Category Archives: Martyrs

The Story of the Queer Saints and Martyrs: Synopsis

Synopsis

Prequel: Before Christianity

Studies of the animal kingdom, and of non-Western and pre-industrial societies show clearly that there is no single “natural” form for either human or animal sexuality. Homosexual activity  has been described by science for all divisions of the animal kingdom, in all periods of history, and in all regions of the world. Most religions recognise this. The monotheistic Christian religion teaches that God made us in His own image and likeness – but other religions, when they attempted to picture their many gods and goddesses, created their gods in human image and likeness, and so incorporated into their pantheon many gods who had sex with males – either divine or human.

The Hebrews’ concept of a single all-powerful God did not incorporate any concept of divine sexuality, but they did include into their Scriptures numerous passages that describe same sex loving relationships  as well as the books of the prophets who were eunuchs.

The Christian Gospels offer tantalizing hints at Jesus’ own sexuality which may have included some male love interest. However, more directly relevant to us are His teaching and example , which clearly show that His message is an inclusive one, that quite explicitly does include sexual minorities of all kinds.

After the Gospels, the most important Christian writings are the letters of Paul, who has a reputation as strongly condemning same sex behaviour – but a more careful consideration of his life as well as his letters, in their own context, can offer a different perspective.

The Early Christians.

The cultural context of the early was one where  they were political and even social outcasts, in a society of a bewildering range of attitudes to sexuality, ranging from substantial sexual licence for Roman citizens, to negligible freedom of sexual choice for slaves, to sexual abstemiousness for those influenced by Greek stoicism. The stories of queer saints that come down to us include those of martyred Roman soldiers, martyred Roman women, bishops who wrote skilled erotic poems, and (especially in the Eastern regions), cross-dressing monks.

In addition to the examples of individuals who were honoured as saints, there are also important examples from Church practice. Evidence from archaeology and written records shows clearly that from the late Roman period onwards, the Church made liturgical provision for the recognition of same sex couples. From Macedonia, there is extensive evidence of Christian same sex couples who were buried in shared graves. More telling evidence for church recognition of same sex couples comes from the existence of formal liturgical rites for blessing their unions. In the Eastern Church, these rites (known as “adelphopoeisis”)  date from the late Roman period. In the Western Church, where the evidence begins a little later, they were known as making of “sworn brothers”.

Medieval Homoeroticism

The early Middle Ages were once known as the “Dark Ages”, a disparaging term, which nevertheless is descriptive of the murky information we have about the saints: some of what is commonly believed about these saints is clearly mythical. Nevertheless, knowledge of the queer associations of saints like Patrick and Brigid of Ireland, George the dragon slayer and “Good King Wenceslas” is simple fun – and literal, historical truth or not, can provide useful material for reflection.

This period is also notable for the widespread use of specific liturgies for blessing same sex unions in Church. Even if these unions are not directly comparable with modern marriage, understanding of this recognition by the church deserves careful consideration, for the guidance it can offer the modern church on dealing with recognition for same sex relationships.

By the time of the High Middle Ages, influenced by increasing urbanization and greater familiarity with more homoerotic Muslim civilization, the earlier moderate opposition and grudging toleration of same sex love softened to a more open tolerance, with some remarkable monastic love letters with homoerotic imagery, more erotic poetry, and acceptance of open sexual relationships even for prominent bishops  and abbots – especially if they had suitable royal collections.

It was also a time of powerful women in the church, as abbesses who sometimes even had authority over their local bishops.

However, the increase in open sexual relationships among some monastic groups also led to a reaction, with some theologians starting to agitate for much harsher penalties against “sodomites”, especially among the clergy. Initially, these pleas for a harsher, anti-homosexual regime met with limited support – but bore fruit a couple of centuries later, with disastrous effects which were felt right through to the present day – and especially the twentieth century.

The Great Persecution

Symbolically, the great change can be seen as the martyrdom of Joan of Arc – martyred not for the Church, but by the Church, for reasons that combined charges of heresy with her cross-dressing. A combination of charges of heresy and “sodomy” were also the pretext for the persecution and trials of the Knights Templar – masking the naked greed of the secular and clerical powers which profited thereby. The same confusion of “sodomy” and heresy led to an expansion of the persecution from the Templars to wider group, and  also the expansion of the methods and geographic extent, culminating in the executions of thousands of alleged “sodomites” across many regions of Europe. This persecution was initially encouraged or conducted by the Inquisition, later by secular authorities alone – but conducted according to what the church had taught them was a religious justification. Even today, the belief that religion justifies homophobic violence is often given as a motivation by the perpetrators – and the fires that burned the sodomites of the fifteenth century had a tragic echo in the gay holocaust of the second world war.

Yet even at the height of the persecution, there was the paradox of a succession of  popes, who either had well-documented relationships with boys or men,  or commissioned frankly homoerotic art from renowned Renaissance artists, which continues to decorate Vatican architecture. This period exemplifies the continuing hypocrisy of an outwardly homophobic, internally.

Modern Martyrs, Modern Revival

The active persecution of sodomites by the Inquisition gradually gave way to secular prosecutions under civil law, with declining ferocity as the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment and more modern times (although executions continued until the nineteenth century). From this time on, theoretical condemnation of “sodomites” co-existed with increasing public recognition of some men who had sex with men, and records relating to queers in the church are less prominent than either earlier or later periods.  In the nineteenth century, Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried alongside Ambrose St John does not appear to have aroused any opposition.

In the twentieth century, the increasing visibility of homosexual men produced the horrifying backlash in Germany in the gay holocaust, with its echos of the medieval bonfires of heretics and sodomites – the modern gay martyrs.

Only after WWII did the Vatican begin to seriously address the question of homosexuality, with increasingly harsh judgements and attempts to silence theologians and pastors who questioned their doctrines and practice. Other denominations drove out existing gay or lesbian pastors, and refused ordination, or even church membership, to other openly gay or lesbian church members. However, these victims of church exclusion, who can be seen metaphorically as modern martyrs, martyred by the church for being true to their sexual identity,  refused to be silenced. Like St Sebastian before Emperor Maximilian, they found new ways to minister to the truth of homosexuality and Christianity.

Today, these early pioneers for queer inclusion in church have been joined by countless others, who work constantly at tasks large and small, to witness to the truth of our sexuality and gender identity, and to its compatibility with authentic Christianity. In effect, that includes all of who identify as both Christian, and simultaneously as lesbian, gay trans, or other  – and the women who refuse to accept the narrow confines of the gender roles church authorities attempt to place on us.

November 1st is the day the Church has set aside to celebrate All Saints – the recognition that sainthood is not only a matter of formally recognized and canonized saints, but is a calling to which we must all aspire. For queers in Church, it is especially a day for us to remember our modern heroes, who in facing and overcoming their attempted silencing are martyrs of the modern church – and that we, too, are called to martyrdom, in its literal sense: to bear witness, in our lives, to our truth.

Epilogue: All Saints

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Let Us Remember, for October 24th:

All those executed or murdered for their sexuality, or driven to suicide as a result of a perceived conflict between their inmost being and Christian faith, including

Jerome Duquesnoy II , Burned October 24th, 1654

A notable Belgian sculptor, bound to a stake in the Grain Market in the center of Ghent, strangled and burnt on allegations of sodomy (which he strenuously denied) .

and

Bryan Michael Egnew ( 1970 – 2011) US

Mormon, who paid the price for honesty when he acknowledged his orientation. He served an LDS mission, studied at BYU, married and had children in accordance with Mormon teaching. But after coming out to his wife, she left him, taking the children with her, and outed him to the church authorities, resulting in excommunication. He then committed suicide at his home on September 10, 2011.

 

Carlyle D. Marsden (1921-1976) Mormon Suicide

b. December 9, 1921

d. March 8, 1976

Carlyle Davenport Marsden was born on December 9, 1921, in Parowan, Utah. He was the son of William and Della Jane Marsden. He was survived by his widow, three sons and two daughters, 10 grandchildren, two brothers and four sisters.

He had been a music teacher at Eisenhower Junior High School in the Granite School District in Salt Lake, and also taught at Brigham Young University.

He was a veteran of World War II, serving in the Army in the Pacific Theater.

He attended the College of Southern Utah in Cedar City for two years, and received his bachelor degree from Brigham Young University and his masters degree from the University of Utah. He also did graduate work at Claremont College, Occidental and Cal State in Los Angeles, California.

He had filled an LDS Mission in the New England States and had been a member of the bishopric and high council in Pomona, Calif. He had been music regional representative, stake and ward organist, and stake choir director. He had also been Sunday School superintendent in Salt Lake City.

Carlyle was outed in March 1976. This led him to take his own life on March 8, 1976. He was 54 years old.

Carlyle is buried at the Kaysville City Cemetery in Utah.

Carlyle’s grandson Douglas Stewart was a gay Mormon and sadly committed suicide on March 8, 2006, exactly 30 years to the day his grandfather committed suicide.

Affirmation Suicide Memorial

About “Queer Saints and Martyrs”

At my primary blog, “Queering the Church”, and at my blogger site, “Queer Saints and Martyrs (and Others)“. one of the strands I have been exploring for some years now has been the place of LGBT/queer people in Christian history.

However, I have been dissatisfied with the blogger technology(and the way I set it up originally), and am in the process of transferring the entire site here, to the WordPress platform. Continue reading About “Queer Saints and Martyrs”

Bryan Jordan Smith (1983-2004), Mormon Suicide

b. March 27, 1983

d. August 18, 2004

Bryan Jordan Smith was born March 27, 1983 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from American Fork High School and LDS Seminary. He was an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served an LDS mission in Omaha, Nebraska.

Bryan was a loving son and brother who enjoyed the outdoors, scrap booking, animals, and gardening. He loved cars and especially, his white Ford convertible Mustang. Bryan worked for Alpine School District at the Pony Express Elementary School. He planned on attending Joseph Patrick Academy of Hair this fall.

Bryan committed suicide on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 in American Fork. He left a suicide note stating that he could not handle the fact that he was gay and that was at least one of the reasons for his suicide.

Affirmation, Suicide Memorial

Christopher Paul Ricksecker (1982-2003), Suicide

b. January 22, 1982

d. June 16, 2003

Christopher was born in San Diego on January 22, 1982, and attended Highland High School in Salt Lake City. Life was not easy for Chris; he felt overwhelmed with emotional problems and suffered depression. He committed suicide in Salt Lake City on June 16, 2003. Christopher was cremated at his request, and his ashes were later scattered on the Pacific.

A vigil for Chris was held on July 1, 2003, in Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake. The service was conducted by Chris’s step mom, Sheri Young; Chris’s dad, David, also said a few words.

Through a candlelight ceremony, the audience remembered not only Chris but all gay and lesbian people who have taken lives. Charles Milne, GLBT advisor for the University of Utah, helped conduct the candle lighting ceremony and made some remarks. Kristine Clifford said a prayer.

These are some experts for the remarks made by Chris’s dad:

“I went to several churches for answers. The answers that they gave me were that gay people are evil and bad. One pastor in a local church told me that gay people are possessed with demons—that they are bad and that they are going to hell.”

“Chris wanted to be accepted for who he was, but he could never accept himself who he was and how he felt.”

“We don’t need special groups for gays or anyone else. We cannot judge gay people and put them in special groups. What makes us better than gay people? We need to save our children.”

Chris Wayne Beers, Mormon Missionary – and Suicide

d. March 18, 2012

According to stories posted on several Mormon blogs, Chris Wayne Beers, a returned missionary and former church employee, took his life on March 18. He was 38 years old.

Beers was a returned missionary and had worked for years at the Church Office Building in the missionary and travel department, and at the time of his passing he was working at the University of Utah Hospital.

A native from Bountiful, Utah, Beers graduated from Woods Cross High, where he played football and other sports. After serving an honorable mission for the LDS Church, he touched the lives of countless youth as an EFY counselor.

“If we, as Mormons, did what we were supposed to do for all of our brothers and sisters–love them unconditionally–Chris would never have been stripped of his family of faith,” wrote Mitch Mayne on a Facebook entry. “He would not have been forced to choose. He would have had a deeper, richer and more spiritual support network to walk him through what life brought his way. Sadly, like many, he was given the ‘Sophie’s Choice:’ live life according to a heterocentric cultural practice and do so alone, without a partner–or live life without your family of faith and the strength of that spiritual community.”

– from “Affirmation” (LGBT Mormons)

Jay Lynn Peterson (1966-1998), Mormon Suicide

b. January 23, 1966

d. January 31, 1998

Jay Lynn Peterson was born on January 23, 1966, in West Valley City, Utah. He was baptized in the LDS Church on May 3, 1975. After high school, Jay served in the US Navy.

On January 31, 1998, Jay was involved in a violent altercation at the Exchange Place, downtown Salt Lake City, with a man who made a derogatory statement about Jay’s sexual orientation. After the altercation, Jay drove to his apartment in the Avenues and committed suicide. He was 32 years old.

Jay is buried at the Utah Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Riverton, Utah.

Michael J. Green – Mormon Suicide

b. June 26, 1961

d. January 10, 1986.

My Gay LDS cousin Michael J. Green committed suicide on January 10, 1986. He parked his truck outside of a tavern in Clearfield, Utah, where he lived (I don’t think it was a Gay tavern), and shot himself to death in his truck.

Michael was born June 26, 1961 in Ogden, Utah to Ralph Jay Green and Mary Penman. By birth, he was my third cousin through the Beazer line, but then my grandmother Beazer married his grandfather (Ralph Beazer Green) about 1974, after the deaths of their spouses, and so by marriage Michael and I became first cousins. I remember sitting in our grandparents’ new motor home in the summer of 1975, talking about our homosexuality, both of us very confused and terrified. As badly off as I was, I remember he was even worse — he always had huge dark circles under his eyes because he couldn’t sleep at night, so tormented was he about his sexuality, and later we got into a huge fight about it.

After both our grandparents died (his grandfather in March 1976 and my grandmother in June 1976), we never spoke again. He was buried in the Syracuse City Cemetery in Utah on January 15, 1986. I sincerely hope at last he found the peace he never could find here on earth.

– from Affirmation

Brad Lauritzen (1947 – 1971), Mormon Suicide

b. October 26, 1947
d.. December 18, 1971

The son of Gilbert Fay and Lucy Pettingill Lauritzen, Brad G. Lauritzen born in Brigham City, Utah on October 26, 1947.

In 1966, Brad registered in Brigham Young University’s Study Abroad Program and spent a semester in Grenoble, France.

While a student at BYU, Brad became affiliated with a social group for gay people in 1967 and early 1968 that met regularly in the “step down lounge” at the Wilkinson Center. Brad was outed by Donald Attridge, another gay student, in the early spring of 1968. Attridge had turned in a lengthy list of names to Apostle Spencer Kimball after receiving assurances from both BYU’s head of Standards Office, Kenneth Lauritzen (no relation to Brad), and Kimball that those on the list would be “helped” by Kimball.

Instead, Brad was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of a mental institution by his family. He later escaped and ran away to San Francisco, where he committed suicide just before Christmas, on December 18, 1971. He was 24 years old.

– from Affirmation Suicide Memorial