Monthly Archives: July 2011

Martha and Mary, July 29th

The household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus is well known to us from the Gospels, where they are described as “sisters” and their brother Lazarus. They are also known to us as Jesus’ friends, and their home as a place he visited for some rest and hospitality.  The problem is, that the story is perhaps too familiar: we are so used to hearing of them and their home since childhood, that we automatically accept the words and visualize the family in modern terms, just as we did as children.  To really understand the significance of this family, we need to consider the social context.

 In the modern West, we are accustomed to a wide range of family and household types. Although the socially approved ideal remains the nuclear family, with one husband, one wife, children and pets, we recognize many others as well: single person households; communal living, especially for young adults; same sex couples; and siblings (or other family members) sharing a home.  In the Biblical world, economic and social conditions dictated that just one model was nearly universal. A patriarchal male established a household, and controlled within it wives, concubines, sons, daughters and slaves. Sons remained within their father’s household and its economic basis until they had the resources to set up on their own. Daughters remained with their families until they were married off by their fathers, to submit to their new husbands. Their entire existence was dependent on the men who controlled them – fathers, brothers, or husbands. A single woman living independently of men was remarkable. Two women living together would have been exceptional. They are described as “sisters”, but that may not be in the literal sense – the term was commonly used to describe what we would describe as a lesbian relationship. This may or may not have included sexual intimacy, but it was most certainly a household in open defiance of the standard gender expectations for women, and so I have no hesitation in describing them as “queer”.

We should also pause a moment, and consider briefly their brother Lazarus. He is best known to us in the story of his rising from the dead, but in the context of the household, he appears to be a minor figure. Although Hebrew families were dominated by the males, with sons taking control of the women after a father’s death, in a household of siblings, we would normally expect that with one brother and two sisters, the man should be the master of the household: but that is emphatically not the picture of Lazarus that comes across from the Gospel. He too can be described as “queer” on that basis alone, although there is a lot more that could be said about Lazarus as a possible lover of Jesus.

This week though, the Church celebrated the feast of Martha and Mary, and so it is on the sisters that I want to concentrate.

When I reflect on the story of Martha and Mary as I have grown up with it since childhood, the image that sits with me indelibly is of the hospitality that they offered. Hospitality should be a core Christian value. In the traditional Hebrew desert community, hospitality to travellers was a primary virtue: without it, they could easily die, and at one time or another, anyone could find himself a traveller in the desert, dependent himself on the hospitality of strangers. The family itself, with its total interdependence, can be seen as a model of mutual, reciprocal hospitality. Through the institution of marriage, creating linkages between households and family networks binding the entire society, hospitality between households was the social glue binding the entire society.

 As we know to the present day, the most powerful element and symbol of hospitality is the shared meal. It is not for nothing that the Mass is constructed around the commemoration of a meal. Hospitality and community go to the heart of the Christian ideal: this certainly is how I understand the concept of God’s Kingdom on earth. Where we have full, mutual hospitality and community, love inevitably grows, and there can be no possibility of injustice.

 The challenge must be to make  certain that the hospitality really does extend to all. We as gay men an women know to our cost that very often it does not apply to us, and we must continue to work to secure that hospitality for ourselves: but we must likewise ensure that we too, offer hospitality, both within our community and beyond it. Let us never forget that the clearest symbol of hospitality in the Gospels is seen in a queer household.  Let us strive in our modern queer community to model and embody the spirit of hospitality to the wider world.

See also :

Jesus in Love BlogMartha and Mary: Sisters, or Lesbian Couple?, in Kittredge Cherry’s excellent, continuing  series on LGBT saints

 

 

Troy Perry’s Modern Martyrdom and Resurrection

Founder of Metropolitan Community Churches 

b. July 27, 1940

“God did not create gays and lesbians so He could have something to hate.”


Troy Perry is the founder of the United Fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), a Protestant denomination ministering to the gay community. UFMCC reflects Perry’s commitment to provide a safe space for gays and lesbians to celebrate their faith.
Perry was born in Tallahassee, Florida. He was drawn to the church at an early age and delivered his first sermon when he was 13. At the age of 15, he was licensed as a Baptist minister. In 1959, Perry married a woman and had two sons. The couple separated in 1964 and later divorced.
Perry overcame hardships on his journey to becoming the founder of the UFMCC. He was stripped of a religious position because of his homosexuality, became estranged from his two sons and attempted suicide. He lost hope that he could reconcile his homosexuality with his faith. The seemingly homophobic arrest of a friend convinced Perry to start a church providing spiritual support to the gay community.
In October 1968, Perry launched UFMCC with a service for 12 people in his living room. UFMCC has grown to include more than 40,000 members with churches around the world. In 1969, he performed the first same-sex wedding. In the next year, he filed the first lawsuit seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Perry and his partner, Philip Ray DeBlieck, have been together since 1985. In 2003, they married at a UFMCC church in Toronto, Canada. The newlyweds sued the state of California for legal recognition of their marriage. They were among the plaintiffs in the May 2008 California Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
Perry has been awarded honorary doctorates from Episcopal Divinity School, Samaritan College and Sierra University. He received Humanitarian Awards from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Gay Press Association.
Bibliography

Rapp, Linda.  “Perry, Troy.” GLBTQ: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Culture. August 17, 2005

Rev. Troy Perry.” The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Religious Archives Network. March 1, 2004

“Rev. Troy D. Perry Biography.” Revtroyperry.org. June 9, 2008

Books


The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay: The Autobiography of the Reverend Troy D. Perry
(1972)

Don’t Be Afraid Anymore: The Story of Reverend Troy Perry and the Metropolitan Community Churches
(1990)

Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage (Stonewall Inn Editions)
(1991)

10 Spiritual Truths for Gays and Lesbians* (*and everyone else!) (2003)

Other Resources


Call Me Troy (2007)

Metropolitan Community Churches

Websites

Official Rev. Elder Troy D. Perry Website

Ss Boris & George

Many gay men and lesbians are familiar with the names Sergius & Bacchus, the Roman soldiers and martyrs who are the best known of the queer saints. Somewhat fewer are familiar with SS Polyeuct and Nearchos, who were also Roman soldiers and martyrs, in a very similar story. But hardly anyone, I find, is familiar with Boris and George. This is sad, as it comes from a period and a region where there are not too many others, but reminds us that the queer saints were not only a feature of the earliest church, as it sometimes appears.
I fear I have been rather neglecting the calendar recently, and so I almost forgot to place a celebratory post for their feast day. Fortunately for us all, Kittredge Cherry at Jesus in Love is clearly better organized than I am. You will have to read the story there. Here is her openining:

The love between Saint Boris and George the Hungarian ended in tragedy in 1015 in medieval Russia. Their feast day is July 24. Boris was a prince and gifted military commander who was popular with the Russian people. He was married, but he had enormous love for his servant George the Hungarian. Slavic professor Simon Karlinsky has highlighted their gay love story in his analysis of the medieval classic, “The Legend of Boris and Gleb” compiled from 1040 to 1118. Karlinsky writes:

Boris had a magnificent gold necklace made for George because he “was loved by Boris beyond reckoning.” When the four assailants stabbed Boris with their swords, George flung himself on the body of his prince, exclaiming: “I will not be left behind, my precious lord! Ere the beauty of thy body begins to wilt, let it be granted that my life may end.”
-(Read the full  story at “Jesus in Love“)

SS Symeon of Emessa and John: Hermits, Saints and Lovers

The information for this pair of same sex lovers is sparse, but the story important.  I quote directly from the LGBT Catholic Handbook Calendar of gay & lesbian saints :
The story itself is about a same-sex relationship. Symeon..and John…. meet on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They become friends and “would no longer part from each other”. In fact they abandon their families and go together to dedicate their lives to God. In the monastery they first join, they are tonsured by the abbot who blesses them together (Krueger 139-141, 142). This seems to refer to some early monastic version of the adelphopoiia ceremony.”
Twenty nine years later, they part and their stories diverge. Simeon wants to leave John, as he had earlier left his wife, and becomes know as a “fool for Christ”.  But:
The extent of the relationship is revealed at this point. John is not keen for Symeon to leave. He says to Symeon “……Please, for the Lord’s sake, do not leave wretched me….Rather for the sake of Him who joined us, do not wish to be parted from your brother. You know that, after God, I have no one except you, my brother, but I renounced all and was bound to you, and now you wish to leave me in the desert, as in an open sea. Remember that day when we drew lost and went down to the Lord Nikon, that we agreed not to be separated from one another. Remember that fearful day when we were clothed in the holy habit, and we two were as one soul, so that all were astonished at our love. Don’t forget the words of the great monk…Please don’t lest I die and God demands an account of my soul from You.”
Halsall states clearly that this was not a sexual relationship, but it is clearly an emotionally intimate, same sex relationship.  At a time when “marriage” did not carry the same meaning that it has today;  when many religious married couples, even outside holy orders, were encouraged to remain celibate;  and given that they had entered a monastery before living together as  hermits, this is unremarkable.

But as an intimate relationship over nearly thirty years, consecrated by the abbot in a rite of  adelphopoiia, their story, vague and indistinct as it is, must surely be taken as yet another dimly remembered tale of  gay lovers, buried in the history of the Christian Church, that modern scholarship is beginning to uncover.
Their feast days are celebrated together on 21 st July (Orthodox calendar).
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