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Daily I struggle to make sense of my sexuality in light of Christian faith. Concomitantly, I struggle with my beliefs not only about the blessing of same-sex relationships in the Church but also to find a community of Christians who welcome folks like me to wrestle theologically and follow Jesus Christ together as members of Christ’s body.  Unfortunately, very few Christian churches offer spaces for theological and moral discernment regarding complex life matters. More pointedly, conservative churches, at least in my experience, have a zero-to-low tolerance for ambiguity.  Of course, many conservative and evangelical Protestant churches would welcome a person with same-sex orientation to come and fellowship with them.  However, with their belief in the biblical prohibition against same-sex relationships, they would most likely admonish me to “mortify the works of the flesh,” read my Bible, pray, and submit to “sound biblical teaching” from a pastor.   The problem with this is that I don’t merely struggle to maintain a chaste lifestyle (which is a matter of choice), but rather I struggle to theologically understand my sexuality (which is not a matter of choice but part of my psycho-sexual, relational, social, and spiritual development).  In more forceful way, it’s not about what I do (or not) with my body with whom but it’s about fundamentally about who I am as a human being.

As an Afro-Baptist, I lament the fact that many black Baptist churches do not offer spaces for theological and moral discussion and debate regarding human sexuality and gender.  Never in my experience of being a black Baptist have I heard any substantive discussion on human sexuality (besides homophobic remarks within sermons and Bible studies!) initiated or facilitated by a pastor.   Given the many resources on human sexuality development offered by psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and others, many black Baptist ministers simply will not speak on the subject beyond what might be uttered from pulpits.  Many black Baptist (male) pastors wield theologically authoritarian power over their congregations.  Many seem to deny that sexual orientation of any sort is not ‘chosen’ but a complex psycho-sexual development manifested across a human being’s lifespan.   This theologically raises questions regarding the relationship between Creation and Sin: “Are sexual orientations (lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, asexual) simply a part of our makeup as human beings created in the image of God or is there one sexual orientation viz., heterosexuality is God-ordained and all others sinful aberrations?”   Obviously, many conservative Christians would choose the latter while many LGBT Christians and their straight “allies” affirm the former.  Yet these are not questions regularly debated in many African-American churches.  For “Bible-believing” black Christians, all homosexual acts (whatever they may be) are sinful in the eyes of God.  Therefore, it’s not up for thoughtful and painful discussion and/or debate.    Dissenting voices and others are simply silenced.  There’s a deep disconnect between what is theologically and ethically assumed as right belief and what is actually the lived experiences of the faithful.  One need not be reminded of the fact that most straight folks within the black churches are having sex even when the many of them are not married.

This continual failure of the Afro-Baptist churches, and the Black Church in general, to call for theological, ethical, and pastoral transformation on behalf of not only LGBTQ people, but all the people of God makes me question their collective standing as a moral authority.  More questions develop as I have engaged contemporary theologies of liberation such as black, womanist, and queer theologies.  These theologies expose how racism, sexism, heterosexism, and homophobia (in addition, biphobia and transphobia) factor in the interpretations of biblical texts used to dehumanize black women and black LGBT/same-gender-loving people.  They also counter the longstanding hegemony of the Euro-Protestant principle of sola scriptura which views the Bible as the final authority of faith and practice.  Admittedly, it’s a principle to which I continue to dearly hold as a Christian.   Sadly, although we have many preachers within our pulpits, but few leaders and pastor-theologians who can rightly and wisely discern the complexity of human experience.  Where are the pastors who will develop the courage to be honest with themselves and their congregations? Where are the leaders who are willing to embrace tension, ambiguity, and rely on God’s amazing grace and openly admit their ignorance before God’s people?  Where are the church mothers who will take a stand with God’s children who are wounded by the preaching, teaching, and moralizing of pulpiteers?  Where are the straight men who will rebuke their brothers for using homophobic slurs and gestures against their gay brothers and sisters?  Where are the African-American churches who will engage in deep theological conservation and listen to the testimonies of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning siblings regardless of their theological positions?

As we continue to move forward in the second decade of the 21st century, I’m persuaded that we need to cultivate courageous and grace-filled theological communities of faith.  I’m not particularly arguing for black churches to adopt academically-driven liberationist stances uncritically, but I’m longing for black churches who will accept the partiality and contextual nature of theological knowledge.  I’m longing for truly Spirit-filled and Christ-centered churches who will minister to the entirety of human persons and confront the injustices done not only to LGBTQ people but also to all people struggling to follow Christ and understand their sexuality.  Theology is a human construction; it is not a final word on any subject but a longstanding conservation which the church must have in light of the Gospel.   Reading the Scriptures theologically is a communal practice that requires all voices to be heard.  What we proclaim and what do “unto the least of these” reflects ultimately our vision of who God is.  Who is the God that we serve if we as a community continue to disregard weightier matters that directly affect the lives of God’s children?  Wrestling together is difficult work to do, but it’s necessary work.  The Gospel demands it. Lives depend on it.  To borrow womanist ethicist Emilie M. Townes’ simple yet stunning invitation: “will you join me?”

Today, it seems like more people are fed up with the Church. Specifically, many American Christians are questioning its necessity or its utility.  “Why must we attend church?” or “Why does church matter?” are some of the usual questions asked. More pressingly, many Christians often find that the Church in its diverse denominational manifestations betrays the simple evangelical message of Jesus by advancing abstract, arcane dogmas, its preoccupation with its institutional stability (e.g. tithes/offerings, building campaigns, minister’s salaries, etc.) rather than focusing on its ministry to hurting people both within and outside of its walls, its conservative (read: reactionary) posture against social justice issues (LGBTIQ, racial, and gender discrimination, immigration, economic justice, and so forth), and its diverse liturgical formations (whether “high” or “low”) which are completely out of touch with 21st century lived experiences, to name a few.  The aforementioned reasons are enough for many folks to warrant their exodus from the Church.  Of those who remain, it’s a constant battle to understand what their place in the Church means. 

Many Christians are fed up with the Church today.  Many folks are leaving the churches of their youth. They are fed up with the hypocrisy, the gossiping, the lack of love shared among the “faithful.”  Despite being named as a “hospital of sin-sick souls” (at least in my black church tradition), many folks are leaving because they find too many graves being dug within the sanctuaries.  What is supposed to be a community bonded by the Spirit of love, the Church in the experience of many people is a place of deep hurt, pain, hatred, and sorrow.  Many struggle to find a sense of community within their churches. It’s because many within the churches are unaccepting of them because of their sexual identity/orientation, gender identity/expression, (dis)ability, socio-economic status, racial or ethnic identity, or some other identity marker; in some cases it’s all of the above!  For many people, Jesus was “inclusive” of those on the margins of the society: the poor and the social outcast (prostitute, leper, infirmed, lame, tax collector).  Jesus loved folks radically, meaning that at the root of his ministry of liberation and reconciliation was God’s inexhaustible love for God’s people Israel, the nations, and the entire creation.  Granted, this love was not always received by all (given that God’s love may come in the form of judgment against unrighteous, corrupt and/or hypocritical political and religious authorities), but this love was deeply palpable for those outside the gates of Jerusalem.  So, “where is the love?”  For many Christians and non-Christians, this love left the Church a long time ago.

Given the exodus of many from churches in North America, where does this leave the Christians who “believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church?” For once it should give Christians deep pause when we listen (or if we dare to listen) to the stories of those among us who feel forced to leave institutional Christianity due its longstanding unjust theologies and practices against women, racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, the disabled, children, LGBTIQ people, and so forth. Despite the fact that Christianity, in its various Pentecostal/charismatic forms, is growing rapidly around the world, many North American Christians are saying “so long” to the mainstream religion for more accepting and inclusive spaces, religious and otherwise. 

 While I think the notion of inclusion is not beyond critique, the concept points to a greater truth which Christian theology at its best cogently articulates but, being sinful creatures, we Christians frequently get so wrong namely, that in Christ Jesus God has reconciled the world to Godself (2 Cor. 5:19).  The Church exists not for itself but because Christ the Reconciler founded it and called those within the Body to participate in his ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Cor. 5:11-21).  What would it mean for Christians to embrace whom God has embraced? For many folks on the verge of leaving or who already have left the Church, it’s really quite simple. To love people is to accept them as they are, in all of their particularity.  This proves difficult for many of us in the Church given that we have been taught (for centuries?) that sin is intolerable in churches. Given the struggle over the recognition of LGBTIQ people as God’s children and the blessing of same-sex unions, the Church is struggling to rightfully distinguish between sin and creaturely particularity (i.e. sexual and gender variance) as God’s creative goodness.  And for us Western Christians deeply influenced by the Augustinian tradition, sin is so pervasive in the human condition that it might obscure our thinking on these matters.  Yet have we used this cherished belief as a cop out to fear of ambiguity? Many Christians and non-Christians believe so. 

If I have learned anything of value, it is that the Church is faithful to its Lord when it doesn’t close its doors to or rejects “the Other,” but embraces the Other as God’s beloved creature.  What the Other reminds us is that Jesus was the Other, the Rejected One. He came to his own and his own did not receive him (Jn 1:11). He was the stone that the builders rejected (Acts 4:11) and he came to gather those who were also rejected to himself. We have been made accepted into the Beloved (Eph 1:6).  Perhaps, some of those who are fed up with the Church presuppose that the Church ought to be a distinct—a holy—community of rejects.  It’s a community of people who gather our once rejected bodies together around a Table to form one distinct Body, exemplifying a truth-bearing and truth-telling community, founded upon love.  This love is practiced through corporate confession, worship, prayer, and justice-seeking for those on the margins, and witness to the world the coming reign of God.  The embodied frustrations with institutionalized religion help break up the ossification of Christian beliefs and practices that become abstract, wooden idols that lack the life of the Spirit.  What would it mean for Christians to remember that the covenant which God made through Jesus was to a bunch of “Others?”  Are folks who are fed up with the Church exposing the false sense of privilege that those who confidently remain in the Church might have? 

 

O Lord,
The whole house is sick.
We have fallen ill.
We love schism and bureaucracy, tolitarianism and despotism.
We love to prey upon the weak, the defenseless, innocent children,
We misuse and abuse the resources of the earth,
We shut out and shut down voices of protest and dissent,
We love hatred, bigotry, wickedness, mediocrity, and the status quo
more than we love patience, pursuing justice, loving mercy, and giving
voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless.

O Lord,
The whole house is sick.
We have fallen ill.
We lust for blood.
We love war and rumors of wars, conflicts, murders, and genocides
more than peacemaking, dialogue, coalition building,
finding common ground, and the peaceable Kingdom.

O Lord,
The whole house is sick.
We have fallen ill.
We do violence
against bodies,
black bodies,
brown bodies,
female bodies,
young bodies,
old bodies,
queer bodies,
disabled bodies,
poor bodies,
and immigrant bodies.
We love to break bodies
rather than mend them.
We are feverishly sick.

O Lord,
Heal this house you called “good.”
Heal this house not made by sinful hands.
Look on this house, this house
made by your word and the breath of your mouth,
and remake us in the image of the One
who told us,
“In my Father’s house, there are many rooms…”
Renew this house by the Spirit
Who raised his pierced, bruised, and crucified Body
from the dead
so that this house that you call Beloved,
this house called Creation,
might be saved, restored, and healed.
Thus, may you fulfill your promise
to make your dwelling among mortals forever.
Amen.

 

In contemporary theologies of liberation, a primary theme within Christological reflection is Jesus’ persistent solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Among liberationists, queer theologians present a “queer” Jesus. Queer is both an adjective and a verb in the sense that 1) queer theologians revise, subvert or “queer” the traditional “heterosexual,” celibate image of Jesus, and 2) the “queer Christ”—both (ontologically) as God incarnate in flesh and (ethically/existentially) as a man on the margins—stands for LGBTIQ people and against heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, erotophobia, and all other ideologies privileging heteronormative, nuclear family structures as sacred. To do so, queer theologians point out that Jesus took stances against the religious authorities of his day. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees and the scribes for their hypocritically selective and rigid interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures to condemn “sinners,” Gentiles, and social outcasts. However, these “devout” groups exonerated themselves from obeying the full letter of Torah by drawing on their complex oral traditions. Similarly, queer theologians criticize conservative Christians for interpretations which condemn LGBTIQ people. For queer theologians, Jesus not only came to liberate “sinners” and the outcasts from their oppression—both religious and political.

Moreover, Jesus Christ is also “queer” in the sense that his love-ethic, especially his public fellowship with women (some of questionable reputation), tax collectors, and Gentiles, transgresses the status quo that privileges one set of God’s children, namely heterosexual, patriarchal, cisgendered, and nuclear families, over all others. In fact, queer theologian Robert Shore-Goss claims that Jesus took an anti-family stance (read: anti-patriarchal family system) by assembling a group of disciples of predominantly know familial relation to him and from all walks of life. Moreover, literature in queer and liberal religious scholarship have contended that the seven so-called “clobber” passages (Gen. 19; Lev. 18:22; Lev. 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Jude 1:7) have a long history of misinterpretation from traditionalist Christians which frequently dismiss insights from history, culture, psychology, science on the reality of queer peoples’ own lived experiences.

Even more, queer theology moves beyond apologetics towards advocacy and resistance against institutional Christianity and the larger culture towards their radical transformation. For some queer theologians, the reading of Scripture and Christian tradition is irredeemably heterosexist (an ideological stance which privileges heterosexuals in church and society), patriarchal (which privileges a few men over all women, children, and other marginalized men), cisgenderist (which privileges non-transgender, non-intersexed, and gender conforming persons over all others). Privileging the male-female gender binary (i.e. Adam and Eve in Genesis) as prescriptive (and, for some, even paradigmatic) for all human sexuality is universalizing and oppressive. Therefore, the entire Christian tradition, principally starting with Christology, requires a massive overhaul in order for the religion to be a source of justice and human flourishing for all persons.

For many LGBTIQ people, not only are traditional condemnatory positions “abstract,” but are deeply harmful for their psycho-spiritual selves and such teachings legitimate the discriminatory challenges to same-sex marriage, joint same-sex adoption, transgender healthcare, employment, housing, and others. Moreover, traditional condemnations of same-sex practice and transgender identified persons as “disordered” often result, according to many studies, in LGBTIQ people being excommunicated from their communities of faith and ostracized from family members. For example, a recent study shows that 40 percent of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBTIQ. The leading cause of their homelessness is family rejection. In the marketplace of religious claims, queer theologians present Jesus Christ and the Body of Christ as “queer” since in his body consists all types of people of diverse genders, bodies, and sexual orientations. For many, to object to this radical claim of the queerness of Christ and the church is to remain complicit in the concrete, oppressive, and destructive factors which lead to the displacement of many LGBTIQ youth from their homes.
Furthermore, some scholars within queer theology argue for various constructive re-presentations of Christianity as an inherently “queer” religion, given the “queer” claim of God becoming flesh. A queer Christianity celebrates the goodness of human body, the diversity of sexualities, gender identities, relationships (monogamy, polyamory, “open,” promiscuous, etc.) and family configurations as the work of dynamic, creative, and beneficent God. Other queer theologians remain wary of systematizing their work, given that systematic theology tends to “universalize” God-talk which leads to shut out divergent voices on the margins. Nevertheless, queer theologians Elizabeth Stuart, Gerard Loughlin, Patrick Cheng, Ivy Helman, and others advocate for rethinking the traditional topics of traditional Christian theology in light of the lived experiences of queer Christians towards their full inclusion within Christianity and Christianity’s full reconciliation of sexuality with spirituality, body with soul.
Queer theology in the United States continues to develop both as an intellectual development in academic institutions and as a grassroots movement in the Christian churches. Even some members of traditional Christian denominations have at least listened to the voices of self-identified LGBTQ and have responded with compassion and subsequent apology. Still, others in these denominations continue to remain either silent or violently opposed to the voices of queer people publicly claiming Christ for themselves.

Queer theology does not reflect the theological convictions of all persons whose sexualities or gender identities do not conform to the heterosexual norm. There are, indeed, such persons who hold traditional understandings of sexual ethics, biblical authority, and/or theological anthropology, yet struggle to maintain a sense of dignity, sanity, and wholeness as they continue to remain in fellowship with their traditional churches. Fortunately, some folks from this group have started to publicly voice their convictions and their struggles. Despite its usage, the word queer may not fully capture the complexity of lived experiences of those deemed as such, especially among those who affirm traditional ethics and who are non-heterosexual and non-cisgendered. The conciliation of all Christians, both queer and otherwise, might is the theme shared between members of Christian churches across the theological spectrum, namely the aforementioned one—that Christ stands in solidarity with them. As this group, along with queer theologians, continues to grow and articulate their theological perspectives, perhaps Christianity becomes a more queer religion.

 

For further reading:

Cheng, Patrick S. Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology. New York, NY: Seabury Books, 2011.

Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting. Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

Horace L. Griffin, Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2006; reprint: Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010.

Goss, Robert E. and Mona West, Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2000.

Martin, Dale B. Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. Omni-Gender: A Trans-religious Approach, revised and expanded. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2007.

Selmys, Melinda. Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Vistor, 2009.

 

One of the lingering questions that I daily ask myself is whether or not I should remain a committed Christian in this postmodern moment. One of the ways I measure commitment or faithfulness is through my attendance of church services.   I often find it hard to remain a faithful churchgoer.  Yes, I believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, I believe in the triune God. I believe that as a Christian I must worship God in spirit and in truth. I also believe that I’m called to Christian ministry, especially as a minister-theologian. Yes, I understand that Christianity in all of its denominational manifestations is a fallible human institution in need of God’s grace. Yes, I believe in “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” I believe that the church is a worshiping community. In spite of my affirmations, I haven’t attended a Sunday worship service in a month.  I realize that I often get churched out.

Being “churched out” is certainly not proper theological jargon for a seminary-educated person to use, but it succinctly captures  a phenomenon which many North American Christians experience. For me, being “churched out” is being burned out. It’s the feeling that the intellectual reasons for attending services of worship dwarf in comparison to my overwhelming feelings of spiritual exhaustion of all things “church” in my daily lived experience. The zeal that I once had for Christian service tends to wane because of it.  I often find it necessary to take “breaks” from attending church because what I experience within its walls, or at least in the churches that I’ve attended lately, tend to weigh heavily upon me.

It’s a constant struggle to glean blessings from a bed of thorns every Sunday.  What I hear from pulpits or pews, whether I hear sermons or testimonies, can be paradoxically a time of great joy and of great distress.  Given the contextual nature of all theologies, many of us within black churches hold uncritical, non-Scriptural, and at times self and other-negating views of God’s ways with God’s creation which trouble me.  Of course, I don’t expect every Christian that I encounter to have a seminary degree or attend a Bible class, but not everything said and done within the walls of the churches are “holy things for a holy people.”  In many of the churches, pastors cultivate environments that ironically inhibit Christian discipleship by adopting an authoritarian dogmatism that inhibits followers from questioning what they teach and preach. Christians who venture to challenge what is taught and done within congregations and parishes are often shunned as rebellious [e.g. “Jezebel spirit”), defying the Word of God and the pastor’s authority. Fortunately, I come from a family of Baptists who love to debate and critique what is taught and done in churches, even if one of us are guilty of doing something that becomes the target of our critiques.  However, not many Christians are so fortunate.

As for my absence from church attendance, I believe that this anti-intellectualism plays a significant factor. I can also say that I haven’t attended church now because I feel a bit lost as far as where I’m going vocationally. It’s quite clear to me that I desire to become a professional theologian, even as I pursue training as a chef along the way towards this goal. I think my absence from church is because I’m exhausted from actually facing the prospect of leaving my own ecclesiastic background for more “inclusive,” liberal Protestant shores.  Real talk:  I hate living within an “open closet.” I believe in temperance, but I hate living in a constant state of self-policing as if my existence is a problem.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that my theology has fundamentally changed.  Viscerally, it hasn’t changed despite my pragmatic wishes.  Honestly, I’m finding that my theology becomes deeply dissatisfying as I get older, as I come into my own self, and my life is blessed as I engage with other LGBT Christians of all ecclesiastic persuasions and theological beliefs.  I desire to engage in thoughtful theological conversations; lamentably, I’m finding that more conservative black churches don’t provide this safe space for fostering thoughtful theological conservation.

What I long for is the freedom to be uninhibited, to walk in truth and integrity of being who I am.  I am simply tired of playing the negotiating game.  The more I live, the more that I realize that evangelical Afro-Protestantism, specifically black Baptist churches, simply is not ready for me. And I am exhausted by waiting on them to embrace the reality of openly LGBT people living among them, despite the incessant quoting of biblical passages, disregarding their contexts, denying the complexity of human experience, and the inherently partiality of theological knowledge.    I feel like that I need to move on and I cannot wait on them but I know that I must wait on God.   So, I’m both anxious and exhausted and therefore I need to rest, regroup, and recover from the church.

As I write this post I plan to return back to church this Sunday.   Obviously, I realize that I miss worshiping God with God’s people.  I love the church, specifically black evangelical Baptist churches.  They have been my home since birth.  However, I’m taking the liberty to occasionally chill out from churchgoing when I feel the burden gets too heavy to carry. Sometimes they say “take your burdens to the Lord [God at the altar], and leave them there.”   Interestingly, this burden never leaves me.  Perhaps it’s a necessary burden for me to carry in order to do the work that I must do.  I just don’t want to completely check out of the church trying to do what “thus saith the Lord” even before I even officially start tilling the ground.

Previously, I wrote about my experience of being a black gay man with evangelical Christian faith.   After writing the draft,  I found the writing process to be mixed with both catharsis and fear.  It was cathartic in the sense that I found a sense of release from sharing my experience. I was able to put my thoughts into my fingertips and type away with resolve.  Simultaneously, I also feared the reactions I might get from readers of the post.  I don’t know why I get afraid because I’ve been candid before on other occasions.  However, I’ve been avoiding writing about my most deepest, abiding fear, namely that I’ve internalized homophobia due to my adherence to a traditional Christian sexual ethic.  This constant worry or struggle makes me question my happiness, my self-worth, my professional and personal relationships, and my integrity as a minister of the gospel.

Despite my continual readings of LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, and allies) literature, both religious and secular, my fairly liberal politics, my personal relationships and interactions with amazing openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual, and transgender people, and my personal experience of falling in love with another man, I still subscribe to a monogamous, heterosexual paradigm for marriage, religiously speaking.  While I endorse the right for same-sex couples to seek the right to marry, I don’t know if I would attend a religious-based same-sex wedding.  I rarely attend liberal or “open-and-affirming” churches for worship.  And I mean rarely.   While I studied in Atlanta, I visited a friend’s former congregation (belonging to a non-affirming African American denomination) whose pastor is very inclusive of “same-gender-loving” people and their families.  Overall, I had a wonderful time in worship.  Nevertheless, my personal inclination was to seek an evangelical church, which I did when I attended a church in Decatur.

I think a significant reason for my traditional sexual ethic lies in my understanding of Scripture, its authority, and interpretation.   While I do not subscribe to the doctrine of full biblical inerrancy (naively, I did years ago), I do maintain, however, a traditional Protestant (specifically Baptist) assumption of the Bible’s infallibility, or its trustworthiness.  Now, I’m no slouch when it comes to biblical exegesis.  I believe that I was trained by some of the top scholars within the field of biblical studies (i.e. Duke and Emory).  I employ historical-critical methods of biblical interpretation and I have employed other methods as well when its necessary to illumine a given text for preaching and teaching. However, I’m find that my chief method of biblical interpretation is primarily canonically and theologically driven.  I interpret the Scripture from a presupposition which I’m concerned with the revelation of the Divine will for all of creation i.e. soteriological.   Every time I open the blessed Book to study, I come to it with a hermeneutics of trust–I trust the presence of the Holy Spirit will illumine my understanding to receive and to proclaim the Word.

The irony with this confessional stance is that I share it with many white European/American heterosexual males who claim to subscribe to a traditional view of biblical authority and interpret the Bible in ways to legitimate chattel slavery, racial segregation, miscegenation, colonialism, militarism, hetero-patriarchy (church, home, society), and/or the demonization (and at times slaughter) of LGBTQ people, not to mention the abuse and/or neglect of the environment.   From the standpoint of the oppressed, I should approach the text and Christian tradition with primarily, if not exclusively, with a hermeneutics of suspicion.   I am mindful that a growing number of evangelical Christians who affirm biblical authority are drawing more “gay-affirming” conclusions after engaging the Scripture with different (some would suggest “fresh”) lenses.   Their different readings of the Bible show that no one group has a monopoly over the Bible and its interpretation. Objectivity is non-existent.  So where does this position me?

I don’t know.  There is no neutral space from which I may speak.  I ask myself, “How can I, a preacher no less, proclaim liberty to captives, feel captive? How can I tell a person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender that God loves them, suggest to them to attend a ‘Bible-believing’ church that will most likely not acknowledge their presence, or do so in a damning way?” “How can I continue to affirm a ‘traditional’ view that is heterosexist?  Don’t I want to be happy, whole and healthy? Don’t I want to experience life with another human being in a covenant relationship?” “Is the cost worth it all?”   Constant, lingering, pressing, exhausting questions flood my soul. I pray for peace yet I don’t have it.  Am I being faithful or am I a phobe–a tragic case of a self-hating black gay man?  I don’t know.  I probably will struggle with these questions until Jesus comes or at least I leave this earth to see Him in peace.  I wonder why I’m not a wreck.  And yet despite my struggles, I somehow manage to preach the good news. Imagine that.

 

Theology is discourse which seeks to give understanding of God and God’s relation to all of God’s creation. The task of Christian theology, specifically, seeks to render an intelligible account of the triune God’s acts in human history, specifically in the history of Israel and in the person of Jesus Christ.  Christian theologians engage in critical reflection upon the doctrines, texts, and practices of Christian traditions.  While Christian theology is essential to Christian faith and witness, modern Christian theologians are painfully aware of  many lay Christians’ suspicion of theology. Many Christians find theology to be highly speculative and obscures the task of Christian mission. Moreover, many Christians find that academic theologians are far removed from the lived experiences of those to whom the Churches are called to proclaim good news i.e. the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Regardless of the fact that all Christians engage in theological discourse, lay Christians and many church leaders find that theology is the privilege of a few intellectual elites within the academy.

Theological reflection in all of its diversity (practical, speculative, biblical, moral, historical, dogmatic, and so forth) is a matter of interpretation. We (specifically persons of Christian faith) all come to the task of interpreting our faith with biases–personal experiences, various levels of education and different forms of knowledge. We have various points of reference and hold fast to principles of interpreting Scripture and other texts in our traditions which are influenced by our social locations and our various identities. Sometimes our minds change, for better and/or worse, on matters that affect all of us–war, sexual ethics and sexuality, violence, economics, environment, liturgical practices, and so forth. We inevitably disagree on these matters. Sometimes respectfully. Many times violently. We call for debates, yet some, especially those in power and with privilege, dominate these discussions while others are silenced. We passionately claim that lives of all of God’s children are at stake in “weightier matters.” Our beliefs, and the subsequent actions which reinforce our beliefs, impacts the lives of many people.

To bring it home, Christians around the world are waging socio-political theological wars surrounding issues related to gender and sexuality.  As the United States (seemingly) shifts more left towards full acceptance of LGBTIQ and their families, Christians who are traditional on matters on sexual ethics and marriage are confronted by a generation who finds such positions as veiled bigotry, hatred, ignorance, and fear of the “Other.”   Evangelical Christian colleges do not know how to handle the truth that many of their students are coming out of the closet as LGBTIQ despite their heteronormative culture.   Self-identified gay evangelical Christians are challenging the biblical interpretations that condemn homosexuality as “sinful.”  One can sincerely read these challenges from LGBTIQ persons of faith as the final manifestation of the “spirit of the age.” However, historically, it shows that Christians have never completely agreed on any so-called “weighty” matters, even sexuality.  I would dare venture to suggest that the rise of LGBTIQ and other marginalized Christian challenges the socio-economic and political privilege of white, European-American, heterosexual males’ political and ecclesiastical power to mediate the divine.   The voices of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTIQ within Christian theology reminds us of that theology is an ongoing conversation and engagement with our respective traditions, not a mindless regurgitation or repetition.  These “marginal” theological voices also remind us that God cares for the oppressed of the earth and privileges those own the margins of the society.  Theology must include all voices. Theological discernment is a communal practice.  Yet, as teachers of the faith, theologians are given the task, I believe, to help guide the churches into understanding what we believe and to critically examine if our practices and our beliefs are faithful to the gospel.

It’s easy for traditional Christians to dismiss challenging, uncomfortable views of others as not “biblical” and heterodox.  One can appeal to certain passages in Scripture as proof-texts to protect oneself against the onslaught of “false doctrines.”   However, a truly courageous faith will risk the privilege of being right by engaging with God’s beloved creatures and enter into their space to listen to their voices and hear the cries of hurting people.  Faithfulness to God’s Word embodied in Jesus means following Jesus into the depths of people’s pain and listen, discern, and trust that God’s Spirit will guide us into all truth.  For whatever reason, we may not come to an agreement with our theological conversation partners on everything that can be imagined.  However, we must divest ourselves with the idolatrous quest to “stand upon the Word.”  Instead, we need to realize that we all stand under the Word. The Word confronts us of all and exposes our biases, our interests, our blind spots.  We need to fully surrender to the authority of the Word and Spirit and humble ourselves. We may not be right about our interpretations of texts and definitely are not ethically just in our dealings with people with whom we disagree.   This is good news.  The Word judges us and gives us grace.   Theology as “faith seeking understanding” seeks to faithfully convey this message. I guess, what I’m trying to say is this: if love is not at the core and the driving force to engaging in theology with others, than theology is idolatrous and demonic. If we seek to silence those who are different than us and who understand themselves in a way that’s different that we do, then theology does not serve the living and true God, but our sinful interests.

 

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