Sunday, February 22, 2009

John McNeill's Prophetic Witness to the Churches: Enough of the Denial of Gay Love!

Jesuit theologian John McNeill has long been a hero of mine. When I could not find a vocabulary to name the love I experience as a gay man in a committed relationship, or to claim that love or the grace I experienced in my life and relationship, John McNeill paved the way for me to speak of my experience of love in theological terms. He paved a way for me to claim my love as a gay man love, to welcome my experience of grace as grace.

I suspect that for many Catholics of my generation, as for me, John McNeill's courage in writing about gay love and testifying to the experience of grace in gay lives has been foundational. It has allowed us to respect ourselves in a way that the church as a whole refuses to make possible. Almost singlehandedly in his generation, John McNeill opened up a discursive space within the Catholic church for some of us, at least, to talk about gay love and gay experiences of grace as redemptive, as worth hearing about, as part of the drama of universal salvation.

For this reason, I was delighted to hear from John McNeill lately, and grateful that he drew my attention to a document I hadn't yet read. This is an updated (January 2009) version of an open letter he wrote in November 2000. The first version of the letter was addressed to the U.S. bishops. This version is addressed to Pope Benedict, Cardinals Levada and George, and all the Catholic bishops of the world.

A copy is at the Soulforce website (here). I'm highlighting the following excerpt with permission from John McNeill:

At this point, the ignorance and distortion of homosexuality, and the use of stereotypes and falsehoods in official Church documents, forces us who are gay Catholics to issue the institutional Church a serious warning. Your ignorance of homosexuality can no longer be excused as inculpable; it has become of necessity a deliberate and malicious ignorance. In the name of Catholic gays and lesbians everywhere, we cry out “Enough!”

Enough! Enough of your distortions of Scripture. You continue to claim that a loving homosexual act in a committed relationship is condemned in Scripture, when competent scholars are nearly unanimous in acknowledging that nowhere in Scripture is the problem of sexual acts between two gay men or lesbian women who love each other, ever dealt with, never mind condemned. You must listen to biblical scholars to find out what Scripture truly has to say about homosexual relationships.

Enough! Enough of your efforts to reduce all homosexual acts to expressions of lust, and your refusal to see them as possible expressions of a deep and genuine human love. The second group you must listen to are competent professional psychiatrists and psychotherapists from whom you can learn about the healthy and positive nature of mature gay and lesbian relationships. They will assure you that homosexual orientation is both not chosen and unchangeable and that any ministry promising to change that orientation is a fraud.

Enough! Enough of your efforts through groups like Courage and other ex-gay ministries to lead young gays to internalize self-hatred with the result that they are able to relate to God only as a God of fear, shame and guilt and lose all hope in a God of mercy and love. What is bad psychology has to be bad theology!

Enough! Enough again, of your efforts to foster hatred, violence, discrimination and rejection of us in the human community, as well as disenfranching our human and civil rights. We gay and lesbian Catholics pray daily that the Holy Spirit will lead you into a spirit of repentance. You must publicly accept your share of the blame for gay murders and bashing and so many suicides of young gays and ask forgiveness from God and from the gay community.

Enough, also, of driving us from the home of our mother, the Church, and attempting to deny us the fullness of human intimacy and sexual love. You frequently base that denial by an appeal to the dead letter of the “natural law.” Another group to whom you must listen are the moral theologians who, as a majority, argue that natural law is no longer an adequate basis for dealing with sexual questions. They must be dealt with within the context of interpersonal human relationships.

Above all else, you must enter into dialogue with the gay and lesbian members of the Catholic community. We are the ones living out the human experience of a gay orientation, so we alone can discern directly in our experience what God’s spirit is saying to us.
These powerful words richly deserve a hearing--especially by anyone seeking seriously to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches today. So much hinges, in the final analysis, on love. In the final analysis, everything depends on love. What a pity that the churches today invest so much energy in denying powerful, redemptive love between people of the same sex, in a world starved for love.