ISA Holds Forum on Spirituality of Gays and Lesbians

The  Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) continued its monthly Public Lecture by inviting Dr. Mike Lambino to speak on “LGBTQI Spirituality.”

Dr. Lambino is an educator, spiritual director, retreat director and pastoral counsellor with interests in psycho-spirituality, ecological advocacy, inter-culturality and Asian spirituality.

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He has been a teacher, graduate school administrator, guest lecturer locally and abroad, guidance as well as pastoral counsellor, trainor in pastoral counselling, and coordinator of volunteers in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD).

Dr. Lambino was Board member of several foundations, including one where he had worked with ISA Executive and Academic  Director Fr. Rico Ponce, O. Carm who detected his `passionate interest’ in the topic of ISA’s forum of September 24, 2016. 

`LGBTQI’ stands for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, queers and intersex individuals. The phrase embraces homosexuality and together with heterosexuality, represents sexual orientation or gender identity.  

Dr. Lambino said that members of the LGBTQI community must “work through their experience of rejection, ridicule, discrimination, abuse and shame.  They usually … ( internalize) these negative perceptions from family and society, … (and have)  to foster a positive self-image which starts with self-acceptance moving towards self-appreciation.”

In such a task, a relationship with and an image of a compassionate and loving God is crucial, he added. “For example, one’s relationship with  a punishing human father can be transferred to one’s image of God the Father.” 

At the forum Dr. Lambino said that GBTQI psycho-spirituality must evaluate how biblical references to homosexuality are interpreted. There should also be a dialogue with psychological and social sciences, and a consideration of the thoughts of moral theologians on LGBTQI concerns. 

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Bible has been a difficult text because of the way it has been misinterpreted on issues of homosexuality.  For example, Dr. Lambino showed a picture of a rallyist holding a placard “God created men and women, not gays and tomboys.”

As for the thinking of moral theologians, the traditional is that God intends all humans to be heterosexual, thus making homosexuality a deviation from God’s divine plan – a deviation usually explained in terms of sin, and previously as sickness.

 According to this view, gays or lesbians must change their sexual orientation through prayer or counselling, or failing that, live totally celibate and sexually loveless life.  Sexual fulfilment is the exclusive right of heterosexuals. [“On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” 1986].

But things are changing among some moral theologians. Dr. Lambino quoted Dignity USA,  “Read within the context of their own historical and cultural backgrounds, the Bible texts do not address adult, loving homosexual relations as we understand them today.”

For its part avers:  “The fact of the matter is that there is no clear condemnation of people with homosexual orientation living out their lives fully expressing their orientation, sexual or otherwise, anywhere in the Scriptures.” 

As for love between gay men or lesbians, if it is a constructive human love, it is not sinful or alienating them from God’s plan [e.g., John McNeill, Taking a Chance on Love[God];  Margaret Farley, Just Love]. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Dr. Lambino quoted  Pope Francis: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge? We shouldn’t marginalize people for this – they must be integrated into society.”

Dr. Lambino also showed a picture of an ordination of a priest by the gay community. He  explained,  “Some organizations have been created by LGBT people who have experienced being excluded. For one,  Metropolitan Community Church is said to be the world’s first church group with a primary positive  ministry to gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons. “ 

He added, “While many faith traditions have continuously excluded the LGBTQ community, others have created space for their LGBT brothers and sisters like UCCP.”

A placard from the United Church of Christ advocates: Let Grace Be Total.

There should be a dialogue with psychological and social sciences, Dr. Lambino also said. He pointed out how a homosexual orientation has no necessary connection with sin, sickness or failure. For his part clinical psychologist Dr. Edwin Decenteceo, in the audience but soon to speak at ISA’s Public Lecture in November, recalled that the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a disease and illness in 1973, and was soon followed by similar professional bodies.

 Dr. Lambino called a homosexual orientation “a gift from God to be accepted and lived out in gratitude. God does not despise anything that God created. Human beings do not choose their sexual orientation, like their eye color.  It cannot be changed through prayer. There is no healthy way to reverse or change sexual orientation once it is established.” 

At the open forum, Fr. Ponce recalled inviting his usual contacts to this event, only to be reminded by a nun that homosexuality is an aberration. Also during the forum, a teacher asked for advice for her nephew coping with shame, depression and anxiety about being `different’

What then can LGBTs do? Dr. Lambino gave six spiritual practices for them – coming out; letting go; making justice; reading Queer Lectio Divina; praying; and worshipping.

Coming out as a spiritual practice takes three stages over and over again: purging oneself of false images and expectations forced by a heterosexist society;  welcoming the ‘illumination’ or insight that comes from living out an identity more authentic to oneself; and ‘union,’ connection, and abiding with the Divine that is at the deepest center of oneself.           

As one of the lecture attendees was not afraid to share,   “The cost of coming out is worth the price.” Singer Diana Ross rhapsodized on this, and a local artist sang about being a sirena happy even if scolded for putting on make-up and cross-dressing, per videos shown by Dr. Lambino.

Letting go is like the ‘purgation’ stage. It is a spiritual practice that means freeing oneself from harmful religious beliefs and institutional expectations that bound an LGBT individual.

As for justice making, it is about embracing sexuality and spirituality. These two are integrally related as expressions of one’s ‘body self’ in the world. Ii is also understanding the interlocking nature of oppression – the ways homophobia grows out of sexism and is hidden by issues of race.

Justice making also means  dealing with ‘isms’ among LGBTs like lookISM or the tyranny of looking good;  egoISM or self-absorption; machoISM or a homophobic homo; and outISM or being forced to come out. Reclaiming a Queer spirituality does not exempt LGBTs from doing justice in one’s own backyard, Lambino said.

As for Lectio Divina, it is reclaiming the Bible as a sacred text and reading it for formation. Meditative reading allows the words and stories of scripture to open us to the Divine. Lambino also pointed out how coming-out stories and the history of the LGBT community can also be considered as sacred texts.

Although Dr. Lambino had said how a homosexual orientation cannot be changed through prayer, he sees cultivating silence as a form of prayer and as a profound spiritual discipline that opens one to the Divine within himself or herself and in others.

 Keeping  silence is listening deeply to oneself and to others to discern specific activities for justice making and letting go. In contrast, worship involves people in ritual, blessing and expressing Queer rites of passage: marriage, baptism, dedications, memorials and celebrations.

Worship is experiencing the Divine and expressing these experiences through music, art, preaching, teaching, and liturgy, explained Dr. Lambino. 

What is the pastoral approach therefore, he was asked at the open forum.

His reply: “It is providing friendly support where people will feel safe to talk about their issues without feeling judged right away as abnormal. Start with ourselves and our own context. Do we see them as persons with dignity? Pope Francis said that to take care of the sheep,  we must smell like the sheep.” #                                                                    

Pinky Choudhury