Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What I Do Is Me: For That I Came

Writing this set of thoughts on a mini-pilgrimage. I'm in northern Alabama to take a fresh set of photographs of the tombstones in the family cemetery where my Lindsey 4-great and 3-great grandparents are buried. I need these for a family website I'm organizing as part of an international DNA study.

Frankly downhearted as I read the news. Another same-old, same-old statement from the pope about male-female complementarity (read: about how women should keep to the place nature has assigned them). Will they never learn, those who want to keep using this biology-as-destiny argument to subjugate others--and to bolster up unjust social systems in which the church is deeply implicated?

I did read today, though, a rather amusing report that well-dressed businessmen visiting posh hotels and bars in Dallas have been picking up pretty young women who are keeping to their feminine role of being soft and seductive, and keeping to that role with a vengeance. An old story, but with a new twist: a number of these man have awakened, pants around their ankles, to find they've been drugged and robbed, and, in one case, beaten with a pair of high heels. I'm not sure Benedict would agree that this story illustrates that the subordinate role nature has assigned women can have some interesting reversals built into it. But for me, the story does say that.

Disheartened, too, to hear that a right-wing Anglican group plans to issue a book about the success of ex-gay therapy, as the Lambeth synod begins. Again, same-old, same-old. With the very real challenges facing our world today--not the least of which is mass environmental destruction--there are some in the churches who would rather keep out the energy and gifts of gay believers, than invite us in. At a point when the churches need all the energy they can muster to be effective signs of salvation in a world crying out for transformation. . . .

I suppose what has me most downhearted is the apparent futility of talking about these issues to the bulk of those who remain in the churches. The social space constructed for gay believers is still so constrained, that any blunt testimony about the ugly effects of that space is too easily dismissed by those in the mainstream as whining.

The best the churches seem able to offer gay believers these days is a faint blanket welcome statement: we love everybody. We welcome all. Open minds, open doors, open hearts. Ask those who assure you that their worship community welcomes you whether they actually have openly gay believers in their congregation, however, and they're likely to stare at you with blank consternation. The fault is not in their welcome; it's in our response. We gay people who absent ourselves from church are the guilty party: we are making ourselves unwelcome!

This baffles me, the inability of the church at its best--the church in welcoming posture--to ask precisely why, if the churches are so darned welcoming and caring, openly LGBT folks aren't flocking to the churches. It's not as if the culture at large is welcoming, as if we don't need places of welcome, healing, and refuge.

The ability of good Christians to shrug their shoulders and carry on baffles me--as if the conspicuously unwelcoming stance of the churches, once we move beyond rhetoric to reality and examine how many churches actually behave, doesn't undermine the most fundamental things the church says about itself. How can churches proclaim a justice and inclusion they do not practice? How can churches consider reaching out to, say, starving children in Africa when they turn their back on the LGBT people right in their midst--their own sons, daughters, brothers, sisters? It's always so much easier to love the strange at a distance rather than the one who knocks on our own door. And, yet, the test of our willingness to regard everyone as a stranger (and thus a human being equal to ourselves and deserving the compassion we'd like to have for ourselves) is whether we can treat the strangers in our midst as fully human.

As I think through all of this, I recall that magnificent line of Gerard Manley Hopkins, "What I do is me: for that I came." Hopkins envisages each created being as having a unique vocation in the world--some unique gift, talent, insight that the world will miss (and be poorer for not having) if that being is not allowed to fulfill her or his destiny.

It is no accident, I think, that Hopkins was identified by many of his brother Jesuits as gay. Within his Jesuit community, he often endured cruel taunts about his fastidious dress (his fondness for colored slippers), his "sensitivities," his "femininity." Some biographers have correlated the immense depressions from which he suffered--those "cliffs of fall" in his mind--with the constant torment he underwent at the hands of the Jesuits with whom he lived.

Whether Hopkins identified himself as homosexual or not is not the point. The point is, he was so identified by some of his brother Jesuits, and he was cruelly taunted because of his perceived sexual orientation--so much so that he actually rejoiced in his rather early death.

This gives Hopkins' observation, "What I do is me: for that I came," added force--at least, for many of us who continue to knock at the door of the churches and ask to be included in the liturgical community. If Hopkins' theology is correct--if we are created by God to bring unique gifts and talents to the world, to the worshiping community--there is something particularly malicious about the church's attempt to thwart the self-realization of LGBT persons.

There is something particularly malicious about the church's attempt to deny, in the face of abundant scientific evidence to the contrary, that God creates some people to be gay. This is to say, God sends some people into the world with the destiny of discovering what it means to be gay, with the vocation of sharing that discovery with the church, of offering the gift of a gay-lesbian life journey to the worshiping community.

To ask people to pray in some voice other than their own is not merely cruel: it is nonsensical. And yet that is what the church asks us to do, when it asks us to renounce our sexual orientation at the church door. In behaving this way, the church impoverishes itself and demonstrates that its claim to be a welcoming community is vacuous, all rhetorical smoke and mirrors.


colkoch said...

Bill, I too read the report from the Anglican synod on 'reformed' gays with some interest, and my take is a little different from yours.

I suspect some of these 'reformed' gays are actually bisexual and happened to find a member of the opposite sex whose personality and mutual love triggered a heterosexual response. But like you, I suspect some of them were co-erced into it and will find it doesn't last. We will never hear about the failures.

One of the things I've found interesting about the whole gay debate in Christianity is the conspicuous abscence of any mention of the bisexual aspect. I strongly suspect this has to do with the fact bisexuality infers a sexual response across a continuum and the notion of a sexual continuum doesn't fit well with the black and white portrayal of this issue.
I wish there was more discussion of this because if one's sexual response can be influenced by the love of another person, this puts a different spin on sexuality in general. It tends to refute a lot of the biomechanistic natural law theology, and emphasises the effect of relationship on the physical. If sexual response truly is a product of love, then perhaps it's primary 'natural' reason is not procreative, but unitive.
If this is true it makes sense in the procreative aspect as well. What's the point of having children if the relationship isn't founded on a sense of unity. In other words, a strong relationship might be more important than 'right' sex in nature's scheme of things with regards to raising offspring which are essentially helpless for a substantial number of years.
I doubt we'll ever see this discussion, but it's one theologians should really look at.

William D. Lindsey said...

Colkoch, thanks for a thought-provoking response. I like your critique of the biologically deterministic view of human sexuality. It fits what my post wants to argue: that our personhood is an unfinished project given to us from the point of our creation. Biology plays a role in setting the course, but not in determining who/what we become.

What seems wrong-headed about the Catholic position on natural law is that it makes biology determine everything. Biology becomes destiny, in the narrowest sense possible.

Your suggestion that the unitive aspect of sexuality may be primary, and the procreative secondary, makes all kinds of sense to me. As you say, seeing things this way emphasizes the solidity of the relationship, when couple decide to raise children. Emphasizing the procreative aspect as primary implies that anyone who can procreate is ready to raise children--and common sense argues that that's just plain wrong-headed!