Changing our mind on the LGBT Issue

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David Gushee, from

David Gushee, from

A lecture with David Gushee in Dunedin, July 30 2015.  As his positioning himself as an advocate for LGBT inclusion was recent, within the last year I understand, it was interesting to have and hear him on a tour of New Zealand.

LGBT inclusion is dominating political life in USA and New Zealand, among other countries.  It is personal politics.  Gushee is the first Evangelical New Testament Ethicist to break ranks and move into advocacy for acceptance.  He was formerly a subscribed member of the Southern Baptist Church. Gushee uses the LGBT label.

I’m sorry he didn’t dwell on a description of the Southern Baptist Church, both an enormously popular national church, with over 10 million members; and perceived as conservative to the point of being fundamentalist.  Outside of America this can only be a mythical beast, both the paradigm of true Evangelical Christianity that others aspire to emulate, and the paradigm of Christianity’s toxicity to others.

Gushee has been teaching Christian Ethics for 22 years.  Over half that teaching career has been without contact with LGBT people.  This changed when a career move brought him in contact with the First Baptist Church of Mercator, a non-rejecting Baptist Church both accepting of LGBT members and providing them with pastoral care.

The classic paradigm of LGBT within the church is: grow up within the church – discover LGBT identity – face struggle and rejection – go into exile from the church – find ways of safe return.  I find myself reminded that any marginalised and rejected people who choose to remain in a church culture is an act of grace by the rejected.  Mild rejection alienates sexual identify, including relationship and eroticism.  To remain a bystander is to endorse the harm done by alienation.  Even in cultures of toleration degrees of bullying, criminalisation and discrimination continue.

The texts of hate: the gang rape of angels; man on man same sex taboos; the vice lists including the soft and the man-lying-with-man – exploitation and dominance in a slave-based culture without mutuality and reciprocity.  The Romans 1 text written to a church in a capital city where domination sexuality is normal for its emperors (Caligula and Nero), and a male and female binary,  and a heteronormative binary are accepted as the paradigm.  The stubborn fact of the existence of gay people is a road bump in the narrative.

So we try ex-gay therapy, celibacy and moral exclusion.

What if covenant trumps creation design in a broken world.  We proclaim a gospel that god’s love is available to everyone; include the marginalised; be a faithful people to Christ that confounds Romans 1.

Every advance leads to greater reaction.  Fear responds to progress.  It is not enough to legislate, legislation can be reversed, inclusion must become a given fact, intrinsic to society.  Schism may be inevitable and straight flight from inclusive churches may accompany white flight from coloured communities.  Covenantal ethics may prove to be ultimately transitional.  I suspect this to be true, but there is no need to fear what comes.  What comes will test the capacity of Christians to think theologically in an exclusive hermeneutic.  We enter into the shame of the marginalised, which should have been where we were in the first place, not at the seats of power, with the emperors.  Our goal is to be partners in liberation and seek an end to suffering.

The Marriage Amendment Act: One Year On

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A forum hosted by the Centre for Theology and Public Issues, and the University of Otago Queer Support office.  One year after New Zealand amended the marriage act to allow gay marriage, well, what has happened in the response of the churches in New Zealand, and what’s changed?

How many Anglicans does it take to change a light-bulb?  Answer: Change?! CHANGE?!

The Anglican sect is united as a community of shared doctrine which they can mostly agree on, the enduring legacy of one of the earliest Supreme Governors of the church, Queen Elizabeth I of England.  Until recently the policy towards gay priests has been to pretend that they don’t exist while recognising that they are present.  The church cannot lead while maintaining its broad base.  It recognises that the differences over sexuality are irreconcilable while still seeking a way to stay together.  The next project is to work out how to co-exist.

The Methodist sect has worked through opposing opinions that has led the most conservative members to withdraw from the church to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church which affirms that opposition to homosexuality is the biblical standard.  In 2003 the Methodist Church signed a Memorandum of Understanding  that those who hold opposing opinions will stand together with integrity.  It allows gay marriage.  The blog Yes to Love lists churches, ministers and religious groups who will perform gay marriages.

The Roman Catholic sect have a mind for Christ.  Each human being is created in god’s image.  Sexuality is an expression of human tenderness, affection and love, a gift.  Catholic tradition remains that marriage is between a man and a woman.  The Church in the world must be immersed in the world and culture while offering another perspective.  It can’t be guided by culture and public opinion.  Marriage has something to say to culture.

Thank you for bringing theology out of the closet…

The Presbyterian sect (my own) through the General Assembly reaffirmed the traditional definition in opposition to the Marriage Amendment Act.  The next prediction is that the next General Assembly will reject conscientious objection.  The Christ story still influences culture, but the church doesn’t take moral leadership on culture.  So who is going in the right direction?  What are the limits of the traditional definition of marriage on a reforming church.

The speaker, Rev. Bruce Hamil, put out four points in support of re-thinking a reformed position.  I leave them outside this summary while noting they are well worth considering.  I asked if I could have a copy of his paper.

[Update: you can read the transcript of Bruce’s response on Jason Goroncy’s blog here]

The queer Christian is silenced by the church.  Conservative leaders were sought out to address the forum.  They were reluctant, fearful of getting a fair hearing.  Society has become more tolerant than the church.  There is still a way to go.  Gay people are five times more likely to attempt suicide.  Society is schooling the church in morality.  The church should be leading in the inclusive kingdom of god, instead it has become pharisaical gatekeepers making converts who are ten times worse than they are.  In a society we are currently living the church needs to become more inclusive to survive.

Final thoughts from the floor: watching a 6 foot tall cross-dressed Catholic with waist-length hair test Father Mark on whether the Catholic church can change its position.  Considering that in my life-time the Roman Catholic church has reformed the sacrament of reconciliation, seen the decline of monastic orders for both men and women in New Zealand, and reformed the dispensation of eucharist and baptism for practical reasons, including the limited involvement of woman, I felt that there is an argument there to answer.

The New Testament writes about homosexuality from a position that it is immoral.  The Letter to the Romans Chapter One describes heterosexuals practicing depraved acts.  It does not speak of a homosexual orientation.  We live in a society where inclusivity is considered moral.

The church has a way to go.  The end is still uncertain.  It is not the only hetero-normative homophobic institution in our society.

Re-defining Marriage

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Jason has reminded me that I said I would publish a report on the Centre for Theology and Public Issues’s forum on marriage equality.  I thought that this topic was excitable and would attact a range of opinions in attendance and made sure I arrived early.  Surprisingly people were arrived in smaller numbers than I expected.  Critics of marriage equality were conspicuous by their absence.  Does this mean that they have abandoned the Centre of Theology and Public Issues as errant, liberal and leftie?

The marriage act in New Zealand law does not specifically say that marriage is between a man and a woman.  When this was challenged in court the courts of New Zealand agreed that the marriage act is based on common law, which does define marriage as between a man and a woman, and this is reflected in the rules of consanguinity cited in the marriage act which list the female relatives and in-laws a man may not marry, and for a woman the same relations of affinity among male relatives and in-laws that she may not marry.

I suspect that these laws of consanguinity were originally established by settler religious communities.  Anglicans were well presented on the forum panel.  I suspect that the Church of England and its relationship with government was a significant provider of these rules of consanguinity.  There was no representation of church history is speak for other churches.  The Presbyterian Church had its own rules of consanguinity.  Indeed differences of rules between northern and southern Presbyterians was a hurdle to creating a united national church for the Presbyterians in New Zealand until the beginning of the twentieth century.

The statistics in New Zealand reflect that about 20% of marriages take place in a registrar’s office, 30% by communities of faith, and 40% by marriage celebrants.  The practice among New Zealanders, at least outside communities of faith, is the marriage is a public act of commitment to an existing partnership done for the witness and celebration of family and friends.

The Holy Bible is conflicted about same-sex partnerships.  It condemns homosexual practice: male temple prostitution is not practiced among Christians.  At the same time the bible celebrates close same-sex relationships: David and Jonathon; Ruth and Naomi; Jesus and the beloved disciple.  That’s without recognising the text fragment, the Secret Gospel of Matthew as historical.

Maybe the marriage act needs to be taken from the hands of the Churches and other communities of faith.  What would happen if civil marriage and religious marriage were distinguished as separate ceremonies.  God and government make different demands on the marriage ceremony.

If the marriage act is changed to re-define who can marry under the act, then Jason left me with one final question from the evening forum: What is the rights and responsibilities of the state to its citizens?

Manly Affections: The Photographs of Robert Gant by Chris Brickell

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Tonight’s enjoyable activity was to the Launch of the book of the above title.  Chris Brickell (Associate Professor Brickell in Gender Studies to his friends) produced Mates and Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand.  So the release of this book added to my bookshelf, alongside my copy of his earlier book and the programme from its adaption as a stage play which was part of the Fringe Festival in 2011.  I’m developing a collection. 

Robert Gant appears in the earlier book.  An English immigrant to New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century he worked as a chemist in Masterton and created around himself a masculine society that transgressed boundaries with images of homoeroticism, fantasy and theatrical drama in early pioneering New Zealand.  The term homosexuality, and presumably heterosexuality with it, only became common in the latter part of his lifetime.  Did the fluidity of sexuality in their social group allow Gant and his chums to be comfortable in the identity they created for themselves.  Most of the men went on to marry and become family men.  It was one of those families that preserved the photographs.  Gant himself remained with his partner, one of these men, until his death.  Another, a rugby-player, remained single all his life, eulogised for his ‘jovial disposition’.  Reading the text will tell me more.  For now I’m enjoying the images displayed in the book with their combination of innocence and innuendo, from an age when innuendo was yet to become explicit.

The occasion allowed for a bit of cosplay, which was fun.  Photos, or tableaux vivants, where taken in period costume.  I went prepared.  Things lurk at the back of my wardrobe: a wing-collar shirt, Smith tartin tie (yes, it exists!), my favourite waistcoat, fob watch and arm-bands.  I made sure to get in early for my photo, which I expect I can download from facebook next week.  I’m looking forward to finding a new identity photo among them. 

Actually, when I think about it, the cosplay we were doing could have been more restrained that what Gant and co had done.  We affected to dress like him.  Even with the delightful cross-dressing that was happening there were no pirates or beheadings or the drama and sensuality that he included.  Now there’s a challenge. 

Interestingly enough Leif Jerram in Streetlife observed that male homosexual identity is easier to document in modern history than heterosexuality or female homosexuality; and that’s in the context of modern European urban history.  Is this a universal trend?

For now I shall enjoy the book, and treasure the company of friends.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

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I was on retreat yesterday and came home with this poem:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles
through the desert

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours,
and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun
and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese,
high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are,
no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese,
harsh and exciting
— over and over
announcing your place in the family of things.