Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Praise of Sunshine Cathedral

I am intensely aware that no one can live a life of faith in isolation. As the poet John Dunne, beautifully expressed it, "No man is an island. Every man is part of the mainland!"

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

any man's death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The essence of true Christian faith is to be part of a loving community of faith. I was forced out of my original community of faith, the Roman Catholic Church, by its homophobia. Then I was expelled from my community of choice, the Society of Jesus, by the present pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, because of my theological writings in defense of GLBT people. I will remain a member of the Catholic community to my dying day. And I will continue to work closely with Dignity, the Catholic GLBT defense group, to bring about reform of the Catholic church.

But in the meantime I found myself hungering and thirsting for a viable support community based in Christian love. As I traveled around the country on my several book tours I found that community within the context of Metropolitan Community Churches, a community of Churches founded by Troy Perry with the purpose of forming communities that expressly included in all the outcasts of other churches, especially the LBGT community.

I first met Troy in Los Angeles on my first book tour with my book, The Church and the Homosexual, in 1976. Troy contacted me at my hotel and invited me to lunch. He offered me his full coopration in my effort to bring about a reform of the Catholic Church and opened up the pulpit of MCC chuches to me. I still have fond memories of my first visit to an MCC church. It was to Elder Jim Mitlski's church. Jim was pastor at the MCC church on Castro Street in San Francisco. Jim had begun his ministry to GLBT people while a graduate student at Columbia by helping me found Dignity in New York City. Jim is presently pastor at New Spirit Church on the campus of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley (where my archives are available). Charlie and I were moved to tears when, for the first time, we saw gay and lesbian couples going to communion in pairs and having their relationship lifted up in prayer by the celebrant.

This was the time when the AIDS crisis was in full bloom. I was profound impressed by folk singer Randa McNamara who sang Pete Seeger's song, "Old Devil Time" with passion.

Old devil time, I'm goin' to fool you now!

Old devil time, you'd like to bring me down!

When I'm feeling low, my lovers gather 'round

And help me rise to fight you one more time!

Old devil fear, you with your icy hands,

Old devil fear, you'd like to freeze me cold!

When I'm sore afraid, my lovers gather 'round

And help me rise to fight you one more time!

Old devil pain, you often pinned me down,

You thought I'd cry, and beg you for the end

But at that very time, my lovers gather 'round

And help me rise to fight you one more time!

Old devil hate, I knew you long ago,

Then I found out the poison in your breath.

Now when we hear your lies, my lovers gather 'round

And help me rise to fight you one more time!

No storm nor fire can ever beat us down,

No wind that blows but carries us further on.

And you who fear, oh lovers, gather 'round

And we can rise and sing it one more time!

(Words and Music by Pete Seeger (1969)) 1969, 1970 by Fall River Music, Inc. & Sigma Productions, Inc.)

I was also greatly impressed by the pastoral work and preaching of Pat Baumgartner at the MCC church in New York City as well as her missonary work in the far east. I was also delighted to be able to do some workshops with Nancy Wilson, Troy's extremely competent successor as Moderator of MCC.

In 2001, health problems made it necessary to leave New York and seek out a home in a warmer climate. Charlie and I came to Fort Lauderdale to see if that was the right place for us. We went on Sunday to services at Sunshine Cathedral. Grant Ford, the pastor at that time, gave us a very warm welcome to the Sunshine community. We instantly fell in love with the Church and our affection has grown stronger over the years.

Presently, under the leadership of Rev. Durrell Watkins, the Cathedral is one of the most aesthetically beautiful churches in South Florida. Close to one thousand parishoners gather every Sunday. The quality of the preaching is extraordinary.

Sunshine Cathedral is like an oasis in the desert. It presents a progressive, positive and practical form of Christianity. The emphasis is not on orthodoxy; people of any faith tradition are welcome. Positively the emphasis at Sunshine is on orthopraxis. The church urges all its members to be the most loving and compassionate people they can be, open to the Holy Spirit, seeking to be imitators of Christ. The spirit of love in the community is palpable. There are outreaches to the poor (Sunshine is the primary source of food for local food pantries). There are prison ministries, ministries to retirement homes, a top rate consulting service for the poor, a daycare center for elderly LBGT people, a prayer ministry, ministry to the sick and those in the hospital.

In an op-ed column in today's New York Times entitled "Many Faiths, One Truth", the Dalai Lama recalled a conversation with Thomas Merton shortly before his untimely death. They agreed that the focus on compassion is a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. This focus on compassion I like to refer to as the Church of the Holy Spirit. The focus on compassion found in Sunshine Cathedral has the potential to open the door to harmony and unified action in all the world's great religious tradition.

The Dalai Lama ends his op-ed with these words:

Harmony among the major faiths has beome an essentual ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers - it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.

I thank God daily for the existence of the community of compassion that exists at Sunshine Cahedral.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

On June 11, during gay pride weekend in Washington D.C., I and two other gay veterans of WWII, Dr Frank Kameny of Washington D.C. and Jack Strouss of Atlanta, will have the honor of placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. We have been invited by Danny Ingram, National President of American Veterans for Gay Rights (AVER) on its twentieth anniversary. This certainly will be one of the greatest honors I have experienced in my long life.

While still 17 years old I enlisted in the army. Aware of my gayness I was proud to serve my country. I did my service as a combat infantryman with General Patton's Third Army, 87th Infantry Division. I went into combat in the Alsace Lorraine. We were the first infantry to penetrate into Germany. After a fierce battle we were surrounded by German tanks and I ended up a kriegsgefangenen, a prisoner of war.

After I was liberated from prison camp, I felt called by God to religious life and in 1948, I entered the Society of Jesus and spent the next fourty years as a Jesuit priest. While doing PHD studies in philosophy at Louvain University in Belgium, I spent my summers as a substitute chaplain with the American armed forces in Germany. I became very aware of scores of gay men serving in the medical corp of the army who provided sensitive and compassionate service to their fellow GIs. But they universally reported living in daily fear that by some accident their gay identity would be revealed and they would face dishonorable discharge.

Once again I felt called by God to bring the message of God's love to my GLBT brothers and sisters. On my return to the United States, I undertook a two year study of homosexuality from psychological, theological and scriptural perspectives. Convinced that the traditional Catholic understanding of homosexual was based on misunderstanding of both scripture and psychology, I published the result of those studies in my book: The Church and the Homosexual in 1976. I helped found the New York City chapter of Dignity, as a spiritual home for Catholic gay men and lesbians. For almost 45 years I have been involved in a ministry of compassion to my gay bothers and sisters. During those years I have published four books on gay maturity and spirituality (Taking a Chance on God (1988), Freedom, Glorious Freedom (1995), Both Feet Firmly Planted In Midair; My Spiritual Journey (1998), Sex As God Intended (2008)).

I am intensely aware that the primary basis for the armed forces policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is the sincere, but ultimately false belief, based on misguided interpretations of scripture, that all homosexual activity is contrary to God's will and, therefore immoral. The homophobic misinterpretation of scripture has been spread by evangelical preachers to Africa. Uganda is planning to pass a law calling for the execution of gay men. And Malawi has just sentenced two gay men who announced their engagement to fourteen years at hard labor. Both nations are under the false illusion that they are acting in conformity with the revealed will of God.

What does scripture have to say about homosexuality? The central message of Christ in the New Testament is God's universal unconditioned love for all humans, whether black or white, gay or straight. Humans with a gay orientation are an integral part of God's creation! Where scripture can be read as condeming gay activity, as in Romans 1, it presupposes that that activity is undertaken by heterosexual men for motives of lust. Wherever sexual activity is between two lovers, there is no condemnation. The prime example of that is to be found in the story in Luke 10 about the Roman Centurian and his "beloved boy". The boy is ill and in danger of death. Because the Centurian loves him, he humbly goes to Jesus to ask for a miracle. The original Greek text refers to the boy as "intimis pais" which was a clear statement of a gay love relation. Subsequent translations hid the implication of a gay love relation by changing the translation to servant or slave. When the Centurian asks Jesus to heal his beloved boy. Jesus asked him to take him to his house.

The Centurian replies with the famous statement: "Lord! I am not worthy that you should enter into my house. Only say the word and my beloved boy will be healed". Jesus exclaims "Greater faith than this I have not found in all Isreal. Go! your beloved boy is healed!" At every Catholic mass at communion time we repeat these words of the gay Centurian: "Lord! I am not worthy that you should enter into my soul Only say the word and my soul will be healed!"

Recently, while I was at the Veteran's clinic in Hollywood, Florida, the effort to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell was being reported on television in the waiting room. A veteran spontaneously offered this opinion: "If it was up to me and we were charging up a hill together with those guys (openly gay soldiers), it wouldn't be the bullets coming from in front of them that they would have to worry about!! Ha! Ha! Ha!" Should this man's homophobia, and others like him, control the policy of the armed forces?

By repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell we have a God given opportunity to liberate not only our gay servicemen from unjust prejudice, but also we would set a model for the liberation of LGBT people from persecution everywhere in the world.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI on Gay Marriage

On his recent pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI used the occasion to announce that he thought the greatest threat to the human race, apart from abortion, was gay marriage! To my knowledge no mention was made of the nuclear arms race; no mention of the destruction of the environment; no mention of disease, poverty and starvation which afflict the vast majority of humanity; no mention of the decrease in respect for the sacred value of the human person which has led to a remarkable increase in genocide, violence, murder, torture and enslavement. Which leads me to wonder what alternate universe the Pope lives in; what alternate reality is he dealing with?

In the past, many LGBT people bought into the religious message that their gayness was sinful and, if they expressed it, they would "suffer the pains of hell." So they had no alternative except to suppress their gay orientation and try to hide it by entering into a heterosexual marriage. The primary cause of divorce in Church courts was the homosexual orientation of one or the other partner which the Church recognized as adequate grounds for invalidating marriage vows.

But with the growth of LGBT spiritual movements over the past several decades (Dignity, Integrity, MCC, Acceptance, etc.) most gay Christians now see their gayness not as a curse but as a gift from God. Freed by the Holy Spirit from self hatred, they want to form loving committments to each other within the institution of marriage and many want to adopt children and raise them in a loving alternate family union.

This is what the Pope thinks is the most lethal threat to human civilization. On the contrary, I have argued in my blog: Gay Marriage: God's Gift To Humanity, the exact opposite is the truth. Gay marriage creates a new paradigm for marriage which will enormously strengthen the insitution.

Jesus Christ's message of equality and love has been contaminated by the institutions of patriarchy, male privilege, and the repression of the feminine. The time has come for the Church to cleanse itself and throw off these aberrations. Gay spiritual groups, I believe, are leading the way for the whole Church to bring about this transformation. The primary example of this liberation can be found in gay marriage.

The traditional paradigm for heterosexual marriage in Western civilzation has been the patriarchal model. This model had two essential elements. The first element was the belief in male superiority and female inferiority. Under this model, one bought a wife and she became the property of her husband. Over a century ago the philosopher Hegel made the point that where ever inequality existed between married partners, the fullnes of human love can not exist. In fact, marriage was considered a legal contract but not a sacrament for the first 13 centuries of Christian civilization.

In line with today's development of women's liberation, most women see themselves as the equal of males and refuse to accept the role of submission and obedience. Any effort on the part of the male to impose this role leads to anger. And anger is the best anti-aphrodisiac going. Marriage based on the patriarchal model is in serious trouble. Over half of all marriages end in divorce and that number is growing. Providentially, God's spirit has given us a new model for human marriage, the model contained in gay marriage .

In gay marriage both parties see themselves as equal, no superior and no inferior. The fullness of human love can only exist in partners who see themselves as equal. So gay marriage opens up the possibility of a happier and more fulfilling human love and one closer to the biblical ideal.

But there is a second and, potentially, more serious defect in the patriarchal model of marriage. Every human psyche has both masculine and feminine attributes. Both parties following the patriarchal model must accept only those aspects of their psyche that accord with their gender identity. Males, for example, should only accept the masculine dimension of their psyche amd suppress the feminine, which they then must project out onto their female partner. Women, in turn, must suppress everything masculine in their psyche and project out the masculine on their husband. Many psychically healthier women today, who are more in touch with both their masculine and feminine dimensions, and see themselves as whole persons, increasingly are unwilling to play the role of being mediators of the feminine emotional, spiritual and compassionate needs of men. They want a man who is a total human person in himself! They are demanding, and rightly so, that we men get in touch with our feminine dimension.

Many men, in turn, are coming into touch with both the masculine and feminine dimensions of themselves and refusing to play the role of being the mediator of the masculine needs of women for assertiveness and autonomy. It is this shift in consciousness that has caused the enormous amount of breakdown and divorce when heterosexuals try, with the Church's encouragment. to follow the traditional patterns of male dominance and female submission and refuse to recognize the equality of the sexes. Both genders are being called on to develop the fullness of their own humanity, so that they can approach each other as complete, independent persons and not remain essentially dependent on the other gender for their completion.

Once again gay marriage models a relationship based on both partners being totally in touch with both the masculine and feminine dimensions of their psyche and being able to call on both roles. The result is a more human and fulfilling love relationship between the partners. Human sexual love is always a love between two unique human persons. Animal love is based on gender. The bull does not care which cow he mounts. But human love is directed towards the uniqueness of the person... I love this unique women or man and no other will do. Catholic teaching tends to equate human sex with animal sex, basing it on gender difference and not on the uniqueness of the human person. Gay marriage then, rather than being a threat to the family, opens up a new paradigm for a fuller, more human and fulfilling love between the partners.

Which brings us back to the question : Why is Pope Benecict XVI so consistently over the top with his homophobia and so out of touch with the reality of the LGBT world? He was willing, at least unconsciously, to destroy the celibate gay priesthood by forbiding gay men the right to ordination. The only explanation I can reach to understand the ferociousness of Benedict's attack on the LGBT community is that unconsciously he is a self-hating gay man who projects out his fear and loathing on the gay community at large!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Time and Eternity

As I grow older the theme of this series of blogs on the relation of time to eternity takes on more urgent significance. This question has always been a facinating one for me over the past 84 years. I hope my readers will come on this journey with me into this deeply metphysical and theological journey!


From the perspective of a philosophy and theology of freedom, humans not only necessarily seek to free themselves from the determinisms of the past by means of projecting ideal goals for the future; humans are also necessarily driven to try to escape time altogether. However, the empirical scientist as such can only comprehend the human within time; the type of functional material interconnection which he studies is temporal of its very essence. Since science of its very nature is future-oriented, it tends to view the present and the thing in the present as merely a functional moment in a drive toward the future. As a result, many theorists of biological, psychological, and social self-creation do not express much concern for the individual now living, but tend to see him or her merely as the raw material for projects to be realized in the future.

One theorist, Gerald Feinberg, in The Prometheus Project, sees the essential flaw in the human condition as “man's conscious awareness of his own finitude.”[Doubleday, 1968,p.43) Feinberg locates that essential flaw in the fact that man is "beset by the specter of impending death, which always threatens to put an end to all our thinking and doing." Consequently, Feinberg proposes to overcome that flaw by proceeding to a radical reconstruction of the human. He evidently believes that the techniques will soon be available by which humans could be kept indefinitely alive, e.g., by the conquest of aging, replacement of worn-out parts, creation of intelligent machines and their association with organic systems, etc. Of interest here is the assumption that the human's necessary drive toward immortal existence can somehow be fulfilled by granting him or her an unlimited future. However, humans experiences time itself as the very essence of their finitude and the primary negation of their value and meaning.

The past never really exists in the present, and precisely in so far as humans are caught into the determinisms of the past, they experience themselves as nonexistent. So too the future never really exists, and in so far as a human is caught up into an endless future, he or she would be involved in a living death. The objective concept of the present is that fleeting moment between the non-being of the past and future which, like the geometrician's point, has itself no dimension. In denying humans a true present, the scientist denies them a true existence. Even those future generations, when their time comes, must relativize themselves to their future.

In fact, the myth of the human denied the blessing of death is the myth of a hellish entrapment within time from which the tormented one begs for deliverance.

Not only is the scientist caught by reason of his methodology into the tyranny of time, but even the Christian ethician sometimes falls victim to that same tyranny.Joseph Fletcher in his book Situational Ethics, for example, grants the Christian principle that love is the only absolute in the ethical order; but he defines love not as a way of being but as a style of doing. The loving thing to do is “that which does the greatest good for the greatest number.” Thus, the only question to be asked concerning the moral quality of any action is what future good will come of it. All values, then, are referred to the future. There is no understanding of the expression of love as a value in itself in the present situation. Christian love is reduced to a form of pragmatism, "a calculating process"; we must carefully figure out in every choice what will produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Love, then, is understood in such a way that it has no value for the here-and-now, and any concept of love as a vital bond uniting human beings in the present is discarded. It follows that life can have no value in the present moment apart from its relation to the future.

The moral message of the New Testament, however, was a message of liberation from the tyranny of time. The new freedom announced to the children of God was the freedom to be able to live in the present moment fully through a life of love. The person of faith can be liberated from the past with its determinism and guilt. The person of hope can be liberated from anxiety concerning the future: prudent concern, yes; anxiety, no. Without faith or hope a human is necessarily dispersed over time, a victim of the tyranny of time. He or she has no present moment. And since the past and the future never really exist, to the extent that he or she has no present moment, they have no real existence. There is more than a mere semantic connection between the words “present” and “presence”; the human of faith and hope is the human who is capable of entering into the presence of his or her fellow human beings in the present moment in order to establish in its fullness the bond of love. The results of such an ability are precisely those forms of human relationship and community based not on rules or laws or functional interrelations but in vital, meaningful human bonds.

It is important to note that the present moment is only meaningful in itself in so far as one can encounter something that is truly of absolute value, something that is end-in-itself in that present moment. As Peter Berger points out in his book: Rumors of Angels (New York: Doubleday, 1965), there are certain forms of human behavior which give humans the experience of transcending their finitude in time, and therefore give humans an extraordinary sense of fulfillment. Among them are the aesthetic experience, the experience of play, and the experience of love. In each of these experiences what is being done now is experienced as totally meaningful in itself, not just related in a functional way to something else in the future. For the present moment to have value for me, I must be able to encounter something as end-in-itself in that moment. Human love has its necessary foundation and a priori condition in the value of every individual as end-in-him/herself. And love represents the only absolute in Christian ethics because only in the activity of loving is there a real encounter with the living reality of the one true absolute, God. "If any man loves, he knows God, because God is love."

From a theological perspective Rahner makes an important distinction between man's religious anticipations toward an absolute, eschatological future outside of time, and his anticipation of a this-worldly historical future to be achieved by planning and autocreation. As Karl Rahner said “Man's absolute future, given into his hands by God, does not aim at what can be planned and made of the manifold possibilities of the world. That absolute future surpasses, censors and deprives our historical future of any appearance of absoluteness.” Consequently, all human planning, all active self-fulfillment, is embraced by a future which is not subject to our purposes. The absolute future arrives in its fullness only in the act of dying, which is the only route to the fullness of life; and the only ultimate escape from the finitude of time is through the nothingness of death.

The tendency to view particular and general judgment as two separate events seems valid only within the phenomenal dimension of time. If, as Augustine suggests, after death we shall know God as God knows Himself and all else through God, the moment of the individual’s death and particular judgment must be seen as identical with the end of time, the individual’s entry into the absolute future is identical with the collective end of humanity’s historical future.

From a Christian faith perspective at the moment of death humans step out of time into the eternal now of eternity. From the viwpoint of eternity all of time from the creation to the final judgment are equally present. So from that perspectice both the paraticular judgemnt of the individual person and the general judgment of the whole of humanity are simultaneous.

Although in time there is a radical discontinuity between human's absolute and historical future, there is nonetheless a definite positive relation between them. Unfortunately, all too often religious believers have moved from a radical dichotomy of flesh and spirit to a radical dichotomy between humanity's historical and absolute future. This dichotomy finds its expression in the popular understanding of the theological distinction between particular and general judgment. The believer is inclined to view this distinction exclusively from within time, with the result that he sees particular judgment as a purely spiritual judgment on his individual soul in isolation from the flesh of human history. Even if the believer accepts the idea of a material resurrection at the end of time in the general judgment, he or she is inclined to see it as icing on the cake, in no way substantially related to his or her beatitude. The traditional theological concept of a general judgment was that humans are to be judged in their totality, body and soul, in the context of the totality of human history. In general judgment the absolute future and the historical future coincide. However, the believer is frequently disposed to see the building of humanity's historical future as merely an interim occupation.

In the Christian perspective it has always been understood that there can be no radical separation of love of God from love of neighbor. But what is being understood in a new way is that the love of neighbor is no longer achievable exclusively in intentions or merely in the sphere of private interpersonal relationships. Humans must achieve higher forms of socialization, of social and political unity. And the historical struggle to achieve these forms represents a “necessary mediation by which man is to open himself, through action and suffering, to the absolute future.” The unity of humankind as such can no longer remain an idea but must become a reality incarnated in the social and political institutions of our world. humans are under an obligation to create in time the concrete context in which active love of humankind is to be realized.

Pedro ArupĂ©, the former general of the Society of Jesus made these comments on his approaching death: "I look forward to death with great anticipation.  The moment of death will be my last great amen to this life and my first great alleluia for all eternity. Death will throw me into the arms of my lover!"  Amen, Pedro, and Alleluia!