have game nights.

Sergio Guzmán, who belongs to the San Fernando Valley chapter of Dignity USA, was emboldened by his participation to adopt what he calls a “Hell no, I’m not gonna go” stance toward the Catholic faith he loves.

After years of drifting in and out of church, Henry Abuto, a celibate gay Christian, found his way to the Side B community — a loose network of Christians who embrace queer identity but believe God designed sex for marriage between a man and a woman. Abuto, who attends a nondenominational church in Fort Worth, Texas, chose celibacy eight years ago as the best way for him to be true to himself and his faith. Like many on Side B, he’s since been called both a sinner for being gay and a self-hater for choosing celibacy.

In 2018, Abuto stumbled upon Revoice, an annual Side B conference. Suddenly, he was surrounded by people whose journeys mirrored his own. “Without that community, my walk would not be flourishing nearly as well as it is,” said Abuto, who is now a Revoice staffer.

Not all people reconcile their faith and queerness. A 2013 study from Pew Research Center found that nearly half (48%) of LGBTQ people are not religiously affiliated — more than double the share among the general public (20%). A third of religious LGBTQ people reported a conflict between their sexual orientation or gender identity and their beliefs.

Eric Rodriguez, an associate professor of psychology at City University of New York who has studied LGBTQ identity issues for decades, said faithful LGBTQ people can reject their religious identity, attempt to eradicate or suppress their queer identity, compartmentalize both identities or integrate them.

“The folks who did the best were either those who identified as being integrated, or those who identified as being secular,” he said. “That’s regardless of whether you are talking about somebody with a Christian background, Jewish background or Islamic background.”

The issue of belonging is complicated by the wide range of attitudes toward LGBTQ inclusion, even when a faith is non-affirming on paper. In the Catholic catechism, homosexual acts are called “intrinsically disordered,” but in 2019 the Pew Research Center found that 61% of Catholics said they support same-sex marriage. In 2017, Pew reported that 52% of U.S. Muslims said homosexuality should be accepted by society.

“It’s the guys in the gowns and funny hats that have the issue,” as Guzmán put it.

Jeff Chu, author of “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America,” said that affirming and nonaffirming labels are overly simplistic. Chu married his husband in the Reformed Church in America and is an ordained elder there, but his ordination process, which for most people takes three years, has dragged on for six due to the denomination’s broader debate over LGBTQ inclusion.

“To just say ‘nonaffirming denomination’ does a disservice to the reality on the ground, which is the truth that we are individuals, couples and congregations who are wrestling through a lot of complicated political and social terrain.”

A Christian Reformed Church member

Natalie Drew, a trans woman, never expected to land in a Christian Reformed Church congregation. The CRC, a close cousin to the RCA, codified its opposition to homosexual sex at the denominational level this summer. But Drew doesn’t choose churches based on whether they’re affirming.

“I don’t want to belong simply because they have an official policy. I want to feel like I belong because the people there treat me as if I’m truly their family,” Drew said. “It could have happened in a lot of places. It just happened to happen at CRC church.”

In light of the denomination’s opposition, Drew’s church, like many others, is reconsidering its future in the CRC. Drew said she’s not part of those conversations and doesn’t care to be. She loves the church’s commitment to ancient creeds and social justice work, and what ultimately matters is that she, her wife and her kids are welcome.

“For LGBTQIA people out there, who are struggling right now, there are churches out there,” she told RNS. “You don’t have to give up your faith to be who you are.”

Complete Article HERE!

LGBTQ students wrestle with tensions at Christian colleges

Sean Fisher, one of the student coordinators for QPLUS, the LGBTQ student organization for the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, stands in the organization’s dedicated lounge on the college’s campus in St. Joseph, Minn., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. To Fisher, a senior in environmental studies who identifies as non-binary, the Catholic colleges’ recognition and funding of the organization represents a new era.


As monks chanted evening prayers in the dimly lit Saint John’s University church, members of the student LGBTQ organization, QPLUS, were meeting in a dedicated, Pride flag-lined lounge at the institution’s sister Benedictine college, a few miles away across Minnesota farmland.

To Sean Fisher, a senior who identifies as non-binary and helps lead QPLUS, its official recognition and funding by Saint John’s and the College of Saint Benedict is welcome proof of the Catholic schools’ “acknowledging queer students exist.”

But tensions endure here and at many of the hundreds of U.S. Catholic and Protestant universities. The Christian teachings they ascribe to are different from wider societal values over gender identity and sexual orientation, because they assert that God created humans in unchangeable male and female identities, and sex should only happen within the marriage of a man and a woman.

“The ambivalence toward genuine care is clouded by Jesus-y attitudes. Like ‘Love your neighbor’ has an asterisk,” Fisher said that late fall evening.

Most of the 200 Catholic institutions serving nearly 900,000 students have made efforts to be welcoming while staying true to their mission as Catholic ministries, said the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Among Protestant institutions, a few are pushing the envelope, and most are hoping to stay out of the messiness, said John Hawthorne, a retired Christian college sociology professor and administrator.

“Denominations won’t budge, so colleges will need to lead the way,” Hawthorne added. Otherwise, they might not survive, because students are used to values far different from churches’ teachings, as highlighted by last week’s Senate passage of legislation to protect same-sex marriage.

“Today’s college freshman was born in 2004, the year Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage,” Hawthorne said, suggesting there might not be enough conservative students in the future for some of the universities to survive.

The consequences extend beyond the experiences of current students, many of whom enroll not because of faith but academics, athletics or scholarships. Some will likely become church leaders in an already divided society, where the recent shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado was only the latest reminder of the threats against that community.

The majority of Christian colleges and universities list “sexual orientation” in their nondiscrimination statements, and half also include “gender identity” – far more than did so in 2013, said Jonathan Coley, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who maintains a Christian higher education database of policies toward LGBTQ students.

But translating that into practice creates tensions affecting most campus life, including enrollment at single-gender institutions, housing, restroom design and pronoun use.

Backlash follows from opposing corners: At some conservative schools, some students and faculty have filed discrimination complaints, while at more affirming institutions, some parents and clergy argue that approach doesn’t align with their mission.

“We have to learn to live with this tension,” said the Rev. Donal Godfrey, chaplain at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution in a city with a history of LGBTQ rights advocacy and a conservative Catholic archbishop opposed to same-sex marriage.

New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ Catholics, keeps a list of over 130 Catholic colleges it considers LGBTQ-friendly because they provide public affirmation, including courses and clubs, said its director, Francis DeBernardo.

“Catholic colleges and universities were … and still are the most LGBTQ-friendly places in the church in the United States,” DeBernardo added.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which advocates for fidelity to church teachings on all Catholic education issues, maintains its own list of recommended schools, a little more than a dozen the organization considers “faithful.”

“For these colleges, being ‘Catholic’ is not a watered-down brand or historical tradition,” Newman president Patrick Reilly said via email.

Other campus leaders see tension in Catholic teachings, which tend to skew conservative on human sexuality but progressive on social justice.

Even Pope Francis, who seemed to nod toward change when he remarked “who am I to judge?” about gay priests, more recently approved the refusal of blessings for same-sex unions.

“It’s kind of a tightrope,” said John Scarano, campus ministry director at John Carroll University, a Jesuit school near Cleveland with “safe zone trainings” as part of its ministry to LGBTQ students.

When parents and prospective students come to him undecided between John Carroll and Franciscan University, 100 miles away in Steubenville, Ohio, Scarano tells them, “Here, your Catholicism is going to be challenged” by different perspectives.

At the Franciscan-run school, “we don’t move away from the truth of the human person as discovered in Scripture, the tradition of the Church, and the teaching authority of the Church — this is our mooring, and we believe that to follow Christ is to be faithful to the Church’s teachings,” said the Rev. Jonathan St. Andre, a senior university leader.

The Steubenville institution strives to develop students’ “healthy sense of the gift of their human sexuality,” he added via email – but with no tolerance for harassment of those who disagree.

Students’ safety is a priority, said Mary Geller, the associate provost who oversees student affairs for the 3,000 undergraduates at Saint John’s and Saint Benedict, the single-sex institutions in Minnesota.

“We’re set up in the binary, but we know there are people coming to us who don’t live in the binary,” Geller said. They now admit students based on the gender they identify with, and consider transfers for those who transition.

That has enraged a few parents, like a father complaining “that we have students with male body parts in a female dorm,” Geller recalled. “I just said, ‘Sir, I don’t check body parts.’”

With the help of legal advocates, some students at evangelical and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints schools are suing.

Last year, 33 LGBTQ students or former students at federally funded Christian schools filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the department’s religious exemption allows schools that receive federal dollars to unconstitutionally discriminate against LGBTQ students. The plaintiffs have grown to more than 40.

In May, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched a separate investigation for alleged violations of the rights of LGBTQ students at six Christian universities — including Liberty University.

The independent evangelical university is one of several that have greatly expanded their rules prohibiting students from identifying as LGBTQ or advocating for such identities.

Liberty forbids LGBTQ affinity clubs, same-sex displays of affection, and use of pronouns, restrooms and changing facilities not corresponding to a person’s birth sex. As of this year, its student handbook, called “The Liberty Way,” bans statements and behaviors associated with what it calls “LGBT states of mind.”

“Liberty is very anti-gay,” said Sydney Windsor, a senior there who first decided to attend Liberty to quash her sexual attraction for women and now identifies as pansexual. “I found friendships ending and me getting bad grades because of differing opinions or things I said or posted. It’s years of irreversible trauma.”

At some evangelical schools, the argument has now moved from fighting over student’s sexual and gender equality to fighting for LGBTQ diversity in faculty and staff hiring.

This year, Eastern University, located in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, amended its policies to allow for the hiring of faculty in same-sex marriages — one of only a handful of evangelical schools to do so.

“If we can get faculty to come out and to have queer people openly represented on campus, that would be really big,” said Faith Jeanette Millender, an Eastern University student who identifies as bisexual or queer and is active in the school’s LGBTQ group.

A high-stakes clash between students, faculty and the school’s board of trustees over hiring LGBTQ faculty is unfolding at Seattle Pacific University, a 131-year-old school affiliated with the Free Methodist Church.

The faculty held a vote of no-confidence in the board, one-third of which is appointed by the denomination, because it insists on keeping the policy barring people in same-sex relationships from full-time positions. Faculty and students have also sued the board in Washington State Superior Court for breaching its fiduciary duty, arguing the policy threatens to harm SPU’s reputation, worsen an already shrinking enrollment and possibly jeopardize its future.

“This entrenchment around human sexuality feels so incongruent with the on-campus experience and what we teach our students,” said Lynnette Bikos, professor and chair of SPU’s clinical psychology department and a plaintiff in the suit against the board.

Chloe Guillot, a 22-year-old graduate student at SPU who is one of 16 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the school, said it was a matter of social justice.

“I’m wrestling with my own identity and I know how much Christianity has brought harm to communities, whether its people of color, women, or LGBTQ people,” Guillot said. “I have a responsibility to step into those spaces and be willing to fight back. As someone who is a Christian we need to hold ourselves accountable.”

In late November, a group of students and faculty decorated several campus buildings with rainbow-colored Christmas lights.

The administration has responded to one of the suits in a court filing saying that it expects students and faculty to “affirm the University’s statement of faith, and to abide by its lifestyle expectations, which together shape the vision and mission of the institution.”

Kathryn Lee, who came out as lesbian last year, while still a professor at Whitworth University, an evangelical school in Spokane, Washington, said debates over LGBTQ issues will persist for years.

“What’s unfortunate in my view is that in some people’s minds how do you define Christian education and it will be, ‘Oh, where are they on LGBTQ?’” she said. “I find that tragic.”

To students like Fisher in Minnesota, concrete actions will show if LGBTQ people can truly be welcomed on Christian campuses.

There are still too many incidents. Ryan Imm, a Saint John’s University junior and QPLUS leader who identifies as gay, recalled an anti-LGBTQ slur used on his residential floor. Sitting together in the QPLUS lounge, both students pointed to signs of hope — like the popular drag show at Saint Benedict.

“It’s almost like people forget there’s dissonance,” Imm said.

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