Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed our annual conference, “The Bible: Friend or Foe?”. I was stimulated by our keynote speaker, Keith Sharpe’s thoughts on the Bible and LGBT people, and moved by the personal testimony of out other guest speaker, Ruth Sharpe, chief executive of Stonewall, and her challenges in coming out as Catholic. I valued the social time, catching up with old friends, meeting new people, and getting to know in person some that I had previously known only on- line. I also thought that the strength and vigour of the organisation was amply demonstrated by the quality of discussion in the AGM, responses to the speakers, and in the report back on the Emmaus document on last year’s workshop.
Further posts on conference will follow, but here is a snapshot of the highlights for me, personally.
AGM and new committee.
Prior to conference, there had been some anxiety at the loss of three committee members, including the need to find people willing to take on the demanding tasks of conference organiser and bulletin editor. In fact, we ended up with what I think is a particularly strong committee. Joining us for the first time, will be Hazel and Sandy, who will job share the role of conference organizer, and Fr Kieron. I was not originally nominated myself, but after the AGM, I was later co-opted, to continue working on the website, and agreed to combine that with bulletin editor, as the two are really concerned with the same thing – providing content to our members, just in different formats. I have also received useful and specific promises of help with some of the technical issues, for which I am grateful.
An important point coming out of Ruby’s Chair’s report, was that in her discussions with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, he has agreed that in recognition of the help that Quest can provide as pastoral support for lgbt Catholics, he will allow a poster to be displayed in Westminster Cathedral, giving contact details for ourselves, for the Westminster Pastoral Council for LGBT Catholics (i.e., the group meeting at Farm Street parish), and another. In discussion, there was some concern that one single church is not very much – but on the other hand, it is a very important church, which will be invaluable in creating a precedent. Once that is in place, it will become much easier for our members in other parishes and other dioceses, to make similar arrangements in their own areas.
Among the very interesting points arising in discussions at the AGM, were some observations on the value and importance of telling our stories, or providing “testimony”. This will in future become a regular feature of the website and bulletin – I will soon be calling on members to provide me with theirs.
Our keynote speaker was Keith Sharpe, author of “The Gay Gospels”, which is divided into two sections, called “The Defensive Testament”, and “The Affirmative Testament”. In the first of his two addresses to conference, he covered more or less this ground, discussing first the important guidelines for sound bibilical interpretation, responses to the traditional hostile interpretations of the infamous “clobber texts” and why these interpretations are unsound, and then moving on to selected lgbt affirmative passages. This progression, from defensive to explicitly affirmative readings, is typical of the path of many lgbt Christians, as we move from viewing the Bible from a “foe”, often used as a tool to justify religion – based homophobia, to a friend, which can be used to demonstrate specific examples of lgbt inclusion.
However, we need to go beyond this, and see the Bible in its full context, which Keith did in his follow – up address on Sunday morning, moving from discussion of “gay” readings, to a “queer” reading., in which we can see both Jesus specifically, and God, as decidedly “queer”. (In the discussion that followed, it was clarified that to see Jesus as “queer”, with strong evidence of a special relationship between himself and the Beloved Disciple, should not be taken to imply that the relationship was necessarily sexual).
In both addresses, the lively and perceptive discussions that followed showed how valuable they had been to conference.
(Both addresses were recorded by Mark Dowd, who has promised to write a summary report for later publication, in the Bulletin and on this website).
Our second guest speaker was Ruth Hunt, who was last year appointed chief executive of Stonewall. She spoke to us about the work and methods of Stonewall, about her personal journey as a Catholic, and also about the increased emphasis Stonewall is now putting on working together with faith groups, giving some specific examples. (Of importance to Catholics, this includes extensive work with Catholic schools, on training to cope with homophobic bullying).
What interested me particularly, was the central portion, her personal testimony. It has often been observed that for LGBT Catholics, with the rapidly increasing acceptance of sexual diversity it can be more difficult nowadays to come out as Catholic in the gay community, than as gay in the Catholic community. This was certainly the case for Ruth. She came out as gay at an early age, was publicly known as lesbian at Oxford, and has been publicly visible as such throughout her professional career. Meanwhile, her Catholic faith has always been important to her, but been a more private part of her life – until a few years ago she was inadvertently “outed” as Catholic. The hatred and opposition she then received from some lgbt activists she compared with the homophobia that lgbt decry when directed against themselves by Christians,
(This address too was recorded by Mark, who will write a summary report for later publication. I am also hoping that I will be able later to publish in full, that part of the address which amounts to her personal testimony).
Icon of Emmaus, and Cardinal Nichols
Part of last year’s conference was given over to a workshop reflecting on the Gospel story of Emmaus, which had been suggested to us as a useful topic by Cardinal (then Archbishop) Vincent Nichols of Westminster. Since then, I have prepared a full report, which has been published on this website. A copy has also been delivered to Cardinal Nichols. One session of Conference 2015 was given over to discussion of this report, which has been well received by members, and to a letter of reply by the cardinal.
As part of that same session, I briefly introduced discussion about selection of a patron saint (or saints) for Quest. Time did not allow for any mention of specific candidates, but this can be read in the post that was published prior to conference. Members are invited to think about these and make a selection – or to add nominations of their own. The committee will then consider the results, and may come to conference 2016 with a specific proposal.
Global Network of Rainbow Catholics
An important piece of information released during conference, concerned a new international organization, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, which will have its founding conference in Rome in early October, immediately prior to the bishops’ three week long synod on marriage and family. Quest will be well represented at that conference, with at least four and possibly fiver of our committee in attendance. Ruth will be there, formally representing us. Sandy and Hazel will be there for the European Forum of LGBT Catholics, and will have a session of conference devoted to promoting their new book of LGBT testimony. I will be there, representing essentially myself, and my blogsite, Queering the Church. Trish Fowlie “might” also be there, representing British parents of lgbt Catholics.
What was not disclosed at conference, but I learned from an email on the train home, is that I have been asked to act as webmaster for the organizations website – a task I have accepted and look forward to developing.