Archive for Homosexuality

Before you “come out” as a LGBTQ ally in church…

wpid-Photo-5-feb-2012-2359.jpgI am watching a fellow Salvationist lament on the LGBTQ oppressive teaching they are getting at a Salvation Army event. I grieve with here and cringe inwardly at the damage being done in yet another Bible study where no consideration is being given to the possibility of HBTQ people in the room.

At the same time I remember the cost and the pain of “coming out” as a LGBTQ ally in the Swedish part of the Salvation Army. To that end I have a short list detailing a few things to consider before “coming out”.

  • Are you willing to risk your friendships over this issue?
  • Are you willing to risk your livelihood over this issue?
  • Have you wrestled with the scriptures and found a secure place to stand?
  • Have you wrestled with your own sexuality and are you confident in where you stand?
  • Have you spoken with your closest colleagues, friends and family that might also be impacted by your stand?
  • Do you have a support network of people around you to ride out the storm with?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for speaking up and taking a stand, but I urge you to find secure footing first, to find support and most importantly to truly reflect on the consequences to your faith, theology, relationships and work situation. In other words: count the cost before “coming out” so that when you to, you are ready.

Lastly, when you do, know that you are not alone!

The sacrament of coming out of the closet …

The biggest problem with wearing a mask is that as long as we wear it only the mask receives love. The psychology is as simple as it is diabolical, I know that what I am presenting is not real me, therefore I also know that the person you are loving is not really the real me. No matter how sincere your proclamation of love is I will always think that if you knew the real me you would not love me as you do now.

The mask hides our truly sacramental nature with a religious covering. If a sacrament is the outward sign of an inward grace, does not a fake exterior either hide that inward grace (best case scenario) or, worst case, witness of a false interior?

As Christians we talk about “walking in the light” and most often we mean by that, to be truthful and honest, to be open and perhaps transparent. I think we all would want people to see our masks (fine and polished as they are) and marvel at how composed and pure our exterior is.

The trouble is that in the closet there are only shadows and while we can, in the closet, see our own unmasked light, we cannot share it until we come out. And we can only come out by the grace of god. Patrik Cheng writes:

Regardless of how one ultimately comes out, the act of coming out reflects the very nature of a God who is also constantly coming out and revealing Godself to us in the Out Christ. Coming out is a gift that is accompanied by other gifts such as self-love, the love for others, and the overcoming of shame and internalized homophobia. Coming out is not something that can be “willed” or “earned”; it can only happen as an act of grace from God.

From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ by Patrick S. Cheng

So the process of unmasking, of coming out is a sacrament, as it is an outward sign, much like baptism or in TSA enrolment, of an inward grace. The act of becoming oneself, revealing our true nature to the world.
And I think that this coming out process, the process of unmasking or the process of becoming is not a one time deal, it is a lifelong process where we each day choose to affirm and become who we are created to be.

Jesus in drag

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Why are you doing this? Why do you take such an interest in the LGBTQ and sexuality? The question has been asked of me many times. By my leaders, by the people in my congregation and by my family. In fact I think it was my brother who asked the million dollar question one day just after I had come out with my LGBTQ and the church series: “How many LGBTQ people do you have in your church?”

The truth is that I somehow knew that this was an issue that we had to deal with. Already at our Officers training (like seminary but for Salvation Army Officers) I started asking the questions. How are we to deal with the LGBTQ community? It seemed no one was particularly interested in even broaching the subject and the ones that did either did so with a love the sinner hate the sin attitude and some even sneered at me “Why should we talk about this, it’s not like they will join your church, and why would they want to join a club where they are not welcome?”

After receiving my orders and moving to Malmö it took one week before I was caught like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck: “What if two men asks you to marry them what would you say?” This, asked by a group of teenagers hanging about outside during the Malmö festival. I had no coherent or thought through answer, I believe I stumbled through some kind of: It’s complicated kind of response.

I realised I had to get my theology straight I had to reconcile what I knew in my heart to be true and how I read the bible. It was fishing for help in these issues that I stumbled into Tim. We met in the chatroom connected to Doug Paggit’s radio show, I do not remember how the conversation started but I do remember how it ended. Tim asked me if I wanted to talk about this over Skype and I answered that I would love to, it seemed it was hard to get anyone to actually have a constructive conversation about this that wasn’t just regurgitating old evangelical sound bytes.

The conversation with Tim was great, the fact that he didn’t try to convince me of anything helped. Not once did he try to say: “This is how you should read scripture.” He simply directed me to some great resources (Andrew Marin: Love Is an Orientation among others). But then he shared story after story about how he had encountered deep spirituality and loving worship within the LGBTQ community, this I think was important for me to hear as a recovering pentecostal fundamentalist. But nothing could have really prepared me for the shocking turn the conversation took next.

After having to swear on the record that I wouldn’t be recording our conversation Timothy told me about his project. How he also had found himself on a lonely desert journey and had decided that he once and for all had to deal with the inner Pharisee. That he had done this by coming out as gay (even though he was straight) to his friends, family and church. Here are his words about it:

The thing that truly astonished me with Tim’s story was that he was willing to literally walk a mile/a year in the shoes of the other (please learn more about Tim’s experiment and support his indiegogo campaign) . It is this uncomfortable truth that seems to trip me up wherever I go in my spiritual walk like a pair of shoes carelessly kicked of on the hallway carpet (always tripping you up on the way to the restroom). I am committed to work day and night for the human rights of others but am I willing to walk in their shoes and more importantly am I willing to know their pain. Not just know of their pain but to actually feel it?

I recently stumbled onto this disturbing quote from Jim Palmer‘s Divine Nobodies:

“I uncovered something unsettling about myself. I don’t really want a “relationship” with God. Here’s what I want. I want to share with God all I feel, all I need, all that grieves me, all that makes me happy, the puzzling things, the fun things, and the hard things, but I would prefer that God keep his stuff to himself. I don’t want to hear about his pain and share in his grief.”

That rings so true with me, I really want a shoulder to cry on but am I willing to bear the burden of the other, and am I willing to bear the burden of God?

Are you? Would you be willing to undergo persecution, ridicule just to know others? Would you walk the valley of death not for your own sake but just to know the other, to love them and maybe to realise that the other is not so different than yourself? If you won’t take it from me, please read more about Tim’s experiment and let it challenge you.

My conversation with Tim was, for me the first real step of this journey. I had been planning it for some time, checking out the catalogues, admiring the post cards, packing the bag but now I was ready to walk the walk inspired by Tim’s courage!

 

 

Who is queer?

I am not underprivileged, marginalised or persecuted in any ways. I am a Caucasian, heterosexual male with a DipHE in Theology and Mission. I am employed as a full time minister, doing what I love to do: to teach theology; to build and nurture relationships; to be a sign towards a mystery I may never understand.

When I started this journey THEY where the queer (weird) ones, the sinners. After some time they where still the weird ones but I had come to realise I was a sinner too. Slowly the line between them and us was blurred until I today realise that “we are here, we are queer, get used to it.” Today I am not sure that sin has anything to do with it (it being sex and sexuality). Don’t get me wrong I believe that it is entirely possible to abuse sex and sexuality, just as it is possible to abuse nature or friendships, or trust. What I have come to understand is that sex and sexuality is probably abused just as much (if not more) in the heterosexual bedroom/closet than the gay or lesbian bed.

The Q in LGBTQ stands for the Queer, not weird but rather that which crosses the boundary of what is generally consider normal. Just as “queer theory” is about the breaking down of traditionally fixed boundaries and categories. So if we are to stick with the traditional boxes and categories we are stuck with LGBTQ persons on the one side and the heterosexuals on the other. However what is normal heterosexual conduct? When do we cross into the Q? Are you queer if you only prefer blondes? If you only want to have sex standing up? If feet turn you on? If you prefer oral to vaginal? When are you queer, really, who’s to decide? I think it may be prudent for us heterosexuals to follow Marcella Althaus-Reid’s suggestion and come out of our hetero closet. In most marriage courses and classes on intimacy there will be a section on sharing our sexual fantasies (it seems the biggest hurdle to a healthy sex life is to what degree we are still in the closet) to share our personal queerness.

Patrik S. Cheng defines the Q of LGBTQ as those who are queer or Allies. At first when my theology started to shift I saw my self as an ally, one who could help them, over there. As my understanding of the term and myself grew, I realised that as an LGBTQ ally I was quickly becoming queer myself. Not that any of my sexual preferences changed, what changed was my perspective. By knowing “them” I came to love them, and by loving them I realised that them was really us. And so the boundary between them and me was blurred out by this radical love.

I agree fully with Patrick S. Cheng wh wrote:

“Christian theology is fundamentally a queer enterprise. That is, like queer theory, classical Christian theology is about the breaking down of traditionally fixed boundaries and categories.

God is a queer god, who crosses all boundaries by becoming a human, born by a woman, raised as part of a human family. We follow a queer Christ, who continually challenged the fixed boundary between clean and unclean, sacred and secular. The queer spirit then completely blurry the distinction between god and me as the spirit enters into my life, penetrating every part of me, incarnating into me if you will and the border between the world we know and the spiritual becomes hard to distinguish. Everything is spiritual, and if that is true then all our sexual queerness is spiritual too.

So while I may be a heterosexual, Caucasian male with a good education and a privileged position within the church I am also queer not only by questioning the heteronorm status quo but also by recognising that heterosexuality is exactly that: hetero, it is diverse and different from itself. Heterosexuality is not homogenous in any way, not that homosexuality is homogenous either. Maybe we would be better of talking about heterosexualities and homosexualities, indicating that rather than homogenous states they are two points in a complex matrix of sexualities.

In the end we come to a point where we must ask, what is normal? What is natural? And in the asking we become queer, and maybe that is the truth of it, maybe we are all queer?

The centrality of sexuality

Why is this such a big deal? Why does it matter? It should be a non issue! This is what both right wing and left wing, conservatives and liberals are saying all over the place. In churches people are taught that their sexuality, while important, is not essential. Sexuality does not define you, or who you are.

This reasoning is the basis for the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” theology that is so prevalent, it is also the basis for all pushes for chastity and purity vows etc. Your sexuality whatever it is is a non-issue, seek first the kingdom.

Even in non church environments where liberalism reigns the sigh of ‘I have had enough’ together with the statement “why are we even talking about this” in regards to LGBTQ issues (all well meaning of course, taking for granted the equal rights for all people). I agree, equal rights for all people should be a non-issue, it should be something we could take for granted but it is not. As long as LGBTQ people are discriminated against in subtle and not so subtle ways it is an issue of importance. I also disagree, because our sexuality is an issue of centrality it is so entwined with whom we are and whom we are created to be, it is a central part of our creaturliness and therefore can never be a disregarded or relegated to a peripheral discourse.

We are so saturated in hetero-normative, sterelised thinking that we cannot see how a heteronorm reading of the bible narrative marginalises not only LGBTQ persons but also our sexuality.

It all starts in genesis where we have cleaned up the grand creation narrative with a clinical zen like ex-nihilo, purgating all messy chaotic double entendre within the narrative. In true platonistic fashion we pretend that the fall has negated gods declaration of ‘very good’ and fall into a gnostic reading where the spiritual still is good but matter is less than or even downright evil.

We continue our discourse by spiritualising our OT readings so as to forget about sexuality or at least put all the evil sex in the hands of the others (the others often being the LGBTQ community) scapegoating the dirty and disturbing onto those perverted others, safely ignoring the beams lodged in our own orifices.

The Song of Songs is read as a safe poetic allegory but we do not delve to deep lest we disturb the unsettling notion of gods passionate eros for us as gods beloved.

We continue sterilising the gospels by making sure Mary is a virgin and stays a virgin (making her a mythical creature and not a flesh and blood human). We keep our blinkers on so we can ignore the disturbing images of the god-spirit sexually (forcefully?) impregnating a teenage peasant girl.

Jesus is in our reading portrayed male but chaste to keep this serene gnosticism intact to the end. The passion of the resurrection is left unspoken as Jesus rises as an eternal resurrection body (without sex) and ascending to the sexless marriage-less heaven where we deftly ignore all sexual marriage symbolism used to describe the coming kingdom.

So here’s the problem, we have neutered the biblical narrative making it a-sexual, like a eunuch (which ironically is also sexually deviant). Since this is how we read scripture this is how we see god an a-sexual deity and therefore it must be how we treat our sexuality. Either as something embarrassing that should not be or something that will at least perish when we are made holy.

We need to recover a queer god. A gay god is not good enough, as a gay god simply reaffirms the false homo-hetero dichotomy. A Jesus who marries Mary Magdalene reinforces the heteronormative narrative while a gay Jesus reinforces it by reinforcing the “negative” pole. A queer god is a god who is neither male nor female but trans-gendered (not as in transitioning from one to another but as one who transcends both without ever becoming less of either or fully other). We need to recover a queer god that creates with erotic pleasure and then sets us free to do the same. We need to recover a queer Christ, who is not secretly longing to tap Mary Magdalene or Lazarus but passionately, erotically loves them both (that is, he is sexually attracted to them). Whatever Jesus does with his sexuality (as in: does he act it out?) is here irrelevant, the fact that it is there and central to his actions, fuelling his passionate love for all humanity, omni-amourous.

We are sexual beings, our eros is part of whom we are, not all that we are, but a significant part. When we ignore it or sterilise it, or try to tame it, make it clean acceptable we suppress who we are and therefore who god created us to be. It is time as Marcella Althaus-reid writes in her ‘Indecent theology’:

“Isn’t it time the Christian heterosexuals came out of their closets too?”

Let’s stop pretending that we are all the same, that our sexuality can be summarised with missionary vanilla sex. If we can allow the interpretative gap that Jesus leaves on these issues, the invitation to midrash, be a starting point for our continued discourse. Let’s stop pretending that this is not an important issue. Lets stop pretending that we can stop talking, wondering, experimenting, longing, masturbating, copulating and loving it!

 

LGBTQ – Prelogos

I have written an extensive blog series (12 posts) on my Swedish blog about LGBTQ issues within the church in general and the Salvation Army in Sweden in particular. I was undecided whether or not I should post it in english as well, but when Sven Jungholm asked last week if he could translate and post it over on his blog for former officers I agreed. Then I thought I might as well post it over here to for reference and to direct some of my english speaking friends when they ask about the subject.

So without further ado here is the series…

Will the real sodomite please stand up.

We are talking about homosexuality, grace, church at the corps right now. It is astounding to note how much bad theology and how sloppy exegesis we have let become the foundation of our stance on the issue of homosexuality. It is scary to realise that we have let a handful obscure (hard to translate with accuracy at the least) scripture verses define our stance on homosexuality.We let Jesus central message of love and hope be overridden by these half a dozen references.

Worldwide the word sodomite is used to describe homosexuals even though even a light and sporadic reading of the Sodom narrative will reveal that what is discussed is not and cannot be homosexuality (heartfelt love and attraction between two people of the same sex) rather a horrifying picture of violence, rape, hatred and pure evil. Please understand I am not stating that the sodomites where good, no to the contrary, I would argue that sodom and sodomites are a symbol for pure evil in the Old Testament.

Looking through the texts we find that the rest of the bible refers to sodom as a place of evil but not a place of homosexuality rather a place where guests where treated badly (and that is the understatement of the year) so the subject of the story is not homophilia but xenofobia. Consider jesus words to his disciples when he sends them out to preach the gospel:

““When you enter a town and are not received, go out in the street and say, ‘The only thing we got from you is the dirt on our feet, and we’re giving it back. Did you have any idea that God’s kingdom was right on your doorstep?’ Sodom will have it better on Judgment Day than the town that rejects you.” (Luke 10:10–12 MESSAGE)

Here Jesus not only refers to the severe judgement of Sodom but also the sin of Sodom inhospitality or simply the lack of love.

Theologian Jesper Svartvik argues that there is a clear link between the Sodom narrative and the myth of Procrustes, the man who would receive guests and let them sleep in his bed of iron, while they slept he would take his tools and make them fit his bed, by making them taller, and in later versions of the story cutting bits of to shorten them. Much like the church has been trying to make the GLBTQ community fit our christian iron bed. So the sin of sodom is the “come as you are, but  you must become like us” mentality that permeates our Christian thinking. As long as we approach people with the hidden, or not so hidden agenda to change them or transform them we are being the real sodomites. Violating our sacred guests to make them into our image, when surely what we need to be doing is to merely point to Jesus in loving conversations and let God worry about change, conversion and transformation. Who amI to tell you what God meant when he created you?

Will the real sodomite please stand up?

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