The following material is the final installment of an article originally published in 'The Furrow', a theological journal from Ireland, earlier this month. As the full article is reasonably long, I've taken the liberty of separating it into smaller segments. The author is Owen O'Sullivan and the original title was "On Including Gays".
Are homosexuals showing church and society a way forward?
There is a long history in the Christian community of the stone which the builders rejected becoming the corner stone, the ‘sinners’ being preferred - as in the Gospel - to the holy huddle of the mutually approving who follow the official line.
Forty years ago, in Ireland as in other countries, homosexuality was a subject that ‘decent people’ didn’t talk about. But homosexuals found the honesty and courage to come out, to declare themselves, and to share their thoughts and feelings, often in the face of derision, hatred, violence or the threat of hell. They began to organize, to challenge the system, and to go political. They have brought about a 180 degree turn in public attitudes, exemplified by the Civil Partnerships Bill now going through the Oireachtas (legislature), something unimaginable forty years ago. Would that the church had so re-invented itself in the same forty years! Maybe the missing ingredients were the same: honesty, courage, openness, dialogue, challenging the status quo.
One finds a similar process at work among the ‘Anonymouses’ – alcoholics, gamblers, narcotics- and sex-addicts. They are at the bottom of the heap. By coming out, facing the truth, revealing their feelings, supporting and challenging each other, they have built communities which reflect what the church is meant to be – but often isn’t. Leadership is from the bottom up, the despised and rejected at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid showing the way to the wise and learned at the top.
And recently we have seen how it was the suffering of the most helpless in society – children – which eventually led to the exposure of much of what was rotten in the church.
Will homosexuals help us to re-discover new/old ways of doing theology and developing pastoral practice, where human experience is the starting point? That has happened already with other teachings that didn’t tally with human experience or meet human needs. Will they help us to read scripture with one eye on the page and the other on life? They are equally parts of one process. Perhaps they will show us that human experience is as valuable as scripture, as Saint Ignatius Loyola, for one, affirmed. ‘The word became flesh…’ (John 1.14) - God still speaks.
Perhaps, too, homosexuals are showing men a way forward out of self-imposed isolation, out of individualism built on machismo, and a way of dealing with personal issues such as men’s identity, men’s spirituality, addictions, domestic violence against men, male suicide, how abortion affects men, bereavement, paternity and parenting, access to and custody of children in a separation, and care of one’s health. The issues are different, but the qualities needed to face them are those that homosexuals developed in recent times.
Some of what the Scriptures say.
A few quotations: -
‘God saw all that he had made and indeed it was very good.’ (Genesis 1.31)
‘God does not see as people see; people look at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7)
‘Anyone who is not against us is for us’. (Mark 9.38-40; Luke 9.49-50)
‘Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’ (Luke 12.57)
‘Whoever comes to me, I shall not turn away’. (John 6.37)
‘God has no favourites.’ (Romans 2.11)
‘We belong to each other.’ (Romans 12.5)
‘Each must be left free to hold his own opinion.’ (Romans 14.5)
‘You should never pass judgment on another or treat them with contempt.’ (Romans 14.10)
‘Do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil.’ (Romans 14.16)
‘Your bodies are members making up the body of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 6.15)
‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’ (1 Corinthians 15.10. See also 12.18-21, 26)
‘Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God.’ (2 Corinthians 6.19)
‘You are, all of you, children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.26-28)
‘We are what God made us’. (Ephesians 2.10)
‘Everything God has created is good.’ (1 Timothy 4.4)
The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of ‘the whole church in which everyone is a “first-born” and a citizen of heaven.’ (12.23)
Or read 1 John 4.7-21.
For those who don’t like the above, the great consolation is that it’s all God’s fault. Why? For creating in diversity instead of uniformity, as we see all around us in - guess where? - nature, for making some people different from others. Or did God make a mistake?
Owen O’Sullivan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org