Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Peter Gomes: Gay black Harvard minister preached "scandalous gospel"


“The Rev. Peter Gomes, of Plymouth, 1942 – 2011” by Jon Dorn

Peter Gomes was a gay black Baptist minister at Harvard and one of America’s most prominent spiritual voices against intolerance. Gomes reportedly hated being labeled “gay minister,” yet he used his national celebrity to make the religious case for LGBT people. He died one year ago today at age 68 on Feb. 28, 2011.

A man of many contradictions, Gomes became a Democrat in 2007 after decades as a conservative Republican. He even gave the benediction at President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 and preached at the National Cathedral for the inauguration of Reagan’s successor, George Bush.

Gomes (May 22, 1942 - Feb. 28, 2011) was born in Boston to a black African immigrant father and a mother from Boston’s African American upper middle class. He grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, earned a divinity degree at Harvard University, and taught Western civilization at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for two years before returning to work at Harvard in 1970. Four years later he became the first black to hold the historic position of chief minister to Harvard. He held the positions of Pusey minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church and Plummer professor of Christian morals for the rest of his life.

He came out publicly as “a Christian who happens as well to be gay” at a student rally in 1991 after a conservative student magazine at Harvard published a condemnation of homosexuality.  “I now have an unambiguous vocation -- a mission -- to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he later told the Washington Post. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the 'religious case' against gays.”

In his 1996 best-seller, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” he showed how the Bible was misused to defend homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and sexism.

His 2007 book “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?” went on to show that Jesus was a subversive whose radical gospel always overturns the status quo.

Among Gomes’s many admirers is artist Jon Dorn, who drew the portrait at the top of this post. Dorn is a cartoonist, filmmaker, and Master of Fine Arts student at Emerson College in Boston. He also serves on the Plymouth Cultural Council.

Gomes’ blend of scholarship, wisdom and accessibility is expressed in a few selected quotations:

“Hell is being defined by your circumstances, and believing that definition.” -- Peter Gomes

“The question should not be ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, more dangerously, “What would Jesus have me do?’” -- Peter Gomes in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

“To some, the temporal triumph of the Christian community in the world is a sign of God's favor and the essential righteousness of the Christian position. The irony of the matter, though, is that whenever the Christian community gains worldly power, it nearly always loses its capacity to be the critic of the power and influence it so readily brokers.” --Peter J. Gomes in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

“The battle for the Bible, of which homosexuality is the last front, is really the battle for the prevailing culture, of which the Bible itself is a mere trophy and icon. Such a cadre of cultural conservatives would rather defend their ideology in the name of the authority of scripture than concede that their self-serving reading of that scripture might just be wrong, and that both the Bible and the God who inspires it may be more gracious, just and inclusive than they can presently afford to be.” -- Peter Gomes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart

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Books by Peter Gomes include:

The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart
The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?
Sermons: Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living

The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need

Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living

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Related links:

Remembering Peter Gomes: Black, Gay, Baptist Preacher (Queering the Church)

Rev. Peter Gomes: The Accidental Gay Advocate (Irene Monroe at HuffPost)

Gay, Black, Republican, Baptist Preacher, Rev. Peter Gomes, 1942-2011 (Candace Chellew-Hodge at Religion Dispatches)

Rev. Peter J. Gomes Is Dead at 68; A Leading Voice Against Intolerance (New York Times)

Peter Gomes video Would Jesus Support Gay Marriage? (also posted below)



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This post is part of a new effort to add authors and theologians to the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

“Jesus in Love” novels are now e-books too


My “Jesus in Love” novels are available as e-books on Kindle starting this month -- just in time for Lent.

The two novels present a fictional autobiography of a queer Christ. They can still be purchased in paperback format too.

Jesus in Love” covers Christ’s early ministry while “At the Cross,” the sequel, explores the dramatic events of his Last Supper, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. Many people have enjoyed reading “At the Cross” during Lent, the season of reflection leading up to Easter.

“What a delicious treat on the first Sunday of Lent. I have been yearning to feel closer to Jesus, and this book has been a great help,” says says Dennis O’Neill, Catholic priest and author of Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People.

In both of my novels Jesus, the narrator, blends male and female as he does humanity and divinity. The gender-blind, gender-bending Jesus falls in love with people of both sexes -- and with the Holy Spirit -- in these lyrical novels of spiritual and sexual awakening. He has today’s queer sensibilities and psychological sophistication as he lives out the Christian story in first-century Palestine. He transcends gender identity, sexual orientation, and ultimately death itself.

I don’t have my own Kindle ebook reader yet, so I can’t check them out myself. I would love to hear from others about how my books look in ebook format. Let me know if you find any glitches and I will ask my publisher to correct them. Please review the book for Amazon.com too.

The price for Kindles recently dropped as low as $79, so I added the Kindle to my wish list.

Excerpts from “At the Cross” by Kittredge Cherry are available online in a Holy Week series.  The Jesus in Love Blog is offered on Kindle too.
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Related links:

Jesus in Love paperback

Jesus in Love e-book

At the Cross paperback

At the Cross e-book



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: A day to recall queers executed for sodomy

Dutch massacre of sodomites,
detail (Wikimedia Commons)
Today on Ash Wednesday queer martyrs rise from the ashes as we recall the thousands who were executed for homosexuality throughout history.

This is not just a historical issue. The death penalty for homosexuality continues today in 10 countries (Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates).

Christians traditionally put ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance on Ash Wednesday. It is an appropriate time to reflect on the sins of the church and state against queer people, including the burning of “sodomites” and thousands of executions for homosexuality over the past 800 years.

Some of the executions for sodomy were recorded by artists, either long ago or in recent times. This post features images, both new and historical, to remember and honor those whose lives were desecrated and cut short.

The whole sad history of church- or state-sanctioned executions of queer people stretches from the 13th century almost to the present. For the first 1,000 years of church history, Christianity was relatively tolerant of homoerotic relationships.

Then came campaigns of terror that started to use the terms “heresy” and “sodomy” interchangeably.  Eventually hostility began to be directed at same-sex erotic behavior in particular. Terence Weldon of Queering the Church discusses the fateful period when the atrocities began in a well researched overview titled “Lest We Forget: The Ashes of Our Martyrs”:

In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts. Although this penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.

The church contributed to the deaths of thousands for homosexuality over the next 700 years. Witch burning occurred in the same period and claimed the lives of countless lesbian women whose non-conformity was condemned as witchcraft. (Current events in Uganda and elsewhere prove that some are STILL using Christianity to justify the death penalty for homosexuality up to the present day.) As Weldon concludes:

Obviously, the Catholic Church cannot be held directly responsible for the judicial sentences handed down by secular authorities in Protestant countries. It can, however, be held responsible for its part in fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred in the early part of the persecution, using the cloak of religion to provide cover for what was in reality based not on Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but on simple intolerance and greed.

It is important as gay men, lesbians and transgendered that we remember the examples of the many who have in earlier times been honoured by the Church as saints or martyrs for the faith. It is also important that we remember the example of the many thousands who have been martyred by the churches – Catholic and other.

Sodomy is often considered a male issue, but the facts of history make clear that queer women were persecuted under sodomy laws too. The meaning of sodomy has changed a lot over the centuries. The “sin of Sodom” in the Bible was described as arrogance and failure to care for travelers and the poor.

“Catharina Margaretha Linck, executed for sodomy in Halberstadt in 1721” by Elke R. Steiner. Steiner’s work is based on Angela Steidele’s book "In Männerkleidern. Das verwegene Leben der Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Lagrantinus Rosenstengel, hingerichtet 1721." Biographie und Dokumentation. Cologne: Böhlau, 2004. ("In Men's Clothes: The Daring Life of Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Rosenstengel, Executed 1721.")

German artist Elke R. Steiner illustrates the last known execution for lesbianism in Europe. Born in 1694, Catharina Margaretha Linck lived most of her life as a man under the name Anastasius. She was beheaded for sodomy on Nov. 8, 1721 in Halberstadt in present-day Germany. Linck worked at various times as a soldier, textile worker and a wandering prophet with the Pietists. She married a woman in 1717. Her mother-in-law reported her to authorities, who convicted her of sodomy with a "lifeless instrument," wearing men's clothes and multiple baptisms. The subject is grim, but Steiner adds an empowering statement: “But even were I to be done away with, those who are like me would remain.”

“Catharina aka Anastasius Linck” by Ria Brodell

Genderqueer Boston artist Ria Brodell portrays Linck and several other historical women who were killed for sodomy in her “Butch Heroes” series. They include Katherina Hetzeldorfer of Germany, drowned in 1477 for female sodomy, and Lisbetha Olsdotter aka Mats Ersson of Sweden, who was decapitated in 1679 for cross-dressing and other crimes.

“The Shameful End of Bishop Atherton and his Proctor John Childe,” hanged for sodomy in 1641 in Dublin (Wikimedia Commons)

John Atherton, Anglican bishop of Waterford and Lismore, and his lover John Childe were hanged for “buggery” in 1640 in Dublin, Ireland. The bishop was executed under a law that he helped to institute! The picture comes from an anonymous 1641 booklet titled “The Shameful End of Bishop Atherton and his Proctor John Childe.” The title tries to shame and blame the victims, but the shame belongs to the church and society who killed them for who and how they loved.

Balboa executing two-spirit Native Americans for homosexuality in 1513 in Panama -- engraving by Théodore De Bry, 1594 (Wikimedia Commons).  

The Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa found homosexual activity among the Native American chiefs at Quarqua in Panama. He ordered 40 of these two-spirited people thrown to his war dogs to be torn apart and eaten alive to stop the “stinking abomination.” Executions for homosexuality continued during the “Mexican Inquisition,” an extension of the Spanish Inquisition into the New World. In one of the most notorious examples, 14 men were executed by public burning on Nov. 6, 1658 in Mexico City.

The knight of Hohenberg and his servant, accused of sodomy, were executed by burning in Zürich in 1482. (Wikimedia Commons)

The knight of Hohenberg and his servant, accused sodomites, were executed by burning before the walls of Zurich, Switzerland in 1482. Source: Diebold Schilling, Chronik der Burgunderkriege, Schweizer Bilderchronik, Band 3, um 1483 (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek)


Execution of sodomites in Ghent in 1578 -- drawing by Franz Hogenberg (Wikimedia Commons)

Five Catholic monks were burned to death for homosexuality on June 28, 1578, in Ghent, Belguim.


"Timely Punishment..." shows Dutch massacre of sodomites in Amsterdam in 1730-31 (Wikimedia Commons)

A total of 96 gay men were executed for sodomy in the Netherlands years 1730-31.

More recent examples include the Holocaust or "homocaust" of persecution by the Nazis, who sent an estimated 5,000 to 60,000 to concentration camps for homosexuality. Executions on homosexuality charges in Iran continued to make news multiple times since 2011.

Many more die in attacks fueled by religion-based hate, including those killed in the arson fire at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans.

Milder forms of anti-LGBT persecution continue in the church. Now it is common to freeze LGBT people out of church leadership positions. Gay pastor and author Chris Glaser writes about the exclusion from clergy roles as a “fast imposed by others” in the following prayer based on the practice of fasting during Lent, the season of individual and collective repentance and reflection between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

One: Jesus,
     our fast has been imposed by others,
     our wilderness sojourn their choice more than ours.
Many: Our fast from the sacraments,
     our fast from ordination:
     our only choice was honesty.
One: With the scapegoats of the ancient Hebrews,
     sexual sins of generations
     have been heaped upon our backs,
     and we have been sent away,
     excommunicated, into the wilderness to die.
Many: Yet we choose life,
     even in our deprivation
One: Jesus, lead us to discern our call
     parallel to your own:
     rebelling against the boundaries,
     questioning the self-righteous authorities,
     breaking the Sabbath law
     to bring healing.


This prayer comes from “Rite for Lent” by Chris Glaser, published in Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations. Glaser spent 30 years struggling with the Presbyterian Church for the right to ordination as an openly gay man before he was ordained to the ministry in Metropolitan Community Churches in 2005. He writes progressive Christian reflections at chrisglaser.blogspot.com.

Faggots We May Be,” a 2015 poem by Georgia poet S. Alan Fann, makes connections between gay men burned to death, global warming and the Rainbow Christ.

It is horrifying to remember the "burning times," especially for those LGBT people who consider themselves part of the Christian tradition. Let us rise from the ashes with these verses from the Bible:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
[Psalm 51: 10, 17]

Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a you to humble yourself?
Is it to bow down your head like a rush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under you?
Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to God?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily.
[Isaiah 58:5-8]

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Related links:

“Burned for sodomy” (Queering the Church)

Lest We Forget: The Ashes of Our Martyrs (Queering the Church)

The blood-soaked thread (Wild Reed)

List of people executed for homosexuality (Wikipedia)

LGBT Victims (Gay History Wiki)

List of unlawfully killed transgender people (Wikipedia)

Victims of anti-LGBT hate crimes (Wikipedia)

Victims of Hate” gallery on Facebook

Here are the 10 countries where homosexuality may be punished by death (Washington Post, Feb. 24, 2014)

Significant acts of violence against LGBT people (Wikipedia)

BURN BABY BURN: A Knight, a Squire, a Bishop, a Steward, Five RC Monks and Millions of murders initiated by bigots at Church! (Eruptions at the Foot of the Volcano Blog)

The Gay Holocaust (Matt and Andrej Koymasky)

Catharina Margaretha Linck, Executed for Sodomy (Queering the Church)

A History of Homophobia, 3 The Later Roman Empire & The Early Middle Ages (Rictor Norton)

A History of Homophobia, 4 Gay Heretics and Witches" (Rictor Norton)

Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook (Rictor Norton, editor)

“Pilloried” - a poem by Andrew Craig Williams

Queering All Saints and All Souls, Celebrating the Queer Body of Christ by Adam Ackley (Huff Post) (litany also suitable for Ash Wednesday)

Blessing the Dust: A Blessing for Ash Wednesday by Jan Richardson

Iran's New Gay Executions (Daily Beast, 8/12/2014)
"Two men, Abdullah Ghavami Chahzanjiru and Salman Ghanbari Chahzanjiri, were hanged in southern Iran on August 6, possibly for consensual sodomy..."

Four Iranian men due to be hanged for sodomy (Pink News, 5/12/2012)
"Iran court sentenced four men… to death by hanging for sodomy… named ‘Saadat Arefi’, ‘Vahid Akbari’, ‘Javid Akbari’ and ‘Houshmand Akbari.’"

Iran executes three men on homosexuality charges (guardian.com 9/7/2011)

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: We all wear the triangle (Jesus in Love)

Ex-gay movement as genocide (Jesus in Love)

Book: Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton
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This post is part of the LGBT Holidays series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to LGBT and queer people of faith and our allies.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Marcella Althaus-Reid: Queer theology pioneer


For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Marcella Althaus-Reid: Queer theology pioneer

Marcella Althaus-Reid

Marcella Althaus-Reid was a queer theologian whose controversial books include “Indecent Theology” and “The Queer God.” Born in Argentina, she became the first woman appointed to a chair in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 2006. She held that post when she died at age 56 on this date (Feb. 20) in 2009.

Althaus-Reid (May 11, 1952- Feb. 20, 2009) was baptized as a Roman Catholic and grew up in Buenos Aires. She earned her first theological degree there from ISEDET (Instituto Superior Evangelico de Estudios Teologicos), Latin America’s renowned center for studying liberation theology, which emphasizes God’s “preferential option for the poor.”

Next she gained recognition for working on social and community projects in the slums of Buenos Aires. As she continued her studies, Althaus-Reid applied the principles of liberation theology to women and sexual minorities, including LGBT people.

Her first book, “Indecent Theology,” was published in 2000 and established her international reputation as a self-proclaimed “indecent, Latina, bisexual theologian.” The book challenges the sexual oppression behind traditional Christian concepts of decency and introduces theology rooted in the context of people whose sexual freedom has been limited. In 2003 she wrote “The Queer God,” in which she aims to liberate God from the closet of sex-negative Christian thought and embrace God’s role in the lives of LGBTQ people.

According to her obituary in the Herald Scotland, Althaus-Reid was a member of Moderator Nancy Wilson’s advisory theological team in Metropolitan Community Churches and felt at home in MCC’s Edinburgh congregation although she was formally a member of the Quakers and the Church of Scotland.

Her writing style is dense and her books continue to be controversial, even among LGBT people of faith. But nobody denies that Althaus-Reid took risks to raise important issues based on queer life and spirituality.

Her originality and flashes of insight are expressed in the following quotation from “The Queer God”:

“Our task and our joy is to find or simply recognise God sitting amongst us, at any time, in any gay bar or in the home of a camp friend who decorates her living room as a chapel and doesn’t leave her rosary at home when going to a salsa bar.”

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Links to books by or about Marcella Althaus-Reid:

Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender and Politics

The Queer God

From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology

Liberation Theology and Sexuality

Dancing theology in fetish boots: Essays in honour of Marcella Althaus Reid

More books by Marcella Althaus-Reid

La teología indecente: Perversiones teológicas en sexo, género y política

Il Dio queer


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Related links:

"Marcella Althaus-Reid: Saint of a sexually embodied spirituality" by Hugo Córdova Quero (Jesus in Love)

Prof Marcella Althaus-Reid obituary and memorial page: Light a candle or add your own tribute

Remembering Marcella Althaus-Reid, “Indecent theologian” (Queer Saints and Martyrs - And Others)

En La Caminata: Remembering Marcella Althaus-Reid” by Alejandro Escalante (Indecent Theology blog)

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Conservatives protest “Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” for lesbian Virgin Mary

Ad for “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” from Queen City Theatre Company

Conservative Christian protestors couldn’t stop a North Carolina production of “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” a gleefully queer play based on the Bible. Despite protest letters and prayer vigils, the comedy is running through Feb. 18 in Charlotte, NC.

“The implication that the Blessed Virgin Mary is a lesbian is gravely offensive to Catholics and to all Christians,” bishop Peter J. Jugis wrote in a Jan. 31 letter asking the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center to cancel the show. Jugis heads Charlotte’s Roman Catholic diocese.

As a lesbian Christian, I must disagree with the bishop. The play uses witty LGBT-oriented humor to express love and the explore human connection to God. I find it appropriate and even inspiring for a play to suggest that the Virgin Mary was a lesbian.

A long-running off-Broadway hit, “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” was written by Paul Rudnick in 1998. It puts a flamboyantly gay twist on the creation story with two same-sex couples: Adam and Steve -- and Jane and Mabel! They share adventures together through the centuries, including a hilarious time on Noah’s Ark and slavery in Egypt under an effeminate Pharaoh who won’t let them go because of his crush on Moses.

The second act finds the foursome in contemporary New York City on Christmas Eve at a party thrown by Adam and Steve as Jane and Mabel wait for their child to be born. When Mabel gives birth, it echoes Mary’s virgin birth, leading to the accusations of blasphemy.

Rudnick is a gay Jewish American writer whose other credits include Jeffrey and Addams Family Values.

About 100 Charlotte Catholics held a peaceful protest in front of the theater on opening night (Feb. 2). The protest is covered in the news video below. Conservatives plan to continue “Holy Hour of Reparation” prayer vigils in homes and chapels during every performance.

Queen City Theatre Company, producer of the play, defended it in a statement quoted in news reports. They say it will “celebrate love, faith, belief, God, and the right to question why we exist and why are on this earth. This production will not be stopped out of fear or pressure.”

Thank you, Queen City Theatre Company! You are making God more accessible to LGBT people of faith and our allies. The protests only prove how important it is to present this vision of the story that is indeed the most fabulous every told.
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Related links:

Catholics protest 'blasphemous' play (Charlotte Observer)

News video: Playful Twist To Creation Story Brings Wrath Of Charlotte Catholics (Fox Charlotte)

Book: “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” by Paul Rudnick

Lesbian couple portrays Madonna (art by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin)

Lesbian Madonna, lover and son affirm Christmas (art by Becki Jayne Harrelson)

Our Lady & Queer Saints art attacked as blasphemy (art by Alma Lopez)

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Special thanks to the Radical Mary Blog for the news tip!

News video:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saint Valentine: Marriage equality role model


For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Saint Valentine: Marriage equality role model

Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland (Photo by Blackfish, Wikimedia Commons)

Marriage equality has a surprising role model in Saint Valentine, a 3rd-century Roman priest who defied the restrictive marriage laws of his era to bless couples who were forbidden to marry. His feast day is, of course, today -- Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14).

Saint Valentine was not gay, but he put love above the law to perform outlaw marriages in his day. He can be an inspiration for the current movement to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Roman Emperor Claudius II thought that he would get more and better soldiers if men were not allowed to marry, so he issued a decree outlawing marriage. Saint Valentine continued to perform weddings in secret until he was arrested and executed for defying the ban on such marriages. Legend has it that he fell in love with a woman who visited him in prison, sending her a letter that ended “From your Valentine” -- the original prototype for today’s Valentine greeting cards.

Saint Valentine also did weddings for Christian couples at a time when the church was persecuted. Now the tables are turned and conservative Christians are sometimes persecuting LGBT people. They are among the most visible opponents of marriage equality.

But brave clergy are following in the footsteps of St. Valentine. They pioneered the blessing of same-sex relationships long before it was on the secular political agenda and continue to face punishment for defying marriage laws. For example, Troy Perry performed what may be the first modern same-sex wedding in 1969, a year after he founded the LGBT-affirming Metropolitan Community Churches. In a more recent case, lesbian minister Rev. Jane Spahr was censured in 2012 by the Presbyterian Church for marrying 16 same-sex couples during the brief period when such marriages were legal in California.

While Saint Valentine is not known to have performed same-sex weddings, church history does provide powerful examples of same-sex couples to inspire today’s lovers -- whether or not we have the right to marry. Links to some of them are listed below. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Boris and George: United in love and death

Brigid and Darlughdach: Brigid loved her female soulmate


Sergius and Bacchus: Ancient Roman soldiers and gay lovers

Symeon and John: The holy fool and the hermit who loved each other

Wenceslas and Podiven: Good (gay) King Wenceslas

David and Jonathan: Love between men in the Bible

Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis: Mystic who loved women

John Henry Newman and Ambrose St. John:  Did the Pope beatify a gay saint?


Perpetua and Felicity: Friends to the end

Polyeuct and Nearchus: Brothers by affection

Ruth and Naomi: Love between women in the Bible

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Related links:

15 LGBTQ Christian Valentine’s Day gifts, movies and books

St. Valentine: The politics of love, rights and same-sex marriages (Nigerian Voice)

To read this article in Russian, go to:
Святой Валентин и брачное равноправие (nuntiare.org)

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Image credits:

“David and Jonathan” by Ryan Grant Long

"Saints Perpetua and Felicity"by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1996,www.trinitystores.com

“Sts. Sergius and Bacchus” by Plamen Petrov, St. Martha Church, Morton Grove, IL

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Brothers by affection: Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus


For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus: Brothers by affection

Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1995, trinitystores.com

Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus were Roman soldiers in 3rd-century Armenia and “brothers by affection.” They are a prime example of same-sex lovers in the early church. Polyeuct’s feast day is Feb. 13.

The earliest account of Polyeuct’s martyrdom, a 4th-century Armenian biography, says that they were “brothers, not by birth, but by affection” and enjoyed “the closest possible relationship, being both comrades and fellow soldiers.”

St. Polyeuctus (Wikimedia Commons)
Nearchus was Christian, but Polyeuct was not. The men had a strong desire to spend eternity together, so Polyeuct converted from paganism to Christianity, the faith of his beloved Nearchus. With a convert’s zeal he attacked a pagan procession.  He was beheaded for his crime in the year 259 in the western Armenian city of Militene. Shortly before he was executed, he spoke his last words to Nearchus: “Remember our secret vow.” Thus Polyeuct is known as a protector of vows and avenger of broken promises, in addition to his role as a probable “gay saint.”

Yale history professor John Boswell names Polyeuct and Nearchus as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church. (The others are Perpetua and Felicity and Sergius and Bacchus.) The love story of Polyeuct and Nearchus is told with extensive historical detail in two books, “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” by Boswell and “Passionate Holiness” by Dennis O’Neill. He is founder of the Living Circle, the interfaith LGBT spirituality center that commissioned the above icon of the loving same-sex pair.

The icon is by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores.

Polyeuctus and Nearchus by Jim Ru
Artist Jim Ru was also inspired to paint Polyeuct and Nearchus. His version was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.

O’Neill reports that French writer Robert Dartois recently took the story of Polyeuct and Nearchus from “Passionate Holiness” and turned it into a libretto, which was then set by the Swiss composer Thierry Chatelain as the oratorio “Polyeucte et Nearchus.”

There are many variations in the spellings of their names, such as Polyeuctus, Polyeuctes, Polyeuktos and Nearchos and Nearch. Polyeuct’s feast day is Feb.13 in the Catholic calendar, but falls on Jan. 9 in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and Jan. 7 in ancient Armenian calendars. The feast day for Nearchus is April 22.

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Related links:

Saints Polyeuct and Nearchos, 3rd Century Lovers and Martyrs (Queer Saints and Martyrs -- And Others)

Hermanos de afecto: Santos Polieucto y Nearco (Santos Queer)

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

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Icons of Polyeuct and Nearchus and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores


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