Why An Evangelical Tennessee Church Is Backing Gay Marriage: Part 1

In many Christian denominations and local congregations, the rights of same – sex couples to full inclusion in church is gaining acceptance. One recent example is Grace Pointe church, Tennessee. This series of three videos shows the sermon in which Pastor Stan Mitchell announced the decision:

Living Between Emmanuel & Epiphany Part 1 – GracePointe Church from GracePointe Church on Vimeo.

St Aelred of Rievaulx, Abbot and Patron of Same Sex Spiritual Love

St Aelred,  whose feast we celebrate today, is recognised in all sources as an important English saint, who lived in the north of England in the 12 C. As a young man, he joined the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, later returning there as Abbott.  He is remembered especially for his writings on friendship, some of which have led gay writers such as John Boswell to claim him as ‘homosexual’. For instances, Integrity USA, an Anglican LGBT organisation, have designated him as their patron. From the website of Integrity, this Collect for the feast of Aelred:

Continue reading St Aelred of Rievaulx, Abbot and Patron of Same Sex Spiritual Love

Queer Saints and Martyrs for January

Throughout Jewish and Christian history there have undoubtedly been numerous leading churchmen, including popes,cardinals, bishops, abbots and saints who have had sex with men, or protected those who did, or who commissioned frankly homoerotic artworks. Many others, who as priests or monks kept to their vows of celibacy but had notable emotionally intimate relationships with men, or wrote of the value of such relationships, for the spiritual gifts they could bring. It would be wrong to describe these men as “gay”, which has modern connotations which are inappropriate for earlier times, (especially for those who have taken vows of celibacy), or to describe their female counterparts as “lesbian”.

“Queer”, on the other hands, has a broader range of meanings and connotations, including at the most literal level, simply “strange”. In church history, where the place of women has been so often undervalued, it is also appropriate to draw attention to those women in history who contradict the modern marginalisation of women in ecclesiastical power structures, as ordained deacons in the early church, or as powerful abbesses in the Medieval period. In the list below, there is no suggestion that all were involved in same – sex physically erotic relationships (although some may have been). However, all deserve some consideration by LGBT Christians for the lessons we can learn from their lives or writings, about the place of sexual or gender minorities in our history, or about the spiritual value of our relationships.

The origins of the Christian custom of honouring our saints lay in the state sponsored persecution of the early Christians, with recognition given to those who had died for their faith. The word “martyr” has its roots in the Greek for “to bear witness”, and in later centuries, it can be applied in a quite different sense, to men and women who have been persecuted not for their Christian faith, but for attempting to live honestly as gay, lesbian or trans men and women — persecuted not for the Church, but by the Christian community.  In some cases, this persecution has taken the form of actual murder or judicial execution, in others, it has driven individuals to suicide. Continue reading Queer Saints and Martyrs for January

Queer Saints and Martyrs for December

December features a number of notable dates of significance for queer Church history. Unless otherwise stated, all links in the listing below are to my own posts, here at Queer Saints, Sinners and Martyrs, or elsewhere.

Inclusion below does not imply that those named are “gay”, “lesbian”, or “trans”, or even “saints” in any narrow, modern sense – but all deserve attention by LGBT people of faith, for illustrating how sexual and gender minorities have been a constant presence in the life of the Church, at all levels.

An (incomplete) listing for December includes, among others worth considering, the following:

Gay Bishops: Ralph of Tours and John of Orleans

With all the current fuss about the decision of the US Episcopal Church to consecrate openly gay bishops, and the Catholic Church’s declared hostility to gay priests and to gay marriage or even civil unions, we forget that in the older history of the church, it is not gay priests and bishops that are new, or gay marriage, but the opposition to them.  Many medieval and classical scholars have produced abundant evidence of clearly homosexual clergy, bishops, and even saints, and of church recognition of same sex unions.

gay bishops


Gay Bishops in Church History

 One story is particularly striking.  At the close of the 11th Century, Archbishop Ralph of Tours persuaded the King of France to install as Bishop of Orleans a certain John  – who was widely known as Ralph’s gay lover, as he had previously been of Ralph’s brother and predecessor as Bishop of Orleans, of the king himself, and of several other prominent men.   This was strongly opposed by prominent churchmen, on the grounds that John was too young and would be too easily influenced by Ralph.  (Note, please, that the opposition was not based on the grounds of sexuality, or even of promiscuity.)  Ivo of Chartres tried to get Pope Urban II to intervene.  Now, Urban had strong personal reasons, based in ecclesiastical and national politics, to oppose Ralph.  Yet he declined to do so. In spite of well-founded opposition, John was consecrated Bishop of Orleans on March 1, 1098, when he joined two of his own lovers, and numerous  others, in the ranks of openly homosexual Catholic Bishops.

An earlier example was St Paulinus of Nola, whose feast day was celebrated earlier this month.  Paulinus was noted as both bishop and poet: his poetic “epistles” to his friend Faustinus are noted in the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia.  What the CE does not remind us, is that Pulinus ans Faustinus were lovers, and the “epistles” were frankly homoerotic verse, which may be read today in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse.  Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations.  Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives.  Many clearly did not.

In England, there was Bishop Longchamps, the bishop that Richard the Lionheart made Regent. The well-known line on him was that the barons would trust their daughters with him, but not their sons.

Gay Saints in Church History

Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations. Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives. Many clearly did not. Among many examples from Church history, some of the better known are:

Aelred of Rievaulx (probably celibate, but wrote intensely ardent love letters to male friends);

St Patrick (believed to have worked as a prostitute in his youth, and may have taken a male lover in later life);

SS Sergius & Bacchus( Roman soldiers, lovers & martyrs)

St John of the Cross (Well known mystic, whose metaphorical poetry of his love for Christ uses frankly homoerotic imagery)

Cardinal John Henry Newman (soon to be beatified, was so devoted to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, that he insisted on being buried with him in the same grave.)

Same Sex Unions in Church History

The earliest church, in Rome and in the Slavic countries, recognised some forms of same sex union in liturgical rites of  “adelphopoein” .  It is not entirely clear precisely what was the precise meaning of these rites.  They were clearly not directly comparable to modern marriage – but nor were the forms of heterosexual unions at the time.  Some claim that they were no more than a formalised friendship under the name of  “brotherhood” – but many Roman lovers called themselves “brothers”.  Some of the couples united under this rite were certainly homosexual lovers, but it is possible not all were.  What is certain, is that the Church under the Roman Empire, for many years recognised and blessed liturgically some form of union for same sex couples.  As late as the sixteenth century, there is a clear written report of a Portuguese male couple having been married in a church in Rome.

This recognition also extended to death.  From  the earliest church until at least the nineteenth century, there are examples of same sex couples, both male and female, being buried in shared graves, in a manner exactly comparable to the common practice of married couples sharing a grave – and often with the parallel made clear in the inscriptions.

The modern Church likes to claim that in condemning same sex relationships, and resisting gay marriage and gay clergy, it is maintaining a long church tradition.  It is not.  To persist in this claim, in the light of increasing evidence from modern scholars, is simply to promote a highly selective  and hence dishonest reading of history.

See also

and at “Queering the Church“:

From the “Lesbian and Gay Catholic Handbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also available on-line:

 

Burials in Greek Macedonia (Valerie Abrahamsen)


Books:

Benedict IX: The First (Primarily) Gay Pope (r. 1033-1045; 1047-1048)

That Benedict IX had sexual relationships with men seems to be beyond reasonable doubt. In his diatribe against “sodomy” among the Catholic clergy (Liber Gomorrhianus), St. Peter Damian described him as “feasting on immorality” and “a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest”. The modern researcher Lynne Yamaguchi Fletcher, in “The First Gay Pope and Other Records”, rightly called Benedict IX (r. 1033-1045; 1047-1048) “the first pope known to be primarily homosexual.” Benedict’s pontificate, which was known for  homosexual orgies in the Lateran Palace, “turned the Vatican into a male brothel” and was so scandalous that he was deposed, not once but twice.

 Benedict IX (1021–ca. 1052) was the son of the count of Tusculum. He imitated John XII in staging licentious orgies. These and other excesses caused such indignation that Benedict was deposed in 1045, but then reinstated, only to be deposed again. He disappeared into such deep obscurity that his actual date of death is unknown.

Matt & Andrej in their Biographies of LGBT people, quote this description (original source not stated):

At the death of John XIX, his brother Alberic decided to keep the papacy in the family by having his young son Theophylactus elected (October, 1032). Theophylactus, a young man probably about twenty years old, was a cleric. That was about his only qualification for the papacy. Unqualified by his youth, his bringing up, his depravity, Benedict IX became one of the very few really disreputable popes. He was known for homosexual orgies, at the Lateran Palace. The story of Benedict’s pontificate is as unsatisfactory as his life. The Romans rose against him probably about 1036 and drove him from the city. Benedict proceeded to Cremona, where he met Emperor Conrad II and received a promise of protection. By imperial influence Benedict returned to Rome, only to be driven out again in 1044.
This time there was a fight, and Benedict’s supporters grimly clung to a foothold in the Trastevere district. Inside the city, John, bishop of Sabina, was set up as Pope Sylvester III, but Benedict was not idle. He had fled for help to his family’s base at Tusculum and within two months his tough Tusculans fought their way into the city, sent Sylvester III back to his diocese of Sabina, and restored Benedict IX.
Once restored, Benedict did not feel at ease on the papal throne. For some reason, in 1045 he decided to abdicate. As Desiderius, the abbot of Monte Cassino (later Pope Victor III), put it, “Devoted to pleasure, he preferred to live like Epicurus rather than like a pope.” Consequently, he handed over the papacy to the worthy archpriest, John Gratian. Benedict did not go empty-handed. Gratian paid a large sum to get rid of this offensive character. The charms of retirement soon wore thin for Benedict, and a short time after his abdication he was once more claiming to be pope. With Sylvester III and Benedict IX fighting Gregory for the control of Rome, things were in a frightful muddle. This was ended by Henry III, who had succeeded his father Conrad II in 1039. Henry came down into Italy, cooperated with Gregory to get rid of the pretensions of Sylvester and Benedict, and then had a council demand and receive Gregory’s abdication. Henry then put in a German pope–Clement II. Benedict made one more comeback. After the death of Clement II, he once again entered Rome and held sway at the Lateran, but only from November 8, 1047 to July 17, 1048. Henry III insisted on his removal and brusquely ordered Boniface, marquis of Tuscany, to expel Benedict.
What happened to Benedict after this is obscure. According to one report, which it may be hoped is true, Benedict retired to the abbey of Grottaferrata, resigned all claim to the papacy, and spent his last years as a penitent. Scandalous as Benedict had been, he carried on the routine business of the papacy. And like the few other bad men who were popes, Benedict taught nothing but the pure doctrine of Christ, though by so doing he condemned and did not excuse his own disordered life.

Books:
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Same Sex Unions in Church History

One of the delights I find in taking that “bracing walk in history” is the frequent discoveries that what we usually assume to be the “common sense” understanding of modern practices and institutions is nothing of the source, forcing us to rethink what in fact these mean. Two of these examples are of “traditional marriage”, and of priestly celibacy. Both of these I have referred to (separately) before, but never thought of combining them. Now I have come across a source that does consider them together, and presents the remarkable observation:

 

Indeed, the most learned authority on the subject argued forcefully that for the first thousand years Christianity required nuptial blessings only for priests; for the laity, an ecclesiastical ceremony was an honour, only permitted to those being married (to their own class) for the first time.

This statement comes from John Boswell, referring to the work of Korbinian Ritzer, in “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” which I am now rereading. This was one of the first books on homosexuality and the church that I ever read, but I foolishly gave it away some years ago, thinking I would soon replace it – but never did. For a long time now I’ve been feeling the need to read it, and am now delighted finally to have a replacement copy.

In rereading a book, one often gets to see different aspects to those that were apparent on first reading, and so it is here. first, for the perspective that it offers on heterosexual relationships and “marriage” in classical and medieval times, which was so different to our modern conception of what “Traditional” marriage is supposed to have looked like, and also for the aside on the priesthood. Last month I came across a question on the New Zealand blog “Liturgy”, which bothered me, because it looked so simple, but there was no clear answer. The question out by Fr Bosco Peters was simple: It is clear that in the early church ordination was possible for married men, as it is today in the Eastern church, but before the reformation, is there any evidence that priests could marry after ordination? Fr Peters seemed to think that there was no such evidence:

I have been involved in some discussions about this. The contention is that there is no evidence in the Tradition of marriage after ordination. None! There is, according to that position, not a single example of marriage after ordination until the Reformation. I find this an astonishing and fascinating claim. I would be fascinated if any reader could come up with a refutation. Or, of course, references to this being correct.

I would imagine that Boswell’s quotation from Ritzer clearly settles that question: there would be no requirement for priests to marry in church if it were nto permitted fro them to marry at all. But my primary interest in “Same sex Unions” is of course the one that has caused all the fuss.

This book, like its predecessor Christianity Social Tolerance and Homosexuality is justly famous and celebrated among gay historians, activists and Christians for bringing to light a forgotten but important part of our lost history: that for many centuries the Christian Church in the East celebrated, in church, the union of same-sex couples in a liturgical rite. Unlike the earlier book, “Same Sex Unions” has evoked bitter controversy and come under fierce attack for the suggesting that ti might be in any way comparable to conventional, heterosexual marriage. It may have been for this reason that the English scholar Alan Bray was far more cautious in his alter book on the comparable rite in the Western church. Noting that the Western rite was called simply “sworn brotherhood”, (a close equivalent to the Eastern “adelphopoeisis”, which is quite literally “making of brothers”), Bray called his book simply The Friend”, describing it as a discussion on “friendship”.

It is for this reason that I found the opening quotation above striking. Arguments over how far adelphopoesis in the East, or “sworn brothers” in the West, resemble modern marriage are completely misplaced: they should rather be compared with opposite sex relationships at comparable times, which were not necessarily blessed in church, were certainly not seen as sacramental until relatively late, and were most unlikely to have been about love or even friendship, but were essentially civil contracts to protect property and inheritance considerations.

I will leave it to the scholars to dig further into the ongoing controversy over the precise relationships conferred, and the significance of these liturgies for us today. Rather, I appreciate both these books just for reminding us of the indisputable evidence that male same sex couples in close relationships were known throughout the early church, both Eastern and Western, in both fact in in myth. In the East, Sergius & Bacchus (pictured on the cover of Boswell’s book) are the best known, but there are also Polyeuct and Nearchos, and the “two Theodores” (one of them better known to us as St George, of alleged dragon –slaying fame.”). In the Western church, for all Bray’s protestations that the “sworn brothers” signified nothing necessarily more than friendship, he cannot gloss over some key points. while some of the couples he describes were married and may well have had relationships that were not in any way erotic, that certainly does not apply to all. Just among the English kings, Edward II and Piers Gaveston, and later James I and Buckingham, had relationships that are well known were certainly more than simply platonic . Among the lesser known couples he describes, some were buried in shared graves, in a manner exactly comparable to some husbands buried with their wives. Let us also remember that an alternative word for the “sworn” brother was the “wedded” brother, united in a wedding -exactly the same as the word currently used for the celebration of a marriage. Sure, “wedding” then did not mean quite what it does today, but that is precisely the point.

A third gay Catholic medieval historian has a completely different approach to the issue, which I rather like. Blessing Same Sex Unions makes the important point that


At most church weddings, the person presiding over the ritual is not a priest or a pastor, but the wedding planner, followed by the photographer, the florist, and the caterer. And in this day and age, more wedding theology is supplied by Modern Bride magazine or reality television than by any of the Christian treatises on holy matrimony. Indeed, church weddings have strayed long and far from distinctly Christian aspirations. The costumes and gestures might still be right, but the intentions are hardly religious. Why then, asks noted gay commentator Mark D. Jordan, are so many churches vehemently opposed to blessing same-sex unions? In this incisive work, Jordan shows how carefully selected ideals of Christian marriage have come to dominate recent debates over same-sex unions. Opponents of gay marriage, he reveals, too often confuse simplified ideals of matrimony with historical facts. They suppose, for instance, that there has been a stable Christian tradition of marriage across millennia, when in reality Christians have quarrelled among themselves for centuries about even the most basic elements of marital theology, authorizing experiments like polygamy and divorce.

 

-Book Overview from “Google Books”

Calendar for November

November

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    • Edmund?)

Vida Dutton Scudder, American Lesbian Saint for Our Times

Vida Dutton Scudder is a rare example of a modern lesbian who is a recognized Christian saint (recognized by the US Episcopal Church, not the Roman Catholics). Her work and message are particularly relevant to the twentieth century, as we grapple with an economic crisis triggered in effect by corporate and consumer greed.

 Born in 1861, over a long life Scudder was an educator, writer, and welfare activist in the social gospel movement. Much of her thinking has particular relevance to us today, as we grapple with a financial and economic crisis precipitated in effect by a corporate and consumer culture marked by unrestrained greed. Throughout her life Scudder’s primary relationships and support network were women. From 1919 until her death, Scudder was in a relationship with Florence Converse, with whom she lived.

  After earning a BA degree from Smith College in 1894, in 1895 she became one of the first two American women admitted to graduate study at Oxford university. After returning to Boston, Scudder Continue reading Vida Dutton Scudder, American Lesbian Saint for Our Times

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 the 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.

A modern icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus by...

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