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