Freedom, Glorious Freedom is the third volume in John McNeill's landmark trilogy on gay and lesbian spirituality. It deals with the presence of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of love in our daily experiences, and how to arrive at the glorious freedom of the children of God.
In Freedom, Glorious Freedom, acclaimed author John J. McNeill shows how lesbian and gay Christians can achieve full spiritual maturity and self-acceptance. McNeill discusses freedom of conscience and discernment of spirits, ancient teachings of the Christian church that have a special urgency for lesbian and gay people who need to free themselves from all the homophobic authorities and deal with God on a direct and personal basis. The liberating process of coming out of the closet is seen as a spirit-filled effort to achieve the glory of God by becoming fully alive. McNeill offers a twelve-step spirituality as a spiritual process of liberation from all addictions in order to experience the love of God in its fullness. The epilogue expresses in detail a philosophical vision, looking both to the past and to the future, of how gay liberation fits into the Spirit-directed evolution of human history and its role in the ongoing struggle for human liberation.
"When we gays and lesbians discover that we cannot follow the fallible teachings of our religious authorities without destroying ourselves," McNeill explains, "then we are forced to search out what God is saying to us through our experience and take personal responsibility for the choices we make."
Freedom, Glorious Freedom is a new reprint edition published by Lethe Press
(Maple Shade, NJ), 10 January 2010.
It has also been published in Italian, (Libertà, Gloriosa Libertà: Un cammino di spiritualità e liberazione per omosessuali credenti; Edizioni Gruppo Abele, Torino 1996).
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The following paragraghs are excerpts from Freedom, Glorious Freedom:
Maturity is defined as the ability to live one's own insights and feelings and no longer live in a continuous effort to meet the expectations of others. It means the ability to discern what is the true self and to find the courage to act out that true self.
Humans have in their hearts a law written by God. To obey it is the very
dignity of the human; according to it we will be judged. Conscience is
the most secret core and sanctuary of the human. There, we are alone
with God, whose voice echoes in our depths. In a wonderful manner conscience
reveals the law which is fulfilled by love of God and your fellow humans.
In fideilty to conscience Christians are loined to the rest of humanity in
the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems
which arise from the ilfe of the individual and from social relationships.
[From documents of Vatican II]
Pathological religion relies on fear of punishment to obtain obedience; it uses guilt as a subtle lever for manipulation and control. It fears freedom and cultivates blind, unquestioning obedience. Even normal doubts are punished and repressed because they are seen as threatening.
How do we gays go about "drinking from our own wells" in our spiritual life? God will speak to us directly through our experience, as long as we open ourselves and seek to learn God's will for us. This personal experience is the only unpolluted water from which we gay people can drink.
How difficult it can be to listen to our feelings and realize that God is saying something to us directly through those feelings of peace, joy, and fulfillment, and conversely, through the negative feelings of sadness, depression, and compulsive acting out.
Every passage begins in disorientation and the threat of loss. It matures into a second stage as we allow ourselves to fully experience and to name the loss. It is this middle part of the passage, this in between time, that we experience as very frightening. How can we be sure that if we let go of the security of the closet, that we can survive outside the closet, especially since we constructed those closets because we thought our lives depended on it?
In the disorientation and darkness of a passage, we cannot see another side; we cannot be sure, cannot control, where the journey leads. Staying in a closet is a way of trying to stay in control without needing to trust God.
To listen to and to own movements of affection in our hearts places us in great jeopardy. In the midst of this passage, which is the only route to the maturing of our adult identity and vocation, we experience deep fear and doubts. Our homophobic culture and Church do all in their power to reinforce this self-denial that keeps gay people in the dark, even to themselves. But once we make the break through and are able to admit and love our gayness, the peace and joy we experience is overwhelming.
We need to have whatever is preventing us from really accepting and loving ourselves removed: we need to be healed in that woundedness; we need to be empowered to really love ourselves. And that is grace! God invites us to acknowledge and embrace the person we are.
Interiorized self-hatred is the sin of gay people, and we must learn to see it that way. We have to realize somehow that God loves us as we are, gay men and lesbian women. And if we have that sense that God loves us, if that knowledge touches our hearts, we can begin to love ourselves. We can let go of all self-hatred and the desire to be something other than what we are. We can begin to genuinely love ourselves.
The first passage is the struggle to achieve self-acceptance and the second is acting on the desire to be known and loved for who we are. Until we are loved by someone who knows us completely, we will find it very difficult to believe that God loves us.
The danger of this step lies in the rejection and humiliation that can result if we risk sharing ourselves. For this reason, it is important to be careful in choosing where you come out and whom you come out to. Choose the right time and the right person! We should consider the consequences of coming out, weigh our ability to face a possible negative reaction and choose only the people who are most likely to be genuinely loving and respectful in their response. If we are able to come out first within the confines of a secure community, our self-love and self-esteem are strengthened and our interiorized homophobia overcome.
The feeling that one remains hidden to secure love works like a sickness in the soul. And if we go through life with that feeling, we have failed in a fundamental way to learn to trust the goodness and love of our parents and friends. Coming out of the closet to someone we love is a courageous act of trust and love.
Whether we choose a celibate or sexually active life-style, we still must face this passage. Intimacy is not optional, to know God, you must love. If you never let yourself love with a gay love, you will never know God intimately in this life.
God is at work here!! God is stripping us of a once necessary anonymity and calling us to share ourselves with others. We need a place where we are free without judgment or condemnation to talk about our deepest spiritual life, our longings, our fears, and our needs and to get those needs authenticated in deep exchange between our real self and the real self of another person.
This public passage is religious when it includes coming out precisely as a gay person and a person of religious faith. While the first two passages cannot be ignored but must be taken by all gays, this third passage need not be taken by all gays. There are perils that are attached to any public acknowledgement of oneself as gay. The probability of recriminations from both society and church, the loss of one's job, for example, or expulsion from a religious organization, are very real.
Many homosexuals are extraordinarily attracted to service roles in the human community. Gays are frequently called to a generative role where they can give to the community at large the love and affection that most heterosexuals reserve for their children. Many homosexuals feel called to positions as teachers, social workers, hospital orderlies and nurses, student counselors, psychologists, and clergypersons - in fact to any occupation where they can be of direct service to their fellow humans.
One must be careful about the motive which leads one to make a public witness. All of us have some desire to be in the limelight, to be seen and recognized. If this is our only motive, our public witness will probably be counterproductive. But many of us have a more positive reason - the impulse, felt with special urgency in mid-life , to care for and contribute to the next generation. Closeted lives, however holy, cannot provide images and models of religious maturing for others; a certain public exposure and light is required for this virtue of generativity to have its effect.
I have promised myself that I will not remain silent, invisible, unknown. After all
is said and done, the choice for me is not whether or not I am a gay man,
but whether or not I am honest about who I am with myself and others. I would
hope that I might be remembered for helping to create a world in which the
church is seriously addressing the experience of gay people in ways that
strengthen the confidence and self-esteem of individuals who are discovering
their gayness in a world that is framed by a heterosexual construct.
[Bishop Otis Charles - chose to come out of closet after his retirement as Dean of The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA]
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