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“The Gay Debate”

10 July 2012

Over the past couple of months, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Episcopal Church have had questions of same-gender marriage and/or ordination in front of them. The UMC voted to continue their ban against LGBTIQ ordination and marriage. The PCUSA, which voted to allow ordination last year, almost rescinded it while continuing their ban on marriage. The Episcopal Church (my denomination) voted to permit a provisional liturgy which will allow same-sex unions to be blessed over the next three years, at which point the liturgy will be evaluated for permanent usage.

At the heart of all of this debate is Scripture, and how it is to be read. Actually, homophobia (rightly, the fear of queer people) is at the heart of this debate, and Scripture is the chief weapon for waging war. There are many arguments flying around trying to contradict what is a heterosexist traditional teaching, but one of the most compelling and accessible I have heard comes from the brilliant biblical theology of Matthew Vines (whose video was picked up by the Huff Post this week.) It’s a long video, but definitely worth watching. Major take-home quotes appear below.

But the necessary consequence of the traditional teaching on homosexuality is that, even though gay people have suitable partners, they must reject them, and they must live alone for their whole lives, without a spouse or a family of their own. We are now declaring good the very first thing in Scripture that God declared not good: for the man to be forced to be alone. And the fruit that this teaching has borne has been deeply wounding and destructive.

This is a major problem. By holding to the traditional interpretation, we are now contradicting the Bible’s own teachings: the Bible teaches that it is not good for the man to be forced to be alone, and yet now, we are teaching that it is. Scripture says that good teachings will bear good fruit, but now, the reverse is occurring, and we say it’s not a problem.

And surely it is significant that Paul here speaks only of lustful, casual behavior. He says nothing about the people in question falling in love, making a lifelong commitment to one another, starting a family together. We would never dream of reading a passage in Scripture about heterosexual lust and promiscuity and then, from that, condemning all of the marriage relationships of straight Christians. There is an enormous difference between lust and love when it comes to our sexuality, between casual and committed relationships, between promiscuity and monogamy. That difference has always been held to be central to Christian teaching on sexual ethics for straight Christians. Why should that difference not be held to be as central for gay Christians? How can we take a passage about same-sex lust and promiscuity and then condemn any loving relationships that gay people might come to form? That is a very different standard than the one that we apply to straight people.

And there’s something terribly unseemly about straight Christians insisting that gay Christians are somehow inferior to them, or broken, or that gay people only exist because of the fall, and that God really intended to make everyone straight like them. But you know, I am a part of creation, too, including my sexual orientation. I’m a part of God’s design. That’s the first thing that I learned growing up in Sunday school – that God created me, that God loves me, that I am a beloved child of God, no more and no less valuable than anyone else. I love God. And I love Jesus. I really do. But that doesn’t mean that I need to hate myself, or somehow wallow in self-pity, misery, and loathing for the rest of my life. That’s not what God created me to do.

Our discussion of this issue, of the “gay issue,” can’t take place in the realm of abstractions, of musings about ideal design and ideal gender roles, as though gay people don’t even exist. Jesus placed a particular focus on those others overlooked, on those who were outcast, on mistreated and marginalized minorities. And if we are working to emulate the life of Christ, then that’s where our focus needs to be, too. Romans 12 tells us to “honor one another above yourselves…rejoice with those who rejoice,” and “mourn with those who mourn.” Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” How fully have you absorbed, not just the existence of gay and lesbian Christians, but the depth of the pain and the hurt that their own brothers and sisters have inflicted on them? Does that pain grieve you as though it were your own?

And how aware are you of the ways in which you may be contributing to suffering and hurt in gay people’s lives? It’s still commonplace for straight Christians to say, “Yes, I believe that homosexuality is a sin, but don’t blame me – I’m just reading the Bible. That’s just what it says.” Well, first of all, no, you are not just reading the Bible. You are taking a few verses out of context and extracting from them an absolute condemnation that was never intended. But you are also striking to the very core of another human being and gutting them of their sense of dignity and of self-worth. You are reinforcing the message that gay people have heard for centuries: You will always be alone. You come from a family, but you’ll never form one of your own. You are uniquely unworthy of loving and being loved by another person, and all because you’re different, because you’re gay.

Being different is no crime. Being gay is not a sin. And for a gay person to desire and pursue love and marriage and family is no more selfish or sinful than when a straight person desires and pursues the very same things.

And if you are uncomfortable with the idea of two men or two women in love, if you are dead-set against that idea, then I am asking you to try to see things differently for my sake, even if it makes you uncomfortable. I’m asking you to ask yourself this: How deeply do you care about your family? How deeply do you love your spouse? And how tenaciously would you fight for them if they were ever in danger or in harm’s way? That is how deeply you should care, and that is how tenaciously you should fight, for the very same things for my life, because they matter just as much to me. Gay people should be a treasured part of our families and our communities, and the truly Christian response to them is acceptance, support, and love.

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Prayer for Persons of Privilege

13 May 2012

By the late Ana María Isasi-Díaz, one of the mothers of mujerista theology and a great among the ancestors of the innovation of social ethics into a justice-making venture in itself. (Thanks to Sofia B. for the language here.) Que descanse en paz.

Dios mío, we pray for all of us who receive privileges crafted out of oppression and prejudices, privileges that erroneously set us apart as superior, better, and more worthy while marking others as inferior, not as good, even unworthy. Touch our hearts with your motherly love and care so we will be open to all our sisters and brothers throughout the world and will be fully respectful of this biosphere in which we “live, and move, and have our being.” Help us to trust those on whom we depend, who are known to you, whether we know them or not. Let us see that your justice goes beyond equality, for though we do not have the same material, intellectual, and spiritual resources, we share your equal regard. Change our insistence on claiming we had the right to use however we wish—or think we merit or deserve—what we earn. Rather, because the resources of our world are limited, we must consider the needs of others before availing ourselves of all that we can buy or grab. Help us who claim to be fair in our dealings realize that we never can free ourselves from our own interests and often act out of our prejudices.

Querido Dios, we pray for the sisters and brothers at whose expense we enjoy privileges. Give them the strength to keep hoping and struggling for fullness of life for themselves and their children. Do not allow our injustice to harden their hearts, embitter them, or have them give up those of us who live at their expense.

¡Ay Diosito! Continue to embrace us tenderly. May your love and the struggle of the poor and the oppressed touch our hearts so that we can indeed be part of your family, true children of God, welcomed at the feast of life you have prepared for all those who embrace without exception all of your creation.

Así sea. Amen.

“Submit to the test of love”

11 February 2012

The test for whether an interpretation [of Scripture] is Christian or not does not hang on whether it is historically accurate or exegetically nuanced. The touchstone is not the historically reconstructed meaning in the past, nor is it the fancifully imaged, modernly reconstructed intentions of the biblical writers. Nor can any responsible Christian—after the revolutionary changes in Christian though in the past twenty years, much less in the past three hundred—maintain that Christian interpretations are those conforming to Christian tradition. The traditions, all of them, have changed too much and are far too open to cynical manipulation to be taken as foundations for gauging the ethical value of a reading of Scripture…

The best place to find criteria for talking about ethics and interpretation will be in Christian discourse itself… I take my stand with a quotation from an impeccably traditional witness, Augustine, who wrote, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of GOd and of neighbor does not understand it at all” (Christian Doctrine 1.35.40).

By this light, any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable. There can be no debate about the fact that the church’s stand on homosexuality has caused oppression, loneliness, self-hatred, violence, sickness, and suicide for millions of people. If the church wishes to continue with its traditional interpretation it must demonstrate, not just claim, that it is more loving to condemn homosexuality than to affirm homosexuals. Can the church show that same-sex loving relationships damage those involved in them? Can the church give compelling reasons to believe that it really would be better for all lesbian and gay Christians to live alone, without the joy of intimate touch, without hearing a lover’s voice when they go to sleep or awake? Is it really better for lesbian and gay teenagers to despise themselves and endlessly pray that their very personalities be reconstructed so that they may experience romance like their straight friends? Is it really more loving for the church to continue its worship of “heterosexual fulfillment” (a “nonbiblical” concept, by the way) while consigning thousands of its members to a life of either celibacy or endless psychological manipulations that masquerade as “healing?”

The burden of proof in the last twenty years has shifted. There are too many of us who are not sick, or inverted, or perverted, or even “effeminate,” but who just have a knack for falling in love with people of our own sex. When we have been damaged, it has not been due to our homosexuality but to others’ and our own denial of it. The burden of proof now is not on us, to show that we are not sick, but rather on those who insist that we would be better off going back into the closet. What will “build the double love of God and of our neighbor”?

I have tried to illustrate how all appeals to “what the Bible says” are idealogical and problematic. But in the end, all appeals, whether to the Bible or anything else, must submit to the test of love.

Dale B. Martin, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality is Biblical Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 49-50.

“November Blue”

9 January 2012

If I weren’t leavin’, would I catch you dreamin’?
And if I weren’t gonna be gone now, could I take you home?
And if I told you I loved you, would it change what you see?
And if I was stayin’, would you stay with me?
And if I had money, would it all look good?
And if I had a job now, like a good man should,
And if I came to you tomorrow, and said let’s run away,
Would you roll like the wind does? Baby, would you stay?

My heart is dancin’ to a November tune,
And I hope that you hear it singing songs about you.
I sing songs of sorrow, because you’re not around.
See, babe, I’m gone tomorrow; baby, follow me down.

I don’t know why I have to, but this man must move on.
I love my time here; didn’t know ’til I was gone.
November shadows shade November change.
November spells sweet memory; the season blue remains.
November spells sweet memory; the season blue remains.

Your yellow hair is like the sunlight, however sweet it shines.
Bit by the cold of December, I’m warm beside your smile.
Oh lady, tell me I’m not leaving: you’re everything I dreamed.
I’m killing myself thinking. I’ve fallen like the leaves.
I’m killing myself thinking. I’ve fallen like the leaves.

“Some Children See Him”

30 December 2011

For this, the sixth day of Christmas, one of the most beautiful (and most sound) modern Christmas songs, performed by Carolina’s son, the ever-wonderful James Taylor.

Some children see him lily white,
The baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see him lily white,
With tresses soft and fair.

Some children see him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heaven to earth come down.
Some children see him bronzed and brown,
With dark and heavy hair.

Some children see him almond-eyed,
This Savior whom we kneel beside.
Some children see him almond-eyed,
With skin of golden hue.

Some children see him dark as they,
Sweet Mary’s Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
And, ah! they love him, too!

The children in each different place
Will see the baby Jesus’ face
Like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
And filled with holy light.

O lay aside each earthly thing
And with thy heart as offering,
Come worship now the infant King.
‘Tis love that’s born tonight!

“Doubting Thomas”

21 December 2011

Today is the feast of my patron, St. Thomas, who is often known as the one who doubted Jesus’s resurrection until he had seen the scars on his hands and feet and had put his hand in his side. Jesus appears to him, allows for this, to which Thomas makes the first recorded affirmation of Jesus as not only Son of God, but as God Godself. Jesus then reprimands him in what I find one of the most infuriating verses in the entirety of Scripture: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” At least Thomas had the balls (on more than one occasion, in fact) to say, “Wait, hold on a sec…” While there is much more to be said about Thomas than his doubting, I find comfort in knowing that one of the Twelve was a doubter like me, and that it was this doubter who was actually able to affirm more than any of the others, even St. Peter who could only call Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (a.k.a., the one prophesied to come in the stead of David, who was (along with his heirs on the throne of Judah) also called Son of God.

At any rate, Nickel Creek has an amazing song about this identification with Thomas. Lyrics are in the video, so I won’t repost here:

“Womanist”

14 December 2011

WOMANIST

  1. From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous, or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.
  2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears at a natural counterbalance of laughter) and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are while, beige, and black?” Ans.: “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.” Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking your and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
  3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
  4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

 

Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), xi-xii.