A Queer Theology of Inclusion Part 2

Today, we continue with the study of an Inclusion Theology. This will look at how Tradition impacts theology and how that tradition can be applied and/or rewritten for the Queer individual.

Also, as a note as I write out “LGBT” I realize that this term has become a bit exclusive in itself. Recent discussions and research in human sexuality show that there are a large number of sexual and gender orientations beyond those four. Wesleyan University in Connecticut began using the acronym “LBTTQQFAGPBDSM” early in 2015 with the letters meaning “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, flexual, asexual, genderfu-k, polyamourous, bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism.” Even using fourteen letters to describe the community, there are still orientations left out, pansexual and intersex come to mind, so in this context, rather than continuing down the rabbit hole of letters to which there seems to be no end, I am simply choosing to stop the acronym at “LGBT” with the hope that anyone who reads this would see that as a way of saying “all are included.”

The first source that will be evaluated here is Tradition. Patrick Cheng writes “Queer theology draws upon tradition—that is, church history as well as the teachings of the church over the last two millennia—in creative ways. As is the case of scripture, Christian tradition usually has been seen as being uniformly anti-queer.”1 Indeed, if an LGBT person wishes to draw theology from the traditions of the church, it most certainly be done in creative and different ways. As Cheng notes, the traditional view of the church has been anti-LGBT, especially prior to the 1960’s. The traditional church view of binary gender relationships and male-female compatibility can be seen in the writings of Karl Barth. Barth writes:
“He cannot wish to liberate himself from the differentiation and exist beyond his sexual determination as mere men; for in everything that is commonly human he will always be in fact either the human male or the human female. Nor can he wish to liberate himself from the relationship and be man without woman or woman apart from man; for in all that characterises him as man he will be thrown back upon woman, or as woman upon man, both man and woman being referred to this encounter and co-existence.”2
Based on this, it is clear that Barth supports the standard view of gender relations and sexuality within the context of the Christian Church. Given this as the “gold standard” for church tradition, the issue of how LGBT persons and theologians can use tradition in forming theology is significant.
Cheng notes that many Queer Theologians are writing about church tradition not from a point of view that changes existing tradition but that restores tradition to what is was in the ancient church. Cheng notes extensive work by LGBT historian John Boswell. He writes “Boswell argued that Christianity was not uniformly homophobic throughout its early history and that it only became significantly homophobic in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries….Prior to his death in 1994, Boswell published Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, which argued that same-sex blessing rites existed in the Christian church for centuries.”3 Based on this, the queer theologians are not trying to create a completely new church tradition or cast aside the present one in favor of some hedonic form of Christianity, rather they are attempting to recapture Ancient Christianity and bring it to life today in the LGBT community. Cheng writes “By reclaiming the Christian tradition, these queer scholars have located the LGBT experience squarely within the history and teachings of the church. As such, we are able to draw upon this work as a source for constructing our own theologies.”4 With all this being noted, however, I consider tradition to be the least important of the four sources in crafting a Queer Theology.
For me, Tradition as a source is an absolute necessity for the high level theological thinker. James Cone, certainly someone critical of the church tradition, especially that tradition in America, wrote “It is impossible for any student of Christianity to ignore tradition; the New Testament itself is a result of it.”5 However, for the average member of a congregation, I do not see tradition as being tremendously important. My reasoning is that so much of what the normal church member sees as “tradition” is the modern manifestation of the church rather than the ancient traditions. So, while the ancient tradition might be the same for most all traditions, it is the modern tradition that concerns individuals. If there is something about this modern tradition that a person finds objectionable, then it is not unreasonable for them to change church congregations or denominations to find a modern tradition that is suited to their particular theological view. Certainly a case could be made as to whether or not that is a good thing, but that is not the purpose here. Given this, it is my view that Tradition is an interchangeable piece for a great many individuals, even pastors (Patrick Cheng himself was ordained in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches before becoming a priest in The Episcopal Church after a change in church doctrine towards LGBT invididuals), and is not a huge factor in crafting Queer Theology.

**Footnotes available upon request**

A Queer Theology of Inclusion Part 1

This will be a seven part series that will first introduce Queer Theology as a concept and then systematically work through the four sources of theology in order to craft a basic theological statement for the inclusion of LGBT(QIAP), really all individuals, into the church community.

For a basic introduction to Queer Theology, Patrick Cheng’s “Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology” is a great place to start. The book is cited in this work and is an easy read. Also, this article written by Greg Daly of the Toronto School of Theology provides a good introduction to the topic: https://www.academia.edu/14179386/The_incarnation_of_Christ_and_Queer_Theology

With that, let us begin.

The question of whether or not to accept, fully, partially, or not at all, LGBT persons into congregations is one of the biggest questions facing the church today. Many of the more conservative churches tend to say that LGBT persons are, for all intents and purposes, not welcome at all and if they are only under conditions of absolute celibacy. The most liberal of churches are already to the point of full inclusion where there are LGBT pastors and all rituals and ordinances of the church are available to all persons regardless of sexual orientation. Moderate churches fall in the middle to various degrees and this has led to some high level discussions and disagreements within the denominations. For the time being, there will almost certainly be no consensus of views between various denominations, perhaps not even within congregations. The purpose here will be to look at the four sources of theology, scripture, reason, tradition, and experience, and determine how, and in what form, those combine to form a Queer Theology of Inclusiveness for the church today.

**Citations available upon request**

Why I am Pro Choice

So, read all the way to the end.
Here’s the deal, in a counseling situation, I would always recommend that a person consider keeping the child, adoption, or any other option prior to considering abortion. This current debate with Planned Parenthood seems to miss the point that for individuals, the decision to go through with an abortion is an arduous process and not something that the vast majority of folks will arrive at quickly and without significant thought. Read this article if you want some personal stories. There is also the scare tactics involved with saying that without PP and other organizations, we’ll see some huge increase in back room abortions and such. I do not believe that to be the case. No, onto the issue at hand.
First, I think there are various degrees of how pro-life/choice a person can be. On one side of the situation are those who feel that abortion should never be allowed under any circumstances. On the other side are those who feel that it should be available to anyone, at any time, under any conditions. In the middle there are those that might say that abortions should only be available for specific circumstances; victims of rape, incest (which is just a specific kind of rape, really), and mother’s health being typical circumstances given. I’m sure there are various viewpoints in between those three. So, where does pro-choice come in for me?
So, let’s look at the two major points that people give for abortion being allowed: health of the mother and rape. (another reason given is the health of the baby and potential for sustained life, but I can make my point without that) So, the first reason is actually pretty simple. If a physician indicates that the mother’s life is at risk if she carries the child, she would be “justified” in having an abortion. But I don’t think it’s quite so simple. Sure, a physical ailment would be easy to determine. As an example, I once knew someone who was told that due to a heart condition, pregnancy could kill her. Simple definition. However, what about mental health? Someone who would be unable to take mental health medication and carry the baby? The situation is a little muddier now.
Next, we move to rape. Well, what is rape? Forced sexual intercourse, obviously. The problem with using “rape” as a determination of eligibility for an abortion is significant. First, how would “rape” actually be defined? Would the perpetrator have to be convicted? Would the woman have to make a report of rape to the hospital and/or police department? I have a few issues with using “rape” as a justifier. Roughly 2/3’s of all rapes go unreported. So if a woman is raped, but she does not report it, is she not eligible for an abortion? Also, what about a situation where a woman “consents” to sexual intercourse in an abusive relationship because saying “no” would cause her husband/boyfriend to beat her half to death with a baseball bat? Is she not eligible for an abortion because she gave positive consent but was under duress?
I hope anyone reading this is really confused right now. That’s the point. This is a very confusing situation. My major issue with the pro-life movement is that it misses a lot of points. If your position is that abortion should never be allowed, that’s fine. I don’t agree with that position, but I can understand it. My issue is with those who would say that abortion should be allowed under certain circumstances. Who should determine whether or not those circumstances apply to a particular person? I’m pro-choice because I think that determination should rest on the individual. Was she raped or was she coerced into consenting? (technically that’s non-consensual as well, but if she gave positive consent, it would be difficult to prove non-consent) Did she consent to sexual intercourse even though she really didn’t want to do anything? Is that rape? My main problem is that I do not think the government should make a law determining what should be the limits. Also, guess what, even if it’s law that you can only get an abortion under certain conditions, those being rape and health of the mother, only one of those is really legitimate. Health of the mother can easily be determined by a doctor. However, with rape, that could easily by circumvented by someone who knows the system and wants an abortion. Simply go to the hospital and say “I was raped, I want a medical exam, and I do not want to notify the police.” (because police do not have to be notified if a person states she/he was raped and comes to a hospital…in the vast majority of cases anyway)
So, I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-choice because even if I believe that abortion might only be “justified” in cases of rape or medical necessity, rape is such a broad concept and virtually impossible to define in this context. Even if we say this, the determination of “rape” must lie with the individual.
Now, theologically, there might be eschatological consequences for choosing abortion in any circumstance, but those will surely be determined by Someone with much more knowledge than I.

5000 Kids Died Last Night and You Do Not Care

I had some interesting times this week, but I am not sure what I can consider to be “growth” and what I can consider to be simple observation. First, my Ethics professor quoted Christian mission worker/minister Tony Campolo from a sermon or other address some years back “Last night, while you were sleeping, 5,000 kids died of starvation or diseases relating to that, and you folks don’t give a shit. But what’s worse is that you’re more offended that I just said shit than that 5,000 kids died last night.” That stood out to me so much that I actually stopped the video for his class, looked up the quote, and posted that on my Facebook page (quality use of time, to be sure). But that quote really struck me. I think it struck me like it did because I really feel like it’s the truth. In virtually any congregation nationwide folks would be far more worked up about a minister or other speaker uttering a vulgar word across the pulpit than saying that 5,000 kids died while they were sleeping. A friend of mine did not agree with me on that, which is no real surprise given he doesn’t agree with me on very much as all theologically even though we are both LDS, but that didn’t really bother me. What bothered me about the whole deal was his general view of how much folks do within our congregations. Perhaps his experience has been vastly different than mine, but I simply have not seen a great amount of local outreach in my present congregation.
He and I were both in the same congregation in Virginia and there, we did a significant amount of community outreach. The results are clear. In the LDS Church, local congregations are called either Branches or Wards depending on size. When he and I were there, it was a Branch with about 75 people attending weekly. However, what we did was monthly service and outreach activities at a local food bank and some other, smaller, activities. Now, that congregation is a Ward with about 150 people attending each week, this in only 3 years. I have no doubt that a significant part of that growth was based on that community outreach. Here in [removed], we do virtually nothing of the sort. I won’t say “nothing” because that would be untrue, we have done one project at the Ronald McDonald House in my 2 1/2 years here. Yet, we wonder why our growth has been effectively stagnant for my time here; we have grown, but I’ve been quite honest with my bishop that I believe that is because we had seven families move into the city this past summer and not because we’ve actually “grown.” I wish we could do more here. I’ve tried to start projects and they simply have been forgotten. So, quoted statement by the professor really brought some of these feelings that I had more or less just put into the back of my mind bubbling right back to the surface. I think, quite honestly, that folks in my Ward would be ready to riot if someone cursed across the pulpit, but at the 5,000 comment, 98% of them would just go home and say “that’s so sad about those kids….hmm…what’s for lunch.” Of course that makes it virtually impossible for the 2% who want to make a difference to do so; they either go elsewhere to be a benefit or throw their hands up in disgust and join the rest.
I thought the video from this week was great. Both video’s actually. They really brought to light the fact that we often forget that we can get a little angry with God when He seems to be silent, but also, to me, that perhaps that is His way of saying “you’re a tough guy/girl, you got this on your own.” Not saying He is deserting me, just that He is trying to tell me that I am strong enough on my own.
Finally, I went and did some work with our missionaries on Tuesday. For the first time, I really noticed that I was much better at teaching than I had been before. So, while I am improving in that area, I still have this feeling, as we talked about during the mentor phone call in December, that perhaps I could have looked around a little harder and found something that is more applicable to my ministry goal as a chaplain. Hopefully this upcoming week can can be a week of better growth within myself rather than irritation about things I wish I could change.

Searching for “IT” at Church

This week I had what I consider to be quite a breakthrough spiritually. A little background on how this happened. A friend of mine from work and I had talked about playing this golf course that is very good (like top 50 out of about 17,000 in the world good) but we had never played there. We started talking about it a bit last week, he called, found out the offer a military discount, and all of a sudden, we were booking a starting time and planning to make the drive over. We get there and the course just lacked that “it” that makes something really connect. I’d seen pictures of the course, talked with people who had played, seen professional events played there, and so forth, so I had huge expectations about the course. I did not feel like the course quite met those expectations. As I said before, the course lacked “it.” What I mean is that the course lacked that thing that you can’t quantify or really describe that makes certain movies, songs, speeches, or other things really connect with you beyond just the words and mechanics.
I had a thought pop into my mind about this and wondered if we sometimes do the same thing with church? Are we too busy looking for that mysterious “it” in our churches that we miss some of the great things about the church? I think that often times we do get too busy looking for “it.” This goes beyond being able to feel the spirit, that is something that I think we should be able to recognize. Looking back, I feel that perhaps the gentleman I described last week who I feel has left the church was too busy trying to find “it” to stop and notice what was great at church and what was great in his life.
Second, I had to ask it having these huge expectations about something can affect what we think? Looking back, the golf course that we played was almost certainly one of the 5 best courses that I have ever played. How much of the course and the journey around it did I miss because I had huge expectations and played around expecting to find “it” in order to meet those expectations? Again, I surely feel like this is the case in churches. We work so hard to get new, unchurched people into our congregations, but how well do we temper their expectations for what the church will be and what it can provide? I think we talk our churches up into this level of greatness that is nearly impossible to attain. So, when we get new folks, they come in expecting greatness that might never happen, either because of “reality” or just their perception. But what happens when they leave disappointed? Ideally, they give the church another chance and stay around. But in reality, we know that is not the case most of the time. A person is disappointed and then decides to leave. We have to be sure in these cases that we are not setting expectations so high that people end up leaving with heads hanging in disappointment.
I used this in a lesson we taught today to a guy who was recently baptized in our congregation (I actually performed the baptismal ordinance, the first one I did). I brought up a passage from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book where she writes about telling the new members of her congregation honestly that they will eventually be disappointed in something the church does. She asks them to commit at that time to stay around when such a thing happens. That’s an interesting point of view to have, but quite truthful. I put it that way to him at church today. This congregation will disappoint him if he stays in this area for long enough (he’s a student, so he might move in a year or so). I also told him to keep his expectations reasonable. Don’t set the expectations so high that they’re impossible to meet. I felt like it was necessary to tell him honestly that churches are not perfect. That might seem like common sense, but I wonder if that is the honest message we give to folks.
So that was a pretty big step for me spiritually. I need to make sure my expectations are reasonable in all areas. Churches are not perfect no matter how much we might want them to be. I can’t let my expectations to cause me to look off in all directions for the mysterious “it” while the greatness is there looking me in the eyes.

Homosexuality and the Church

First off, let me be clear that “Church” doesn’t mean the LDS Church, it means the entire body of the Christian church worldwide. Second, this has little to do with the recent Supreme Court decision relating to marriage in the United States, though that did prompt me to actually sit down and write this after intending to do so for a month. That case has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with legal standing in court. No, this has to do with a conversation that I had while playing golf about a month ago. I was paired up that day with a Baptist pastor from Texas. Educated fellow, PhD in Systematic Theology from a conservative seminary, he’s been a pastor for quite a while. He mentioned at one point in the round that he is not Southern Baptist because they’d become too conservative and he’d left over 20 years ago; we both remarked that they’d seemingly become more conservative since then. A few holes later, I asked him about the basic premise of this article, is the PCUSA still a Christian church? He stated that it was foolish to say that because it’s affirmation of the Creeds that makes one Christian (sorry LDS folks, using his definition we’re not Christians, though if we were to sit down and be honest with ourselves, we probably believe everything written in the Creeds, save a word or two). I asked his church/denomination position on homosexuality, he said they basically operated as “don’t ask don’t tell” but they were moving towards full inclusion. He said he expected most mainline churches to go this way in the next 25 years.
The really interesting part of the conversation, however, was when I asked him what his theological grounding was for moving towards full inclusion. Do I have an opinion on full inclusion? I sure do, if you know me, you know my opinion. The short answer is that he believes the answer lies in something that Mormons hold very dear, continuing revelation. What does the Bible say? It says that various this are against God’s law. This coming from the New Testament letters of Paul. I’ll say something about the Old Testament a bit later. But Paul talks about a few things, most of them relating to male prostitution and pederasty, not the more modern defintion of same-sex love. So, if the Bible gives no answer as to how to handle the present situation, then we come to the need to interpret God’s will and word for our present time. Modern, continuing revelation. His view, is that we have a number of LGBT folks who truly believe the Bible, so how do we integrate them into the church? He noted that in the Book of Acts (he didn’t say which chapter, I think Ch 15 fits the bill well), we see times when the early church was forced to determine how the Gentiles would fit into a previously Jewish tradition. How do they fit them in? They use a continuing revelation of God’s will to determine how the church should move forward. He believes that such should exist today.
Going back to the Old Testament passages, one can run into some trouble when trying to cite them for current Christian belief. For a person who cites the Old Testament, I’d simply ask why Christians do not keep Kosher? One of the more common arguments given by some is that God’s law never changes. Yet, right here with Kosher eating it has changed. I do suppose one could try to argue that Kosher was never a law in the first place, though that will be a difficult argument…unless they wanted to say that the entire set of laws in the Old Testament were not actually laws, in which case, the Old Testament is completely invalid anyway. But no, Kosher has changed. How and why? The most reasonable explanation comes from Acts 10 where Peter has his vision and is told, basically, that all food is clean. Yet, if Kosher was a law and this changes the Law, either this part of Acts needs to be stricken from the Bible because it’s an invalid change of God’s law or there must be some connection that allows for this change. I think the change comes from the passage in Mark where Jesus says that the law is fulfilled. That’s the connection. Otherwise, we Christians should probably go back to not lighting fires on the Sabbath, not driving, and following all 613 commandments from the Law of Moses. But we don’t do that because the law was fulfilled. Because of this, we are left with what the New Testement says about God’s love and nature.
So what we’re faced with today is the need to determine how folks who are otherwise true believers can fit into the church. How do we fit them in?