As of 4 October 2019, the National Redress Scheme:
had received over 5,040 applications
made around 750 decisions — including 638 payments, totalling over $51.3 million
made over 100 offers of redress, and applicants have six months to consider their offer of redress.
was processing over 3,300 applications, with 618 applications on hold because one or more institution named in the application had not yet joined and about 300 applications requiring additional information from the applicant.
As of 4 October, the average payment was $80,019.
In July, August and September of this year more people received redress than in the first year of the Scheme. From 1 July 2019 to 4 October 2019, 405 applications were finalised, resulting in 399 payments.
Participating institutions update
All institutions where child sexual abuse has occurred are encouraged to sign up to the Scheme as soon as possible.
As of 4 October, there were 61 non-government institutions participating in the National Redress Scheme, covering over 41,300 individual sites, such as churches, schools and clubs.
In September, a number of new institutions, organisations and religious orders completed the necessary steps to join the Scheme.
The following institutions have completed the steps to join the Scheme:
Ballarat and Queen’s Anglican Grammar School
The Carmelite Fathers Incorporated (Vic)
Legacy Australia Incorporated*
Parkerville Children and Youth Care Inc
The Trustees of the Passionist Fathers
The additions to the Anglican Church of Australia participating group are:
All Saints’ College Inc
Arden Anglican School
Blue Mountains Grammar School Limited
Campbelltown Anglican Schools Council
The Corporate Trustees of the Diocese of Armidale
The Corporate Trustees of the Diocese of Grafton
Governors of Hale School
Launceston Church Grammar School
The Society of the Sacred Advent Schools Pty Ltd as trustee for The Society of the Sacred Advent – St Aidan’s Trust (St Aidan’s Anglican Girls School)
The Society of the Sacred Advent Schools Pty Ltd as trustee for The Society of the Sacred Advent – St Margaret’s Trust (St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School)
The Synod of the Diocese of The Murray of the Anglican Church of Australia Incorporated
Trinity College Gawler Inc
The addition to the Baptist Churches of Victoria participating group is Warracknabeal Baptist Church.
The addition to the Salesian Society (Vic) participating group is Boys’ Town Engadine.
The additions to the Uniting Church in Australia participating group are:
Aitken College Limited (Vic)
Billanook College Limited (Vic)
Blackheath Home, Oxley (Qld)
Fahan School (Tas)
The Geelong College (Vic)
Kingswood College Limited (Vic)
Methodist Ladies’ College (Vic)
Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (Vic)
Pilgrim School Inc (SA)
Prince Alfred College (SA)
Scotch College (Vic)
The Scots School Albury (Vic)
UnitingCare Wesley Bowden (SA)
Uniting Communities Incorporated (SA)
Uniting Country SA Ltd
*Legacy Australia Incorporated has joined the National Redress Scheme. Legacy Australia Inc. does not include all Legacy clubs. Legacy Australia Inc. is actively working with Legacy clubs to encourage and support them to join the National Redress Scheme.
For more information about the sites covered by these institutions and a full list of institutions that have joined, go to the Scheme’s website.
The website also includes a map where you can find institutions that have joined in your state or territory.
Where do I get support?
Redress Support Services are available to help people understand the Scheme, provide emotional support and guide people through the application process.
A list of support services is available on the website. If you need immediate assistance from a counsellor, please contact:
With regard to any attacker/predator, even in ‘friendly’ games (tactical & sports) it becomes essential to take advantage of the target. As survivours of CSA are often placed in a vulnerable situation, having a valid portal to seek help from is essential. Parents/Guardians need to be aware of these vulnerabilities, otherwise via their ‘blind faith’ may inherently be like ‘feeding lambs to the slaughter’.
A former Jehovah’s Witness is using stolen documents to expose allegations that the religion has kept hidden for decades.
In March 1997, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses, sent a letter to each of its 10,883 U.S. congregations, and to many more congregations worldwide. The organization was concerned about the legal risk posed by possible child molesters within its ranks. The letter laid out instructions on how to deal with a known predator: Write a detailed report answering 12 questions—Was this a onetime occurrence, or did the accused have a history of child molestation? How is the accused viewed within the community? Does anyone else know about the abuse?—and mail it to Watchtower’s headquarters in a special blue envelope. Keep a copy of the report in your congregation’s confidential file, the instructions continued, and do not share it with anyone.
Thus did the Jehovah’s Witnesses build what might be the world’s largest database of undocumented child molesters: at least two decades’ worth of names and addresses—likely numbering in the tens of thousands—and detailed acts of alleged abuse, most of which have never been shared with law enforcement, all scanned and searchable in a Microsoft SharePoint file. In recent decades, much of the world’s attention to allegations of abuse has focused on the Catholic Church and other religious groups. Less notice has been paid to the abuse among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian sect with more than 8.5 million members. Yet all this time, Watchtower has refused to comply with multiple court orders to release the information contained in its database and has paid millions of dollars over the years to keep it secret, even from the survivors whose stories are contained within.
That effort has been remarkably successful—until recently.
A white Priority Mail box filled with manila envelopes sits on the floor of Mark O’Donnell’s wood-paneled home office, on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. Mark, 51, is the owner of an exercise-equipment repair business and a longtime Jehovah’s Witness who quietly left the religion in late 2013. Soon after, he became known to ex–Jehovah’s Witnesses as John Redwood, an activist and a blogger who reports on the various controversies, including cases of child abuse, surrounding Watchtower. (Recently, he has begun using his own name.)
When I first met Mark, in May of last year, he appeared at the front door of his modest home in the same outfit he nearly always wears: khaki cargo shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, white sneakers, and sweat socks pulled up over his calves. He invited me into his densely furnished office, where a fan barely dispelled the wafting smell of cat food. He pulled an envelope from the Priority Mail box and passed me its contents, a mixture of typed and handwritten letters discussing various sins allegedly committed by members of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Massachusetts. All the letters in the box had been stolen by an anonymous source inside the religion and shared with Mark. The sins described in the letters ranged from the mundane—smoking pot, marital infidelity, drunkenness—to the horrifying. Slowly, over the past couple of years, Mark has been leaking the most damning contents of the box, much of which is still secret.
Mark’s eyebrows are permanently arched, and when he makes an important point, he peers out above his rimless glasses, eyes widened, which lends him a conspiratorial air.
“Start with these,” he said.
Among the papers Mark showed me that day was a series of letters about a man from Springfield, Massachusetts, who had been disfellowshipped—a form of excommunication—three times. When the man was once again reinstated, in 2008, someone working in a division of Watchtower wrote to his congregation, noting that in 1989 he was said to have “allowed his 11-year-old stepdaughter to touch his penis … on at least two occasions.”
I was struck by the oddness of the language. It insinuated that the man had agreed to, rather than initiated, the sexual contact with his stepdaughter.
After I left Mark’s house, I tracked down the stepdaughter, now 40. In fact, she told me, she had been only 8 when her stepfather had molested her. “He was the adult and I was the kid, so I thought I didn’t have any choice,” she said. She was terrified, she told me. “It took me two years to go to my mom about it.”
Her mother immediately went to the congregation’s elders, who later called the girl and her stepfather in to pray with them. She remembers it as a humiliating experience.
Her stepfather was eventually disfellowshipped for instances that involved “fornication,” “drunkenness,” and “lying,” according to the letters. But according to the stepdaughter, his alleged molestation of her resulted only in his being “privately reproved,” a closed-door reprimand that is usually accompanied by a temporary loss of privileges, such as not being allowed to offer comments during Bible study or lead a prayer. The letters make no reference to police being notified; the stepdaughter said her mother was encouraged to keep the matter private, and no attempt was made to keep the stepfather away from other children. (Calls to the congregation’s Kingdom Hall—the Witness version of a church—for comment went unanswered.)
By the time the letters were written, the man was attending a different congregation and had married another woman with children; he is still part of that family today. Near the end of the final letter in Mark’s possession is a question: “Is there any responsibility on the part of either body of elders … to inform his current wife of his past history of child molestation?”
Mark O’Donnell’s childhood was an isolated one. His parents, Jerry and Susan, had started attending Jehovah’s Witness meetings in the mid-1960s. Another couple from Baltimore had told them of Watchtower’s prediction that the world would end in 1975, bringing death to all non-Witnesses and transforming Earth into a paradise for the faithful. In 1968, just after Mark was born, Jerry and Susan were group-baptized in a swimming pool in Washington, D.C. Mark was an only child, and he inherited his father’s peculiar love of record-keeping. Mark would show up to meetings at the Kingdom Hall with a briefcase full of religious texts.
As in any religion, there’s some variation among Jehovah’s Witnesses in how strictly they interpret the teachings that govern their faith; Mark’s upbringing seems to have been especially stringent. As a child, he attended at least five meetings a week, plus several hours of private Bible study. On Saturday mornings, he joined his parents in “field service,” knocking on doors in search of converts. He was taught that most people outside the organization were corrupted by Satan and, given the chance, would try to steal from him, drug him, or rape him.Mainstream books and magazines were considered the work of Satan. If he broke any of the religion’s main rules, he could be disfellowshipped, meaning even his own family would have to shun him.
Throughout Mark’s childhood, he heard elders cite Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever holds back his rod hates his son.” Mark’s parents took the lesson to heart and beat him frequently. The religion forbids celebrating birthdays, voting, serving in the military, and accepting blood transfusions, even in life-and-death situations. Witnesses were encouraged to devote themselves to bringing more converts into the religion before the end of the world arrived. “Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property” to spend their last days proselytizing, said a Watchtower publication in 1974. “Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.” Some Witnesses stopped going to the doctor, quit their jobs, or ran up debt.
But piety, Mark noticed, did not always translate to morality. When he was 12, Mark became suspicious of a local Witness named Louis Ongsingco, a flight attendant who would bring home Toblerone bars for the local Witness kids and invite them to his apartment to act out religious plays. Mark noticed Ongsingco touching young girls in a way that made him uncomfortable. He told an elder about his concerns. But rather than take action against Ongsingco, the elder told him what Mark had said. Days later, Ongsingco pulled Mark aside and scolded him.
Mark’s instincts seem to have been right. In 2001, one of Mark’s childhood friends, Erin Michelle Shifflett, along with four other women, sued Ongsingco for sexual assault. The cases were settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Ongsingco died in 2016.
To Mark, the lesson was that for all the emphasis the elders placed on moral purity, there was no greater sin than speaking out against other Witnesses.
By the time Mark was in high school, in the early 1980s, 1975 had come and gone, but Watchtower had a new prediction for the apocalypse. It said that the world would end before the passing of the generation that was alive in 1914. At the time, the youngest members of that generation were 70, so the new prediction created a sense of urgency.
“My parents basically told me, ‘You’re not even going to live to graduate from college,’” Mark said. At 17, despite having a year of college credit and a guidance counselor imploring him to apply, he decided to settle for a high-school diploma. He was baptized and later started his exercise-equipment repair company. The business provided enough flexibility for him to perform 50 hours of field service for the Witnesses a month, which qualified him for the rank of auxiliary pioneer.
Though manyWitnesses left the religion after 1975, membership was on the upswing by the 1990s, and the organization was building new Kingdom Halls. Mark was installing a sound system in a new hall in Baltimore in the fall of 1997 when a young woman named Kimmy Weber asked to borrow his ladder.
At 20, Kimmy was putting in more than 90 hours of field service a month, making her a full-fledged pioneer. She had completed a two-year program at a community college on a scholarship, and would later get permission from the local elders to get her bachelor’s degree. Mark was drawn to her drive and intensity. He tracked down her email address; they flirted over AOL Instant Messenger and were married within eight months. They wanted to start a family, but decided to wait until after the arrival of paradise on Earth, when they, and their children, would be perfect. In the meantime, Kimmy began opening their home to abused and abandoned cats.
As Mark’s business grew, he brought on employees, mostly other Witnesses. When he and Kimmy had saved enough money to buy the house across the street as a rental property, they filled its three units with other Witnesses. There were ski vacations, softball games, dinner parties, and game nights—always with friends who shared their faith.
But as much as Mark enjoyed his friends’ company, he started to chafe at the insularity of their social life. It felt less like intimacy and more like a self-imposed bubble. These frustrations eventually grew into suspicions about Watchtower itself. He’d heard rumors that the organization was covering up cases of pedophilia and child abuse. But Watchtower always dismissed such criticism as “apostate-driven lies.”
A few years after he and Kimmy married, he saw a protester outside a Witness convention holding a sign that reada jw elder molested me. “I looked at that sign,” Mark told me, “and I locked it in my brain. I’ll never forget it. I said to myself,There’s no way he’s lying. Nobody would stand out there and hold a sign that saysan elder molested meunless it really happened. No way. He’s telling the truth.”
Watchtower adjusted its estimates for the apocalypse several more times. In 2010, it introduced the Overlapping Generations theory, which claims that the end will come before the death of everyone who was alive at the same time as anyone who was alive in 1914. Mark found these revised predictions difficult to accept.
In late 2013, Mark had an extreme reaction to an antibiotic and was confined to his couch for several weeks, away from the meetings and Bible studies. Left alone with his thoughts, he began to admit to himself that he no longer believed Armageddon was imminent. The Jehovah’s Witnesses he knew were no more deserving of God’s mercy than the nonbelievers he’d met. And here he was, 45 years old and facing a health crisis. How much more of his life was he willing to waste inside the bubble?
That November, as he and Kimmy were preparing to spend the weekend at a friend’s house, Mark suddenly stopped packing and told Kimmy he couldn’t maintain the facade anymore. He never attended another meeting.
With the anticipation, similar to days before birth of a first child, another form of publication will soon be released. From our smaller presence in earlier days of the 5 yr Child Abuse Royal Commission (CARC), the need to ‘join the dots’ began to call out. Hopefully, with the increased-global visitors of our RCbbc Blog, we’re now able to Share another media: Newsletters! eNews are becoming a greater extension of the 247 work-cycle, allowing wider varieties of audio, visual, text & combinations of media to be exchanged. A business plan is still being developed, yet many feel that these swapping of ideas is helpful.
Originally Halloween was a pagan festival oriented around fire, the dead and the powers of darkness.
Most everyone knows that Halloween takes place on Oct. 31. Far fewer, however, understand the connection between Halloween and the next day on the calendar, the festival of All Hallows’ or All Saints’ Day, celebrated by some churches and denominations Nov. 1.
One author surmises that All Saints’ Day was established to commemorate the saints and martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church and was first introduced in the seventh century (Man, Myth, and Magic, Vol. 1, 1983, p. 109). Oddly enough, history shows that Halloween—this ancient, thoroughly pagan holiday with its trappings of death and demonism—is inseparably tied to All Saints’ Day.
Pagan festivals from time immemorial have had a curious way of worming their way into Christianity over the centuries. The Encyclopedia of Religion explains that “the British church attempted to divert the interest in pagan customs by adding a Christian celebration to the calendar on the same date as the Samhain [the ancient Celtic name for the festival that eventually would be renamed Halloween].
“The Christian festival, the Feast of All Saints, commemorates the known and unknown saints of the Christian religion just as the Samhain had acknowledged and paid tribute to the Celtic deities” (1987, Vol. 6, p. 177).
How did this strange turn of events come about—the Catholic Church transforming an ancient pagan festival into one to supposedly honor deceased saints?
The 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia records this about All Saints’ Day: “In the early days the Christians were accustomed to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr’s death for Christ at the place of martyrdom. In the fourth century, neighboring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast. Frequently groups of martyrs suffered on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration.
“In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. [Eventually] GregoryIII(731-741) consecrated a chapel in the basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November” (Vol. 1, p. 315).
Pope Gregory’s choice of Nov. 1 for this celebration was significant. Author Lesley Bannatyne explains: “That the date coincided with Samhain was no accident: the Church was still trying to absorb pagan celebrations taking place at this time …
“Villagers were also encouraged to masquerade on this day, not to frighten unwelcome spirits, but to honor Christian saints. On All Saints’ Day, churches throughout Europe and the British Isles displayed relics of their patron saints. Poor churches could not afford genuine relics and instead had processions in which parishioners dressed as saints, angels and devils. This religious masquerade resembled the pagan custom of parading ghosts to the town limits. It served the new church by giving an acceptable Christian basis to the custom of dressing up on Halloween.
“In addition, the Church tried to convince the people that the great bonfires they lit in homage to the sun would instead keep the devil away …” (Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, 1998, pp. 9, 11).
Later a second celebration, All Souls’ Day, was instituted on Nov. 2. Eventually these two holidays merged into the present observance on Nov. 1, which was also called All Hallows’ Day. The name of All Hallows’ Even (evening) for the night of Oct. 31 evolved into the name Hallowe’en, or Halloween as it is called today.
This is a brief history of how men rationalized taking an ancient pagan festival rooted in death and demonism and adapting it for use as a “Christian” celebration. Regrettably, it flies in the face of God’s explicit instruction to not use pagan practices to worship Him.
He clearly states inDeuteronomy 12:30-32: “… Do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship theLORDyour God in that way; for every abomination to theLORDwhich He hates they have done to their gods … Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.”
A mural of “The Last Supper” is displayed in February in the church of Curahuara de Carangas, Bolivia. While the mural is a version of the original Da Vinci painting, it shows the relationship between Jesus and the apostles. Modern theologians are examining and analyzing the Bible and Christian tradition from a view that homosexuality and gender nonconformity existed in ancient times just as they do today.
‘Previous translation s of the bible’ would indicate CHANGES, to a supposedly concrete-unchangeable foundation. The Catholic’s faith-practice-order: Catholicism, has changed radically since the time of Pope Pius (early 1900’s, 20th century). Although the Catholic Church claims to be under unexpected tension in the current decade, the 3rd decade (2020’s) is less than 10 months away.
Because of safety concerns, the school was essentially on lockdown.
Threatening calls and emails were pouring into Tarleton State University, a medium-sized school in central Texas.
It was 2010 and then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in a press release what the school was doing was attacking common decency.
“No one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans. … This lewd display runs completely contrary to the standards of scholastic excellence and common decency that we demand in our publicly-funded institutions for higher learning,” Dewhurst said.
The state of Texas was in an uproar because of a play. At the center of the controversy was John Otte, then a 26-year-old student at Tarleton State. He was part of an advanced directing class and had to select a production to manage. Otte died in 2018 at age 34, but he spoke about his decision in choosing the play in a2010 interview found on YouTube.
“It just resonated within me the message of the full picture. … This play was very touching for me. I cried when I read the script and it gave a more tangible Christ figure for me,” he said in the video.
The play was “Corpus Christi,” a modern telling of the story of Jesus and the apostles set in Texas. But this was not just any play about the son of God. In the production, Jesus and the apostles are gay. And what is being imagined in the theater is getting a closer examination by modern theologians.
Understanding queer theology
Questioning Jesus’ personal life has been a point of historical and theological tension for decades. His supposed relationship with Mary Magdalene is the central plot of “The Da Vinci Code.”
Further theories have questioned whether Jesus had a homosexual relationship with the “beloved disciple” mentioned in multiple Bible verses.
These kinds of questions are part of the growing field of queer theology. The theology analyzes the Bible and Christian tradition from a view that homosexuality and gender nonconformity existed in ancient times just as they do today.
Queer theology resists the notion emphasized in Christianity that heterosexuality is salvation, said the Rev. Dr. Bob Shore-Goss, a gay theologian and author of several books on queer theology.
“The whole ideology of 20th-century, and even now 21st-century, Christianity is to be heterosexual meant you were perfect,” he said. “And what does that do to people like myself? Or people who are transgendered and who are bisexual and so on? We’re lesser human beings. And see there’s a denigration there.”
Shore-Goss said queer theology takes the definition of queer — meaning strange or odd — and applies it in understanding the characters of the Bible and how they navigated their historical society.
The Bible does not include a line about Jesus’ sexuality — gay, straight, bisexual or anywhere on the spectrum — because the terms used today did not exist 2,000 years ago. The terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual” were created in the late 1800s.
But comparing the definition of queer to how Jesus acted in ancient Palestine, Shore-Goss said, leads to an obvious conclusion: Jesus was queer.
“When you use the word ‘queer’ historically, it’s not a thing or an identity,” he said. “It is really standing outside of any sort of patriarchal normativity. … I would say Jesus is queer. But if you push me, is that something about sexuality? Possibly. Is it something about his kind of deconstructing and destabilizing masculinity in the Roman Empire, and in first-century Palestine? Yes, he’s not a normal male.”
In ancient times, a man had status and value by owning property, including not just land but a wife. Men owned women. Jesus neither held land or married, according to the Bible.
Jesus also recognized women as equals. In John 4, he goes to a town well and meets a woman who was a social outcast. Merely walking up and talking with the woman would have been viewed as heretical among the religious at the time.
The Holy Spirit, which is said to guide Christians after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, helps the apostles to spread the word of God to people around the world, as told in the book of Acts. One of the first converts in the spread of Christianity is a eunuch, another social and sexual outcast at the time, Shore-Goss said.
In his ministry, Jesus even identified with eunuchs, as told in Matthew 19:12, said Kittredge Cherry, a lesbian minister, theologian and creator ofQSpirit.net, which promotes LGBTQ rights in the church. Looking over previous translations of the Bible, Jesus ministered to the sexual minorities of his time, she said.
“The word that he used for eunuch is for a sexual minority,” Cherry said. “That’s the closest thing to what we might call today LGBTQ. He reached out to people who the regular religious authorities were saying were sinners, that we’re too far gone to be part of God’s kingdom. He went ahead and said, ‘These are the people that are also welcome in God’s kingdom.’”
Cherry said one of the reasons modern Christians may struggle to accept the sexual diversity present in ancient times and acknowledged in the Bible is because modern Christians struggle to understand their own sexualities and bodies.
What does the Bible really say?
Faith leaders who condemn homosexuality and other sexualities often turn to lines in the Bible that seemingly condemn anything beyond the heterosexual worldview.
However, those verses which Cherry referred to as “clobber passages” are being re-examined and are offering a different view, she said.
“New understandings, based on contemporary Bible scholarship, have debunked a lot of the more hateful and misguided interpretations that say the Bible flatly condemns all homosexuality and gender variance as we know it today,” Cherry said.
Leviticus 18:22—Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. (NIV)
The denunciation of men having relations with men here is part of a list of practices Christians should not do. Centuries later, some of those practices are still viewed as socially unacceptable. For example, several lines in Leviticus say people should not practice incest or child sacrifice.
Other rules in the section include not committing adultery or cursing out one’s parents. In 2019 society, these acts are not necessarily seen as good, but they are not a reason for execution.
Then, there are rules in Leviticus that no longer have application to modern times, such as not having sex with a menstruating woman or talking to a fortune teller.
Theologians point out all the rules outlined in Leviticus are given the same weight and punishment. But, over time, society has cherry-picked which rules to keep and which to ignore.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10—Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)
The analysis by Myers states the Greek phrase about homosexuality originally used in the passage has two meanings. The first meaning is literal homosexuality. The second meaning, though, is about being sexually promiscuous, a practice the Bible repeatedly condemns in other sections. The meaning the original writers of this passage intended is unclear, Myers wrote.
What queer theology adds
Ancient traditions recognized a spectrum of sexualities, despite not always recognizing the variety as equal.
Heterosexuality was seen as “natural” not only because it was the most common but because of the Protestant Reformation, said Megan DeFranza, theologian and author of “Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God.”
Prior to Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses in 1517, celibacy was viewed as the holiest way of life, one of the reasons why nuns and priests in the Catholic tradition must be celibate. Part of Luther’s revolution in the Reformation was announcing that being married and raising a family could also be holy, DeFranza said.
“Then we have the emphasis on ‘Oh, it’s just as much a religious vocation to have a family as it is to serve God and the monastery,’” she said. “Well, what that ended up doing was making fewer places for those who didn’t fit into that binary reproductive model. With fewer monasteries, there were fewer places to go if you didn’t fit in those categories as male or female.”
DeFranza’s work offers a more complex reading of the Bible to counter what she said are often narrow interpretations. Her book re-evaluates some of the gender stereotypes in the church. Among conservative Christians, there are strict gender roles where a man has certain duties and a woman has certain duties. But also, among liberal members of the faith, the genders are seen to be all alike and there is little recognition of the various genders, especially the gender minorities, she said.
DeFranza said modern science on gender and sexuality is helping us better understand what ancient people already knew: There is a spectrum of gender and sexuality.
“Ancient Judaism had six extra categories in addition to male and female,” she said. “… Saint Augustine talks about hermaphrodites in his book ‘The City of God,’ which is a very well-known piece of his literature that lots of folks have to read. And yet, we read right past the section where he talks about hermaphrodites and androgynes being rare but saying every culture has people that they don’t know how to classify as male or female.”
The Bible is clear salvation is not withheld from sexual minorities, DeFranza said.
In Isaiah 56, eunuchs complain to God about being separated from other church followers. God reassures and blesses them, not to be changed and to fit into the binary heterosexual model but God blesses them as they are, DeFranza said.
The ongoing research and conversations around queer theology are reversing a trend in the Christian tradition that has long-marginalized members of the LGBTQ community. While some churches have opened their doors, many people who identify as LGBTQ do not feel welcome in the pews. About half of congregations allow openly gay or lesbian couples to be members,according to the Pew Research Center.
Cherry said queer theology is pushing the church to be more inclusive. A different way of reading the ancient text is allowing the marginalized to see themselves in the Bible story.
“When I read the Bible thinking that Jesus is like me, it just brings it alive and makes it much more real,” Cherry said. “And I think that’s true for other LGBTQ people. I’m not doing this to say, this is the only way to look at Jesus. … It helps to see that Jesus was like we are and to see ourselves reflected in the holy story. Now for our straight allies, I think it’s also valuable to visualize the idea that Jesus was gay because it helps them then to be able to see the holiness among the LGBTQ community and just to expand their idea of God.”