Now that most of November has passed, it has become clear that this month was eventful for many religious gay men and women. During this month alone, the struggle for acceptance within certain traditions came to the forefront as more of a battle of antiquities as opposed to a battle of improprieties. Three newsworthy events occurred over the last month. Not surprisingly, as a result of Pope Benedict’s confusing dialogue, the manner with which the Church in America should treat gay Catholics became the banner topic for this year’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting in Baltimore, MD. In the Middle East, gay Israelis pushed to march through the streets of Jerusalem so they could proudly proclaim that they, too, are strong in their Jewish faith. In Washington, D.C., the shattering Episcopal church of America took another progressive step in recognizing humanity as a whole when the first female presiding bishop, a well-known advocate for gay rights and a vocal supporter of gay bishop, Gene Robinson, was installed to much fanfare and an equal amount of derision.

The USCCB

When the USCCB convened their meeting earlier in the month, hope was high in the Catholic gay community that the Church’s view of gay Catholics would sway in favor of establishing a more accepting tone in their dictates language. Yet again, though, the Church preferred to remain static on the issue of gay acceptance within the American Catholic Church. What came of the meeting was neither welcoming nor clarifying. Rather, the meeting seemed to produce even more negative feelings between both groups. At its very base, the USCCB put forth the following (taken from The Washington Post):

The document says it’s not a sin to be attracted to someone of the same gender – only to act on those feelings. The bishops also state that children of gay Catholics can undergo baptism and receive other sacraments in most cases if they are being raised in the faith.

Still, under the guidelines, parishes must instruct gays to remain celibate. The bishops are also discouraging gays from making “general public self-disclosures” within their churches about their sexual orientation.

From what I understand, basically gays can have feelings towards another person of the same sex, but cannot act upon it. This is nothing new except that the bishops wanted to emphasize that gays can join the congregation in Mass, but, of course, not participate in the Eucharist. In addition, they cannot openly tell anyone in their church community of their dirty, dark secret. Also, if this unprofessed gay person manages to have a healthy relationship and has a child (presumably adopted or from a previous straight relationship), the child can be raised in the church. Does it seem fair to accept the child of a gay relationship all the while teaching this child that his/her Christian morality concerning his/her parents run contrary to how the child most likely feels? Is it right to accept these children in the church only to tell them that their parent/parents are “disordered”?

A common adage about the Catholic Church is that it is hundreds of years behind modernity. This is true, and is celebrated by most of the Church’s hierarchy. What this lag in modernity lends to, though, is dehumanization. This has happened time and again in the varied dark spots in Christian history. Granted, this is an issue with institutional religion whether Christian, Islamic, Hindu, etc. but Christianity has a rather pock-marked road map of dehumanizing acts toward those who approach humanity with intellectualism, with factual science, or with blatant common sense as opposed to running in alignment with the Church for the sake of doing so. The Church, of course, now is not burning gays at stakes or is even excommunicating gays for the most part. Although the USCCB has stated they are making strident attempts at being more welcoming to gays in their congregations, the newest language seems much more exclusionary as opposed to inclusive. Many gay Catholics who have commented since the meeting have stated that not only are they more confused concerning the stance against them, but they also feel even more left out. The often clouded language of the Church as well as the Bible itself, which does not explicitly address homosexuality in the least (whether out of denial, ignorance, or fear), serves a dual purpose in that it requires no clear explanation but it also alleviates pressure from the institutional Church from truly addressing the following Biblical passages in the context of gay Christians:

And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.(Genesis 1:27)

and

All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets.(Matthew 7:12)

and

A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.(John 13:34-35)

Jerusalem

Allow me to preface this portion of my story by saying that I am nowhere near an expert on Judaism or on Israel or on the politics and deeper theological significance of Jersualem. With that being said, though, I did find it interesting that gay Jews are also having a difficult time assimilating themselves in one of their foremost places for worship. Jerusalem, the single hottest bed for religious bickering, was to host a significant gathering of gay Israelis and their pride march. Pride marches have come and gone as newsworthy items as we straight people either become more accepting or, at the least, used to the idea that gay people are a part of our every day lives. Jerusalem, however, is filled with Orthodox Jews who, to no one’s surprise, took high offense to the idea that there are proud gay Israelis and practicing Jews. From Time Magazine:

The fuss over the Gay Pride Parade also exposed some of the seismic cracks inside Israeli society, where modern, secular values collide with fiercely defended religious traditions. The sharp Tel Aviv-Jerusalem rivalry illustrates this divide. Tel Aviv prides itself on its hip nightclubs and a laid-back, cosmopolitan attitude, while an hour’s drive away, in some Jerusalem neighborhoods, ultra-orthodox men re-create the customs of 17th century Poland and wear long, black waistcoats and beaver hats that make them broil in the Mediterranean sun.

Making up half of the Holy City’s Jewish residents, the ultra-Orthodox ride their own buses, send their kids to religious schools and have the power to close off their neighborhoods to cars on the Sabbath. Any Tel Aviv visitor wandering into these austere communities in shorts and a T-shirt on the Sabbath runs the risk of getting clobbered by a rock.

Even Jerusalem’s gays are more subdued than Tel Aviv’s. Organizer Canetti says she asked Tel Aviv’s participants to tone down their sexy costumes. “We’re not having floats or naked men flashing their asses,” she says. “We just want to tell people, hey, we’re here. We have a right to exist.”

It seems interesting to me that, again, what we face is orthodoxy versus modernity in this clash of cultures within a culture. Although the parade fizzled into a small rally, there are definite signs that movements are being made toward positive ends for gay Israelis.

The Episcopal Presiding Bishop

Having lost some touch with the Episcopal news over the last year or so, I was pleasantly surprised this month when a local Detroit news station displayed the following headline: New Episcopal Bishop Says Homosexuality No Sin. I thought, simply, “Well, that’s not news.” The problem is, though, is that it is news and that is shameful.

The newly elected leader of the Episcopal church, U.S.A., Katharine Jefferts Schori, has taken the helm at a notably discordant time. With the Episcopal church in tatters over such matters as, again, orthodoxy and the idea that a gay man, Gene Robinson, can perform the duties required of a bishop. Although the row over Bishop Robinson began in 2003, the crack that it caused has spread like a broken windshield. Various churches have seceded and joined the more traditional Anglican dioceses in other parts of the world. However, as the issue of Bishop Robinson has transformed into an argument of orthodoxy, a woman and firm supporter of Bishop Robinson was elected into the prestigious position of Presiding Bishop in America. There is no doubt that she is more than qualified. From The Guardian:

Jefferts Schori is not one of the Anglican communion’s insiders or a veteran of the church’s international circuit. She has never met the Archbishop of Canterbury and has only once been to London, 30 years ago. She is indeed an unusual sort of Anglican bishop. Born into a Catholic family, she was educated by nuns at a convent school until, when she was nine, her parents started attending Episcopalian services instead. At university, she read biology, then specialised in oceanography, gaining a doctorate for her work on the evolution of the squids and octopuses of the north-eastern Pacific.

She was not even a regular churchgoer until a close friend died in a plane crash. As her interest in religion developed, she chose the Episcopalian church. “I like its focus on the incarnation, its rich and broad theological understanding and its liturgy lifts and feeds me,” she explains. “There are not many other kinds of experiences of Christianity having that kind of breadth.”

In the mid-1980s, church members encouraged her to become a priest; she discussed it but it was felt the time was not right. Five years later, after being asked by a new rector to preach a sermon at the time of the first Gulf war, she tried again. She was ordained in 1994, and seven years later became bishop of Nevada. Her background is chiefly as an academic theologian – she has never been the rector of a parish church. “I come with different experiences and leadership skills,” she says briskly. “I think the bishops who elected me recognised that I was not a token candidate.”

The Episcopal church seems to be heading in the right direction, even though it is leaving a scar as it moves. To understand the language of love and acceptance espoused by Christ is to act it out, especially to those who have been at length outcasts. Bishop Jefferts Schori is taking the bold and correct steps in measuring intellectual consideration and theological approach. When asked specifically about gay people in general, she answered in this manner, “I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us…Some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of the other gender” (from Theology Website).

It’s refreshing to not only see a woman in a position of religious power, but also a woman who truly sees the human factor of Christianity and religion as a whole.