Visions of Daniel

Sex and the Sacred
Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth


Papers link

The Haworth Press, March 2006.

Preview Chapter 13 on the so-called "Christians"

Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth shows how comfort with our sexual nature is essential to spiritual sensitivity. The "gay identity" in the subtitle does not limit the scope of this book. Rather, attention to homosexuality serves as a test case: show how gay sex can be profoundly spiritual and you highlight the spiritual dimension of all sex. Ordained a Catholic priest in Rome, and a theologian, psychotherapist, psychology professor at the University of West Georgia, and the author of the best-selling What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, Daniel applies to sexuality his lifelong pursuit: an understanding of the human basis of spiritual growth. He relies on an analysis of consciousness—effected by Bernard Lonergan, SJ, "the Thomas Aquinas of the twentieth century"—to highlight a spiritual dimension in the human mind that finds expression through religion and is oriented toward God. According to Daniel, the harmonization of this dimension with the rest of one's humanity—including sexuality—is the essence of spiritual integration. Matters of religion, ethics, God, and salvation follow as "grace builds on nature." This book addresses a wide audience. Religious leaders of all denominations, elected officials, educators, counselors, members of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community, non-religious spiritual questers, and anyone interested in spirituality will find this book enlightening and uplifting. Daniel inspires us all to cherish our bodies as gateways to spiritual experience. When specifically addressing the LGBT community, he treats themes relevant to us all—such as sexual diversity, sexual self-acceptance, bonding and coupling, sexual ethics, spiritual seeking, and organized religion.


From the "Preface"

Same-sex relationships are nothing new. They have been a part of every culture and every era, but they were usually kept on the sidelines of a heterosexual marriage or in the shadows of unspoken secrecy. Contemporary gay liberation is new in that it claims legitimacy for gay relationships up front and unapologetically.

Since World War II, the gay liberation movement has been working to secure that claim. Much effort has been spent to defend homosexuality on many fronts. My book, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, was part of that defensive maneuver. It shows that the Bible, understood in its own historical context, had no concern whatsoever for what we call “homosexuality” today. On the religious front, the argument has been that homosexuality is not a sin. The medical argument has been that it is not a sickness. The psychological argument has been that it is not a mental disorder. And the sociological argument has been that it is not a deviancy even as the historical argument has been that it is not an anomaly.

This book presumes that the verdict is in and the defense has won the case. On the basis of massive evidence, this book presumes that nothing is unhealthy or unethical about homosexuality and same-sex relationships per se. Homosexuality is merely a natural variation. Thus, this book takes the next step and develops a positive agenda. Accepting the legitimacy of homosexuality, what are we going to make of it?

To be accurate, of course, the debate about homosexuality is hardly over. In many places, anti-gay oppression is stronger than it was before gay liberation. The level of paranoia over changing sexual mores is astonishing. Many religious folk, whole churches, and entire religions have dug in their heels, ignored the research evidence, and refused to legitimate gay relationships. Fortunately, these conservatives, vocal as they are, are becoming a minority. At this point in history, the evidence on every front is so overwhelming that it is outrageous for an educated person to demean lesbian and gay people and their intimate relationships. At this point in history, only personal discomfort, religious myth, collective prejudice, or inexcusable ignorance supports anti-gay attitudes. While not neglecting the on-going debate, the gay community needs to move on.

In many ways the gay community had moved on long ago, but the result was not always happy. I can't count the number of times that a gay person has come up to talk privately with me as I sit in a coffeehouse or finish a lecture or, sometimes, just walk down a street. The topic is always that Bible-and-homosexuality thing—and religion. For better and sometimes for worse, these people are as out as out can be: dressing “gay,” clubbing, cruising, drinking and drugging, tricking, dating, coupling, sometimes even raising children. They are committed lesbians and gays. So you would think they were completely at ease about being homosexual. But often, it is not so. Far from it. Their gay life is a façade. Beneath a colorful front, they harbor gnawing concerns of conscience: Are they really going to go to hell? Should they be having gay or lesbian sex? Should they break off their relationship? Is homosexuality really okay? Spiritual doubts hang on and eat away at their souls. Perhaps for this reason, vacillating in their consciences, some find respite in unwholesome and even self-destructive behaviors.

Ousted by religion, many lesbians and gays have just chucked the whole spiritual enterprise. To gain their freedom, they sold their souls. Often they knew no other option. Most spokespersons for religion were certainly of little help. As a result, secretly, many gays and lesbians still believe that they are, indeed, condemned to hell. Painfully, many still struggle against religion's emotional bonds that entangle our rational minds. Sadly, many just gave up concern about spiritual matters and, following the lead of our spiritually bankrupt culture, threw themselves into the gay sex scene: They were “liberated.”

Over the years I have pondered these matters, and often I addressed them. I have frequently written on the spiritual dimension of the gay experience. My articles appeared in journals and magazines, which are now collecting dust in libraries. Those papers are still relevant, perhaps more so today than when I first wrote them. So I took them out and dusted them off. I updated and refurbished them, and I present them in this book. Except for Chapter Nine on Jesus and gay liberation, all these essays have been published elsewhere. I am grateful to the publishers for their gracious permission to reprint these essays in this collection. As noted in the introductory footnote of each chapter, the original publications provide documentation for anyone seeking to know my sources. Editing my articles to read as simply as possible and re-crafting them to fit this popular collection, I avoided cluttering this book with references and other technical apparatus. I did, however, provide an index. Quotations from the Bible are from the New Revised Standard Version.

The title of this book says what it's about: the sacred dimension of sexuality, the integration of spirituality and sexuality. The subtitle reads Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth and, thus, suggests a specific focus: nonheterosexual sexuality. However, the word gay is not completely accurate, for here it stands for a broader category than the word usually enmompasses. I use gay in this instance in the same way many today use the word queer. This word has come to refer to all nonstandard sexuality and to the LGBTI communities: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people, all those who are developing nonheterosexist ways of expressing sexuality in our day. But the term queer is jarring to many people.

Also jarring are the juxtapositions in my title and subtitle. Spirituality is not the first idea that comes to mind when people think of homosexuality. Talk of gay spirituality may seem odd, peculiar—queer. However, as sociological and anthropological studies have shown, queer people have regularly been the spiritual leaders of societies across time and around the globe. The psychologist Carl G. Jung noted that homosexual people tend to possess an intense spiritual sensitivity. The shamans of indigenous religions often engaged nonstandard sexual practices. Many Native American tribes revered their masculine-feminine or feminine-masculine members as “two-spirited,” doubly blessed, able to share the worlds of both women and men. Politically and spiritually these two-spirited people often served as tribal leaders. Nothing is unusual about the notion of gay and lesbian spirituality, and our homophobic society would do well to ponder this fact. Thus, this book reclaims for queer people the status of priest and priestess, prophet, shaman, guru, or spiritual leader, which they have, in fact, held throughout history.

Although my emphasis is gay spirituality, I want to address a broad audience. I believe that spirituality is common to all human beings. I do not believe it is particular to religion. I don't even think it is necessarily linked with belief in God. On my understanding, the order is the exact opposite: Religion and belief in God grow out of spirituality. Spirituality comes first; the infinite longings of the human heart are the starting point. Discovery of God and belief in God are a natural outworking of spiritual sensitivity; they are a projection and an elaboration of core human spirituality.

Accordingly, the early essays in this book address spirituality in a generic way. I speak of the spiritual apart from any connection with specific religions. I present spirituality as a completely human, fully psychological, enterprise. I believe that this humanistic emphasis is my contribution. I show how, with or without religion, with or without belief in God, every person has a spiritual dimension to his or her being. I show how this spiritual dimension needs to be integrated with one's sexuality. I show how this core spirituality can naturally flow into organized religion, for those who want it.

The value of this emphasis is twofold. First, it allows gays and lesbians, condemned to hell by religion, to reclaim their spirituality—despite the religions, if need be. Second, it presents an approach to spirituality that fits the present times, for on the basis of our common humanity, this approach embraces all peoples and cultures. Surely, what our world sorely needs is a way to bring the religions of the world together in peace, and focus on a common spirituality provides that way.

Later essays in the book come from a Christian perspective. They connect core spirituality with Western religion. I think it is fair to assume that most people reading this book will have been raised in some Christian church or will at least be familiar with Christian beliefs. Besides, the lessons I derive from Christian themes apply to that core human spirituality, which is ever my focus. So, in one way or another, from cover to cover, this book should be useful to anyone concerned about the spiritual growth.

This book will also be of interest to anyone, gay or straight, who is concerned about what sexuality has to do with spirituality. Their relationship has become a popular topic. But really, it is difficult to find an approach to this topic that does not involve a particular religion, belief in God, or an ethical agenda. This is to say, most approaches to sexuality and spirituality turn into expositions of some religion and its morality. I offer something different. I interrelate sexuality and spirituality on a completely human level, and I also show how this humanistic level opens onto a religious and theological level, for those who want it. Applying the research of Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984)—the philosopher-theologian-methodologist whom Time magazine called the Thomas Aquinas of the twentieth century and for whom I was a teaching assistant at Boston College—I offer a unique approach to sexuality and spirituality. I suggest a novel way of relating the social sciences and religion. I believe this approach should enrich the thinking of anyone pondering the relationship of sexuality and spirituality and be particularly useful for professionals—such as physicians, nurses, psychotherapists, educators, business executives, and legislators and politicians—who need to address spiritual issues in a non-sectarian way.

I treated this understanding of spirituality in technical detail in my books Spiritual Development, The Human Core of Spirituality, and Religion and the Human Sciences, and I offered a popular presentation in Meditation without Myth. In this book I provide another popular application of the same approach

I write as a religious scholar and a social scientist. I hold Ph.Ds in both theology and psychology and am well published and respected in these fields. With this book I would share the fruits of much of my professional life, including decades of priestly ministry and pastoral counseling. In 1995, for reasons of personal integrity, I submitted to the Vatican an official resignation from the Catholic priesthood. The Vatican has never responded to my resignation. I take this refusal to accept my resignation to mean that the Vatican is allowing me to continue to represent them. Besides, according to Catholic teaching, once a priest, always a priest: Ordination effects an ontological change in the soul that is irreversible. Thus, sincerely exercising my priestly ministry in my own way, I also write as a Catholic priest, and I hope that this religious credential will provide added reassurance to you, my readers, about my treatment of the controversial topic of this book.

I am grateful to many people who contributed to the creation of this book....

I am grateful to the Reverend Elder Troy D. Perry, who kindly wrote the Foreword to this book. From the humble and far-sighted beginnings of a house church in Los Angeles in 1968, he founded the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, which is dedicated to Christian ministry to lesbian and gay people. As its Moderator, he continued his leadership of UFMCC until his retirement in 2005.

I also thank my friends and colleagues who graciously endorsed this book. I thank them not only for their endorsement but also for their generous pioneering work in spiritual gay liberation.

•  Father John McNeill wrote the ground-breaking 1976 book The Church and the Homosexual and numerous other books on gay spirituality. In 1986, after the Vatican called homosexuality an “objective disorder” geared toward an “intrinsic evil,” McNeill broke his nine years of Vatican-imposed silence, and the Vatican ousted him from the Jesuits. However, through counseling, lecturing, and writing, he bravely and generously continued his ministry to gay and lesbian people. In retirement, he celebrated his 80th birthday in 2005.

•  In 1977, with Father Robert Nugent, S.D.S., Sister Jeannine Gramick, S.L., founded New Ways Ministry “to promote justice and reconciliation between lesbian and gay Catholics and the wider Catholic community.” She has authored and edited many important books and articles on gay spirituality. Censured by the Vatican in 1999 and again in 2000, she, too, would not be silenced, saying, “I refuse to collaborate in my own oppression.” She has found creative ways within Catholic circles to continue her educational ministry.

•  Toby Johnson is the author of Gay Perspective and a list of other important books, including delightful novels, about the gay spiritual experience. He has served tirelessly as editor of White Crane: Journal of Gay Wisdom & Culture and is involved in founding White Crane Institute for gay spirituality. He worked with the Core Group that organized and sponsored the May, 2004, Gay Spirit Culture Summit at Garrison Institute, in Garrison, New York. The “Statement of Spirituality” that emerged from this summit is included as the Appendix to this book.

•  Christian de la Huerta is author of Coming Out Spiritually and founder and president of Q-Spirit. Through Q-Spirit and a grueling schedule of travel, lectures, and workshops, he fosters gay spirituality internationally.

Five chapters in this collection were published over the years as articles in Pastoral Psychology, and Professor Lewis Rambo of San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, CA, has been editor of this journal throughout that time. I salute him for his openness to new ideas and thank him for his constant support for my work in spirituality. In this professional journal for Christian ministry, he published what I could not get published in gay periodicals (Go figure!)—arguments about topics such as AIDS, the Trinity, the future of Christianity, and sexual ethics. Tellingly, I never received one formal comment from colleagues about these provocative articles, but by word of mouth in pastoral-theology circles, I know that people were reading and thinking about them. I am deeply grateful to Professor Rambo for originally publishing these articles and for supporting their republication in this book....

May the confluence of contributions of so many people to this book make it a blessing to the queer community and to spiritual seekers everywhere.


The Cover Art: A Gay Spiritual Journey

This stained glass piece features a Celtic symbol. With no beginning and no end, it represents a continuous journey. I offer this piece, "A Gay Spiritual Journey," as a new symbol of gay liberation, one that speaks of our spirituality as well as our sexuality.

Every element of this piece is symbolic: the Celtic knot, the outer triangles, the circle of clear, swirled glass, the colors, and the placement of the colors. The blue of the central knot represents our past—filled with sadness, struggle, and bravery. The green represents our present—filled with new understandings and growth. And the purple represents our future—alive with magical possibilities, dreams, goals, and hope. Green and purple result from mixing a second color with blue (blue and yellow make green, blue and red make purple). Let us always remember that where we are and where we are going depends on and is colored by where we've been.

The three outer triangles are warm colors--red, orange, and yellow. None of these triangles is next to its opposite color, but each points to it. Opposite colors intensify each other. This placement is symbolic of the possibility of disharmony and chaos and of our ongoing efforts to create a space in which genuine love, in any configuration, is recognized as a sacred and beautiful blessing.

Both the Celtic knot and the triangles are encircled in clear, swirled glass. The clearness of the glass reminds us of our search for clarity of understanding, honesty, and goodwill. The swirls of the glass remind us that, no matter how well we think we see through things, emotional and unconscious processes always add texture to our experience and sometimes distort our view.

The Celtic knot is inverted to suggest a downward-pointing triangle. Like the outer triangles, it is an ancient cultural and spiritual symbol for the feminine energy. The triangle also reminds us of the pink triangles worn in the Nazi concentration camps to indicate homosexual men and the black triangles worn to indicate lesbians and "undesirable" women. Let us reclaim this ancient symbol as one of pride and beauty.

The spectrum of six colors is used to remind us of our "rainbow flag," a symbol that we have long fought for and flown with pride.

This piece, which was given to my partner Lisa, now hangs in our home as a constant reminder of how fortunate we are to be able to live fully and peacefully in our love for one another. It also reminds us that love overflows and its power transforms our world.

Heather L. Marrs, MA