Generation LGBTQIA — In Church and at Worship?

An interesting article in Thursday’s New York Times about the new generation of gender activists, who define themselves beyond the older LGBT categories and name themselves as queer or gender-nonconforming, etc. Since I am interested in gender theory, I am familiar with this trend, and in fact have growing numbers of students who thus define themselves. What seems to me less clear is where the conversation takes place about liturgical ramifications. Certainly what seemed like a step forward 30 years ago — e.g., to name sisters with the brothers — is very unhelpful for gender-nonconforming folks. And that is only the tip of the gendered iceberg.

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33 comments

  1. For many, friendship is a closer kinship than blood kinship; sisterhood and brotherhood can be a wonderful reality, except when they are an awful reality, and some of us know both sides of that. Maybe Jesus said something about that.

    And, one of the oldest Christian titles of sainthood is Friend of God (see the Epistle of James). If we are called to be saints, we are called to be friends of God.

  2. I wouldn’t know what appropriate phrases might be used in liturgy, but I think it’s important for liturgists to begin thinking about them, so that hopefully one day liturgy will reflect in some way the nuances of human gender. Somehow, I feel like this work is not going to come “from the top down”, lol…

  3. I find myself agreeing with Todd on this one.

    How many centuries did it take to get right with Galileo?

    I think we are just at the very beginning of trying to get this piece right.

  4. “Brothers and Sisters” always seemed, to me at least, to unnecessarily divide the congregation.

    My understanding is that the latin behind this phrase is a single gender neutral word, so it would be best to adopt a similar approach in English.

    I am a fan of “Brethren” for this, as while I think it was a masculine word initially (plural of brother perhaps), it does not really seem to have retained that connotation.

    This would give a literal and traditional translation, while getting rid of the issue identified. Perhaps a good area where the different factions in the Church can agree on something!

  5. Scott Smith : I am a fan of “Brethren” for this, as while I think it was a masculine word initially (plural of brother perhaps), it does not really seem to have retained that connotation.

    Sorry, I don’t agree that “Brethern”doesn’t carry a masculine connotation.
    I just came from reading the thread on Sacrosanctum and saw the words “Holy people”. How about that for a start?

  6. Scott Smith : “Brothers and Sisters” always seemed, to me at least, to unnecessarily divide the congregation. My understanding is that the latin behind this phrase is a single gender neutral word, so it would be best to adopt a similar approach in English.

    I’ve heard one celebrant use “Beloved,” and I think that works well.

    1. @Scott Knitter – comment #8:
      The late bishop of Brooklyn, Francis Mugavero, used “Beloved,” and more than sounding good, it “rang true,” in no small part because of him. Granted, that was long ago… and in another sacramentary.

  7. “Beloved”, or Todd’s idea to eliminate any salutation, seems to disregard the relational aspect of the address by the priest. I kinda like the sound of “Pray, children of God, that…”

    “Children” is still gender all-inclusive, isn’t it?

    1. @John Drake – comment #10:
      I was thinking of recommending “children of God”, but the relational aspect should also include the priest, no? “Pray, fellow children of God, …” (unless “fellow” is considered [insanely!] exclusive language). The priest’s use of a word of phrase like “brethren”, “brothers and sisters”, is relational both to the priest and to God: we are all brothers and sisters of the priest, because we are all children of God.

    2. @John Drake – comment #10:
      The relational aspect is determined by the physical context of the liturgy, not the printed word on a page uttered for the masses.

      I suppose if one must have a direct, relational address, I would opt for “People of God.” It’s biblical.

  8. The Times forgot the second “Q” (queer/questioning)

    I am usually the first one to point out that the deck chairs on the Titanic were probably an early indicator the ship was in trouble, but given the recent pronouncements by the official ecclesia on sex- and gender-related matters – same-gender marriage and adoption of children by gay couples or individuals in particular – I’m not sure how many LGBTQQIA folks [still] attending RC Eucharist would be consoled by some better alternative to “brothers and sisters” … it seems like a different stance on the larger issues would do a lot more.

  9. For some reason I don’t think this will become a major burning issue in the local worshipping parish community where the liturgical rubber hits the road. I think there are many more pressing issues that need to be faced in parish worship today than linguistics.

  10. I’m not getting it. How does a priest addressing the assembly as brothers and sisters affect the gender identity issue? Is it being claimed that there are Catholics who participate in Mass who take some kind of offense by being asked to identify with either brother or sister? If the answer to that question is yes, may I suggest that is the individual’s problem and not that of the priest. “Male and female he created them”.

  11. Alan Hommerding gets it right, and I think Bob Nugent is on the right track too.

    I would only add that familial relationships are metaphors that have important uses. The fact that they don’t work the same way for everybody does not cancel the value of those uses for many people. Brothers and sisters indicates a lateral relationship of kinship that arises in the faith community which enjoys no such natural bond by blood, marriage, or adoption. It’s a theological statement that the assembly is addressed in this way. And it works as prophetic, given the divisions people bring to the table. The gender-neutral English word “siblings” would be correct but is forced and awkward as a substitute.

    Anyway, who is to say that the individual who is not defined as male or female may not feel better when addressed as both “brother AND sister”?

  12. I like “friends” as an alternative, but I do think that addressing this issue of form while the more fundamental issues around the chruch’s attitude toward gender go uni-fxed is not going to be very helpful.

  13. I like Todd’s #4 best. It subtly embraces inclusiveness with economy of language and at the same time obviates factionalism over gender-language.

  14. Is this form of accomodation really neccessary? Surely the number of people who identify as between genders are rather low in number. This is not to say they are insignificant, but only to question whether and how exceptions should govern the norms of language. Personally, I question whether the way to go about addressing problems of unjust discrimination is through this kind of (in my mind, hollow and vapid) language game. We have to ask ourselves whether or not most people’s daily experience of gender is such that even “brothers and sisters” has become “offensive” or “insensitive”, and whether or not we have reached the point of absurdity with our equality/ inclusivity fetish. Consider, for example, that a transgender person might actually want to be addressed as a “brother” or a “sister” and his or her entire fight for dignity is based on the recognition that his or her gender is contrary to appearance! In which case, the desire is not to erase gender at all, but to alter the rules of its assignment and allow for fluidity or passage between them. Can we satisfy all?

    If the obligation is to tailor our common, public language to the idiosyncracies of each particular identity, we will continue to flirt with the impossibility of communication, leaving people even at a further loss to express themselves. For even if we remove “brothers and sisters” from the Church, people will still grow up with male and female in the home and society at large, formed in the subtle processes of desire’s engineering and under the pressures and allures of imitation. In other words, we can pretend gender does not exist, but young people will still turn on the television and see teen girls fawning over Justin Bieber, or breasts advertising beer. This language game is, in my opinion, not at all the way to go about this problem.

    1. @Jordan DeJonge – comment #20:
      Fundamentally, the Church’s liturgical vernacular will follow common usage, on a considerable (perhaps 2-3 generation?) lag. The Church can neither effectively prevent NOR effectively lead shifts in common usage. For example, in the case of inclusive language, we are still in the era of mixed common usage as a descriptive matter, and where it will “resolve” remains to be determined. The mistake of inclusive language champions like me in the 1980s and 1990 was thinking the Church could lead common usage; the mistake of emphatic opponents is thinking the Church can completely ignore common usage forever.

    2. @Jordan DeJonge – comment #20:

      Jordan: For even if we remove “brothers and sisters” from the Church, people will still grow up with male and female in the home and society at large, formed in the subtle processes of desire’s engineering and under the pressures and allures of imitation.

      I would not be so quick to decisively correlate the male-female binary with the Church. Christianity has long recognized queer or third gendered spaces. The Ethiopian eunuch (c.f. Acts 8:27) and castrati easily come to mind. However, persons who inhabited this third space outside of the male-female binary were often excluded from certain vocations. Castrati, for example, were barred from holy orders. Despite this, third gendered persons exercised great powers. The literate and wise Ethiopian eunuch of Acts traveled as a royal ambassador. Castrati were considered “angels” by some, perhaps because their condition endowed these persons with a greater sheen of holiness in the eyes of certain persons.

      Most persons fit into the dominant male-female paradigm. Indeed, even third gendered persons have had to adhere to the binary within Christian worship and theology. On a pastoral level however, queer persons should not be spurned or ignored despite the language of the liturgy. I would say that those who minister to queer persons must not only attempt to recast the Christian message, but see beyond the male-female binary which pervades our culture and our pews. I understand the dogma and doctrine of Christian anthropology. Yet, this understanding might not be the best introduction to the faith for a person who is unsure of gender.

  15. Saints! Disciples! Friends!

    In the NT Christians mostly called one another “haggioi” and “mathetai” and “adelphoi”

    “Adelphoi” is a fictive kinship term. In some ways “friend” has become the modern fictive kinship term that is applied to people we treat positively as family. Except among African-Americans “brother” and “sister” are rarely used as a term to indicate a fictive kinship relationship. As pointed out by some of comments above, “friend” has strong Biblical resonances

    Saints! Disciples! Companions!

    Companions are people who share life’s journey and meals (com + panio, bread) . Again this word has strong Biblical resonances, e.g. Christians as followers of the “Way,” the way to Emmaus.

    It seems to me that the above forms of address could be used at the many places in the liturgy which Paul Ford has shown are open to “invitations” and “ admonitions.” They are both statements of our Christian identity in biblical terms as well as invitations and admonitions about who we should become. They should be inviting, consoling, and challenging.

    I chose the above orders deliberately because it seems to me that sanctity (baptism) is the basis for discipleship (growth in faith) and therefore authentic Christian friendship and companionship, i.e. everything comes and is shaped by God.

    “Friends! Disciples! Saints!” might seem to imply that we start with human companionship become disciples and then saints. “Saints, disciples and friends!” might imply that not all of us are all of the above.

    There is a new but very expensive ($99 list price!) and very scholarly book Self-designations and Group Identity in the New Testament by Paul Trebilco.

    For those without time and/or money try Ben Witherington’s series of “reviews” of this book and its terms. As usual with BW these articles are a very superior “Cliff’s Notes”

    You can begin here

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/11/11/self-designations-and-group-identity-part-one/

  16. Jordan, I am not saying that the Church has historically always ignored a “third gender”, nor do I see a reason it neccessarily must uphold a modern account of gender. I am questioning the wisdom in removing the words “brother” and “sister” in order to accomodate sensitivities (which I suspect are, at times, imagined or phantasmic sensitives). I think one poster might have noted above that, if there is a “gender continuum”, male and female can be seen as evoking a range between two poles, rather than simply two oppositional categories. But the “range”, the identity of “inbetween” and “neither this or that”, actually depends on the two poles to hold any such continuum together.

    There is also something to be said for letting people who experience themselves as “exceptions” negotiate between norms, rather than abolish them, and develop private terminologies among like individuals without fear of harassment from people who are “normal”.

    1. @Jordan DeJonge – comment #24:

      Jordan: Jordan, I am not saying that the Church has historically always ignored a “third gender”, nor do I see a reason it neccessarily must uphold a modern account of gender.

      Quite true. The Church does not necessarily need to, or should, uphold a “modern account of gender”. In fact, Catholicism cannot do so now given the way in which the male-female (virmulier) dichotomy pervades Catholic theology.

      Jordan: There is also something to be said for letting people who experience themselves as “exceptions” negotiate between norms, rather than abolish them, and develop private terminologies among like individuals without fear of harassment from people who are “normal”.

      Many queer people have already rejected gender norms and attempt to disregard the stereotypes of “normal” persons. Again, the male-female binary and heterosexual emphasis in Catholicism will most likely result in an extreme downward pressure on gender queer people to either conform or leave. Since institutional Catholicism has a huge blind spot (to put it mildly) with regard to lesbian and gay ministry, I wouldn’t hold my breath that the church will find a way for trangendered and intersexed people to express their gender otherness. Don’t be surprised if the result of ministry (e.g. “therapy”) will be the total alienation of the gender queer person from Catholicism or Christianity in general.

      The best bet now, I’d say, is to not change the translation of fratres as “brothers and sisters”, but encounter gender otherness on an individual pastoral basis.

  17. The gender aspects of “adelphoi” are purely accidental aspects of our translation. It means siblings and kindred. And when used fictively it means those people whom we consider to be like siblings and kindred. Their gender isn’t relative to Christian identity. Gentile and Greek, woman and man no more.

    If we have words today like “friends” and “companions” that express deep relationships like kinship it seems better to use them and eliminate the noise provided by gendered terms. Whether someone is my brother or my sister is not relevant to Christian identity. Why call attention to it?

  18. That is a good point, Jack, and I should clarify I am not opposed in principle to something like ” pray friends” or ” dear companions that …”, which I think are less jarring than something like “pray, people of God…”

  19. Jordan Zarembo : The Church does not necessarily need to, or should, uphold a “modern account of gender”. In fact, Catholicism cannot do so now given the way in which the male-female (virmulier) dichotomy pervades Catholic theology.

    Catholic theology has a difficulty here. In “Gaudium et Spes”, this kind of problem is recognized:
    “This question is of particular urgency when a culture which arises from the enormous progress of science and technology must be harmonized with a culture nourished by classical studies according to various traditions.”

    A modern account of gender may be debatable, but scientific understanding of the nature of sexual differentiation and considerable numbers of people who are intersex looks clear and detailed. It must be the task of the church to adapt to the new knowledge. We are already in a position where church pronouncements on matters relating to sex can be seen as compromised by their lack of consistency with what we know from our reason, as well as their apparently weak connection to the central themes of the gospel and the New Testament.

  20. Dear All: I have been following the comments on my initial post with much interest. Here are some thoughts in response:
    First, I was very clear myself that the question of who to name the gathered assembly beyond the binary “brothers and sisters” is peanuts indeed, in comparison to the iceberg of questions around gender differences of which it is merely the tip (sorry about mixing metaphors). Surveying the range of responses to these peanuts, however, makes it very clear how complicated that which is the rest of the iceberg mountain is.
    Second, as to this iceberg being a minor issue, because most people in the pews are either “male” or “female”: our views of that are changing rapidly! To begin there, we know now that there are about 6 million human beings alive today who are not clearly identifiable along the binary male or female. BTW, Jesus already knew that fact of life; he named those human beings “eunuchs by nature,” which was the terminology of his day for what we now name “intersex” (one of every 1,200 births is potentially in that category).
    And “generation LQBTQIA+ {no, the NYT did not miss too many of the possible acronyms but made both Q and A do double duty} is the generation of younger folks whom the church is loosing rapidly. How can we communicate the Gospel to that generation if we don’t grapple with their core concerns about who they are? “Jesus is the answer” needs to be spelled out, here as everywhere else.

  21. PS: The New York Times reported on Thursday that it has had close to 300 online comments and letters to the editor in response to the essay; some were printed in the Jan 17 issue.

  22. As the parent of a gender-nonconforming child (he’s 5), I fear for the welcome he will receive as he grows up. It’s bad enough in society-at-large, but Church is a place where he should feel welcome. As a former parish priest would always say “this is home.”

    It is a constant source of sadness for me to see the church fleeing from emergent reality and hiding behind the crumbling walls of “everybody knows”.

    The structures of the church are pathetically inadequate to address the gender spectrum (and the sexuality spectrum) and are too willing to fall back to “I don’t understand you, therefore you are anathema”.

    To address Fr. Jack Feehily #15 directly, the writer of Genesis clearly didn’t have access to people born with ambiguous genitalia, or to people born XXY, XXXY, or any of about 30 different variations on that theme, nor to people with androgen insensitivity syndrome (XY, has testes, a vagina and looks female), nor to all of the many people whose body (sex) doesn’t match their mind (gender).

  23. Much as I appreciate the effort at sensitivity, I’m not only of an older generation, but I’m also Latina. It took years to be able to get the church to switch from using the word ‘homosexual’ — as if that actually reflected our personhood. This use of letters, and the ‘Q’ word is disturbing because it reflects the ‘in-your-face’ attitude of a college educated elite white middleclass. It may reflect a rebellion against certain conventions. But in other cultures Western conventions do not stand in the way of the relationship between parents and their lesbian and gay sons and daughters. Adopting these kinds of terms could be more alienating rather than helpful. This is ideological and not an authentic expression of personhood, of a ‘wholeness’ or ‘wholesomeness.’

    In a time when we’d like for name-calling to come to an end, using names that are actually offensive sends a confusing message not just to society, but to children. Imagine a third grader being taunted with the ‘Q’ word, only to be told that the word’s acceptable. This is hypocrisy that serves only a political agenda. I say this as one who has worked with lesbian and gay youth. Sisters and brothers are perfectly fine words for welcoming all people to mass.

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