I know this is little late, but for me, nothing illustrates better the current state of the church’s witness in regard to sexual issues in America, than the Ms. California/USA pageant episode a couple months ago. It was an embarrassing irruption of the Real that any follower of Christ has got to wince at and just turn away (it’s so embarrassing). Here a woman prances before the media in a miniscule bikini (ironically designed by another ex-evangelical Jessica Simpson), she was a woman who had (‘sexually-enhancing’) cosmetic surgery (we found out), who had been in revealing photoshoot of some sort, and she is asked about her position on same sex unions. She responds by saying the words “…I think in my country, in my family, that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised.” The next day on the Today show she said “I don’t take back what I said.” She added that she “had spoken from my heart, from my beliefs and for my God.” “It’s not about being politically correct,” she said. “For me, it’s about being biblically correct.” Regardless of her own church allegiances, she says the “B” word in front of the cameras, “biblical,” labeling her an evangelical sterotype. In the process she becomes a symbol of the problem of political (communal) credibility evangelicals lack to be able to witness at all to the gay/lesbian populations.
To me this Ms California episode is an irruption of the Real (in a Zizekian sense) for us evangelicals. It reveals the horror of who we are in the eyes of the gay/lesbian peoples. For she is a symbol for how we project onto gays/lesbians our (evangelicalism’s) own sexual sin thereby making ourselves feel better. By saying what she said about gay unions, moments after the swimsuit competition, she was basically telling the world “we do the same things, but for gay people it’s sin.” We have duplicity personified as Miss California says “lust is good, objectifying my body is normal, the fulfillment of all desire is good” on the one hand, and then with the other says to the gay and lesbian world, “but you can’t do any of this – because you’re different you are not allowed.” In the process she becomes a glaring symbol of how by pointing out someone else’s sin, we can ignore the empty cheap frivolity of our own sexual lives and still feel better about ourselves. We do not need to fess up that our own sexual habits are so badly skewed, our desires so poorly oriented. We can keep on ignoring the emptiness of our own sexual sanctification by displacing our lack of “enjoyment” onto “the others,” the gay and lesbian people. This too often has become the nature of our witess in society. As such, I believe such an episode reveals the inner contradiction of our own sexual life and politics as evangelicals. And the gay world just looks on with a snicker.
I believe the gay, lesbian, bi and transsexual groups pose the defining test case of the decade for the witness of the church in the new post Christendom contexts of N America. And we (I am speaking about us evangelicals here) are failing miserably. Each time another senator who supports Focus of the Family or Promisekeepers, or another fallen pastor goes on Larry King revealing the emptiness of our sexual formation, it only gets worse. As I said way back here, , the broader evangelical church of my heritage has, generally speaking, not been the kind of people capable of speaking (any kind of) truth into the sexual lives of anyone – nevermind the gay/lesbian community. We have been a community of disordered sexuality. We have been hitherto incapable (theologically) of embodying the sexual redemption made possible in the resurrection through Jesus Christ. We have no space to speak on these issues to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual communities. And until we get our own communities to line up with the sexual redemption in Christ, to the gay community we look like empty judgmental duplicitous fools who see everyone else as thieves stealing away our enjoyment.
We need to ask “what kind of people should we be in order to welcome gay and lesbian people into the redemptive and healing salvation of God in Christ for sexuality?” In my opinion, in the average evangelical church, we date and marry much like the rest of society where an unexamined sexualized attraction is a guiding factor. We teach that lust before marriage is bad, yet lust after marriage is good (implicitly). In our practice of salvation, there is no formation of desire to be integrated and developed into a narrative of self-giving love and commitment to mutuality, self giving and procreation over time in marriage. All of this leaves us asking gay and lesbian people to not do something (consummate all desire as created and good) that we are encouraging heterosexuals to do for the exact same reasons. Without a communal witness of love and redemptive sexual healing, our words are empty. And so the typical evangelical church, when they meet gay communities in their midst, engage in protest of same sex marriage, or institute some kind of legsilative action. In so doing we reveal our fear for our children and our insecurity in our own sexual formation practices within our church communities. It leaves us impotent as a missional witness for the gospel in the gay and lesbian communities.
As a start, I believe we need to become the kind of community that
a.) does not indulge hyper romanticist notions of sexuality that objectifies sexual attraction as the basis of heterosexual marriage,
b.) quits disembodying sexuality in the way we do whenever we make the Bible into moral propositions that should be enforced instead of a narrative world to be shaped and directed towards so as to live into.
c.) worships in a way that would order desires towards God away from narcissism (instead of feel-good pep-rallies), for any other kind of worship cannot hope to train us out of our narcissistic obsessions with sex.
d.) stops acting like heterosexual marriage and sex itself is absolutely essential for a fulfilling Christian life. Indeed we should elevate celibacy/singleness as a vocation in the process testifying that sexual drive, as well as all desire needs to be sub-ordered to God’s purpose and Mission for anything remotely fulfilling to take place in our lives.
e.) loves and nurtures the hurting souls and the bruised lost ones who seriously desire to be shown another way but are too consumed at this moment to see anything else.
Life on the Vine makes marriage a process of spiritual (and desire) formation. It is in submission to the community and calls each marriage into submission to Christ’s mission. We have just begun some good discussion groups about the various issues revolving around sex, gender and singledom. I think if we just start talking about our sexual formation, a major hurdle will be passed.
As I said above, the gay, lesbian, bi and transsexual groups pose the defining test case of the decade for the witness of the church in the new post Christendom contexts of N America. Missional thinkers practicioners must engage and lead on this issue. There are no more hurting people groups in N. America which at the same time remain (or have the perception that they are) ostracized from the church. (The homeless for instance may be hurting but are not as ostracized from the church). Speaking to the gay issue in the church takes courage – the easiest thing to do is to avoid speaking about it publicly. This is because, if you speak, you end up being pegged as either “judgmental” or “compassionate.” Since no one wants to land on the “judgmental” side, the overwhelming temptation is to err on the compassionate side. Yet, the church needs both. The defining character of the church as it works out its moral discernments is “speaking truth in love.” This is how we grow according to Eph 4. This is how we inhabit the truth over time. Unfortunately this kind of speech is regularly missing in the churches. It’s either one or the other.
This is why the Bridging the Gap Synchroblog begun by Wendy Ritter several weeks ago was such a pleasant surprise. I read many of the entries. I urge others to do so. I found the conversation excellent. I really felt it went beyond the judgment-versus compassion deadlock. There were several posts I could not agree with. But I gained a new sense of what is happening in this discussion, a starting point of love and compassion from all sides that is rare but so necessary if we the church shall be witnesses in these communities. I wish I would have gotten in on it but the above represents where I would start.
I’ve assumed alot of things in this rant, including stuff in moral theology (hoping it was just intuitive). Sorry! For those who need to know, I do not affirm gay/lesbian sexual practice as normative for the Christian church. This makes communal embodied incarnational witness to our gay neighbors all the more indispensible. There’s no way I could clarify all my positions concerning gay, lesbian sexuality etc.. So I welcome questions and discussion. (Although I’m heading off to vacation Thursday).