“Clericalism” is not a “thing” that can be undone with a single silver bullet. It is a combination over time of a number of different things which have together metastasized into what now seems like an excrescence on the face of Christianity. The metastasis, for which “clericalism” is as convenient a name as any, maintains itself as something sacred. That is to say, it has become an apparently necessary form of the group’s fake self-transcendence, a form of idolatry. Like all forms of idolatry, it damages not only social relationships between people, but also their capacity to imagine. Since it is not a simple incubus, capable of being removed by exorcism, I propose looking at each one of a number of the strands of the metastasis so that we can welcome in something new rather than simply extirpating the old and leaving space for seven worse demons to arrive. For the purposes of this conference, I’m attempting what in a business group would be called “blue-sky thinking”. Here I am calling it “Open heaven thinking” (following St Stephen and St John) aiming at a bestirring of the imagination in an attempt to work through, and beyond, our idolatry in this sphere. Nothing I say here has the pretension of being other than material to promote discussion, and I am probably wrong in a whole series of things that I say. I merely hope that the wrongness be of the sort that encourages mutual build-up rather than mutual down-tearing.–James Alison
Fr. James Alison spoke in September at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. How do we begin to understand the ways religion is used to marginalize the LGBTQ+ community? What are thoughtful ways to move out of the binds around faith and a desire to be affirming? James considers the framework around scripture pertaining to gender and sexuality.
Alison is one of my heroes for the gentle and tenacious way he opens scripture, especially using the interpretive lens of Rene Girard’s mimetic theory and scapegoating. Here he examines Genesis 9:20-29, 2 Samuel 10:1-5, Genesis 19 and Judges 19-21 (Sodomites and Benjaminites), Leviticus 18:22, Acts 10:1-11:18, Romans 1-3, Mark 5:1-20.
His talk is one hour, followed by 25 minutes of Q & A.
James Alison, priest and theologian, has written a great analysis of the final documents from the Synod on the Family vis a vis gay, lesbian, and transgendered Catholics. Alison takes the bishops’ lack of commenting as a good sign, because they clearly thought about the issue a lot during the synod.
One telling example of that his conversation was occuring was when New Ways Ministry director Francis DeBernardo asked Ghana’s Archbishop Palmer-Buckle whether the African bishops, or any bishops, would support a statement from the synod condemning the criminalization of lesbian and gay people. Palmer-Buckle’s answer included, “We know that all are sons and daughters of God and have dignity. We are doing what we can. It takes time for individual voices like that to be heard, when you are dealing especially with something that is culturally difficult for people to understand.”
In addition, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp said, “It is better that the synod said nothing on this issue than if they said something harmful.”
So I commend to you James Alison’s generous analysis in The Tablet. Here’s an excerpt below:
There were two weak-minded “ways out” of the current hierarchical impasse in the Church on matters gay – the first, a bombastic reaffirmation of current teaching as obviously right, the solution of the deluded pure; the second, that the teaching is right, but that there is a problem with the language in which it is communicated – the solution of the cowardly cosmeticians. I’m delighted to say we got neither. The low-key reaffirmations of loyalty to current positions in the final document have “pro tem” written all over them; and the general dropping from view of matters LGBT towards the end of the synod suggests that something much more interesting may have happened. Continue reading “James Alison: Love in a Changing Catholic Climate”
“When we celebrate Mass, the Real Presence to which we are being given access is not some blander version of God, with the love that traverses hostility being kept under wraps only for some special occasions lest it frighten us too much. That would indeed be a taming of God to be “good” for those who are “good”. No, the appropriate awe is due because there is indeed something terrible about a love which traverses our hostility. And does so in such a way that it is very easy for us to be tipped over into righteous rejection of it. The awe does not attribute any violence to God. It begins, however, in awareness that it is indeed a violent and frightening thing to undergo being unhooked from our own, easily knee-jerked, allergic constructions of fake righteousness. It is an awe made available to us over time as a narrative of amazement that “I have been found by the love of one who I treated as my enemy”. And it means that there is no genuine teaching about, or reception of, the Atonement that does not include a rigorous approach to human scandal at what is being proposed and our finding ourselves set free from that scandal.”–James Alison, from Traversing hostility: The sine qua non of any Christian talk about Atonement