Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Churches and Gay Folks: Ignorance or Malice?

A church ally we in the LGBT community who still search for spiritual foundations should celebrate is Peter J. Gomes. I saw him recently in the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So," and was taken with his calm wisdom and pastoral leadership. In a presidential campaign in which questions of gender and race loom large, and in which there have been important discussions of the sometime inability of both the women's movement and the African-American community to form solidarity with the gay community, Gomes's voice is important.

The following are excerpts from his new book The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2007):

"The contemporary fear gripping America appears to be a fear of the normalization of homosexuality. What a strange pathology this is--fear that the sexual identity and practices of a minority will somehow taint the identity and practices of the majority....Gay marriage is seen to threaten heterosexual marriage to such an extent that constitutional amendments must be designed to prevent it, although no one seems prepared to propose similar legislation to prohibit divorce, which is a far greater threat to marriage and the family, and on which subject Jesus himself had distinct views. On homosexuality, he had nothing to say. This irrational fear of the sexual other is all the more dangerous because it conceals itself within the sanctions of religion. Homophobia is the most current example of how good people can end up doing and beliving bad things" (106; emphasis added).

"If there remains one area in which our parochial obduracy continues to obtain, however, it is in the church's treatment of its homosexual brothers and sisters; if there is an area in which we are to be weighed and found wanting, this is it. It is not out of ignorance alone that we behave as we do toward sexual minorities; it is out of ignorance, fear, and in certain cases, malice. None of it is excusable: private judgment on sexual matters does not excuse our unwillingness to include in full participation in the household of faith those who engage in sex differently. Two generations of biblical scholarship have shown that the scriptures cannot be used as a basis for our discrimination on the subject of homosexuality, so why are our churches as divided on this subject today as they were a generation ago on the subject of women, or a century ago on the subject of slavery?...

Thuis I have been disappointed, to say the least, to find that the Bible becomes the first refuge of those who are unwilling to reconsider their extrabiblical prejudices against including homosexuals in the full life and ministry of the church. I had hoped that, as has happened with women and racial minorities, our predominantly Christian culture would recognize that God's children, the homosexuals in our midst, cry out for our compassion and acceptance. In this decade, alas, exactly the opposite has happened. Positions have hardened and homosexuals have been demonized, condemned to a 'lifestyle' rather than invited to a life in the household of faith. It amazes me that any thoughtful homosexuals would continue to want any part of a community, religious or otherwise, that in the name of God has behaved toward them with such contempt. ...

People outside the Christian community wonder what all the fuss is about, many within the Christian community are discouraged by militant homophobia, and too many in the Christian community see homosexuality as the only available proxy to be fought in the pervasive culture wars. With so much going wrong in the world, one might think that we would have more important things with which to concern ourselves" (200-201; emphasis added).

"I once preached a sermon on why God should love us if we did not love what God loves, in which Iargued that by the example of Jesus and the words of the prophets, God loves the marginalized, the outcast, and the questionable in society--the very people whom we, as a rule, keep out of our churches and out of positions of leadership. It is fashionable to help the poor but not to empower them, and until recently, for many Christians it was acceptable to confine the spiritual gifts of women to a lessor order of magnitude within the church. Today it remains acceptable among far too many Christians to regard homosexuals as beyond the pale of the church unless, while remaining homosexual, they cease to behave as such. For certain Anglican prelates, including the archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, to argue that they are defending the faith by excluding the homosexual faithful on biblical grounds represents a degree of hubris, ignorance, and noncharity that baffles the mind" (242).


colkoch said...

"For certain Anglican prelates, including the archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, to argue that they are defending the faith by excluding the homosexual faithful on biblical grounds represents a degree of hubris, ignorance, and noncharity that baffles the mind" (242).

Actually it doesn't baffle my mind. As Gomes points out early in these excerpts this is a proxy issue used to mask the real issue which is the continued male dominance of political, social, and exclesiastical structures.

It's no longer acceptable to remind women of their place, but apparently one can use the gay issue--which is basically the effiminate gay issue--as a substitute for reminding the faithful of the biblical 'truth' of mysoginistic sexual roles.

The only advance Akinola represents is that it's no longer just white European males privy to the male power structure. It would seem that in order to protect the primacy of male privledge, the powers that be were forced to add men of color into their club. They've certainly made it obvious that Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schorri is about as welcome as Bishop Robinson in the old boys ecclesiastical club.

It's all about the illusion of power and who gets access, and that ain't women and it ain't truthful gay men, and if it means betraying a man named Jesus, it isn't the first time Jesus was sold out by a man for money and the illusion of power.

William D. Lindsey said...

Colkoch, great analysis. Yes, absolutely. Homophobia is ultimately about deep-rooted fear of what will happen if women are empowered. As you say, it's a "proxy issue" to mask what is really going on: the ruthless intent to keep the status quo of the old boys' club.

It certainly is disconcerting when other marginal groups, who have everything to gain by standing in solidarity with LGBT folks, can't see this and participate in the structures of exclusion. As Gomes says, those structures were initially designed to exclude people of color and women. And not much has changed, in the final analysis, re: who has power and who doesn't. The old boys' club is alive and well.

Vis-a-vis the churches, we hear at least perfunctory statements of repentance about racism and misogyny. But the churches are strangely silent about the fact that the same principles of justice they have violated re: people of color and women apply to gay folks as well.