God is not homophobic: An Anglican Contribution to Overcoming Homophobia
Date added: 25/04/2017
MISSION THEOLOGY IN THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION (MTAC)
Brazil National Conference – Recife
24-27 April 2017
God Is Not Homophobic:
An Anglican Contribution to Overcoming Homophobia
Rev Inamar Corrêa de Souza[i]
The Anglican Public Theology of Inclusion
Anglican Public Theology is under construction. Theological reflection always has a public character since the church presents its vision of reality in the light of the Gospel, affecting the lives of human beings in society and the public policies of society as a whole. In each generation, churches and other religious traditions are called to do theology, to re-establish the balance of power in human relationships, overcoming vulnerabilities. One of the most effective ways to overcome discrimination and prejudice is to start from a theological reflection on a truly diaconal service, based on caring for the victims of society in order to transform all those involved in this process.
Liberation Theology made public the voice of poor and marginalized people, silenced by the dominant theologies in Latin America and Brazil. New fronts of theological reflection emerged at the end of the twentieth century. “New social movements emerged in search of their spaces, such as ecofeminism, black movement, inclusion of people with disabilities and LGBT movement. Liberation Theology could no longer respond to so many new demands from individuals and groups seeking for visibility and recognition of their citizenship in the public space of our society”, according to the Anglican theologian Bianca Daebs. Public Theology emerges in the context of Latin America, with a more comprehensive hermeneutic in view of the particularities of this diverse society.
While the 20th century has been marked by the struggle for women's rights, still not fully achieved with the development of Feminist Theology, the 21st century has been marked by the discussion and struggle for human rights, more specifically of people with minority sexual orientation.
The Theology of Inclusion is the fruit of the development of Liberation Theology and Feminist Theology in Latin America and Brazil. The term “Inclusion Theology” emerges in the face of the vulnerabilities of today's world, based on the experience of decades of empowerment of marginalized and poor people, of struggles to overcome violence against women, and is currently working to overcome gender violence, also called homophobia, lesbophobia or transphobia. It arises in defense of the rights of LGBT people in Brazilian society, also known as Queer Theology.[ii]
The Anglican Public Theology of Inclusion is developing through pastoral experience with vulnerable people in every diocese and missionary district of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil - IEAB. It is accompanied by ecumenical experience to concretely overcome the reality of violence in Brazil against sexual minorities, today identified with LGBT people. Jesus preached love and understanding to every creature, always fostering in the Anglican communities the inclusion of social minorities.
In Anglican theological reflection, the Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson develops the image of an "all-vulnerable" God, in solidarity with people excluded from society. This image has served as support for the inclusiveness of all people in the life of the church, as well as in society in his book “In the Eye of the Storm: swept to the centre by God.”[iii] The Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu also defends in his sermons a genuinely Anglican theology of inclusiveness, where all are called to love, refusing to believe in a homophobic God.[iv]
Some Brazilian Anglican theologians have also developed the Theology of Inclusion in their articles on human sexuality. The Anglican Bishop Dr. Humberto Maiztégui Gonçalves proposes a new biblical approach oriented to pastoral counselling and Christian living today in his article “A theological-anthropological approach to sexuality in the Bible”,[v] explaining a model based on the Song of Songs, dealing with eroticism and ethical-loving companionship, far beyond the traditional models, allowing for the possibility of a relationship between two people who love each other, opening the way to a homoerotic relation. He also develops a theological argument of inclusion in earlier Christian communities in the article “Theology of Inclusion in Acts of the Apostles 15, 1-35”[vi]. The joy of people who were excluded in earlier communities opens new ways to overcome new challenges.
The Anglican Bishop Sumio Takatsu in his article “Homosexualism in the Anglicanism”[vii] says that the Anglican Communion is enriched with the presence of LGBT people, but they are not ordained in some provinces due to theological and cultural backgrounds. They are considered a vulnerable group in our midst.
The Revd. Mario Ribas[viii] prepared a sermon for the final Eucharist Service at the II Anglican Consultation on Human Sexuality, in Rio de Janeiro, in 2002, on “Abraham and Sara: called to be a proactive couple”. God calls people to be proactive for human kind, not only procreative.
IEAB House of Bishops in Brazil has published Pastoral Letters on the theme of Human Sexuality, promoting dialogue about the subject. This demonstrates pastoral care of vulnerable people. They also speak about other themes on Public Theology, that is publicised on “IEAB News Service” website.[ix]
In Anglican Public Theology, theological reflection is a dialogue with science and culture in the face of today's social, political and economic challenges, in the struggle for the establishment of egalitarian rights, in the establishment of public policies that contemplate the diversity of human and family life in our time.
Religion as an Instrument of Elimination of the Most Vulnerable
Religion has been a constant source of social, cultural, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation discrimination, contributing to a culture of violence among human beings. The greatest challenge facing churches seeking to follow the Gospel of Christ has been to overcome all forms of discrimination against the most vulnerable people in every generation. The result of this enterprise is the recognition of the existential vulnerability which affects every human being, encouraging a more just society.
Gene Robinson, internationally known for being homosexual, reflects on the reality of religion that condemns people, especially young LGBT people in their society. With sincere repentance he asserts that religion, when accompanied by total rejection of homosexuality, plays a crucial role in the wave of adolescent suicides.[JAB1] [x]
In Brazil, adolescents and young people are trying to survive in our society, adopting a homosexual lifestyle.[JAB2] They are trying to find out who they are, trying to outline [?] their actions despite the confused feelings of that age, trying to intuit [discern?] the purpose for which God created them. They need no judgment, no messages of condemnation, loneliness, isolation, or a life of despair. They need models of healthy relationships. Nevertheless, young people have frequently been persecuted, beaten, driven to suicide or killed.
On the one hand, conservative religious people are spewing all kinds of venom and condemnation, in the name of a loving God; classifying same-sex attraction as impure and unnatural; declaring the possibility of cure; and designating the same sex unions as morally repugnant and against the law and nature of God. Gay children in conservative denominations grow up hearing day and night that they are abominations before God, undergoing a tragic process of self-pity and self-alienation, causing pain and deep emotional scars.
On the other hand, the more progressive denominations remain silent[JAB3] in the face of these tragedies. Silence equals the death sentence for the young.
Tolerance regarding the different ways people live their sexuality is not enough to redeem the use of religion as an instrument of death. The solution is to defend and support people living in sexual diversity,[JAB4] since it is a matter of life and death. It is imperative to respond to the call of faith and to be proactive in ecclesiastical life, including fighting for public policies to combat gender violence.
Religion as a Rescue off Human Dignity
Some progressive religious groups have been advocates for LGBT people. The Episcopal Church in the USA took the lead in the debate in the Anglican Communion on behalf of the full inclusion of LGBT people in the election of gay priests to be consecrated bishops.[JAB5] Also in the discussion of same-gender unions, suffering sanctions from other Anglican provinces[JAB6] as a consequence.
IEAB recognizes that gender relations permeate all levels of society and reach all hierarchical levels of the church, and are often based on abuse of power over one another. Many initiatives have emerged to build so-called therapeutic communities within Anglican parishes and missions[JAB7] , and also ecumenically, where healthy relationships can be grounded and built.[JAB8] The work begins with the change of ecclesiastical policies and pastoral programs at all levels.[JAB9] The work must advance to develop and strengthen public policies that facilitate life in society.
The Anglican principle of unity in diversity makes it clear that no one should consider him/herself superior to anyone else, for the Christian does not have the right to reject someone who has been accepted by God. In Anglican Theology, one perceives the concern in teaching that the coexistence between the different people is possible.[JAB10] Personal relationships cannot be harmed by different ways of thinking and acting, nor can you condemn another person simply because you think differently or act differently from others. There is room for the acceptance of others, for reflectiing together, for change of thought and reality. Anglican Theology provides room for rescuing the dignity of the LGBT person, within the understanding of the dignity of every human person.[JAB11]
The Experience of Divine Vulnerability as a Starting Point
Many twentieth-century theologians have developed a theology of divine vulnerability as opposed to the classical concept of divine omnipotence,[JAB12] based on new methods of biblical hermeneutics, the historical-critical approach,[JAB13] the new challenges to human acceptance in a postmodern world. They seek a common understanding of a suffering God in Jesus Christ, participant in the sufferings of the world, as a way of expressing His love for all creation.
In this twenty-first century, when many people remain barred from the possibility of salvation by traditional theology and biblical fundamentalism,[JAB14] we find the strengthening of the theology of divine vulnerability a way of overcoming human exclusions, reflecting how a God who suffers with the suffering of anyone of His creatures would be more accessible to the contemporary human being. Increasingly contemporary biblical hermeneutics attempts to deal with current human conflicts, finding ways of overcoming differences, especially in the area of human sexuality.
The Anglican Communion around the world has spent a lot of time and energy, providing workshops and theological discussions, about the barrier that separates lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people from the larger community of Christians. The current discussion revolves around arguments about the divine acceptance or condemnation of these LGBT people, whether or not they have a role to play in the life and orderly leadership of the church. Within the Anglican Church this happens because in recent years many people have publicly assumed their homosexuality and continued to attend their Anglican parishes, leading to the recognition that this is a theme within the community agenda. "They," LGBT people, became "us," leading the church to face the situation.
The Anglican Church decided to speak on the subject, combining pastoral practice with theological reflection because of the existence of these people in the life of the church, starting from the path travelled by their families, then seeking acceptance in the church.
The theological and pastoral task cannot be abandoned by contemporary theologians because of the seriousness of the situation of vulnerability,[JAB15] since in assuming LGBT lifestyle part of the adolescents and young people have become a homeless population, expelled from their homes by their family.[JAB16]
Someone who declares himself or herself as homosexual puts himself or herself in a very vulnerable situation, not knowing the extent to which their relationships will be affected. Friendships can be destroyed, sons and daughters can be expelled from home by their parents, and children can reject their parents. However, this liberating act of self-revelation makes a true human relationship possible.[JAB17] This self-revelation builds a much deeper understanding of who? God would be [is?], since God also reveals Himself.
While in some countries homosexuality is a crime, subject to imprisonment, life imprisonment, or death penalty, in other countries there is a growing struggle to include the human rights of LGBT people.
Contemporary biblical hermeneutics could account for the current human conflicts, facing sexism and homophobia. It could account for the current expressions in the area of human sexuality, especially of people of minority sexual orientation, proposing a different look at the biblical accounts.[JAB18] Understanding God not only as immortal, invisible and uniquely full of wisdom, but as an intentionally vulnerable God.[JAB19]
According to Gene Robinson, radical divine vulnerability is the key to understanding an important subject such as human sexuality. Divine vulnerability is inherent in the creation of the world, and in the incarnation of God in Jesus, consisting of a key to unlocking the intrinsic power in human sexuality. He says: "The physical and spiritual union between two people reflects the relationship that God wants with humanity."[JAB20] [xi] Humans relating and delighting mirror God's pleasure with creation. The practice of committed sexual intercourse is a kind of sacramental love, opening a window to the heart of God. Sexual intercourse is the most vulnerable space in which to experience the joys and challenges of vulnerability. People give themselves entirely to each other. The risks of vulnerability are very great in a human relationship, even more relationships without commitment.[JAB21] He[JAB22] affirms sexual abstinence as a form of self-love and love of neighbour, meaning that sexual practice outside of a committed and safe relationship poses a great risk to the human being, especially in these times of AIDS. This does not mean that the sexual act is restricted to matrimony, or to heterosexual relationships, but it is an act of extreme donation and mutual edification. It offers[JAB23] three criteria for a healthy sexual relationship: equality, authenticity and appropriate vulnerability.
God is all love. This is the fundamental belief of all people of faith. Whatever human thought about God, or understanding about the meaning of human life, the foundation is in love. He who does not love does not know God. This deep understanding of God opens the way to an understanding of the experience of people now condemned for wanting to dedicate themselves to the act of loving[JAB24] and loving their fellow man. For Robinson, a fundamental truth is that God believes in love.
The Necessary Statement that God is not Homophobic
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu defends a genuinely Anglican theology of inclusiveness, refusing to believe in a homophobic God. God could not create a homosexual human being and then declare that s/he hates him/her for what s/he is. For the Nobel Peace Prize, human exclusion never constitutes a path to justice and freedom, so in God's family there are never enemies or outsiders, all are included, every human life is precious. It defends the construction of a society free because tolerant, where each person is recognized and accepted for what [or who?] they are. Tutu added, in an interview in Cape Town in 2003: "I would not want to go to a homophobic sky. I would apologize to God and say that I would like to go somewhere else."[JAB25]
In his sermon at the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches - WCC in Porto Alegre in 2006, he stated: "God has no enemies. God loves whites and blacks, the beautiful and the ugly, men and women, gays, lesbians and straight people..." [xii] God welcomes everyone within His loving embrace.[JAB26]
Diaconia to the Most Vulnerable
There are several pastoral initiatives of welcome and receptivity in the Anglican communities in Brazil, such as the pastoral of diversity.[JAB27] They work in a multidisciplinary way, fostering changes in church life and social changes.
It is an Anglican ministry that proclaims the Gospel through actions that promote inclusion, justice and peace, with respect for the dignity of all people. They publicize religious and civil society initiatives for human rights. They combat sexism and homophobia. They fight against religious fundamentalism. They defend women, children, indigenous and LGBT people. They fight for egalitarian marriage at IEAB. They hold lectures, film shows with debate, marches, celebrations for the inclusion of all people, in a wide spread in social networks.
This is an initiative of the Anglican Parish of the Holy Trinity, in Rio de Janeiro, which soon reached the wider diocese, and today it consists of a virtual network with dozens of parishes throughout Brazil.[JAB29]
Holy Trinity Anglican Parish Choir, in São Paulo, brings together male voices to emphasize diversity in the church. They rehearse on Saturday afternoons in the parish. It is part of Integrity Pastoral Committee in the Anglican Diocese of Sao Paulo.[JAB30] They open the parish to receive people with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation. LGBT people from the community are welcome to worship services, community activities and service to others.
Many seek the community in order to find a safe space to practice their Christian faith and spirituality[JAB31] without being constrained, or having their sexual orientation exposed. They receive people from various churches in which they could not be respected as sons and daughters of God. God accepts them as they are and the church accepts them as well.
ANGLICAN DIACONIA AND DEVELOPMENT SERVICE - SADD
SADD[JAB32] [xiii]mapped out the diaconic initiatives at IEAB. It promotes the debate on human development and gives visibility to actions in this area being carried out at IEAB. The objective has been the support and the capacity-building of leadership for a more efficient action in communities, parishes and dioceses. In partnership with Christian Aid, it has published articles on diaconia in the Anglican Church, and organized the National Consultation on Human Rights.[JAB33]
SADD has published 2 booklets on overcoming sexism and homophobia:
- “Social and Political Diaconia of the IEAB for Prevention and Confrontation of Domestic Violence against Women.” [xiv]
- “Gender, Sexuality and Rights[JAB34] ”[xv]
RIO AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA
The Anglican Diocese of Rio de Janeiro - DARJ is part of the official program[JAB35] of the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro with the creation of the Secretariat of Diffuse Rights, called Rio Against Homophobia, for overcoming homophobia, lesbophobia and transphobia. It supports LGBT people at risk, addresses issues of religious intolerance, and proposes public policies to be approved and implemented.[JAB36] They meet regularly to identify cases of discrimination and to suggest to regional government to implement public policies in the region of Rio de Janeiro. They also follow the orientation of federal government and decide how to implement in the state.
In Brazil, besides overcoming homophobia it is necessary to promote civil rights to LGBT population. The Anglican church can help because of its experience of listening to LGBT people who are integrated in church communities. When the real voices are listened, government can help more effectively.
There is a plead for recognising the “Social Name”, that is, the name by which transvestite and transsexual women wish to be called and recognised on a daily basis (until they apply for a definitive name change) in contrast to the officially registered name that does not reflect their real and constructed image.[JAB37]
There’s also a gender identity law proposal, in order to enable transexual people to modify their civil documents so that the Brazilian state recognizes their de facto identities, without having to stand before a judge. This process would be simpler, requiring a mere notary’s office visit.
In Brazil, several states have started recognizing same-sex unions as common-law marriages. In 2011, the Supreme Court decided that such unions could, and should, be regarded as common-law marriages, in a binding decision that applied to all states. After states started allowing such unions to be converted to full civil marriages, the National Council of Justice passed a binding decision in 2012, allowing all notary offices to perform civil marriages among people of the same gender.[JAB38]
Anglican Theology Under Construction
Each person is a citizen in the society where he or she lives; each person [JAB39] may also be influenced by the evils of that society, sometimes adopting practices of discrimination or some kind of violence, usually violence against women and against LGBT people.
The churches may also reproduce in their midst the trivialization of evil and the violence of one against the other. The main task of the church is to be a promoter of justice and peace.[JAB40] This goal is being achieved by the search for a new biblical hermeneutics that takes into account the most vulnerable in history.[JAB41] Jesus Christ revealed God's way of being and following in his is steps of familiarity with all the little ones leads the church to fulfil the part entrusted to it in this mission.
The way out for faith communities in today's world to confront God's alienation has been the discovery of a vulnerable and accessible God to human suffering. By giving time to listen to the stories of suffering in the world, stories of people's vulnerability, the church can find answers to the current challenges.
In contemporary theology Anglican communities are able to offer guidelines for new forms of human coexistence, based on mutual love.[JAB42] As the stories of people who have gone through suffering and exclusion are known and welcomed, the human mind can free itself from prejudices, leaving to live with different people. The stories of others become part of personal history and part of the history of certain communities.
Anglican people can contribute to build a living church, less hierarchical and discriminatory.[JAB43] Even non-LGBT people can identify with the struggle of this minority group and defend their full human rights. The true character of a genuinely Christian person is to suffer while there is still someone suffering in the world.[JAB44] True joy, fullness of life will only exist on the day when God will be all in all, will be one in Jesus healing all wounds, according to John 17.
The church can change in every century, without abandoning the safeguard of the faith entrusted to it. The path of change will be the sure foundation in the revelation of God in Christ, preserving the past, tradition, theology, liturgy, ecclesiology, and Christian spirituality. Without forgetting the living tradition that it represents, incorporating new challenges to each generation, new theological approaches, new paradigms, with the main mission to make people happy and fulfilled by participating united in this way of salvation.
No one can determine who God loves and whom he does not love. However much theologians try to reach a conclusion, their capacity is limited. All research papers are insufficient. All efforts to reflect are insufficient. God is greater. The theological task is limited by our own human conditioning. After all, everyone matters to God. There will always be something more prepared by God for us and for future generations.
Anglican Theology has much to contribute to the life in society in Brazil, because its theologians are willing to listen to the voices of the crowds and the voice of God.[JAB45]
[i] BA in Theology, National Seminary of IEAB (STIEAB) and the Superior School of Theology and Franciscan Spirituality (ESTEF). Priest in the Anglican Diocese of Rio de Janeiro; Vicar of All Saints Parish in Niterói; member of the ecumenical movement in Niterói.
[ii] DE SOUZA, Inamar Corrêa. A Vulnerabilidade divina no contexto de pessoas vulneráveis: uma abordagem teológico-bíblica, anglicana, inclusiva e feminista. Porto Alegre: ESTEF, 2014.
[iii] ROBINSON, Gene. In the eye of the storm. Swept to the center by God. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2008.
[iv] TUTU, Desmond. Sermão para a IX Assembléia do CMI. Porto Alegre, 2006.
[v] GONÇALVES, Humberto Maiztegui. Uma abordagem teológico-antropológica da sexualidade na Bíblia. In: CALVANI, Carlos Eduardo (org). Bíblia e Sexualidade – Abordagem teológica, pastoral e bíblica. São Paulo, Fonte Editorial, 2010.
[vi] GONÇALVES, Humberto Maiztegui. Teologia da Inclusão a partir de Atos 15, 1-35. In:Sexualidade e homossexualidade na Bíblia,Estudos Bíblicos,n. 66.Petrópolis: Vozes, 2000.
[vii] TAKATSU, Sumio. Homossexualidade no Anglicanismo. Mandrágora, São Bernardo do Campo, n. 5, p. 42-48, 1999.
[viii] RIBAS, Mário. Sermão para o encerramento da II Consulta Nacional sobre Sexualidade Humana, Rio de Janeiro: 2002.
[x] ROBINSON, Gene. How Religion Is Killing Our Most Vulnerable Youth. Washington: Center for American Progress, 2010.
[xi] ROBINSON, Gene. In the eye of the storm. Swept to the center by God. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2008.
[xii] TUTU, Desmond. Sermão para a IX Assembleia do CMI. Porto Alegre, 2006.
[xiv] SERVIÇO ANGLICANO DE DIACONIA DESENVOLVIMENTO.Diaconia Social e Política da IEAB para Prevenção e Enfrentamento da Violência Doméstica contra as Mulheres. Brasília: Fonte Editorial, 2013.
[xv] SERVIÇO ANGLICANO DE DIACONIA DESENVOLVIMENTO.Gênero, Sexualidade e Direitos. São Paulo: Fonte Editorial, 2016.