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Austin Cline

The Gay Shall Inherit the Church?

By October 31, 2009

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Homosexuality is having a significant impact on the course of Christianity in America. Even those who object to homosexuality are being affected because, more and more, Christianity is almost being defined by one's stance on gay rights. Especially interesting is the manner in which anti-gay Christians defend themselves because it reveals how little of Christianity is in their position.

Jana Prikryl wrote in The Revealer a couple of years ago:

It turns out that nothing threatens to undermine a millennia-old religion so much as its own adherents giving voice to what they believe and why. [Dawne Moon's book, God, Sex, and Politics] captures this paradox neatly: "the sheer number of different sources people used to naturalize their beliefs could risk denaturalizing them all, exposing their social contingency." Moon maintains a never less than respectful tone throughout, but some of her interviewees' wilder "gay analogies" demonstrate the instability of their own doctrines:
  • Bill Rosario: "In other words, you don't lock a drunkard out of the church because he drinks, you try to help him. Not that a drunk should be encouraged to drink just because that's his chosen lifestyle. We're not gonna back you up in it."

  • Maureen McConnelly: By way of explaining that it's her Christian duty to love all homosexuals, Maureen explains that God loves Jeffrey Dahmer, too. Then she produces this theory about people whose sexuality is non-hetero: "I think the reality is that there are mistakes. There are handicapped people too. There are people that are retarded. We are not perfect. God does not make us all perfect."

  • Al Delacroix: "Every day I get up and I drive to work and there's a speed limit. I might want to run eighty miles an hour, but there's a speed limit. If I choose to go eighty miles an hour, I'm gonna get a ticket. I'm gonna have to obey the law one way or another."
Drunkards, cannibals, retards, reckless drivers: No wonder Christian gays join the UFMCC [Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches]. What's even more striking than the hilarious political incorrectness of such comparisons is the sheer imaginative muscle with which these (well-meaning) Christians think about homosexuality. As Moon points out, the in-church debate over homosexuality is so explosive because it threatens to undermine the illusion of unity that each congregation requires to continue worshipping together. Not only do members' opinions differ, even when they basically agree, their creative views on sexual morality reveal how imaginative, and artifice-laced, the very phenomenon of faith is.

Prikryl brings out very important issues that outsiders tend to be aware of but insiders often miss entirely: much of what passes for Christianity today is more culturally determined than scripturally determined and churches can be far more political institutions than they are religious ones. So much of what Christians attribute to "faith" or even "scripture" actually comes to them through American culture:

If you think faith isn't artificial -- hoisted on stilts of metaphor and held in place with glue guns of routine -- consider the Christians who hear God's voice in the media and in the background noise of culture. One church member Moon spoke with, Betsy Meisensahl, equated her "gut feelings" with beliefs endorsed by God; and, she reasoned, if she was wrong in believing homosexuality to be sinful, God would prod her with alternative messages.

And where would such messages come from? "Knowing what I believe about God, if that's something he's trying to change my mind about, it'll keep coming up. It'll be something that sticks in my mind, and it'll be something, maybe all of a sudden there'll be news stories about this. I'll pick it up in magazine articles, and I'll be overhearing it in conversations. It'll just keep coming up in one way or another." All hail the heavenly authority of the liberal media! What we need are more God-instigated, pro-gay op-eds.

If Christians are to redress the injustice in their own faith, they need to recognize that faith may be spiritual, but church is a social institution. Moon's research shows that many Christians are cultivating the cynicism with which they view "merely human" (i.e., political) dialogue and change. Human-authored artifacts like The Thornbirds are encoded by God, but the Constitution is a tainted document in need of Biblical white-out. Until Christians admit that politics is endemic even to Sunday school, they will mistakenly believe that the confusion of church and state -- the free-and-easy attitude our President has with the Constitution -- is a confusion that errs in their favor.

As to the first, most Christians fail to realize just how much their reading of both scriptures and traditions are determined by their own culture and political orientations. Christianity as manifested in modern America is radically different form how it manifests in Africa or Asia -- because of culture. Thus what they claim to be a faith-based position on some issue (like gay marriage) is actually based far more on their cultural, political, and ideological assumptions. Religion is read into that position retroactively to give it a gloss of actually being some sort of "eternal" and "objective" truth, above and beyond any debate, compromise, or changes.

As to the second, many Christians simply don't understand the role politics plays in all human institutions, churches included. Because of how important politics are, they can have a serious impact on what churches do and what direction they take, even though people on the inside imagine that the direction taken is simply the natural, necessary product of their theology. Most people just can't recognize contingent, culturally- and politically-based views for what they are, so they also can't recognize when institutions like their church are being as political as it is being religious.

November 1, 2009 at 9:50 pm
(1) DeSwiss says:

Inherit the church? Why? Who wants it? It was flawed from the beginning and it’s in even worse shape now. Look at the state of the world and tell me the one commonality of all our troubles everywhere, and there you will find religion right in the middle of it. Meddling and looking for a means of exploitation. And as divisive as ever. It knows everything and nothing. Just let it die on the vine. It’s long overdue.

“You can never change things by resisting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” ~ Buckminster Fuller

November 6, 2009 at 8:23 pm
(2) seathanaich says:

I have no idea why gays or women have any interest in belonging to any church.

November 11, 2009 at 8:03 am
(3) Elaine kilshaw says:

The Church is pannicking, where will the money come from to invest in shares so they can pay all the priests pensions.
Homosexuality is a whole part of the Church, .I once met a man who told me he could be part of the church as he had repented. Lets all repent then we can all go to the so called heaven. Must be crowded by now. Live and let live. Although religion wants to kill ,maim and tourture, it makes people feel good as evil is explained by the thought of a god who candeal out any injustice he deems fit, however cruel.

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