The history of homosexual believers in Christian Churches reveals an ever-evolving phenomenon in which some sociologists have seen a form of «neosecularization». This is not a return of God, since he has never been absent in their experience of faith, but rather a new way of living faith. This is a new perspective on how spirituality and a sense of belonging are evolving within religious institutions. He is convinced of it Matteo Menniniprofessor of Christianity and globalization at Roma Tre University, author of an important essay entitled LGBT+ believers. Rights, faith and Christian Churches in contemporary Italy published by Carocci thanks to the contribution of the Otto per Mille of the Waldensian Table and the national association Cammini di Speranza, made up of LGBT+ Christians.
This seminal work traces the often overlooked history of homosexual believers from the 1970s to the 2000s, giving them the dignity they have long deserved. Using archival sources never examined beforeinterviews with the main protagonists and internal documentation of the groups, the author analyzed the main debates and the contribution of the Italian experiences of aggregation for LGBT+ believers in Protestant churches and in the Catholic church.
To date, the homosexual believer has mainly been the object of study from a sociological point of view. However, this first historical look reveals something new for contemporary society: «Globalization – says Mennini a The print – not only had a huge impact on religions, but also on the idea of secularization understood as progressive loss of influence of religious institutions in society and in individual life. It is necessary to rethink these categories taking into consideration the plurality of contexts and processes such as migration, the development of artificial intelligence and the questioning of the gender binary. The history of LGBT+ Christians is one of these micro changes that go beyond the idea of secularization and call for the adoption of other paradigms: there is a new way of living faith that manifests itself as a challenge to the given of tradition, be it biblical or doctrinal.”
The author, Matteo Mennini, has published various essays on Christian education in the Papal State and on the relationship between the Catholic Church and human rights
How does the experience of LGBT+ Christians question the idea of secularization?
«It is reductive and wrong to say that non-heterosexual Christians are inclined to leave institutional Christianity because they do not feel accepted, or that negotiations on doctrine or pastoral care with religious authorities are not possible. While it is undeniable that many gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians distance themselves from churches because of their orientation, many choose to stay even if their community or church appears to be at odds with what the “norm” prescribes. Even the history of LGBT+ believers in the Italian Christian Churches speaks to us of a religious experience that some sociologists have defined as “neo-secularization”. After having faced the challenge of their condition within the Churches, groups of LGBT+ believers seek possible integration and institutional normalization. They develop conscious strategies to affirm their uniqueness, without necessarily seeking approval on an ethical-religious level, but position themselves as bearers of a mission towards their own Churches”.
How many groups of LGBT+ believers exist in Italy today?
«We are talking about 35 organizations that promote meetings, training and moments of spirituality aimed at a few hundred permanent participants. To these realities must be added three national associations, a network of parents with homosexual children and the young people of the Gionata Project. Furthermore, some Italian Dioceses have recently launched forms of specialized pastoral care aimed at believers deemed “irregular”. This diversity should not be perceived as a threat or problem within religious institutions, but rather as a resource that helps renew and reinvigorate churches. In short, it is a reality that does not feel alien and does everything to stay within it.”
How has the spirituality of Italian LGBT+ Christians changed?
«The very first groups were formed between Turin and Milan towards the end of the Seventies. The activism of a young Piedmontese, Ferruccio Castellano, was fundamental, and we are commemorating the 40th anniversary of his tragic death in these days. Since then, young LGBT+ people have learned to develop strategies to feel fully integrated into the Church. They are no longer hidden in the catacombs, but emerge from hiding and move from desperation to action and proposal. Starting from the first meeting at the “Agape” ecumenical center near Turin on the theme “Faith and homosexuality” in 1980, LGBT+ Christians have not only chosen to be more visible, but have organized themselves to be so. They proudly participate in Pride events and try to positively influence their Churches, combining vocation and provocation, with the aim of making them more inclusive. They want to redefine both the thresholds of belonging to individual Churches and their personal religious identity. In this process, they promote a positive evaluation of their sexual orientation and renegotiate their relationship with religious authorities and sacred texts.”
What is the situation in the evangelical churches?
«In the context of reformed Protestantism, there is greater integration of LGBT+ people into community life compared to the Catholic Church. In 2010, the first official blessing of a couple of German women, one of whom was a pastor of the Lutheran Church in Italy, was celebrated in a Waldensian church in Trapani. Previously, in 2007, the Baptist General Assembly and the Synod of the Methodist and Waldensian Churches had paved the way for the approval of the blessings of same-sex couples, a decision later ratified at the Synod in 2010. In 2011 it was the Synod of the Lutheran Church in Italy to recognize the blessings for LGBT+ couples, stating that homosexuality is a natural condition. The situation is different for the evangelical Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal Churches, which do not follow the tradition of the Protestant Reformation and maintain a position of rejection towards homosexuality, based on the literal interpretation of some biblical verses. As for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Italy, it has only begun to take the issue into consideration in recent years, even without making official statements on the matter.”
Pope Francis is never mentioned in the book. Is it possible to consider his openness towards homosexual Catholics real?
«It is difficult to historicize an ongoing pontificate. In my work, I have focused on a previous period, namely the thirty years from the referendum on abortion to the reaffirmation of some values during the pontificate of John Paul II. There is no doubt that, thanks to the current pontiff, there has been an easing of tension in terms of the language used, but it is equally true that, from a doctrinal point of view, no significant change has occurred”.
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