40 Answers for Kevin DeYoung Part 2: A Panel Discussion!

Recently, self-described non-emergent theologian Kevin DeYoung posed “40 questions for Christians now waving rainbow flags.” As he describes the questions, they “aren’t meant to be snarky or merely rhetorical. They are sincere, if pointed, questions that I hope will cause my brothers and sisters with the new rainbow themed avatars to slow down and think about the flag you’re flying.”

In the midst of several responses to the 40 questions, including Ben Irwin’s responses and Matthew Vines’ posing of an additional 40 questions, I wanted to invite a panel to address each of Kevin’s questions. Each of them represent different approaches to the question and different places in life, including age, career, and faith development.  Allow me to introduce our three panelists.

Three voices:

Johnny – 10 years old to 15 years old. Highly creative child; writes plays, movies, and stars in a public access TV show. Historically hates going to church, but goes to a Lutheran Middle School and undertakes first communion and confirmation. Develops an appreciation for faith and spirituality, but also has begun to develop attraction towards boys, and is getting scared. Develops a deep depression once entering high school.

John – 16 to 23 years old. Has religious commitment experience at age 16 that would set him on a path of happiness and exploring the Christian faith. Becomes committed to following his dream of being a teacher, but now within a religious context. Reconciles that his sexual attractions are ok as long as he is “in Christ.” Goes to Christian college and continues on to Seminary. Becomes very active in a church.

JFou – 24 years old to present. After rigorous study and reflection in seminary, decides to come out at age 25. He/him/his pronouns are fine. Leaves his church prior to coming out, which was a very painful experience. Has excellent last year of seminary, where his queer theology flourishes. He continues to study and write after seminary and becomes more active in the LGBTQ community. He continues to explore the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion around and within him.

So, without further ado, let’s get to our panel. I have grouped some of the questions into similar categories while preserving the original questions as a means of simplification for our guests.  And now, the second in a series of questions revolving around the theology of gay marriage:

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

Johnny – Of those people, I only know Luther, and all I know about Luther is his Small Catechism, and he doesn’t talk about it in there.

John – I don’t think they could have grasped homosexuality as it is today; it would be so foreign to them. Still, they would probably have looked at it and still condemned it. We must understand these theologians as contextualized, and it would be impossible for them to think otherwise. Just because the long arc of history has been against same-sex sexual activity doesn’t mean the arc is right.

JFou – Straight White Men dictating church dogmatics?  C’est la même chanson. Vieux chapeau.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

Johnny – I hate the idea of being a missionary, but I feel guilty about feeling that way. Still, if I’m going to do any convincing, it will be through teaching. If I’m called to ministry, it would be in teaching.

John – I wouldn’t. I think there are ways of reading the Bible poorly, such as reading agendas into it.  I think we see just as much of ‘biblically incorrect’ arguments in North American churches (i.e. prosperity gospel, America as a Christian nation). The point is that a North American reads the Bible—and even uses it differently—than a South American.  A North American might be apt to draw out rules and regulations from the reading, whereas a South American may identify more with the liberationist narratives. It’s all culturally conditioned, but it doesn’t mean that understandings are incorrect.

JFou – Me neither. To presume biblical correctness is to assume the category of ‘biblical’ as a distinct (and sacrosanct) culture. The assumption is that ‘biblical’ means to be historically and grammatical correct as to the original intent of the writer. For some, that writer is God; for others it is ancient people, and for even more others it’s something in between. It is important to understand that—in spite of our attempts to understand the intent of ancient writers— our understanding of what is biblical is still informed by our own cultural lens.  We interpret the Bible as a cultural document—distinct from our own—with our culture’s lens.

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

Johnny – I know Hillary, but who’s Barack?

John – If it were the case, I think it would be at best theopolitically motivated and at worst purely political. The former would mean that their political beliefs were precisely informed by their religious beliefs, wherein at some point there was a move of conviction that allowed them to think differently.  For the latter, it was a means of earning approval points. Smart, but…

JFou – With all due respect, what a stupid question. Amidst all of the questions posed, this is the most thinly veiled (triple metaphor) biased question. I think both of them have a tremendous amount of personal animus and bigotry, as I would expect from any politician. It’s unfortunate that we have come to distrust our political system). However, if our politicians claim that we are a democracy, then our cynicism is warranted by the paradox that (1) it is democracy that fosters this cynicism and that (2) we do not actually exist in a democracy but an oligarchy of the wealthiest. Coming back to the issue at hand (marriage equality), I would still confidently say that there is much more animus and bigotry from those opposing marriage equality than those who may change their mind hither or thither. Still, outright, subtle, and silent prejudices are all still bigotry.

14, 15, 16. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father? If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion? If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

Johnny – My family’s not perfect, but I think my mom and dad are doing their best, and I know they love me regardless. I don’t think it would make any difference if the parents were either both men or both women. The kids might miss out on learning about what it’s like to be a male or female if one of them is missing, so I think it would be important for that kid to have someone important in their life who is not like them.

John – Johnny is on to something. I think a stable family is ultimately what is important. I don’t know many (or any?) families where there are two parents of the same sex, but I would weigh their stability with the same rubric as a heterosexual couple. I agree with Johnny about having a broad network of influence on a child’s rearing from differing gender and sex perspectives. I don’t think the church or the state should have any role in promoting or privileging any family dynamic.

JFou – Johnny’s right. Strong, inclusive families can foster greater happiness. I now know families with two dads or two moms, and I’m impressed with their family system. I’ve seen some research that shows no difference between heterosexual or homosexual parenting, but I think Johnny has a point about the ‘missing out’ piece.  I would like to see families approach gender and sex in a constructive way, inviting persons into the family dynamic that are not like the immediate family. This sort of inclusivity is incredibly beneficial.

17, 18. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment? How would you define marriage?

Johnny – I think marriage is a big commitment, and so it’s more than emotional and sexual fulfillment.  I think it’s spiritual. I think it’s supposed to last all your life. I think it’s about finding that soul mate. I think it’s romantic. I would like to get married and maybe have a family, but I’m also a bit nervous about it. I just hope I find someone that likes me enough and that I have good kids.

John – I too would like to spend my life with someone.  What can I say? I’m a romantic.  I think the purpose of marriage is an ultimate expression of love through commitment.  You can have emotions and sex outside of marriage, but marriage is a ritual that symbolizes the sort of ultimate commitment two people have to one another before God and the world. I see it more as an intimate partnership, where two people come together and decide to devote themselves to the love between them and the love that will come from them, whether in children or in the work the two do together.

JFou – Marriage is a social institution with whatever symbolism a society ascribes to it. If there is any theological significance to it, it is because it is ascribed that; nothing more. While I would like to have a partner, I don’t know if I want to get married.  I like how John describes the partnership of a marriage, and I resonate with his romantic tendencies. However, since coming out, I have also deconstructed my concept of romance and its tendencies.  Critiquing that part of me was a difficult process, but I know better what I want and why I want it.

And now: a lightning round! Questions 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24.  

  Johnny John JFou
Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married? No. No. Probably not.
  Johnny John JFou
Should marriage be limited to only two people? Yes. Probably. I’m not sure if I care.
  Johnny John JFou
On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married? I don’t know. There would need to be a free will commitment to enter into a loving and mutually reciprocal relationship. I leave it to the professionals on this one. I can’t even begin to hypothesize. Sorry.
  Johnny John JFou
Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license? Yes. Yes. Probably.
  Johnny John JFou
Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage? If not, why not? Yes. Absolutely. Yes.

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

Johnny – Yes. I think freedom of speech and religion is important for that, just so long as there isn’t any violence or anything like that.

John – I do, but I think that when one’s freedoms adversely impact another’s freedoms, then the freedoms should be freely withheld. Example: if you think that homosexuality is wrong, but there is a gay wedding next door at the church. You should recognize the freedom that the gay couple has to marry, but your opinion would still be protected.  I think that there could be a healthy practice of democratic differentiation: holding on to one’s beliefs and convictions while living in a situation that may be otherwise.

The person who thinks homosexuality is wrong still exists in spite of the fact that a gay marriage is taking place next door.  Their integrity is not threatened. The tricky part is when injustices are experienced; but who would experience the greater injustice: the gay couple unable to live in a world where they cannot marry, or the heterosexual person unable to live in a world where their paradigm is not accepted as absolute?

JFou – I agree with John. We would need to look at this through the context of a marginalized minority within a majority controlled society. In order to be a just and fair society, the minority and the marginalized would need to be treated with equitable interest. This means that if there is an experience of injustice caused either formally or informally by a majority, it is the minority’s responsibility to make it known and the majority’s responsibility to listen and take action.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

Johnny – Yes. Freedom of speech is protected.

John – I would. I think it’s a shame that the schools I go that have such strict rules against homosexuality.  And yet, I understand that these institutions can make these decisions (Dartmouth v. New Hampshire). Can a Christian college have a code of conduct that prohibits homosexuality? Yes, it’s lawful, but it ain’t right.

JFou – Absolutely. I am thankful that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes in Minnesota.  I think it’s terrible that they are not in other states. I hope that with marriage equality that this issue will be addressed forthrightly. But, in the posing of the question, I wonder who Kevin thinks is actually being threatened.

Allow me to make a pragmatic case: I think the case of the heterosexual baker who refuses to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple is a fascinating one. I don’t think the baker’s freedoms are being threatened in the request to bake a cake, but I am not sure if the gay couple’s freedoms are being threatened in that they can take their business elsewhere.  This is an interesting example of market forces having an influence on the exercise of liberties. Will the market favor the baker and bring more business to them from people who think homosexuality is wrong, or will the market favor the inclusive baker?

Simply speaking, more people would go to the inclusive baker because, well, there would be straight and gay people going to the bakery, as opposed to only straight people going to the heterosexual baker. The heterosexual baker’s liberty to provide goods and services is not adversely impacted, but the gay couple’s liberty in regards to access to goods is impacted. However, the market would create an equitable outcome by encouraging the conditions for these two bakeries to exist, where, in my opinion, the inclusive bakery would thrive and the market forces behind that would help encourage the collective ethical consciousness.  So, in short, let the market decide!

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

Johnny – Maybe. I don’t like speaking out.

John – Possibly; but I’m not an activist. If I have a platform, it would be through teaching and mentoring—one on one instead of in front of a protest or demonstration.

JFou – Yes. I would want to speak out when an injustice is committed. I’m doing it right now in regards to LGBTQ folk experience discrimination and prejudice. As the religious folk, I am quick to defend religion, faith, and spirituality, but not certain beliefs or institutions.  For example, I will speak out against evangelical churches-as-institutions for their oppressive theology of anti-homosexuality. I will speak out against the Archdiocese of Minnesota, whose leadership decries homosexuality as a destructive and evil force while its priests molest little boys. That I will shame. That I will bully.

28, 29, 31 Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles? Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline? What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

Johnny – I would think that it would be important for pastors to hold married people accountable. I think that if they are doing something wrong, it should be addressed in a loving manner.

John – The kind of church that I would want to be at would be one where everyone is in a close community where there is mutual encouragement from everyone.  If there is a problem in the community, I would want to see the community come together to help.

JFou – I’m against religion-as-institution, so I am against churches as a sort of moral police on its congregation.  This is known as heteronomy, or, subjugation of an individual to the perceived moral authority of an institution wherein the moral authority of the institution is never subject to question.  It is my modus operandi to question the moral authority of a church-as-institution. The moral authority of a church-as-community is slightly different insofar as it resists the temptation to institutionalize, wherein its moral authority is defined by the integrity of each member of the church and not in the church itself. Discipline would be communal, relational, and multilateral, not authoritarian, isolated, and unilateral.

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

Johnny, John, JFou – Yes. It’s damn hard, but it’s possible. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

Johnny – I don’t know. I’m still new to understand more about Christianity. I only recently was baptized, went through communion, and went through confirmation. I’m still learning.

John – I think that I have accepted the invitation to explore my faith deeper in so many ways, and I have found it incredibly beneficial. I have been able to explicate my thoughts in a more coherent way, and have been able to teach others too.

JFou – Even though I recognize my theological method and beliefs have changed, there are core parts that I recognize that have not. I look at my faith journey as one integrated narrative. With that, I am able to hold onto the integrity of my faith in the midst of change. The theological changes I have undertaken may not have the same magnitude as my other colleagues. One big reason would be that I was not raised in an evangelical and/or fundamentalist background; I adopted evangelical tendencies through Lutheranism, especially at my high school.  Nowadays, I do pine for some of those experiences, and there are still questions I wrestle with, but I am ultimately very happy with the contour of my faith journey.

 

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

Johnny – I like faith and what I’ve learned, but I still don’t like going to church. It’s really bad now because of all of the politics going on at my church. Its stuff like this that makes youth like me want to leave the church.

John – My current church is doing a great job with that. We are open to accept everyone and rescue them from their troubles, but we want to see people restored to a loving faith with Jesus and released to a life of ministry. I’ve very proud to be active in this church!

JFou – I wouldn’t point to orthodox Christianity!

 

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

Johnny – I hope so.

John – I hope so.

JFou – If I can deconstruct each of those commitments, then yes; I hope so.

Next: We ask the panel to respond to each with a concluding statement!

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40 Answers for Kevin DeYoung Part 1: A Panel Discussion!

Recently, self-described non-emergent theologian Kevin DeYoung posed “40 questions for Christians now waving rainbow flags.” As he describes the questions, they “aren’t meant to be snarky or merely rhetorical. They are sincere, if pointed, questions that I hope will cause my brothers and sisters with the new rainbow themed avatars to slow down and think about the flag you’re flying.”

In the midst of several responses to the 40 questions, including Ben Irwin’s responses and Matthew Vines’ posing of an additional 40 questions, I wanted to invite a panel to address each of Kevin’s questions. Each of them represent different approaches to the question and different places in life, including age, career, and faith development.  Allow me to introduce our three panelists.

Three voices:

61440024Johnny – 10 years old to 15 years old. Highly creative child; writes plays, movies, and stars in a public access TV show. Historically hates going to church, but goes to a Lutheran Middle School and undertakes first communion and confirmation. Develops an appreciation for faith and spirituality, but also has begun to develop attraction towards boys, and is getting scared. Develops a deep depression once entering high school.

248396_505221860290_4822_nJohn – 16 to 23 years old. Has religious commitment experience at age 16 that would set him on a path of happiness and exploring the Christian faith. Becomes committed to following his dream of being a teacher, but now within a religious context. Reconciles that his sexual attractions are ok as long as he is “in Christ.” Goes to Christian college and continues on to Seminary. Becomes very active in a church.

13995_10101627355449540_4045167032380431910_nJFou – 24 years old to present. After rigorous study and reflection in seminary, decides to come out at age 25. He/him/his pronouns are fine. Leaves his church prior to coming out, which was a very painful experience. Has excellent last year of seminary, where his queer theology flourishes. He continues to study and write after seminary and becomes more active in the LGBTQ community. He continues to explore the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion around and within him.

So, without further ado, let’s get to our panel. I have grouped some of the questions into similar categories while preserving the original questions as a means of simplification for our guests.  And now, the first series of questions revolving around the theology of gay marriage:

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

Johnny – I’ve never liked weddings. Weddings are boring, but I have to go to them…

John – I don’t have a problem with gay people or gay marriage. My problem would be if a gay Christian person’s gay identity would be become superior to their Christian identity. As a Christian, identity should be based in Christ alone; any other identity (political, religious, economic, whatever) would still be subject to the Christian identity.  If a gay person still has their identity in Christ as the centering of his or her identity, then it’s great.

JFou – A long time. Reflecting back on my life, I realize that perspective would have been a good resolution to my own inner strife regarding the question of identity. Today, I am critical of that viewpoint in principle because I believe that identities are storied and multilateral rather than static and unilateral, or hierarchical. I think Johnny’s position is a good place for Christians to start when it comes to reconciling certain beliefs with their experience, but I do not think it is necessary.

2, 3, 30, 4. What Bible verses led you to change your mind? How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated? Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage? What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

Johnny – Romans 1:26-32. I think sex outside of marriage might be sinful, but like Jesus talks about, I think the real issue is lust. It’s bad to have lustful thoughts towards people, and I know it’s really bad to have these attractions. But, if I don’t act on them, and if I try hard enough to not have them, then I think I’ll be ok. I’m still afraid I won’t go to heaven, but I think God still loves me enough.

John – Romans 5:3-5. This is my life verse. In the midst of depression, I know that whatever suffering I go through is not for naught, but that I have hope in the midst of it. As for a positive case from Scripture, I haven’t thought about that in that way, but I think that if God loves everyone in spite of what they might think, God would look upon any loving relationship favorably. I think sex outside of a monogamous situation is not sin but may not be good or useful; it could be risky. I am not one for ‘waiting until marriage,’ but I think that sexual activity should have a focus or end in regards to the health of the relationship, gay or straight.  Whatever is healthy and useful and loving is good. I am an egalitarian, so I don’t believe in established gender roles in a marriage.  I think that the Christ and church piece is one that enforces these roles.  I see the roles in marriage as mutual and reciprocal.

JFou –One cannot make a case from Scripture concerning your tenet, and I am not certain that you could make a case that any sexual activity itself is blessed. The problem here is in the concept of ‘blessing.’ What are the loci of the blessing: in the manipulations of the genitals themselves, in the symbolism it entails, or in the cultural institution it enacts?  However, if there is one verse that can show a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church, I would use John 8:23a: “But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above.” 😉

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

Johnny – I don’t know. I just know that I don’t want these feelings, but I can’t talk to anyone about them.  Nobody would understand.

John – Absolutely. Jesus practiced a lovingkindness to all, especially those on the outside. I’m just not sure where I fit into this. I have feigned a sort of asexuality for a long time, but I would love to be in a committed relationship.  I still have things to work through.

JFou – I’m not sure Jesus would have understood, in his cultural context, the situation you provided. In his context, the most immediate situation of homosexual behavior in a quasi-committed relationship would be that between a consenting adult male and a ‘consenting’ prepubescent boy. He would also be aware of homosexual behavior between nonconsenting adults, where a soldier might be fucking a captured enemy or something like that.  But, if there were consenting adults in a committed relationship who ‘practiced homosexual behavior,’ and if this behavior would be considered deviant and sinful, it would be likely that Jesus would have reached out to them in the similar ways as he ministered to the other outcasts of Judean society. So, I don’t think that the present context of homosexual relationships relates to anything within the 1st century AD.  Moving on a tangent, I still want to be in a committed relationship, but I’m also learning how to be present with and love myself.

6, 7. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman? When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

John – The context of this argument is in his teaching on divorce. The central message is not that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that God did not intend divorce. This is not a passage to be used in the conversation about homosexuality. Porneia is used to describe sexual immorality in general, but in this context, I think it is specifically talking about sexual immorality within a marriage context, which would ultimately be adultery and unfaithfulness.

JFou – John is right. This is because—among several hermeneutical lines—the cultural context would not have an understanding of a committed ‘homosexual’ relationship. Moses wouldn’t have, and neither would Jesus or his followers. I think John is on the point regarding porneia. I would add that where porneia is used as ‘homosexuality,’ this is a clear example of exegetical prejudice, or, using a word the original audience would not have understood in order to make your point.

8, 40. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1? When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

John – I think it is sexual immorality in general that drives us away from God. If an exchange would be sinful, it is because it draws us away from God.  Back to my point of identity in Christ, if a gay couple are together in a loving relationship, God will honor that. However, if the relationship or actions of a gay person draws them away from God, it is sin.  Sin is all about that which divides us from God.

JFou – I would agree with you John, but I don’t think that is entirely the point of Romans 1. Romans is a letter to Jewish Christians in Rome who have returned after being exiled by the Emperor Claudius.  Upon returning to the predominantly Gentile Christian communities, they inquire of Paul on how to live in this community.  Paul’s response is to ultimately show that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, as stated in Romans 2:1:

“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

The ‘vice list’ in Romans 1 is a common rhetorical device among the writers of this time, but Paul may be “recycling this list”, as Morgan Guyton writes,

…as part of disparaging the salvific sufficiency of Torah, so it has at most secondary importance and may only be relevant as a means of taking the listeners for a ride whose real purpose is to establish a repudiation of the law as a means for justification before God.

So, a repudiation of the law may also be tied to a repudiation of these vice lists in order to establish (as Paul does later on) the principle of “justification before God.”

9, 10. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven? What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

Johnny – Yes, and I’m scared. I think the sins they are referring to include the thoughts and attractions. However, I read that God loves me, and I understand it, but I’m worried I might be deceiving myself.

John – No. Again, if one is in Christ, there is no condemnation.  It always comes back to being in Christ, experiencing the love of God in Jesus Christ.

JFou – Absolutely not. I think there are host of presuppositions that are misplaced in this assumption.

32, 33, 34. If “love wins,” how would you define love? What verses would you use to establish that definition? How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

Johnny – I think there are all kinds of love, but I see the Bible talk a lot of neighborly love. Love God and love your neighbor; that’s what I read. Still, I need to read the Bible more.

John – I think the Bible is important for the development of Christian ethics, but not in a deontological way where God says it and that’s it. At the same time, I am not a situational ethicist, whereas long as someone does the ‘loving thing’ it’s cool..  I think that teleological ethic of love is a way to go.  If the Bible describes the story of God’s love for humanity, and we continue that story, then our end is to experience and propagate God’s love. Along ethical lines, I think that virtue is still important, but I’m suspicious about how churches define virtue, especially when it is used to shame and exclude people.

JFou – I began a turn towards virtue ethics the year prior to coming out, around the same time as my turn towards the symbolic, so I understand John’s interest in it. I’m beginning to lean more towards the tenet that theology is ultimately a conversation about ethics. Whether or not you believe in God or gods, theological conversations are about what we consider to be the ultimate for us, and so it has a tremendous ethical implication. When you pose the question of how obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love, there’s a risk of demonstrating ‘bad faith,’ wherein the ultimate concern is in the literal words of the Bible as God’s commands.  Without good hermeneutics, I think there are profound ethical missteps that can happen, and thus a misinterpretation of love.  However, developing an ethic based on inspiration from sources like the Bible, as well as others, may prove to be a fruitful endeavor.

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

Johnny, John, JFou – We are not evangelicals.

Next: Answers to the remaining questions, which include the political, familial, and ecclesiastical ramifications of marriage equality.

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The Ocean, the Boat, and the Wind: Part Three – From On High

We left off with the posing of this question: “What made the majority the majority, and furthermore, what actually gave them the power to name?”

In the immediate cultural context of heteronormativity, it is the majority population of heterosexual persons that become the self-as-norm and the homosexual person as the other-against self (obvi). But is it simple enough to say that the power to become the majority arose from the efficacy of sexual reproduction, wherein homosexual acts are seen as deviant—an anomaly? However, the anomaly of homosexuality (as we understand it today) only became abnormal at the earliest with the invention of sodomy as a category of sin within the medieval Roman Catholic Church or at the latest with the invention of heterosexual and homosexual categories in the late 19th century. Sure, men fucked men and women fucked women since time immemorial, and a lot of people thought it was weird or gross or wrong, but it wasn’t homosexuality.

So, if we are to attempt to pinpoint the inception of these hetero/homo dialectics, we can be safe to launch our dart within a span of several hundred years. But the fact remains that within that span, the one who gave the power to name the homosexual person as ‘abnormal’ was…the Church. This illustrates a principle (or illusion) that power is granted from transcendence. The metaphor is as ancient as Godself—wisdom, enlightenment, and power come from above and rest upon the below-ones who are worthy. Another ancient metaphor illustrates that those who are touched by the transcendent become transcendent themselves; to be touched by power is to become powerful.

Fig. 1. Luke Hillestad, The Crowning, unknown, oil paint on canvas, 30 in. x 40 in. Artist collection (image file provided by the artist).

Fig. 1. Luke Hillestad, The Crowning, unknown, oil paint on canvas, 30 in. x 40 in. Artist collection (image file provided by the artist).

The anthropologics is that societies form and determine the parameters [boundaries] of the transcendent and the mundane. This practice is a part of religion, because religion is a discourse based upon ultimacies and transcendencies; it is the discourse that shapes our understanding of things beyond our understanding, ascribing meaning to observations otherwise without tangible meaning. That ‘God’ fits within the discourse of religion is only because a premise of classical theism (and probably a whole sort of other theisms) is that God is beyond understanding. In some theisms, God can be understood but only within certain degrees, ranging from metaphors of disinterested creator to personal friend and companion. The point, however, is that classical theism sets up the dialectic of above and below, wherein God is above and humanity is below. If we concatenate these lines of inquiry, we link the metaphors of power, transcendence, and God.

When we ascribe something to the ‘realm’ of God, we are making a claim to its importance and ultimacy.  The irony, then, is when we say “God is love” or “God is sovereign,” we are less so saying things about Godself and more so saying things about ourselves and our values. This speech act exists in spite of and apart from a belief in God. If God exists, we can only understand God’s existence through the speech act of assigning our concept of existence onto God. Paul Tillich once said that God does not exist […] because God is beyond essence and existence. Following in a similar radical line: if God exists, then God only exists because we say so.

All of this is to illustrate the following:

  1. In a society, there will be a time when effort is made to develop a sense of understanding of the society itself, their identity and values.

  2. In a society, there will be a time when effort is made to explain things beyond the understanding of the society itself (i.e. religion).

  3. In a society, there exists more of some people (majority) and less of other people (minority).

  4. In a society, the majority amasses power to make (1) and (2) happen, whether democratically or through authoritarian measures or otherwise, and where the minority may not take to the results of the majority’s actions.

  5. The minority’s objection is perceived as deviance, and the development of the self-as-norm and the other-against-self is done as a means to justify (1) with the premises of (2).

In conclusion, what we say about God, about what we consider to be ultimate and important, the source of our power is used against others to support ideas about ourselves. This is the basis of heteronormativity.

But there is still hope, because these axioms of heteronormativity fail on one particular premise. As a case study, heteronormativity based in conservative religious fundamentalism fails to recognize that the power of religion is not in religion itself, but in its use. They believe that the premises of religion themselves are what justifies their prejudice.  Rather, it is themselves that justify their prejudice.  But take religion proper (theism) out of the equation, religion still remains (system of ultimacies). They are usurping the subject of religion, objectivizing it in the same manner as they objectivize the minority, the other-against-self (and we all know another term for this usurpation is idolatry.).

True and good religion is not usurpation of the object of our ultimacy but participation with the object of our ultimacy. Through this we realize the object is actually subject, and that it desires us as its ultimacy as well. This symbolic language is used to illustrate the point that it is favorable to practice love as power in relationship rather than hate as power in estrangement. The demonstration of the relational intimacy between a subject and its subject of ultimacy fosters mutuality wherein the power experienced is shared to the benefit of both subjects. If we part from this discussion with only a utilitarian ethic, we can be happy enough to leave with an ethic wherein both parties benefit rather than one at the expense of the other.

Abyss

Fig. 2. Luke Hillestad, Abyss, unknown, oil paint on canvas, 39 in. x 43 in. Artist collection (image file provided by the artist).

So, maybe the lesbians are on to something (winky face). But if we are following through with the stereotypical premises of the first post—that lesbian relationships embody a certain degree of romance more than gay male relationships—I fear that we may be leveraging heteronormativity unto gay male subjectivity. After all, the modus operandi of heteronormativity is to judge the other-against-self using religious premises to justify its own self-as-norm prejudgments.

So, instead of levying these heteronormative prejudgments upon gay male bodies, subjectivities, and ethics, perhaps we must participate in them instead. I am intrigued to explore the concept of love and romance from a gay male perspective within the context of a condemnatory heteronormative culture. The purpose of this is to not only annunciate a unique concept of romance in which gay males experience and participate, but to also develop a concept of queer romance that is distinct yet relatable to gay male and lesbian concepts of romance. My hypothesis is that the findings will be intriguing at the worst but world changing at the best (even in the smallest of worlds: the self). I think it will help construct queer ethics as well as open up possibilities to religious and spiritual experience otherwise not explored in LGBT communities.

Will you participate?

Part One introduces a problem of love and romance in the heterosexual/homosexual dialectic. Part Two explores the contours of heteronormativity. 

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The Ocean, the Boat, and the Wind: Part Two – Other and Self

Let us remember that heterosexuality which seeks to differentiate itself from homosexuality by imposing boundaries between it and the homosexual-other is heteronormativity. Now, let us explore in greater detail the contents of this ocean.

Fg2or the sake of the arguments to follow, we will use the term “homosexuals” vis-à-vis discussions concerning heterosexuals. With this assumption, we will act as if conversation does not include bi or trans individuals. This is because we will adopt another assumption: that bi and trans sexualities are incomprehensible within a heteronormative paradigm. The heteronormative paradigm comprehends its self-perception vis-à-vis its perception of the homosexual. From the heteronormative perspective, there is only the homosexual as the other.

Perhaps it is this way we can reclaim a particular definition of heteronormativity through contextual morphology, or, language. An irony of the concept of heteronormativity is that it can only be understood within the context of the heterosexual/homosexual dialectic. Literally, heteronormative would be ‘other-normative’, derived from the Greek adjective ἕτερος: ‘another,’ ‘different’. Only in a certain cultural context does the hetero in heteronormative correlate to the hetero in heterosexual.

But does this mean that one cannot understand the hetero in heteronormative without understanding the hetero in heterosexual? Perhaps not; perhaps it is that one cannot understand the contextual hetero (as in heterosexual and its contextual cognate heteronormative) without understanding the morphological and etymological hetero of what I propose as the core of the heteronormative paradigm. This proposal is as follows.

In the heteronormative paradigm:

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  1. The heterosexual person views the homosexual person as other, and proceeds to evaluate the homosexual person as other-against-self.
  2. In this system, the self is the seat of normativity, or, the self-as-norm.
  3. This implies that the other (which is not the self) is not the norm.
  4. The self-as-norm defines itself as much by distinguishing itself from the other as by its own perceived standards of itself. Thus, heteronormativity’s focus is on the other but only in so far as it is the other-against-self; the antithesis to the
    self-as-norm.

The self-as-norm becomes such through the conflict of other-against-self. In this, either the self must triumph over the other to become the norm, or the self triumphs over the other to become the norm by virtue of itself. In other words, the self must either actively overcome the other to assert its normativity, or it must assert its normativity prior to the declaration of overcoming the other.

Correlatively, the self-as-norm becomes such through its own power to name the other, wherein the self-as-norm subjugates the other by naming it not the norm, or, abnormal. The ability of heteronormativity to name the other as abnormal is demonstrative of the power it exercises from its majority status. In another manner of speaking, the power to name the other as abnormal is actualized in and through majority status. However, where this argument may demonstrate the validity of the clichéd ‘power in numbers,’ this is only one facet of the dynamics of these power relations.

bBut we must ask what made the majority the majority, and furthermore, what actually gave them the power to name? In the next post, I will answer that question.

Stay tuned!

Part One introduces a problem of love and romance in the heterosexual/homosexual dialectic.. Part Three explores how religion plays into it.

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The Ocean, the Boat, and the Wind: Part One – A Second Date

Let us begin with a joke we may all have heard before as well as a joke some of us may not have heard.

uhaul truck

More romantic than any wedding ring.

Question. What does a lesbian bring on the second date?

Answer. A U-Haul.

Question. What does a gay man bring on the second date?

Answer. What second date?

The joke illustrates an interesting yet stereotypical observation: lesbian relationships seem to have more of an element of commitment—a certain magnitude of intimacy—than gay male relationships. Lesbian relationships may be less focused on unrestricted sexual gratification in the relationship, whereas gay male relationships have the air of focusing entirely on unrestricted sexual gratification at the expense of relationship. Could it be said that lesbian relationships are more romantic than gay male relationships? Is there more love in a lesbian relationship than in a gay male relationship?  Is there love in gay male relationships?

What an odd questions for the progressively relativist 21st centurion. Are these observations and questions a concern of a bygone era? Not to the straight, traditional, orthodox, conservative Christian, who proclaims a defiant ‘nein!’ They do so because their understanding of love is threatened by “the gays.” It is threatened by any attempt to unsettle its sacrosanct doctrine. Ask a gay male couple, on the other hand, and they may reply with something along the lines of “why the hell would you ask such a question? Of course there is! Just look at us! Aren’t we proof?!”

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Om nom nom.

To the benefit of the gay male couple and to the detriment of the traditional Christian heterosexual couple, the posing of the question is to unmask the heteronormative homophobia within the concepts of traditional Christian doctrines of love.  However, the argument is not so simple.  There is as much a detriment to the gay male couple as to the traditional Christian heterosexual couple. Could it be the case that in spite of increasing civil rights and public support for LGBT persons (i.e.marriage equality movement), these advances are flawed by their reliance on heterosexual assumptions of love and romance?

This problem is both a risk and a present danger; a risk so profound and a danger so subtle that it must be addressed forth-and-out-right. This problem is the assumption of LGBT consciousnesses into heteronormative paradigms. Heterosexuality which seeks to differentiate itself from homosexuality by imposing boundaries between it and the homosexual-other is heteronormativity.

How ironic that the advancement of civil rights and public support is the very thing that brings a risk to LGBT consciousness. But it is not the advancement itself that brings the detriment; rather, it is the epistemological phantasms of heteronormativity that bring the risk of ruin. However, as a point of clarification, heteronormativity is not responsible for the advances in LGBT rights and support. This would be an affront to the history and legacy of those LGBT folk who fought and died for liberation.

But this problem is more entrenched than a mere apparition’s haunting. Heteronormativity is not the wind in the sails of LGBT civil rights; it is the ocean. The ocean, the world as we know it, is heteronormative. This is so by virtue of not only the vast majority of its inhabitants are heterosexual, but that whatever powers-may-be have instituted the heterosexual perspective as the dominant and normative paradigm. From east to west, from sea to shining sea, it is heteronormativity.

If the ocean is world of heteronormativity, then the LGBT community must be the boat. A distinct identity, it navigates the seas as an alien craft, searching for a shore of its own. However, there is no sign of land for this ship, and in the midst of terrible storms it must either fight to stay afloat or it will inevitably sink to the fathomless deeps, to be subsumed by the waves.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” Caspar David Friedrich 1818, Oil-on-canvas

But why does the boat remain upon the waters? Why do LGBT persons rest upon the foundations of heteronormativity? It is because they have been led to mistake themselves for the boat. They do not realize that they are not in fact the boat. They are the wind. They have mistaken themselves aimlessly bobbing atop of the masses of the majority sexuality. But the boat, and the sails, and the rudder were all made to trap the wind, to navigate the ocean, within the boundaries of the waters, by the will of the sea. They have been subjected to believe that they are literally a vessel of the ocean.

Part Two explores the contours of heteronormativity. Part Three explores how religion plays into it.

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We All Need a Road to Damascus. You Won’t Believe Who Needs It Most!

Up and Coming: Don’t Miss!

A ‘sister’ site to the most infamous Onion, ClickHole’s purpose is ‘to mock content shared on media sites.’ It is a satirical website that, according to its senior editor, Jermaine Alfonso, is “The Onion’s response to click-bait content.”[1] Clickbait is the phenomenon of web content explicitly designed to generate online advertising revenue.  The success of the clickbait is in the headline and the image. An example might be, for the sake of an argument: “Puppies Meet for the First Time. Their Reaction…Priceless!” The image: two of the most adorable puppies imaginable. Another may be: “Best Foods for Losing Weight. You Won’t Believe What Made Number One!” The image: someone wolfing down chocolate like the world is ending. The key is generating a sense of impending sensationalism. In an age of digital immediacy, we must be informed instantaneously or else it doesn’t matter. But if some multimedia strategist is able to feed our dread for disinformation with a simple plug of anticipation, then they will have won someone’s advertising dollars.

For being a satirical click-bait website, ClickHole eerily gets it when it comes to several issues.  Consider this recent post:

bshiffel

The part of the article that really spoke out to me was this:

“When my cousin John told me he was gay, it was like a light turned on in my brain, and I realized that just because someone is gay doesn’t mean they’re a bad person,” said Brian. But isn’t it kind of weird that he had to personally know a gay person in order to realize that writing off a whole group of people based on their having a sexual orientation different from his own is sort of a bad idea?

Poor Brian Shiffel, being thrown under the proverbial clickbait bus; his story made sensational in only 107 characters. Of course he’s not real, but what if he was? In fact, he is very much real; he is an amalgamation of many persons like him. Sure, they may not have had as strong of feelings against gay people as Brian did, but check out the story of ‘up-and-coming’ Pastor Adam Phillips hither and thither. To the soothing background tune of some ambient guitar, his face softly lit, he tells his story:

aphillips

After much digging into the Bible, he became fully convinced that inclusion of LGBT ‘brothers and sisters’ was consistent with “the whole arc of Scripture” and “where the Holy Spirit was guiding the church today.”  In spite of his epiphanies, the Evangelical Covenant Church voted to cut his church off from its denomination. Adam continues to serve as a pastor of his church to “push forward in faith.”

Where it was a cousin, a close family member, who helped Brian come to a different conclusion concerning the inherent worth and value of LGBT persons, it was specifically Christians who “happen to be gay” that forced the conversion within Adam. However, in concert with ClickHole, I pose to Adam:

“Isn’t it kind of weird that you had to personally know a Christian person who happened to be gay in order to realize that writing off a whole group of people based on their having a sexual orientation different from your own is sort of a bad idea?”

No Exceptions

This is demonstrative of a tremendous frustration I have with both Christian allies as well as LGBT folk who profess to be Christian. In the dialogues concerning the relationship between faith and sexuality, many take the stand that one’s faith takes priority over all other forms of identity. Because of this hierarchy, it is faith-as-ultimate that determines the contours of all other categories of identity: race, gender, sexuality, disability, et cetera. I am convinced that while personal faith is a profound category of identity, it exists intersectionally with other categories of identity—not superior to them. One’s sexuality has as much influence on one’s faith as one’s faith has influence on one’s sexuality. This frees up LGBT folk who happen to be Christian to explore how their faith may be different from their straight ‘brothers and sisters.’

Furthermore, LGBT folk who happen to be Christian need not be held victim to the whims of church councils and denominations who have to wrestle with the question of inclusion. A legacy of Protestantism is that one’s faith is not determined by one’s membership in a church community but by justification by faith alone. Protestantism should shine with this tenet, but it seems to do the exact opposite. I have and will argue in future writings on how the experience of coming to know God and the experience of coming out are so similar that in many ways they must be correlated and integrated. Churches must form around the holy work of the LGBT Christian themselves; LGBT Christians need not compromise anything about themselves and their experience to be persons of faith.

In a similar fashion, LGBT folk who happen to be Christian who want to see a reformation of their churches and denominations need not play by their rules. Where churches are making the move towards greater inclusion of LGBT folk, churches must also critically examine patterns of heteronormativity that still, even if implicitly, create barriers for LGBT folk and their authentic experience of faith. In a previous post, I broached the subject of celibacy among LGBT Christians as a potential example of these patterns.  Any theology that explicitly or implicitly compromises the inherent worth and dignity (a very theological point itself) ought to be challenged, rejected, or converted.

An Exception

Ah yes, conversion. In all of these conversations, from Brian Shiffel or Adam Phillips, we must be reminded of the element of conversion and repentance.  What better story of conversion than that of Saul of Tarsus.

With the martyrdom of Stephen, a great persecution began against those who called themselves Christians in Jerusalem. Saul was among those persecutors. On route to Damascus to persecute more Christians, a great light from heaven flashed and down fell Saul.  A voice said “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul replied “Who are you Lord?” The voice replied “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!” Struck blind, Saul arrived in Damascus where a man named Ananias was expecting him.  Having been told by God that Saul was approaching, God instructed Ananias to place his hands on him so he may see again. While Ananias feared Saul for his notoriety, God still instructed Ananias to go, saying “Go, because he is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel.”  Upon the meeting of Ananias and Saul, the latter’s eyesight was returned, and he became a disciple of Jesus, proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ.

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1) (487x640)Now, I pose the question to Saul:

“Isn’t it kind of weird that you had to personally encounter Jesus in order to realize that writing off a whole group of people based on their having a faith different from your own is sort of a bad idea?”

Troubling, no? Saul still had a ferocious time proving his worth to those who were skeptical of his change, and perhaps I am doing that to Brian and Adam. Is it warranted? Upon conversion and repentance, are people resolved from the memory of their past injustices? Again, streams of Christianity would say yes, wherein both God and humanity must forget the state of the pre-convert in light of their conversion. Are the doctrines of atonement and salvation really get-out-of-jail-free cards, from God’s judgment, humanity’s judgment, and our judgment?

Renowned theologians Jürgen Moltmann et al. would not say so.  With God’s preferential option for the poor and the oppressed, God still judges the oppressor in spite of forgiveness of sins. However, atonement is the freeing “the oppressors and the oppressed from oppression and to open up to them the situation of free, sympathetic humanity.”[2] The oppressed and the oppressor both need a Road to Damascus experience wherein their eyes are opened to the freedom and opportunity in God. The invitation for the oppressor is to hear the voice of the oppressed and to recognize them as human, uniquely and inherently celebrated. The invitation for the oppressed is to recognize the oppressor as an ally through God’s work of a new being and a new reality in forgiveness. The story of oppression is not forgotten, but it is transformed as it becomes a new story of redemption.

A free, sympathetic humanity is open to all, not just straight Christians or gay Christians.  In atonement, the world is opened to all, where we then recognize the inherent worth and dignity of all creation. The memory of rejection—Brian and Adam’s story—will still be remembered, but the cycle of oppression is broken, and the invitation to a queer narrative of faith is opened. In this, a true sympathy for different faiths—straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer—are freely and sympathetically enjoyed by all. You won’t believe what happens next!

[1] http://splitsider.com/2014/06/inside-the-onions-new-click-bait-parody-clickhole-com/

[2] Moltmann, The Crucified God, some page.

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The Courage to Come Out (And Other Queer Correlations)

Why do queer persons come out?

beat

‘Coming out of the closet’; a colloquialism typically used to describe the event(s) constituting a person’s self-disclosure to themselves, to others, and to their worlds, concerning their sexual and/or gender identity. The idiom uses the metaphor of a closet to represent the hiddenness of a secret (or at least, shrouded) identity, a place where things are placed out of sight.

The irony, however, is that this place can be readily accessed at any time.  It is opened and closed at will. Also, the contents serve different purposes for different people. For some, it stores the clothes that we select to wear on a daily basis; for others it stores the surplus of linens for anticipated guests. For some, it hides holiday presents from curious children; for others it hides boxes of memories to be forgotten, to be veiled away.

Decaying_100_Yr__Old_ClosetsWithin the closet, one’s company is both the comforting securities of its contents as well as haunting torment of their self-exclusion from the world. The comfort of the closet is a misnomer in that its security only exacerbates the anguish of the secret. It can debilitate and destroy its inhabitants through its coddling repudiation of the self. Eddies of distress devolve into maelstroms of dyphoria; the closet is torn apart from within. Clothes and linens eaten by moths, presents soiled and ruined, memories coalesce within the pounding darkness.

And yet, within in the climax of the tempest and the quiet of the storm, an invitation is made aware: the invitation to remove oneself from their closet and to emerge into the world as their whole self. The contents of the closet are made bare, with all of its terror and desolation made manifest; but them who emerge are not destroyed. They have persevered, and they shine because of it.

What brought this person to this moment?  What necessitates the person to come out? Is coming out a necessary process? What is it about the act and process that would deem it to be necessary in the first place? These are not questions about whether or not the coming-out process is necessary in this ‘day and age’ because of greater acceptance of queer persons (let’s be honest, the magnitude of acceptance is good, but not great). Nor are these questions about the value of the coming-out process, as if we are undertaking a quantitative study of whether it actually ‘gets better’. Rather, these are questions about why it happens at all, and what it is about queer persons that makes a coming-out process what it is.

‘Who are these queer persons who come out’ and ‘what brings them to a place of coming-out’—when combined—are questions about the being of queer persons (an potentially ironic statement for those keeping score at home). However, the coming-out process illustrates a unique integration of the being and ethic of a person. Through an act of deep personal significance, authentic participation is realized through self-affirmation. It is also an integration of self and world that triumphs among acts of humanity. To come out is a holy act. To come out is a courageous act. 

Extravagant-Style-Walk-in-Closet-Supported-by-Accent-and-Decorative-Lamps-with-Gold-Lighting-to-Work-with-Sleek-Modern-Wardrobe-and-Shelving-936x625I will explore the dynamics of courage within the phenomenon of the coming-out process experienced by queer persons, particularly within Christian contexts. I seek to accomplish this by correlating the work of Paul Tillich, specifically his concept of the courage to be , with the experience of queer persons, culminating with the development of a Tillich-inspired queer theology.

My argument is that the coming-out process—as experienced by queer Christians—develops a queer faith that is reminiscent of and potentially directly inspired by the work of Paul Tillich. This is so because the deconstructive work queer Christians must undertake in order to come out within their faith requires the passage through doubt of the heteronormativity of their pre-coming-out faith and emerges within a faith that blends the motif of ambiguity experienced in queer identities as well as in Tillich’s radical theology.

Through this process, the faith of queer Christians (queer as in an all-encompassing inclusive term for LGBT folk) actually becomes queer Christianity (queer as in inspired by the insights of queer theory). In another sense, the faith that queer Christians come out into is not and cannot and will not be the same faith as prior to the coming out experience. The endeavor queer Christians undertake in coming out of the closet and into queer faith is dangerous, but such experience of dread in spite of hope only illustrates the ultimate nature of this act as a holy and courageous act. Studying it will bring insight to the experience of queer Christians, as well as provide all with an inspiring look into the promises life has for those who embrace the courage to come out.

Stay tuned for further discussion.

 

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Made Eunuchs: Celibacy and Gay Christians

Gay Christian celibacy is sexy…apparently.  I mean, it’s sexy in the way that something is the new black; so fetch, tres chouette. The Huffington Post Religion News Service recently published a spot on Julie Rodgers and other gay Christians who have ‘come out’ but refrain from any sort of sexual relations.  Rather, they favor choosing the tale-as-old-as-time Christian practice of celibacy.

But celibacy has always remained the song-as-old-as-rhyme option for Christians who wrestled with same-sex attraction.  Everyone knew that lively bachelor with all of the girl friends; everyone knew that spinster woman that was always too busy for a man, but no one knew the hidden struggle they faced [but oh did they talk!].

But now, gay Christians, they who have experienced liberation from the oppression of their hidden sexuality, are still choosing the celibate life.  Why? It is the belief of many religious traditions that being gay in and of itself is not a sin, but choosing to act on it constitutes sin. So, if someone’s gay but does not act on it, they’re effectively ‘in the clear.’

A gay Christian who chooses to be celibate is not necessarily a bad thing, but if it is a result of bad faith, it is a bad thing.  It is my argument that this phenomenon is a result of bad faith, but it does not have to be. I want to explore this phenomenon, critically examining the context of the movement in hopes to unmask the structural disenfranchisement levied upon LGBTQ Christians by heteronormative Christianity.

My hope is not for LGBTQ Christians who have chosen the celibate life to relent. Rather, it is my hope for them to recognize the significance of their context and consciousness as LGBTQ Christians. This is in contrast to the reception of a faith that imposes its will upon the subject without consideration of them; in this case heteronormative faith imposing demands upon LGBTQ faith.  In short, I want LGBTQ Christians to become the co-authors of their faith and not the passive inheritors of a mere straight-faith. So, let us begin.

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Wherefore Celibacy? Our Context

Acknowledging at least two phenomena is required for understanding the option of celibacy as a public option for gay Christians: the particular queer kairos we are in and the response of the evangelical and/or fundamentalist consciousness.

I marked the downfall of Exodus International as a particularly powerful event within this queer kairos, and it seems as though the Huffington Post agrees. But how kairoi work— as clearly evidenced by the Christ kairos, which some argue as being the Kairos to end all kairoi— is that there are prophecies, undercurrents, hints, glimmers, promises, and signs before the fact. All the more so, —as kairoi work out as well—when we are in the midst of one change occurs at a startling rate.  That’s what these last few years have felt like; what an exciting time to live in!  It is also an exciting time to come out, but we must always remember the prophets who came before us, whose lives to whom we are indebted.

But enter the evangelical and/or fundamentalist consciousness and its response to the queer kairos. I need to differentiate the two by the mechanism of relationality that each embody.  When fundamentalism tries to understand something other than itself, simply put: it doesn’t!  The fundamentalist’s relation to that-which-is-other is polemical; it tries to ignore it, invalidate it, or destroy it.

The evangelical, however, actually engages with the object of its attempted understanding. However, the mode of understanding is still couched in its own rules of the game. In understanding the other, the evangelical baptizes the other into its own understanding; the evangelical cannot understand the other without establishing the rules, language, and conditions of their own context as being the parameters of dialog.  By doing this, the evangelical assures the dialog will result in the convincing of the other into accepting the evangelical’s truth claims. In short, the goal of evangelical apologetics is assimilation.

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The Rules of the Language Game: Christian Sexual Identity

What have been the rules of the game for Christians-who-happen-to-be-gay?  The article spells it out well: “leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change.” However, the article uplifts Rodgers as “among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.”

I agree that Rodgers et al are seeking to remain ‘true to their faith,’ but are they being true to their sexuality?  For evangelical apologetics, this question makes no sense; it does not fit within the paradigm of the apologetic itself. As I have addressed elsewhere, a common mode of navigating the Christian/gay identity problem is through compatibilism, where the two identities are compatible in so far as the Christian identity is superior to the gay identity.  But I expand that argument: Christian identity is not simply superior to sexual identity; it defines the parameters of the identities subservient to it.

In the article, this language game is so explicit. A ‘former lesbian’ and “mother of four whose conversion story went viral after it was published in Christianity Today,” Rosaria Butterfield’s linguistics lesson illustrates this:

While she affirms celibate gay Christians, she says they should not use “gay” as a descriptive adjective. “The job of the adjective is to change the noun (…) [O]ur sexuality exists on a continuum, but our Christianity does not.”

Oh but it does, Ms. Butterfield; Christianity has always existed on continuums, flow charts, bubble graphs, et cetera.  There are Catholics, Orthodox folk, Protestants; and within these phylums there are classes upon orders upon families. Ms. Butterfield’s claim is a prime example of the dynamics of the evangelical/fundamentalist consciousness I illustrated earlier. Viewing their faith as a culturally-immune pinnacle of revelation, the evangelical consciousness becomes the imperial determiner of reality—or at least the reality that really matters: the spiritual one.

But is it really Ms. Butterfield’s fault? By no means! But this is illustrative of the power of religion, the power of any ideology, upon the consciousness of its adherents. This is made all the more fascinating when ideologies intersect, when identity allocations and hierarchies are demanded.  In the case of Ms. Butterfield, her ideology has dictated the rules of the game concerning the relationship between her Christian and sexual identities. The sexuality continuum is open, but the Christianity continuum is closed. The possibility of entertaining the concept of sexuality from a Christian standpoint is expressed, but the inverse is not.

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Made Eunuchs by Other People: Choosing Celibacy

Rodgers reflects on the misunderstanding ‘both sides of the culture war’ have on celibate gay Christians:

 “For those who have a more affirming position, it’s as if we’re repressed, self-hated homophobes, encouraging the church to stand in its position on sexuality. And conservative Christians think that those who shift on sexuality are being rebellious.”

As a representative of the former positions, I don’t think Rodgers et al are encouraging the church to stand in its position on sexuality. Rather, I think the Church (note the big ‘C’) is ‘encouraging’ Rodgers et al to stand under the church’s position on sexuality. This is because the Church—the ideological institution and the institutional ideology historically engrained in patriarchy, racism, and heteronormativity—has historically been the structural disenfranchisement levied upon LGBTQ Christians.  By ignoring the cultural and contextual importance of persons, religion can impose male-centered theology on women, white-centered theology on persons of color, and heteronormative theology on LGBTQ persons.

I believe this is the central problem of the gay Christian conversation: the incommensurable relationship between their sexuality and their faith/spirituality that is enforced by this institutional entrenchment. This incommensurability must be resolved. LGBTQ Christians are not fully liberated if they are not liberated from heteronormative faith that makes LGBTQ persons veritable eunuchs through the arrest of authenticity and freedom to be. Whether this is enforced through a literal reading of Scripture or a pastor’s admonition, a faith that is incongruous with the experience of LGBTQ persons is not and cannot be the faith of LGBTQ persons.

The best part of all of this is: it does not have to be! ‘Gay Christians’ must recognize the importance their culture and context has on their faith in addition to the importance the history of faith has on LGBTQ culture and contexts.  The problem? You guessed it, the incommensurability. For the LGBTQ Christian, the choice to be celibate must come out from queer faith and spirituality, and not from the heteronormative demands of some religions. LGBTQ Christians, you are invited to your faith, a faith that takes seriously the import of your experience as an LGBTQ person, and not in spite of it. Navigating these queer invitations to Christian faith and spirituality is part of the journey to which LGBTQ Christians are liberated to respond.

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[Un]becoming Ryland

It has been a long time since I have written anything. Actually, let me correct myself; I have been writing a lot here and there, but I have not published anything in a long time. Was it the busyness of a full time job, the malaise of my living situation, an absence of a muse? I do not know. However, I knew that if I were to survive as a queer theologian or thrive in what gives me life, I would need to start writing again.

Ryland Whittington

Ryland Whittington

And so, out of the blue—in my new apartment—checking in on Facebook—in the midst of unloading boxes—I saw an article that my friend posted. The first words immediately drew my attention: “I am Ryland-.” I remember learning the story of Ryland in a training I attended on the LGBTQ community and health. Ryland is a transgender boy, who at the early age of five began to recognize that his experience as a boy did not line up with his bodied situation as a female. At first, Ryland’s parents thought it was a phase; that Ryland was a tomboy. However, the psychological stress and dysphoria Ryland experienced began to take its toll. After many meetings with doctors, psychologists, and other professionals, Ryland’s parents decided it was best for Ryland to begin the transition from a girl to a boy immediately.

Ryland’s story, for the time being, ends there. But then the next words of this blogger’s title further drew my inquiry: “-the story of a male-identifying little girl who didn’t transition.” This was not Ryland’s story; so, whose was this? This was the story of Lindsay, a woman who always “seemed to prefer ‘boy’ things.” She always preferred blue to pink, green to purple, short hair to long, and when playing Cowboys and Indians, she would rather play the Indian than the Belle in Distress.

Lindsay “desperately wanted to be a boy.” She was fortunate to grow up in a loving, open-minded, accepting family:

“They just let me be me.  They let me be a girl who wore jeans more often than skirts.  They let me play with slingshots rather than princess wands.  They didn’t conclude that I was gay, or transgender. They didn’t put me in a box that would shape my future, at the expense of my own free will.”

Lindsay continues to reflect on her gender play, and even her sexuality. During a sleepover, she experimented with a girl friend. Lindsay reflects:

“Looking back, I believe she had been molested and was acting out what had been done to her.  This doesn’t make me transgender.  It doesn’t make me a lesbian.  It made me a child growing up in a broken world.”

Lindsay (the one on the right).

Lindsay (the one on the right).

Nowadays, she is successfully a woman who still loves football as much as she loves “putting on an apron and creating elaborate meals for friends and family.” In the end, she feels bad for Ryland, and how her parents “may be robbing her by choosing a gender for her at such a young age.”

While I appreciate her autobiographical exploration of gender, I think Lindsay oversimplifies not only Ryland’s story, but the story of transgender persons themselves. While not knowing the extent of Lindsay’s experience (even though she specified that she ‘desperately’ wanted to be a boy), her narrative does not exhibit the sort of gender dysphoria typically experienced by transgender persons. And yet, Lindsay identifies herself with Ryland’s story. She is apt to reflect on the ways her gender expression does not conform to the norms of a specific culture’s understanding of how “girls” behave. However, the missed mark is the lack of any recognition or even reflection on the very real and existential disconnection between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender as determined by culture; this being a quintessential piece to the narrative identity of transgender persons.

Lindsay’s identification with Ryland’s story primarily serves as an apologetic towards transgender persons, but can come off as a polemic against them. The apologetic is sympathetic, wherein Lindsay correlates her experience as a ‘tomboy’ with the gender dysphoria of Ryland, effectively creating some sort of camaraderie. And yet, there is still a denial of the experience of transgender persons as authentic and right (or at least ‘ok’).

But the apologetic comes through in a most interesting way: a free will argument. By claiming that Ryland did not possess free will in the decision to transition to a boy, Ryland becomes the victim of not only culture’s gender demands, but a victim of his parents’ arrest of his free will. But the will of the parents and the will of culture are formally the same: they are determinative forces upon the free will of an individual, child or adult.

I don’t typically see this sort of apologetic—Lindsay’s identification with Ryland’s transgenderism—in gender discussions as much as I see it in sexuality discussions. In those discussions, the apologetic follows as such. A heterosexual person will admit to thinking a person of their same sex and gender (very important we have both) is sexually attractive. As a means of identification with gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons, the heterosexual person demonstrates relatability to the continuum of sexuality because they happen to find someone of their same sex and gender attractive.

madonna.blog_.hr_

Marlene Dietrich, Gender-Bending Bisexual Actress

I think recognizing the continuum of sexuality is important for the Heteronorm (referring to the superpersonal forces of heteronormativity), in spite of the potential for the Heteronorm to use it as a means of an in-breaking of their majority status within the minority and effectively subsuming it. However, a crucial mistake the Heteronorm makes in this apologetic move is by assuming that what moves one along the continuum is as fluid as the continuum itself. Just because a straight female finds another woman to be sexually attractive does not effectively make her bisexual (though it’s a critical part). The experience and testimony of being bisexual is more than passing phases or brief enchantments; it is correlative to the transgender person’s experience in that there is a deep experience of “I can do no other and my experience as a sexed being who does not line up with my culture’s expectation of my being.”

So, Lindsay is doing something similar, but operating out of the Cisnorm (refering to the superpersonal forces of cisgenderism). Lindsay has come to recognize her own cisgender identity; the sex she was assigned with at birth corresponds to the gender identity culturally associated with it. And yet, because she had some male gender identifications, she assumes she can relate with the transgender person, one whose sex that was assigned at birth does not correspond to the gender identity culturally associated with it.

All this to say the following. Lindsay identifies with a piece of the gender puzzle with Ryland’s case, but she is mistaken to assume that her experience of gender correlates with the gender dysphoria of Ryland. Thus, while I appreciate her story, Lindsay is not Ryland.

And neither am I, nor are any of us. So why am I writing about this? What could I possibly have to say about this?

Well, I could start by saying that while I’m fairly cisgender, the gender of male that I identify with does not fully correspond to certain cultural expectations of the male gender. I never thought of myself as a manly man, much to my frustration. I identify with more culturally feminine things. I could also say that when I was three I was fascinated by my mother’s dresses, and when I was five I dressed up as Maleficent for Halloween. I could also say that while I am primarily attracted to men, and while I find women attractive, it is also more feminine qualities of men that I find attractive. I could also say that during my coming out process, it was a very difficult deciding if I was going to come out as gay, bisexual, or whatever.

Hold up; am I not doing the same thing as Lindsay and others? Am I trying to prove myself as a dialog partner with transgender and bisexual persons? Why and what and whom am I trying to prove myself?!

Candy says I hate the quiet places that cause the smallest taste of what will be.

Candy says I hate the quiet places
that cause the smallest taste of what will be.

I think of my transgender acquaintances and my unconditional intrigue towards and of them. When I close this window, a picture of Candy Darling, a transgender woman and Warhol Wunderkind, on her death bed, will show up on my desktop. It is one of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen, and it constantly evokes a response from me every time I see it. At the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Chicago, I saw a transgender couple (male-to-female and female-to-male) sitting alone in th midst of the chaos of the conference, and I was moved by their beauty. As well, I think of the praises and accolades given to Felicity Huffman and Jared Leto for bravely portraying transgender women in film, and even as more transgender persons make their way into media, it certainly seems that trans is the new black.

All of this leads me to ponder on our relationship to the other, whomever it may be. What is it about transgender people that has cisgender people so fascinated? What is is about gay people that has straight people so fussed up? What are the dynamics of our understanding of the other?

In positive and praiseworthy circumstances, the move to understand the other is a move towards relationality, towards participation in the object as the subject that it is. Through empathy—understanding someone as themselves—we cannot help but understand one another through ourselves. We come to know people through our own filters, our own glasses, our own eyes. It is a developmental stage to understand persons vis-a-vis ourselves, a stage that is revisited over and over again. To not understand you apart from my own understanding can be as inauthentic as to not understand you as yourself in the first place.

However, there is a darker side to the understanding of the other: understanding as an act of usurpation. The act of knowing can be an act of domination. Under this guise, one shapes the object of their observation.  The observer has not participated in empathic knowing, but rather stood back and looked, attempting to craft the object in the image of one’s own understanding. The existentialists have described this as the “Look,” the recognition of the subjectness or—in most cases—the objectness of the other. In Feminist critique, the Look is the subjugation of women by men, where women are subjected to a permanent object status. Women, according to feminists, must then reclaim their position as subject, to assert themselves as a subjective subject (See Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex).

Has Lindsay given the Look at Ryland, consigning his transgender status as a permanent object? Have I, in making Ryland a symbol in my own image, made him an object for analysis, critique, and intrigue? Is the transgender the “Second Gender?” In our attempt to relate to the other, will we seek for the other to become us, or will we allow the other to be the catalyst for our unbecoming in the pursuit of relationality?

CANDYDARLING

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On Identity: My Panel Discussion at PFLAG

PFLAG On Sunday, March 16th, the anniversary of my baptism, I participated in a panel discussion for PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) on the intersection of faith and LGBT issues.  I shared the panel with several great representatives of the discussion, and I invited many friends and family to the discussion.  Awesome.  I now wanted to share my talk with y’all as a means of inviting you into the conversation, as well as an attempt to restart my blog. I’m also going to insert stock images that I find concerning “identity” along the way.

Today I would like to frame my part on the topic of identity. Now, identity is a tricky subject here.  Where on the one hand, LGBT persons use identity politically, that is, in order to be recognized; LGBT persons must ‘come out’ and assert their ‘identity’ as ‘born-this-way.’ They could not choose-this-way and they must be acknowledged-this-way.  On the other hand, queer theorists would rather not tie themselves down to an identity, but rather deconstruct identities, never submitting to norms but always subverting the norms.  Still, as an existentialist, I find identity to be a very important part of my work. And so, it’s because of this that I am interested in the relationship between sexual identity (LGBT) and religious identity (Christianity).  I would like to propose three perspectives on the issue of the relationship, and I find that my story aligns up with this method rather well.

"Identity" is an eight-letter word. What are some other eight-letter words?

“Identity” is an eight-letter word. What are some other eight-letter words?

The first is there is an antithetical relationship: one cannot be gay and be a Christian. Now, I have had the luxury of a life of no explicit discrimination.  I am very fortunate to have been raised in a family that was not fundamentally religious and to have been brought up in Lutheran churches that at best didn’t talk about issues of sexuality or at worst ignored them. But discrimination can be just as implicit as it is explicit.  I’m talking about being born and raised in systems that condition to think a certain way.  As a young Minnesotan Lutheran in Sunday School, how could I not read the Bible literally?  How could I not believe that God wrote the Bible word for word? How could I not trust the Bible was infallible in all it taught (I never bought inerrancy, by the way.). Still, reading Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and believing that God was personally writing to me telling me that those who have these feelings will not inherit the Kingdom of God, I would lie awake in fear of hell.  And yet, even if I could change, maybe I am outside of God’s love and care.  Maybe I am reprobate, maybe I am an enemy of God, maybe I am destined for hellfire. Except, at this time I probably started thinking of hell as my worst nightmare and as a black abyss rather than volcanos. And yet, those teen years were a veritable hell of depression and anxiety.

However, in my junior year of high school I had a turn around. I refer to it as my faith-commitment experience. (Remember, I was raised Lutheran, second baptisms are just kind of silly, after all). What saved me from this dark depression was the concept that God loves me unconditionally, in spite of what I’ve done or how I’ve felt.  In my room, I have a plaque, a plaque I received for my baptism. It says “God danced the day you were born.” In the midst of the deep dark teenage depression, this phrase haunted me with its truth. And I had learned to accept the love of God, and everything turned around.  Sure, of course I still had these thoughts and feelings, but God loved me regardless. God danced for me, regardless.

The Law is written on our hearts, and fingerprints!

The Law is written on our hearts, and fingerprints!

And so, that brings me to the second relationship between LGBT identity and Christian identity, that of compatibility. The identities are not mutually exclusive, but rather, they can coexist.  The caveat, however, one identity is still more important than the other, and often it is the identity that can provide the most universal and most ultimate qualifier.  What’s more ultimate: one’s sexuality or one’s faith?  In this, you then develop a hierarchy of identity, ranked by their ultimacy. Thus, religiously speaking, one can be gay and be a Christian, but one must not commit idolatry by placing their gay identity above their Christian identity. You may find this in gay/Christian reconciling groups, wherein the means of making compatible the relationship requires finding “a clear, consistent biblical standard for interpreting the text, a principle we can apply to various passages that will help us to determine, fairly and consistently, how to translate them for our culture.” [1] Such principles may include, what I discovered for myself, the unconditional love of God.

But I am no longer interested in compatibility between the identities; I am interested in something much greater, more coherent, and more creative.  What I am interested in is the third relationship, that of integration, where both the stories of LGBT persons and the traditions of Christianity have a lot to offer to each other. As part of my seminary education, I committed fully to Bethel’s mission of integration, and so I allowed all of my beliefs to be deconstructed and reconstructed.  It was in the course of my education that I came out and came into queer theology. Instead of being at odds with one another—instead of playing king or queen of the hill—I find LGBT perspectives and queer perspectives have a lot to offer to Christianity, and vice versa.  From Christianity, we have the prophetic, liberationist bent of all of Scripture that can be experienced through queer narratives.  I also think that queer theorists give Christianity the tools to be critical of its own tradition and to see how Christian faith is in many ways naturally deconstructive.

I can talk more about this, but I wanted to end with this. In the midst of all of this queer theologizing, this plaque that I had for years still sat there, and though I had looked at it hundreds upon hundreds of times, something stood out to me and hit me more than it ever did before.  And what is that?  The words “God danced the day you were born” are in a rainbow.  In this revelation, I see a major piece of integration throughout my whole life made complete. The God of today, the queer God that I have come out and into, is the same God, and always has been.

The very plaque.

The very plaque.


[1] Lee, 194-5.

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