Saturday, 8 December 2012

James Stoll, Unitarian Pioneer of LGBT Inclusion in Church

Rev. James Lewis Stoll, who died on December 8th 1994, was a Unitarian Universalist minister who became the first ordained minister of any religion in the United States or Canada to come out as gay. He did so at the annual Continental Conference of Student Religious Liberals on September 5, 1969 in La Foret, Colorado. Later, he led the effort that convinced the Unitarian Universalist Association to pass the first-ever gay rights resolution in 1970. 

After training at Starr King School for the Ministry, in Berkeley, followed by ordination, he served as pastor at a church in Kennewick, Wash., from 1962 until 1969. For reasons that have not been disclosed, he was asked to resign, and then moved to San Francisco, where he shared an apartment with three others.

In September of 1969, he attended a convention of college-age Unitarians in Colorado Springs. One evening after dinner, he stood up and came out publicly as a gay man. He declared his orientation, stated that it was not a choice, that he was no longer ashamed of it, and that from then on, he would refuse to live a lie.
“On the second or third night of the conference,” according to Mr. Bond-Upson, “after dinner, Jim got up to speak. He told us that he’d been doing a lot of hard thinking that summer. Jim told us he could no longer live a lie. He’d been hiding his nature — his true self — from everyone except his closest friends. ‘If the revolution we’re in means anything,’ he said, ‘it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.'
“Then he told us he was gay, and had always been gay, and it wasn’t a choice, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore and that he wasn’t going to hide it anymore, and from now on he was going to be himself in public. After he concluded, there was a dead silence, then a couple of the young women went up and hugged him, followed by general congratulations. The few who did not approve kept their peace.” ’
After the convention, Stoll wrote articles on gay rights, and preached sermons on the subject at several churches. The following year, the full annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution condemning discrimination against homosexual persons, beginning a gradual but irresistible move towards full LGBT inclusion.  

No action was ever taken by the church against Stoll, and so he remained a minister in good standing, but he was never again called to serve a congregation. It is not clear whether this had anything to do with lingering prejudice against his orientation. It could also be on the grounds of some suspicions of drug abuse, or of inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Later, he founded the first counseling center for gays and lesbians in San Francisco. In the 1970s he established the first hospice on Maui. He was president of the San Francisco chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1990s. He died at the age of 58 from complications of heart and lung disease, exacerbated by obesity and a life-long smoking habit

Stoll's name is not well known today, but for this brave and honest public witness, he deserves to be better remembered.In declaring himself, he was not the first ordained clergyman to come out, but he was the first to do so voluntarily, and the first in an established denomination. His action undoubtedly made it easier for the others who followed him, and to the formal acceptance by the Unitarians of openly gay men and lesbians in the church, and to the now well-established process to full LGBT inclusion in so many denominations.

He was not a Catholic, but in Catholic tradition today would be considered his "die natalis", or day of new birth in Christ. Remember him.

Haunted Man of the Cloth, Pioneer of Gay Rights (NY Times)
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Saturday, 1 December 2012

Blessed Charles de Foucauld

CHARLES DE FOUCAULD (Brother Charles of Jesus) was born in Strasbourg, France on September 15th, 1858. Orphaned at the age of six, he and his sister Marie were raised by their grandfather in whose footsteps he followed by taking up a military career.
He lost his faith as an adolescent.His taste for easy living was well known to all and yet he showed that he could be strong willed and constant in difficult situations. He undertook a risky exploration of Morocco (1883-1884). Seeing the way Muslims expressed their faith questioned him and he began repeating, “My God, if you exist, let me come to know you.”
On his return to France, the warm, respectful welcome he received from his deeply Christian family made him continue his search. Under the guidance of Fr. Huvelin he rediscovered God in October 1886.He was then 28 years old. “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.”
A pilgrimage to the Holy Land revealed his vocation to him: to follow Jesus in his life at Nazareth.He spent 7 years as a Trappist, first in France and then at Akbès in Syria. Later he began to lead a life of prayer and adoration, alone, near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth.
Ordained a priest at 43 (1901) he left for the Sahara, living at first in Beni Abbès and later at Tamanrasset among the Tuaregs of the Hoggar. He wanted to be among those who were, “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.” He wanted all who drew close to him to find in him a brother, “a universal brother.” In a great respect for the culture and faith of those among whom he lived, his desire was to “shout the Gospel with his life”. “I would like to be sufficiently good that people would say, “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”
On the evening of December 1st 1916, he was killed by a band of marauders who had encircled his house.
He had always dreamed of sharing his vocation with others: after having written several rules for religious life, he came to the conclusion that this “life of Nazareth” could be led by all. Today the “spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld” encompasses several associations of the faithful, religious communities and secular institutes for both lay people and priests.
-Vatican News Service

For a possible gay connection, through his close friend Louis Massignon, see Gay Mystic.:

Sometime ago, however,  I received a personal communication via a White Father with many years experience in North Africa, (who is normally very defensive about the church and unwilling to relate negative comments about saintly figures) that Foucauld's  death was caused in part as revenge for his practice of entertaining handsome young Tuareg men in his hermitage in the evenings. Rumors also suggest that the 15 year old boy was something other than a guard. This source did not affirm any improprieties  on Blessed Charles' part, (and I for one, would not believe them, if they did), but they do suggest a predilection for beautiful young males. The rumors, like swirls of dust in the desert, are difficult to credit because of Charles' own dissolute early life and female lovers, but then, who knows? Read below of his very close connection to  the great Islamic scholar, Louis Massignon, who underwent a great psychological crisis because of his own homosexuality, and who partly attributed his conversion to Christianity to Charles de Foucauld. Blessed Charles  would later  name Massignon the executor of his will and Massignon was responsible for publishing Charles' Rule for the Little Brothers of Jesus.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Blessed Bernardo de Hoyos: "The Spouse of Christ"

In Catholic spiritual tradition, there is an important and honoured place for the idea of "The Bride of Christ". At one level, we are taught to think of the Church as a whole as such a bride of Christ, and the wedding at Cana as a metaphor for the marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church. At another level, religious women think of themselves as forgoing human marriage, to become brides of Christ. The image is a powerful and valuable one, in developing that personal relationship with the Lord that we seek - but where does it leave men, who may find it difficult to imagine themselves as brides?

Surprisingly perhaps, Catholic tradition provides an equivalent route for men - at least, for gay men, and others who are not threatened by thoughts of homoerotic attraction. Gerald Loughlin has described a medieval German tradition in which the wedding at Cana was seen as celebrating the wedding of Christ and his "beloved disciple" (assumed to be John the Evangelist). St John of the Cross used extensive homoerotic imagery in his mystical writing. Blessed Bernardo de Hoyos combined both of these ideas, taking them to their logical conclusion. As Kittredge Cherry noted at Jesus in Love blog, in a valuable post for his feast day (yesterday, November 29th), Blessed Bernardo saw himself, in a mystical vision, as marrying Christ - as a man, becoming not a bride, but a "Groom of Christ".
Always holding my right hand, the Lord had me occupy the empty throne; then He fitted on my finger a gold ring.... “May this ring be an earnest of our love. You are Mine, and I am yours. You may call yourself and sign Bernardo de Jesus, thus, as I said to my spouse, Santa Teresa, you are Bernardo de Jesus and I am Jesus de Bernardo. My honor is yours; your honor is Mine. Consider My glory that of your Spouse; I will consider yours, that of My spouse. All Mine is yours, and all yours is Mine. What I am by nature you share by grace. You and I are one!”
(quoted at Jesus in Love from “The Visions of Bernard Francis De Hoyos, S.J.[Image]” by Henri Bechard, S.J.)
Kittredge observes, quite correctly,
While the Catholic church refuses to bless same-sex marriages, the lives and visions of its own saints tell a far different story -- in which Christ the Bridegroom gladly joins himself in marriage with a man.
Michael Bayley at the Wild Reed, who drew my attention to Kittredge's post, thinks that we should declare Bernardo the patron saint of Catholic for Marriage Equality, MN. Why not the patron saint of marriage equality - period?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Harvey Milk

b. May 22, 1930
d. November 27, 1978

Harvey Milk became the first openly gay person to be elected to a significant public office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He served eleven months before he was assassinated.

"The important thing is not that we can live on hope alone, but that life is not worth living without it."
Harvey Milk was a New Yorker who migrated to San Francisco in the 1970's, when an influx of gay immigrants from across the country was changing the Castro neighborhood into the city's gay village. Milk opened a camera store and founded the Castro Valley Association of local merchants. His willingness to represent the interests of local merchants with city government earned him the unofficial title of "the Mayor of Castro Street." Milk discovered that he had a natural flair for politics.
Milk was a political outsider and a populist who made his own rules. From his shop in the Castro, he ran grassroots campaigns based on relentless meetings, door-to-door canvassing, and media interviews. His supporters formed "human billboards" by standing along major thoroughfares holding placards. Milk's first three tries for office were unsuccessful, but they gave him increasing credibility with the electorate.
When Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, a lesbian wrote, "I thank God I have lived long enough to see my kind emerge from the shadows and join the human race."
Milk was shot to death in his City Hall office on Nov. 27, 1978, by Dan White, a conservative anti-gay former supervisor who also murdered Mayor George Moscone. White was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years imprisonment. City-wide violence erupted in San Francisco when White's sentence was announced.
Harvey Milk had forebodings of his assassination. He left a tape-recorded "political will" naming his preferred successor on the Board of Supervisors. On that tape he said: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

Friday, 9 November 2012

Nov 9th: St. Matrona/Babylas of Perge

St Matrona /Babylas of Perge is one of a number of female saints in the early church who dressed as men to be admitted to all-male monasteries. The stories and motives of these women are remote from our time, and 'transvestite' is not to be confused with 'transgendered'. Still, whatever the full historic truth, it seems to me these are useful stories to hold on to as reminders of the important place of the transgendered, and differently gendered, in our midst. Many of us will remember how difficult and challenging was the process of recognising, and then confronting, our identities as lesbian or gay, particularly in the context of a hostile church. However difficult and challenging we may have found the process of honestly confronting our sexual identities, consider how much more challenging must be the process of confronting and negotiating honestly a full gender identity crisis. Their stories collectively also carry a sobering reminder of the differing regard given by society of the time to male and female lives - else why would women have sought out male monasteries, in spite of the risks and discomfort to themselves of their lives in disguise, if not expectation of some greater spiritual reward than in a female convent? 

Our Holy Mother Matrona (492 AD):
She was from Perga in Pamphylia, and married very young, to a youth named Domitian, to whom she bore a daughter. The couple settled in Constantinople. Matrona became so constant in attending all-night vigils in the city's many churches that her husband suspected her of infidelity and forbade her to go out. This was unbearable to Matrona, who fled the house with her daughter. Determined to embrace monastic life, she gave her daughter into the care of a nun named Susanna, disguised herself as a eunuch, and entered the monastery of St Bassian (October 10) under the name of Babylas. Though she amazed all with her zeal and ascetic labors, Bassian one day discerned that she was a woman. Though he reprimanded her severely because of her zeal, he was unwilling to drive her away from monastic life because of her zeal; so he directed her to go to Emesa in Syria to enter a certain women's monastery there.
  Matrona continued to advance in the virtues, and once healed a blind man by anointing his eyes with myrrh from the head of St John the Baptist (which had been miraculously discovered around that time). The miracle became widely-known, and because of it Matrona's husband learned of her whereabouts. When he came to her monastery she escaped to Jerusalem, but he pursued her there too. She fled from place to place, even living for several years in an abandoned pagan temple in Beirut, where she was constantly assaulted by the demons that inhabited the place. In time several pagan women, seeing her struggles, asked to be her disciples, and a small monastic community sprang up in the pagan temple. After a few years she and her disciples made their way back to to Constantinople, where St Bassian received her joyfully and helped her to establish a monastery. There she was visited by the Empress Verina, wife of Leo the Great, and many other noblewomen of the City, some of whom left all to join Matrona in monastic life. Saint Matrona lived to be almost one hundred years old and reposed in peace, having foretold the day of her death. 
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Thursday, 1 November 2012

Nov Ist : All (Gay) Saints

Are there gay saints? Some sources say clearly yes, listing numerous examples. Others dispute the idea, saying either that the examples quoted are not officially recognised, or denying that they were gay because we do not know that they were sexually active. Before discussing specifically LGBT or queer saints, consider a more general question. Who are the “Saints”, and why do we recognise them
?All Saints Albrecht  Dürer
Richard McBrien gives one response, at NCR on-line:
There are many more saints in heaven than the relatively few who have been officially recognized by the church. “For every St. Francis of Assisi or St. Rose of Lima there are thousands of unknown and long forgotten mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, co-workers, nurses, teachers, manual laborers, and other individuals in various kinds of occupations who lived holy lives that were consistent with the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Although each is in eternal glory, none of their names is attached to a liturgical feast, a parish church, a pious society, or any other ecclesiastical institution. The catch-all feast that we celebrate next week is all the recognition they're ever going to receive from the church.” “The church makes saints in order to provide a steady, ever renewable stream of exemplars, or sacraments, of Christ, lest our following of Christ be reduced to some kind of abstract, intellectual exercise.
Two things are important here: the category of saints is far larger than just those who have been recognised by a formal process; and the reason for giving them honour is to provide role models. It is not inherent to the tradition of honouring the saints that they should be miracle workers, or that we should be praying to them for special favours – although three officially attested miracles will help the formal canonization process. This formal process did not even exist in the early church: it was only in the 11th or 12 the century that saint making became the exclusive preserve of the Pope. It now becomes easier to make sense of the gay, lesbian and transvestite saints in Church history, and their importance.
For some, their official recognition is not important – all that counts is their value as role models. If they are widely seen as such, we are entitled to call them so, even without clear canonized status.

Their sexual conduct (celibate or non-celibate) is equally irrelevant to the label “gay.” There are some notable monks and priests who had deep, emotionally intimate love affairs with men but were known to remain celibate. This does not change their orientation, making them gay, any more than a celibate heterosexual is somehow not straight. With that out of the way, it becomes possible to recognise (and welcome)a wide range of lesbigaytrans saints in Christian and Jewish history, from Biblical times to the 21st century. It is important that we do so, to remind ourselves that we have always been a part of the church, that we have not always been rejected by the religious bigots, and that we can live lives of honour and holiness within the truth of who we are.

Some examples to think about:
David and Jonathan: A well-known story of biblical same-sex love. The possible sexual nature of this love is disputed : but this story, and that of Ruth & Naomi, remain the longest love stories told in Scripture
Ruth & Naomi: See above SS Sergius & Bacchus Roman soldiers, lovers and martyrs. These are the best known of the gay saints , and are often regarded as patronal saints by gay Christians.
Felicity & Perpetua. Two Roman women martyred together, they are often named as counterparts to Sergius & Bacchus
St Paulinus of Nola, gay Bishop. Paulinus is well accepted as a recognised Catholic saint, with entries in all the standard Catholic reference books recording his ministry and hsi highly regarded poetry. What these don't tell you, is that some of this was erotic love poetry addressed to his boyfriend.

Some Modern Saints (discussed at "Jesus in Love " blog)

Fr Mychal Judge (NY fire service Catholic chaplain, died in twin towers.)
Matthew Shepard: Modern Gay Martyr (Murdered in hate crime. Now remembered in Mathew Shephard Crimes Bill)

Previous posts (at Queering the Church):

Other Sites:

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

David Morley, Twice Martyred Gay Barman?

Saint Sebastian is unique among the recognized saints of the church for having been martyred not once, but twice. In the modern context, perhaps we can say the same of David "Sinders" Morley. Working and well-known as a gay barman, there is no doubt at all that Morley was openly gay. Living openly, he was bearing witness to the possibility of living honestly and openly as a gay man in London. In 1999, it almost cost him his life - and may have done five years later, in 2004.

On 30th April, 1999, Morley was on duty at the Admiral Duncan pub in London's Old Compton Street when it was hit by a nail bomb attack, which killed three people and wounded about 70 others. Morley was injured, not killed, and ignoring his own burns, he set about helping others who were more seriously wounded as best he could.

Five years later, he was killed in a late night assault, which may have been prompted by homophobia, by a group of teenagers outside Waterloo station.

Religious leaders who rant about the supposed "evils" of same-sex love need to know that this is irresponsible. Such talk promotes hatred, hatred breeds violence.

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Ramon Navarro ( 1899 – 1968), Victim of the Catholic Closet.

Ramon Navarro was once the leading Latin actor in movies after the death of Rudolph Valentino, starring in several major silent films and early talkies, in the late 1920's and early 1930's. He was killed on October 30th by two sex-workers he had hired from an agency,  in attempt to extort from him some of his perceived, but non-existent wealth. I see this tragic death as a sad symbol of the dangers of life in the closet, which had been forced on him by the twin pressures of his conflicts over sexuality and this Catholicism, and the constraints of the Hollywood publicists.

Those of us who are able to live out and proud in spite of the Vatican's disordered sexual teaching, are able to form sound, healthy and adult relationships. Those who live in the closet are forced to live alone in solitude, or in sham marriages - such as the system of lavender marriages imposed by Hollywood on its sex-symbol gay and lesbian stars.   

Some Catholics living alone will attempt to live a strictly celibate life in accordance with Catholic teaching - some may even succeed. Many others straddle an uneasy divide, between attempted celibacy, and sexual encounters in the closet. Especially for older men, sometimes the only feasible outlets are the seedier ones, in public toilets, or with commercial trade.  Both can be dangerous.

Ramon Navarro resisted the Hollywood pressure to enter a Hollywood marriage, and for a time was able to sustain a meaningful, but closeted relationship with his publicist, Herbert Howe, until the latter's death in 1959.

Some years later, in October 1969, he hired two brothers, Paul and Tom Ferguson (aged 22 and 17, respectively), to come to his home for sex.  Mistakenly believing that there was a large sum of money in the house, the two then assaulted and tortured Navarro for some hours, hoping to force him to reveal the whereabouts of the cash. They eventually left with just $20. Navarro died of asphyxiation, having choked on his own blood.

It is probable that what most offends opponents of the "gay lifestyle" is its association in their minds with the kind of anonymous, impersonal sexual activities that take place in public toilets, backroom bars and in commercial transactions. What they fail to observe, is that these are less typical of gay men in open and publicly affirmed partnerships, than of those who remain closeted. 

The best way to reduce the seedier, and more dangerous, elements in gay lives, is to support marriage equality.

Raymond Navarro. Wikipedia
Film Actors, Gay Male, glbtq encyclopedia
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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Allen R Schindler Jr,. Naval Gay Martyr

Radioman Petty Officer Third Class in the United States Navy. On October 27, 1992, he was killed in a public toilet in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan by shipmate Terry M. Helvey, who acted with the aid of an accomplice, Charles Vins, in what Esquire called a "brutal murder". Schindler was gay, and had previously complained to naval authorities of harassment, including death threats in comments such as "There's a faggot on this ship and he should die". Conscious of the dangers to his personal safety, he had begun separation process to leave the Navy, but his superiors insisted he remain on his ship until the process was finished.  The good military man that he was, he obeyed orders, and remained in the Navy, waiting to be discharged. Instead, he was murdered for being gay - a modern gay martyr, killed for not hiding his sexuality.

Prior to the attack, President Bill Clinton had promised to sign an executive order to permit gay service members to serve openly in the military - but did not keep his promise. Perhaps it was encouragement from this suggestion of a change in the military climate that encouraged him to complaint to his chain of command, but if so his action backfired badly. Instead of protection from dismissal, his commanding officer simply threatened him with a dishonourable discharge - and within days, news of the complaint, and with it confirmation that he was indeed gay, was public knowledge all over the ship.

On the day of the attack, Helvey and Vins had purchased (between just two people) two large bottles of whiskey, a bottle of schnapps, a bottle of vodka, orange juice and a six-pack of beer and went drinking in a park, where they saw Schindler, and followed him into a public restroom. In a completely unprovoked attack, Helvey assaulted Schindler with fists and feet, leaving him so badly mutilated that medical evidence described the body as similar in its wounds to those that might be sustained by being stomped on by a horse, or from a high speed car crash, or even in a low speed aircraft accident. The body was so badly mutilated, that Schindler's family were unable to recognize him, except by tattoo marks on his arms.

During the trial Helvey denied that he killed Schindler because he was gay, stating, "I did not attack him because he was homosexual" but evidence presented by Navy investigator, Kennon F. Privette, from the interrogation of Helvey the day after the murder showed otherwise. "He said he hated homosexuals. He was disgusted by them," Privette said. On killing Schindler, Privette quoted Helvey as saying: "I don't regret it. I'd do it again. ... He deserved it."

After his death, the naval authorities that had failed to protect him, continued to behave shamefully, initially denying that they had received any complaints of harassment. They refused to speak publicly about the case or to release the Japanese murder report, and were "less than forthcoming" even to Schindler's mother.

Truth however, will out. Helvey and Vins eventually faced a trial in open court. Helvey received a life sentence for murder, and Vins served a 78-day sentence before receiving a general discharge from the Navy in plea bargain to lesser offences, including failure to report a serious crime and to testify truthfully against Terry Helvey. The captain who kept the incident quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida.

The case was one of the impulses to the passing of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which for all its manifest faults, was initially an attempt to provide some form of protection to gays and lesbians in the military (provided they "didn't tell".

(Also see Kittredge Cherry's reflection at Jesus in Love, and a wonderful painting of The Murder of Allen Schindler by Matthew Wettlaufer)


Allen J Schnidler, Wikipedia,
Allen Schindler, in memoriam, at
Allen R. Schindler, Jr.,Petty Officer Third Class, United States Navy at Matt and Andrej Koymasky's Memorial Hall

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Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam

Erasmus, born on the 27th October 1466, was a Dutch humanist and theologian,  who merits serious consideration by queer people of faith.

Born Gerrit Gerritszoon, he became far better known as Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam: Erasmus was his saint's name, after St. Erasmus of Formiae; Rotterdam, for the place of his birth (although he never lived there after the first few years of early childhood; and "Desiderius" a name he gave himself - "the one who is desired".

Erasmus, the "gay icon"?

Some LGBT activists have hailed Erasmus as a gay icon from history. Circa Club for instance has no doubt, using that precise term and including Erasmus in it's collection of historical gay icons. The primary basis of the claim is a series of passionate love letters he wrote to  a young monk Servatius Roger, and  allegations of improper advances made to the young Thomas Grey, later Marquis of Dorset, while employed as his tutor.
Others are unconvinced, pointing out that the nature of friendship between men, and the form of expressions of affection between them, were very different in Erasmus' day to ours. They also point out that there were never any direct allegations of physical relations with Grey, or with anyone else. This argument largely rests on the assumption that in a time of marked public opposition (and official persecution) of  "sodomy", any suggestion of homosexual intercourse would have provoked strong denunciation and even prosecution. I am not convinced by either side.

Erasmus was certainly not "gay" in any modern sense. The use of the term "gay icon" for any man of the Renaissance period, and particularly for a priest, is clearly anachronistic, and inappropriate. It is also true that expressions of "love" in the letters to Servatius may be no more than expressions of Platonic affection, expressed a little more effusively (but not much more so) than was customary at the time. We cannot say for certain that he was sexually active with men.

But the absence of proof also does not disprove the hypothesis. As a priest, Erasmus was expected to be celibate. There is also no evidence of sexual relations with women, but that does not disprove that he was heterosexual. The claims that the strong climate of opposition to sodomy "would have" resulted in public exposure are also invalid. Over several centuries, thousands of "sodomites" were tried and executed - but the meaning of the term was vague and variable, including everything from "unnatural" (i,e, anal or oral) intercourse between husband and wife, to witchcraft and heresy, to treason. In post-Reformation England, it was even sometimes used interchangeably with "popery", as Catholicism was also viewed as treason against the English monarchy. In fact, many of those convicted may have been the victims simply of malice and grossly unfair criminal procedures, and completely innocent of sexual non-conformity - and very many more who were indeed engaging in homosexual activities were left entirely unhindered.

The matter of Erasmus' sexual activities is at best undecided - and also irrelevant. To focus on "did he or didn't he" is to make the mistake of the homophobes, who are convinced that homoerotic relationships are all about genital sex. It is enough for me to note that whatever the physical relationship may or may not have been, there was a definite, powerful and emotionally intimate relationship between Erasmus and Serviatus.
I also like this quotation, from his "In praise of marriage":
I have no patience with those who say that sexual excitement is shameful and that venereal stimuli have their origin not in nature, but in sin. Nothing is so far from the truth. As if marriage, whose function cannot be fulfilled without these incitements, did not rise above blame. In other living creatures, where do these incitements come from? From nature or from sin? From nature, of course. It must be borne in mind that in the appetites of the body there is very little difference between man and other living creatures. Finally, we defile by our imagination what of its own nature is fair and holy. If we were willing to evaluate things not according to the opinion of the crowd, but according to nature itself, how is it less repulsive to eat, chew, digest, evacuate, and sleep after the fashion of dumb animals, than to enjoy lawful and permitted carnal relations?
-In Praise of Marriage (1519), in Erasmus on Women (1996) Erika Rummel

Erasmus, the scholarly reformer.

It is not his sexuality that most impresses me, but his legacy as a scholar and church reformer. His career spanned the years leading up to, and after, Luther's break with the Catholic Church that became the Protestant Reformation. Prior to the split, Erasmus had himself been fiercely critical of the Church, arguing forcefully for reform of the many and manifold abuses. He had close relationships with Luther and many other leading members of the Reformation movement, which his ideas strongly influenced. However, when the break came, he chose to remain formally inside the church structures, and not outside of it.

LGBT Christians are often attacked by others for remaining inside a religion which is seen as inimical to gay interests, and so to be siding with the enemy of gay liberation, but this is simplistic. Erasmus' response to the reformers was that it was the abuses that needed to be destroyed, not the church itself - an argument that applies equally strongly to the situation today, in respect of sexuality. The restricted, misguided view of sexuality promoted by some claiming the authority of religion, is not inherent in the Christian religion, but has been imposed on it to promote a particular heterosexual agenda. It is this abuse that we must oppose, not Christianity.

In doing so, we should also learn from Erasmus' methods. Among his criticisms of the Church was its heavy dependence on medieval scholastic theology, with its elaborate structure of speculative philosophy. Instead, he went back to the sources, to build his theology on a sounder structure of evidence. Recognizing the inadequacies of the Latin Vulgate bible, he devoted himself to the study of Greek, and eventually published a more reliable Latin translation (which came to replace the Vulgate, with a parallel Greek text), He also wrote a series of treatises on several of the church fathers.

Queer theologians today are doing something similar. Instead of sitting back meekly and accepting the received ideas on the Bible's supposed condemnation of homosexuality, they have gone back to the roots of Biblical scholarship, closely studying the texts in the original Hebrew and Greek, and paying close attention to the full literary analysis and contextual considerations. They have demonstrated the weaknesses of the traditional interpretations, and have earned the concurrence of many heterosexual colleagues. This reassessment of the Biblical evidence has been one of the important factors in the present moves to greater LGBT inclusion in church, as pastors or in rites for recognizing same-sex unions. Other theologians have resisted the received opposition by ignoring scholastic monolith, and going back to the source of the Christian religion - Christ himself, as revealed in the Scriptures. Others again, emphasise the importance of a personal relationship with God, through prayer, in place of unthinking deference to the human authority of clerical oligarchs.

Erasmus, the man in the middle.

In the build-up to the Reformation, Erasmus aimed to avoid taking sides in the split. His thinking was a definite influence on the reformist cause,  and was later accused of having "laid the egg that hatched the Reformation". His response was that he had hoped it would lay a different bird. He worked hard to retain good relationships with both sides and to keep the peace between them, but in the end, his reward was to be viewed with some suspicion and resentment by both sides. By Catholics, for having fostered the reformist thinking in the first place, and by Reformists for having deserted them at the end.

Queer people of faith will sympathise. We too aim to straddle two camps- and are frequently attacked from both sides: by some traditionalists Christians for our supposed sexual sin, and by secular gay activists for siding with the enemy,

May the example of Desiderius Erasmus sustain us in our endeavour.

Bray, AlanThe Friend

Related articles at Queering the Church, and at Queer Saints and Martyrs:

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Jerome Duquesnoy II , Burned October 24th, 1654

On 24th October, 1645, the sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy II was bound to a stake in the Grain Market in the center of Ghent, strangled and burnt. His crime (which he strenuously denied) was sodomy, with two boys, assistants who had been working with him on what should have been his masterpiece , the mausoleum of Antoine Triest, bishop of Ghent.

From a modern perspective, the issue here is that of child abuse, but that is not the way it would have been seen in the 17th century: similar activities with girls of the same age would have passed without comment. The issue then was same-gender sexual activity. The age of his partners was of minor importance - in many similar cases, the boys were also punished for their part in the "crime". In common with thousands of other men between the fourteenth and early nineteenth centuries, he was executed for no other reason than the allegation that his sexual life was directed at his own sex.

Most of these men are known to us only by the sketchiest of details, but with Duquesnoy we know more than with most, thanks to his family background, and his own artistic legacy. His father, also Jerome Duquesnoy, was a notable sculptor, famed today for the statue "Mannekin pis", so beloved of tourists in Brussels. Jerome II, and his brother François , were also sculptors, like their father.

François today has a definite place of his own in art history: his brother Jerome in all likelihood would have done so too. Like his brother, he served an apprenticeship in their father's workshop, and studied alongside François in Rome, under some of the greatest sculptors of the age. Later, he attracted the attention and patronage of powerful figures, including the king of Spain, and the bishop of Ghent, before the accusations and subsequent execution abruptly ended his career.

His reputation as a sculptor was tarnished by the circumstances of his death. In common with the practice of the time, his name was removed from many of his works, and his career literally was forgotten, but he is now re-emerging from the artistic shadows as a result of work by dedicated twentieth-century scholars. :

Infant Hercules
struggling with a serpent
The execution of the Belgian sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy the Younger (1602-1654) must have served as a warning to other artists about the consequences of any "improprieties" in their lifestyles or their works. Although his reputation is today eclipsed by that of his elder brother, François, Jérôme Duquesnoy was widely regarded as a prominent sculptor during his lifetime.

.....Duquesnoy's exuberant and appealing statues of young boys, such as Hercules Fighting with Serpents (ca 1650), attest to his sexual proclivities, which led to his downfall. In the Pietà (ca 1640), he envisioned a beautiful young angel, passionately kissing the arm of a sensual Christ.
Richard B Mann, glbtq encycloedia

...... he produced such famous works asGanymede and the Eagle of Jupiter (ca 1540-1545) andChildren and the Young Faun (ca 1542-1547). Many of Duquesnoy's works depict strong, muscled male figures in the Hellenic tradition, the polished bronze often seeming to mirror the sculptor's innate fondness for the form he was creating.
For centuries after his death, Duquesnoy's reputation was both tarnished and repressed, and it is only recently that his works have enjoyed critical attention. A sculptor of remarkable talent, Duquesnoy's vigorous body of work finally serves to celebrate that talent rather than stand as a reminder of the sad end to a very promising career.
 Michael G. Cornelius, glbtq encycopedia

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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Théodore Beza, Calvinist Theologian and Church Reformer (June 24, 1519 - October 13, 1605)

If Théodore Beza had been Catholic, and honoured as a saint, the October 13th would be regarded as his "die natale", or day of new birth in heaven. He was not Catholic, but a Calvinist pillar of the Reformation, and so definitely not a recognized Catholic saint. He is honoured by Calvinists for his reformist theology, and deserves to be remembered by modern gay and lesbian Catholics as one of us: he had  a male lover, Audebert, at a time when the Swiss Calvinists of Geneva were burning sodomites as enthusiastically as the Inquisition had done earlier in Spain and Italy.
Théodore De Bèsze, born at Vezelay (8 miles west-south-west of Avallon), in Burgundy, settled at Geneva, where he worked with Calvin, and succeeded him in 1564, as head of the reformed church at Geneva, a post he resigned in 1600. He wrote in defence of the burning of Servetus (1554), translated the New Testament into Latin, and presented in 1581 a 5th century Graeco-Latin manuscript of the Gospels and the Acts, the Codex Bezae, to Cambridge university.
His lover was Audebert. He published a collection of Latin poems, a book of amorous verse, Juvenilia (1548), which made him famous, and he was everywhere considered one of the best Latin poets of his time. In a poem in this collection, De sua in Candidam et Audebertum benevolentia he tells he is uncertain if to hug his friend Audebert or his friend Candida... and he concludes he embraces both of them, even though he prefers Audebert.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Saint John Henry Newman?

Blessed John Henry Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI at a Mass in Cofton Park, Birmingham on Sunday 19 September 2010. At the request of the Bishops he has been included in the National Calendar for England on 9 October as an optional memorial.


Newman deserves particular attention from LGBT Catholics for two reasons:

Monday, 8 October 2012

Hildegard of Bingen: Doctor of the Church

With the news that Hildegard of Bingen is one of the two people that Benedict has just named as doctors of the church, I repost below a portion of my post on her, in my series on "Queer Saints and Martyrs".
Hildegard's name is one to be reckoned with. Although today we usually use the term "Renaissance Man" to indicate one with a wide range of learning to his credit, perhaps we should also recognize in a similar way some extraordinary medieval women -such as Hildegard, and others who entered convents and applied themselves with distinction to learning over many fields.

I have known a little (very little) about Hildegard for some time, and have come across suggestions of her possible lesbianism, but have not had enough knowledge to write about her myself. I was delighted then to find that my colleague Kittredge Cherry has done some digging, and produced a wonderful extended post on this great woman.
 We need to be careful though not to confuse this undoubted emotional attachment with a sexual relationship. The medieval church sanctioned and publicly approved many particular friendships between monks, and between nuns. These were not necessarily sexual. Although some undoubtedly were, others equally certainly were fully celibate. Indeed, there is much of value to reflect on in this connection, of relevance to modern gay men and lesbians.
Kittredge Cherry, in the the post I took as my starting point, stated that "Some say she was a lesbian because of her strong emotional attachment to women". Sexuality, and its expression as emotional or sexual attachments, are two distinct issues. In modern terms, it is perfectly possible to be both gay and celibate (as a notable proportion of Catholic priests are), just as it is possible to be heterosexual in orientation, but celibate.
There is a problem here in the use of the word "lesbian", a word, like "gay", which perhaps has inappropriate connotations when applied to earlier historical periods. However, what Kittredge has drawn attention to, and that I see as important, is the undeniable evidence of a powerful emotional (not sexual) attachment to women - and to one in particular.
With her newly elevated status, which draws attention to the enormous but neglected contributions of so many influential women, we also need to take another look at her specifically religious contribution. Sadly, I am unable to do this today - but will return to it later.
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Sunday, 7 October 2012

Sergius & Bacchus, October 7th: Patron Saints of Gay Marriage?

Sergius and Bacchus are by a long way the best known of the so-called gay or lesbian saints - unless we include as "saints" the biblical pairs David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi.  We need to be careful with terminology though: the word "gay" can be misleading, as it certainly cannot be applied with the same connotations as in modern usage, and technically, they are no longer recognised as saints by Western church, as decreed by the Vatican - but they are still honoured by the Orthodox churches, and by many others who choose to ignore the rulings of Vatican bureaucrats. The origins of saint-making lay in recognition by popular acclaim, not on decision by religious officials.

Whatever the quibbles we may have, they remain of great importance to modern queer Christians, both for their story of religious faith and personal devotion, and as potent symbols of how sexual minorities were accepted and welcomed in the earliest days of the Christian community.

They are particularly important in the movement to marriage equality, for their significance in early rites of blessing same-sex unions in church, which may point a way to making a modern provision for something similar without necessarily changing the traditional understanding of church marriage to that between a man and a woman - with its link to child-bearing.

(And, as I have written before, I have a very special personal connection with this pair of early saints and martyrs for the faith. Like so many queer Catholics, it never occurred to me that there could even exist gay or lesbian Catholics until I heard of SS Sergius and Bacchus. Some months after first hearing of them, I read their story in John Boswell, and wondered when was their feast day. I investigated - and found by wonderful serendipity that it was that very day. That began for me a continuing exploration of the other LGBT saints, of the rest of gay history in the churches, of more general gay and lesbian theology - and  this blog. By further serendipity, I discovered this week that today, the feast day of Sergius and Bacchus, is also the birthday of  - Dan Savage, well known for his work to combat homophobic teen bullying.  If Serge and Bacchus may be regarded as patrons saints of gay adults, is Dan Savage a modern patron saint of gay teens?).
A modern icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus by...
A modern icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus by the gay, Franciscan iconographer Robert Lentz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lovers' Story

Sergius and Bacchus were third /fourth century Roman soldiers, and lovers. This alone is worth noting in any discussion of homoerotic relationships and the early Christians: in the Roman world, as in most of the Mediterranean region, such relationships were commonplace. What mattered in questions of sexual ethics and social approval (or otherwise) had little to do with the gender of the partners, but with their respective social status.

They were of high social standing, good enough to have a close personal relationship with the emperor, Tertullian. This provoked jealousy. They were also Christians, which gave their enemies a useful pretext to denounce them to the Emperor. He ordered them to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, which they refused to do. Their refusal provoked the wrath of the emperor, who began to exact a series of penalties, culminating in the sentence of death. The first to be killed was Bacchus, who was flogged to death. Serge was subjected to further torture, before being killed himself. The fifth century "Passion of Sergius and Bacchus" describes many details, and also some supposed miraculous interventions, such as the dead Bacchus appearing to Sergius in a vision, where he admonished his partner for grieving, and promised that they would soon be together again:
Why do you grieve and mourn, brother? If I have been taken away from you in body, I am still with you in the bond of union, chanting and reciting, "I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shall enlarge my heart".  
Boswell makes two points about the trial and passion of Sergius and Bacchus that are especially relevant to their significance for queer Christians: in all the legal and theological arguments over the charges against them, the matter of their relationship was simply not an issue. The complaint was that they had refused to honour pagan gods. Their sexuality was of no consequence at all. Later, when the Greek hagiographer has the dead Bacchus appear to Sergius to comfort him with the prospect of paradise, the greatest joy of the promised afterlife is to be reunited with his male lover. Neither the Roman jurists, nor the fifth century Christian writer who recorded the passion, have anything at all to say against the relationship - and the Christian celebrates the quality and value of their love.

Sergius and Bacchus & Gay Marriage

It is simply historically untrue that marriage has always been between one man and one woman, or that same-sex marriage is a modern invention. Among many counter-examples that easily disprove that belief, is the tradition of liturgical blessings, in church, of same-sex unions as described by the ground-breaking historical work of John Boswell. While these were not in any way an exact counterpart to modern marriage (nor were heterosexual unions from the same period), they do no need to be considered carefully in modern responses in faith to the questions around marriage and family equality. Sergius and Bacchus are significant here, for being mentioned by name in many of the liturgies for these rites that have survived, along with numerous other, less familiar examples of same-sex couples from church history.

There are also surviving texts of ancient and medieval hymns to the couple. Boswell quotes one from the sixth century, which has the opening verse ,
Of Serge and Bacchus,
the pair
filled with grace

let us sing, O ye faithful!
Glory to Him who worketh
through his saints
amazing and wonderful deeds! 
The full hymn is too long to quote here in full, but one verse in particular emphasises the importance of their mutual devotion:
It was not desire for this world
that captivated Serge for Christ,
nor the empty life of worldly affairs
[that captivated] Bacchus;
rather, made one
as brethren
in the bond of love
they called out valiantly to the tyrant,
"See in two bodies
one soul and and heart,
one will and virtue.
Take those that yearn to please God.
Glory to Him who worketh
through his saints
amazing and wonderful deeds!
The words "made brethren" in this verse are a reference to the literal translation of the greek name for the rite, that of "making brothers".  This has been taken by some commentators as disproving Boswell's claim that these rites have any connection to marriage, and are instead simply a joining in spiritual brotherhood. (A claim that Boswell himself anticipated and countered in the text himself).

Whatever the original connotation of the words though, that there was some concept of marriage involved is clearly shown by another hymn from the ninth century, quoted and discussed at "Obscure Classics of Latin Literature", on a page for Carolingian poetry.

Hymn of SS. Sergius and Bacchus

– spuriously attributed to Walahfrid Strabo (c. 808 – 849 CE)
I. O ye heavens, draw up the marriage contract as our voices resound with odes
And let us make manifest the gracious rewards of the Lord.
We who are below shall celebrate the saints with an illustrious hymn
From our very hearts.

II. Holy martyrs shining by virtue of your merits, Sergius and Bacchus,
As partners you wear God's crown, you have transcended
Together the enclosure of the flesh; and now you are
Above the stars.
"O ye heavens, draw up the marriage contract" seems pretty explicit, to me.

Glory to Him who worketh
through his saints
amazing and wonderful deeds!


(At Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry has a fascinating post on depictions of Sergius and Bacchus in art, featuring in particular a wonderful stained glass window of the pair, at St. Martha’s Church in Morton Grove, Illinois. This was donated to the church by its LGBT parishioners, and is believed to be the only representation of them in any United States Church).


Boisvert, Donald: Sanctity And Male Desire: A Gay Reading Of SaintsCatholic Saints Books)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Jordan, Mark: Authorizing Marriage?: Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

O'Neill, Dennis: Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People

O'Sullivan, Andrew: Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con: A Reader

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