For Christians who are still worried about the prospect of LGBT+ people professing to be Christian disciples, here is a living testimony to the lively faith of one such person, who happens to be a practising theologian living and working in religious community.
To listen to Padraig’s story of how he coped with his intrinsic homosexuality, while at the same time, struggling with the Church’s opposition to what he grew to know as God’s provenance for him – and for many other people in the context of experiencing a loving monogamous relationship (whether ‘straight or gay) – helps us to understand that love is at the heart of ALL committed human relationships favoured by God.
To hear of Padraig’s first discovery of the writing of Jesuit Fr. John Mc’Neill in his book ‘Taking a chance on God‘, reminds me of my own discovery of this seminal theological resource for re-orienting one’s understanding of what the Bible might have to say (or not say) about homosexuality – and other sexual differences in the human condition.
I remember my first time reading McNeill’s book ‘The Church and The Homosexual’, which certainly helped me to understand the theological basis for inclusivity of the LGBT+community within the Church.
Father McNeill has helped many Roman Catholics, and others. who have grow up with the idea of binary sexuality as the only way for human beings, to realise that every human being has the right, if they so choose, to exercise their gift of sexual expression – with the same moral and societal discipline as is lawfully enjoined on every member of society. Profligate sexual activity is seen as unseemly for ALL people.
What may be the most important point made by Padraig (Leader of the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland, is that the old ideas of ‘Conversion Therapy’ – or even of exorcism – are not only ineffectual, they actually have no place in any legitimate ‘treatment’ or therapy for people who are intrinsically LGBT+ oriented. Not only can such treatments be ineffectual in their aim, they can be spiritually and emotionally harmful to the ‘patient’. Such treatments are based on the old idea that homosexuality, for instance, is both morally and spiritually disordered – deserving of eradication by either medical, biological, or spiritual means. (When a conscientious Christian seeks – or is recommended to undertake ‘treatment’ – whether conversion therapy or exorcism – they may suffer disorientation, becoming mentally unstable when the desired result does not eventuate in a ‘cure’. Some may even lose their orginal Faith basis).
Of these treatments, perhaps the most dangerous for a Christian believer is the use of ‘exorcism’ – in the belief that homosexuality is a work of the Devil and contrary to God’s will, and therefore needful of penitence and forgiveness from God in order to escape Divine wrath and the fire of Hell. Such understanding harms not only the LGBT+ person subjected to this harsh judgement but also the person(s) delivering such judgement.
Also mentioned by Padraig is the old shibboleth against left-handedness, which is just one more differentiation in the human condition that was long thought to have been ‘unnatural’; a work of the Devil, and therefore deserving of punishment. The word ‘senestre’ (sinister) was for a long time attributed to the left-handed, with every attempt made to alter this natural condition by well meaning parents and teachers. (My own parents, fortunately for me, never considered left-handedness to be unnatural, even encouraging me to think I was specially ‘gifted’).
As left-handedness is no longer thought to be unnatural, needful of correction; so no longer are homosexuality and it’s cognates in the LGBT+ community considered in law – at least in civilised countries – to be either unnatural or deserving of punishment, conversion, or exorcism by the religiously-inclined authorities. In fact, many Western governments have seen the way clear to outlaw what has been called ‘conversion therapy’, which is now regarded by the world’s psychiatric authorities as inhumane, having the potential to rob people of their mental well-being and human dignity.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand