“The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” by Fra Angelico, 1428-30, Wikimedia Commons
LGBT saints are important because people are searching for alternative ways to lead loving lives. Churches have tried to control people by burying queer history. The LGBT saints show us not only THEIR place in history, but also OUR place -- because we are all saints who are meant to embody love. We can tap into the energy of our ancestors in faith. For some they become friends and helpers, working miracles as simple as a reminding us that “you are not alone.”
On All Saints Day, I offer reflections on what I have learned by writing more than 40 profiles in the LGBT Saints Series over the past two years. This is my queer theology of sainthood.
At first I thought that LGBT saints were rare. Gradually I came to see that they are everywhere throughout all time and they are among us now. We have all met saints in our lives. They are ordinary people who are also extraordinary.
|Sergius and Bacchus|
by Robert Lentz
One of the greatest challenges has been to figure out who is a “saint” and who is “LGBT.” If the boundaries of sainthood are slippery, then the definition LGBT is even more fluid.
Most mainstream churches would not canonize any saints who were openly LGBT, so we must claim our own saints. It’s important to re-evaluate familiar figures as well as to recover those who have been lost and recognize the saints of our own time.
Traditional stories of the saints tend to be overly pious, presenting idealized super-heroes who seem distant and irrelevant. Saints have been used to get people to passively accept oppressive situations. Too often the saints have been put on a pedestal to glorify virginity and masochistic suffering. The emphasis on miracles disrespects nature, the ongoing miracle of life. Feminists have criticized saints as tools of the dominant morality, but for me the opposite is true: LGBT saints can shake up the status quo. We can restore the complex reality of saints whose lives are being hijacked by the hagiographies and hierarchy to enforce the status quo. Queer saints can help reclaim the wholeness, connecting sexuality and spirituality for the good of all.
|Perpetua and Felicity|
by Robert Lentz
I was aware of new research and art about LGBT saints, so I was shocked to discover that it was not easily available online. Largely due to the church’s crackdown on LGBT spirituality, much of it was buried under obscure code names like “images that challenge” -- if it was available on the Internet at all.
As an independent blogger, I am free to put LGBT saints out there where more people can find and benefit from them. I decided to uncover and highlight holy heroes and role models to inspire LGBT people of faith and our allies. The positive response quickly affirmed that people are hungry to connect with queer people of faith who have gone before.
What is a saint?My definition of who qualifies as a “LGBT saint” continues to expand. First I included saints officially canonized by the church, but I soon discovered that many have achieved “sainthood” by popular acclaim. The church didn’t even have a formal canonization process for its first 1,000 years. Ultimately all believers, living and dead, can be called “saints,” a practice that began in the early church. Yes, we are all saints!
Dictionaries define a saint as “a holy person” or “an extremely virtuous person.” I rather like the concept of sainthood that emerged in comments on this blog during a discussion of the post “Artist shows sensuous gay saints.” Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras wrote: “My definition of saint has absolutely nothing to do with what the hierarchical church defines, and everything to do with the quality of love displayed.” Or, as gay author Toby Johnson commented, “Being a saint means creating more love in the world.”
|Joan of Arc|
by Robert Lentz
Whether or not they died as martyrs, the lives of the saints were indeed difficult. Our lives are difficult too -- and that can become a point of connection. Like today’s LGBT Christians, the saints sometimes faced opposition from within the church. Some martyrs, including cross-dresser Joan of Arc, were killed not FOR the church, but BY the church!
What is LGBT?Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer did not exist as categories throughout most of the history in which the saints lived. A convenient way around this dilemma is to say that LGBT saints are those of special interest to LGBT people and our allies.
by Robert Lentz
Let us be inspired by the LGBT saints who surround us as a “great cloud of witnesses” and commit ourselves to our own queer paths toward sainthood.
Update on Nov. 12, 2011:
I have expanded on the ideas presented here by writing theological reflections based on feminist and queer theology at the following two blogs:
Feminism and Religion Blog: Feminism leads to a queer theology of sainthood
99 Brattle (Episcopal Divinity School blog): A queer theology of sainthood emerges
LGBT Saints list at JesusInLove.org
Who are the "Queer Saints and Martyrs"? by Terence Weldon (Queering the Church)
LGBT-friendly memorial for All Saints, All Souls and Day of the Dead
An All Hallows' Eve Vigil to Begin Transgender Awareness Month by H. Adam Ackley (Huff Post)
LGBT litany of the saints: Harvey Milk, pray for us; Joan of Arc, pray for us... by Rachel Waltz
Santos Queer (LGBT Saints by Kittredge Cherry in Spanish / en español)
A Litany of All the Saints by James Kiefer
TrinityStores.com (innovative icons, including some LGBT saints)
Sanctity And Male Desire: A Gay Reading Of Saints by Donald Boisvert
Spitting at Dragons: Towards a Feminist Theology of Sainthood by Elizabeth Stuart
Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People by Dennis O’Neill
Special thanks to CJ, Sage, Terence, Dennis, Liz, Trudie and Toby for comments and conversation that helped me develop this queer theology of sainthood.