New Report Seeks Methodological Change in How Catholic LGBTQ Theology Is Done

The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) has released a new document on the need for methodological changes in how theology about LGBTQ issues is done.

GNRC’s Theological Committee published the text, titled “Catholic Sexual Conversations in a Diverse Church.” It is the work of theologians from six countries and diverse identities. In an introductory note, the Committee writes:

“[We aim] to name and nurture the richness of LGBTIQ+ Catholic realities. We undertake theological reflection on these questions and experiences that will support and enhance the faith, identities, and belonging of GNRC groups, their members, and Catholics worldwide.

“Catholics need and rejoice in a fresh chapter of sexual ethics and theological reflection including both new methods and new content that are rooted in contemporary experiences and sources. . .

“Our purpose is to open conversations about and propose ethical norms that reflect the needs of a complex world.”

The Committee identifies six methodological shifts necessary for the church’s theological reflection on gender and sexuality to meet the needs of today. They are the following:

“1. Rejoice in Divine Wisdom as an on-going gift that grounds and necessitates the development of theological thinking and teaching.

“2. Embrace human experience, created and creative, which is of God and with God.

“3. Seek to understand the variety and complexity of human experience using the best practices in the social sciences and the deepest insights of world religions and spiritualities in the development of a reality-based anthropology.

“4. Assume that human beings of all sexual orientations, characteristics, and gender identities have the same rights and responsibilities.

“5. Contribute to the development of Catholic social and theological reflection and practice by demonstrating how values of love and justice are brought to bear in intimate relationships, social organization, and laws.

“6. Proclaim this new Catholic sexual wisdom as an evolutionary process, not a static product; an invitation, not a set of rules; a community effort, not a fiat.”

If the church follows this new methodology, new content will emerge, too. “We seek not to counter or tinker with institutional church teachings but to propose a realistic basis on which to move forward,” asserts the Committee. Such content would include an emphasis on right relationship within ethics, expanding the parameters of what is considered marriage and family (including sacramental marriage for same-gender couples), and utilizing the sciences and the arts as complements for theology. Item five on the “Role of Catholics in global conversation on sexual ethics” reads, in part:

“The perspective changes from ‘What is the Church hierarchy saying?’ to ‘What gifts do LGBTIQ+ persons bring to the world and the Church?’ and ‘What is the Holy Spirit telling the Catholic community through the stories of LGBTIQ+ people ?’ What if we start seeing our personal stories as ‘the Church speaking’? Such offerings are made with humility. It is in this spirit that we Catholic theologians join the dialogue with much to learn as well as much to give.”

To launch the document, GNRC held an online forum in late June where several presenters expanded on the text. Martin Pendergast, who helps lead LGBT+ Catholics Westminster in England, spoke about the Theological Committee’s efforts, saying, in part:

“[W]e were frustrated by so much activity within LGBT+ other theological circles which continued to focus on challenging the polemics of doctrinal statements promoted by hierarchical and institutional bodies within the Roman Catholic Church, rather than working from LGBT+ Catholics’ liberating praxis, spirituality, and theology towards a new vision.”

Pendergast mentioned, too, the Committee’s previous work on collecting rituals and liturgies specific to LGBTQ people around the world that helped them develop the latest document.

Theologian Mary Hunt echoed these sentiments about outdated methods leading nowhere, saying in her remarks, in part:

“Without a change in the way we do theology, it’s method, there can be very little change in content. We have learned this after decades of solid scholarship being ignored by many theologians and most Vatican officials. We value the experiences of healthy, good, natural, and holy love among LGBTIQ+ people which are routinely dismissed in theological discourse. As Black lesbian feminist from the U.S. Audre Lorde wrote in 1984, ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.’ In our case, this means that the old ways of doing theology among a tiny, elite, largely out of touch sector of the Catholic community by repeating and debating outdated sources will never bring about the changes needed to build robust, inclusive, and safe communities.”

But the forum was not without criticism of the GNRC document. Feminist theologian Kochurani Abraham of India criticized the text for not more directly attacking church teaching. She reflected about the possibilities, however:

“In my opinion, the outcome of the ‘Catholic Sexual Conversations in a Diverse Church’ could be the emergence of a Rainbow Theology. I think it is a [more] fitting expression than Queer Theology, which is widely used as a politically radical alternative by LGBTQI+ groups. Since the Rainbow is a powerful symbol that is not confined to limiting boundaries, but opens itself to ever widening horizons, Rainbow theology can be very inviting as it gives a fresh lease of life to theological imagination. It could help deconstruct and re-envision conventional theological categories in a way that leads us to understand a little more the unfathomable mystery of God while affirming the full humanity of people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Carlos Mendoza Alvárez of Mexico also addressed the forum, which is available to be viewed here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 6, 2021

2 replies
  1. Keith Henry
    Keith Henry says:

    This effort is welcome! The six methodology changes and the five suggestions for content development – God willing – will spur a lot of right thinking. More important, I pray that best practices will emerge. The “don’t ask don’t tell” stalemate in LGBT ministry won’t end until bishops and pastors can point to them.

    One quibble I have, or perhaps a fundamental suggestion for clarification.

    “4. Assume that human beings of all sexual orientations, characteristics, and gender identities have the same rights and responsibilities.”

    Isn’t this the problem with the current status quo? On the alt-Right, there’s a belief that everyone’s rights and responsibilities orbit the vocation of marriage, procreation and stewardship of children. On the alt-Left, it seems that rights and responsibilities orbit a sort of lowest common denominator secular rule set.

    Shouldn’t we instead be embracing the longstanding Christian teaching that opposite-sex marriage is merely the plurality vocation? Shouldn’t we be calling for a deeper understanding of rights and responsibilities proper to other sorts of relationships? Those rights and responsibilities historically look different up and down the vocation spectrum. Let’s mine the history of the Church and get at those best practices!

    Reply
  2. Martin Pendergast
    Martin Pendergast says:

    As a member of the GNRC Theology Committee let me clarify a couple of points.
    Firstly, the collection of LGBT+ rituals and liturgies is not a “previous” activity – it is ongoing. And why? Because we see such concrete manifestations of LGBT+ faith, nurtured and celebrated in personal and communal settings, as providing one of the key platforms upon which we can construct just the kind of “Rainbow Theology” of which Kochurani Abraham speaks.
    The reason we do not engage in “directly attacking church teaching” is that we wanted to free ourselves from the constraints of doing such “Rainbow Theology” from within the parameters set by institutions such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As Carlos Mendoza Alvárez points out, referring to the seminal work of James Alison – another member of our Committee – we resist being drawn into the rivalry which casts LGBT+ people of faith as victims. The response to the violence of ecclesiastical rhetoric is not one of retaliatory scapegoating but of proposing more creative ways of carrying on “Catholic Sexual Conversations in a Diverse Church”. New methods, starting “from below”, or from a wider periphery, begin to identify new content areas for reflection, and Keith Henry, above. is right to point out that this could lead to new faith-seeking-understanding perspectives in themes beyond gender and sexuality, such as a renewed theology of human rights and responsibilities, and how these, too, for another platform for future theological development.

    Reply

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