God can cope with DiversityBy: Rev Rod Pattenden (Sep 19 2022)
Minister at the Uniting Church, Paddington, Rod spoke about being Christian, a gay and a father in Sydney. His partner, Gary Hodson, formerly an Anglican priest and also a father, spoke about acceptance by parishioners and fellow clergy.
Early in adolescence his mother gave Rod a portrait of Christ watching over a young man at the wheel of a ship caught in a storm. He treasured it as an expression of motherly love, comfort and concern. “It aroused in me a sense of affection.” However, Rod’s love of Christ began to fuse with homoerotic images of Him and “Something thoroughly sexual became linked to my religious feelings.” These images were “both arousing and a worry to me”.
Art School deepened his knowledge of the 2000-year heritage of Western art, one striking example being a Reubens portrait of a virile masculine Jesus: below the loincloth His penis is erect. Like many before him, Rod took this not as a sinful image but as one that gives an affirmation of Christ’s humanity.
“Fundamentalism is a dangerous disease,” Rod warned. It is uncompassionate. For example, in the gay world: The gym fanatic who says you should have a 6-pack; the hairdresser who makes you feel bad so he can do a make-over; interior decorators.
“Fundamentalism needs to be named; it needs to be pulled apart; it needs to be fought,” said Rod. “We have to do that because it kills people.”
Speaking about the newly appointed Anglican and Catholic archbishops of Sydney, Rod warned: “We are about to enter a difficult and dark period, a period of fundamentalism.” Although the two clerics differ on details, each believes he acts for ‘rational and theological reasons that are true and correct’. They believe that theirs is the only correct way. “We will find in the coming years that they will join forces.”
The official position of the Uniting Church is that you can be gay and be a minister but actually most people are quiet about their private life.
Gary, who married early, was in a conservative country church when he came out about four years ago. Though coming out made things difficult for some people, the parishioners’ support was overwhelming. “When I talked with other clergy I got an amazingly good response,” he said. “Some came out to me; some said ‘Let’s go to bed’; some said ‘Oh well, I’ve been divorced’; and some said ‘Oh, I’ve had a nervous breakdown’. All the clergy were willing to give space to someone who was different.” He pointed out that while the vast bulk of the church-going public are conservative elderly people they do love us as gay people as they get to know us.
“We have really effective ways of showing that gay men are good men – we have proved they can care for others; that they are sensitive and intuitive; and that they are able to care for their children.”