Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Love between Women

Bernadette Brooten

In thanksgiving for the life, ministry, advocacy, and friendship of the Rev. Kathy (Young) Lancaster, who served the Presbyterian task force on homosexuality as its staff person.

The last two posts of May unconsciously began a series of personal reflections on the LGBT Christian movement that is continuing each Wednesday of June, LGBT Pride Month. For those unfamiliar with this blog, be assured that I will return to other topics next month!

Many years before Brandeis University professor Bernadette Brooten published her extraordinary 1996 work, Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, she attended a Lazarus Project conference I organized featuring John Boswell, author of Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality. Today these books stand side by side on my bookshelves.

I was so taken by her work unearthing evidence of females in relationship in antiquity, that I suggested she return as a co-presenter with Boswell at another such event.

Initially she was responsive to that idea, but upon reflection, she graciously but firmly explained to me that it wouldn’t work out. The introduction to her later book may explain her hesitancy: while crediting Boswell with gathering more on female homoeroticism in the Roman period than many previous scholars, she and other feminists criticized his book’s lack of gender analysis.

So I suggested she co-present with my friend Ann Matter, who was doing similar work with women loving women in the Middle Ages. Their collaboration, “Lesbians in Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” was a big success, drawing more lesbians than any previous Lazarus gathering, though one couple left early, disgruntled to discover the material presented had to do with religion.

I had met Ann Matter while in seminary in 1974 when, together, we introduced the need for ministry among LGBT Yalies to the Yale Religious Ministry, an interfaith gathering of campus chaplains led by the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, a progressive Christian who would later describe himself (as many of us could be described) as “a recovering racist, sexist, and homophobe.”

The year after Brooten’s book appeared, she joined me and other presenters to lead an LGBT-oriented conclave at the Presbyterian conference center at Stony Point, New York. Attendees were blown away by her insightful and well-researched, well-documented presentation—the most scholarly of any of our presentations.

But it was only when, during the Q&A that followed, she was asked about her personal history, that she launched into a story that mesmerized her audience. The story is still hers to tell, but suffice it to say it explained her personal passion for her work as well as the struggles she faced in doing it.

Bernadette had not come intending to tell her own story, but that was also needed to inspire us.

Somewhat ironically, the final sentence of Love between Women, intended as a cap for remembering “the ancient traditions that have diminished and debased the lives of lesbians, bisexual women, and—indeed—all women” may also serve as a reason to rehearse our personal stories:

“By understanding our past, we may progress toward a more humane future, one in which we acknowledge the sacredness and holiness of a woman expressing her love for another woman.”

Under which in my copy of her book I wrote, AMEN!

To see previous posts in this series, click on this link or copy in a browser, and scroll down to earlier posts.

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Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

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