Dialogue and conversation about sexual ethics is the order of the day, according to United Methodist Bishop Martin McLee.
So, please help me understand a couple things I’ve been reading in recent weeks. And I am asking this as a legitimate question. Imagine, for a moment, that I’m a member of your congregation who came in after reading some of this online. I am confused by it and want your pastoral help in understanding how it fits with the things I’m hearing in United Methodist publications, web sites, and blogs.
To give you a sense of the challenge here, I grew up at a time when the word “queer” was considered offensive and certainly not one you would use to describe someone else. So consider me one of those ancient members of the congregation who does not understand why we can’t read Psalm 23 in the King James translation.
I’ve come into your office. I’ve shared some things I’ve read. I don’t understand them and want to know if the church is teaching these things now.
Here are the tattered pages I pull out of the folder I brought with me.
First, there was this exchange in Tony Jones’ blog comment section.
Jones wrote a blog post praising the decision of his local newspaper to run a picture of two men kissing on its front page. His post centered on his 9-year-old son’s response to the picture as no big deal. He declared it a sign of progress as a new normal emerges in our culture.
One of his commenters was not so enthusiastic. (I’ve inserted links to some of the meanings of the terms for those who are not familiar with them.)
Queer sexuality is far, far from culturally normative. It remains heavily marginalised while a sanitized homonormativity is both pushed by advocacy groups controlled by the privileged within the queer community (primarily white cis gay men but, to a lesser extent, white cis lesbians) and appropriated (not to mention exploited) by non-queer media (like this newspaper, using a ‘provocative’ image of two white men kissing to sell papers). Queers who cannot or will not conform to homonormativity, such as bisexuals, queers of colours, and trans* individuals, continue to be marginalised and oppressed, the nonchalance of 9-year-olds at homonormativity notwithstanding. Homonormativity being all-but-synonymous with assimilationism, its victory is a victory for queers whose bodies and lifestyles conforms to heterosexist norms. Your sons response represents progress for the queer community, not the end of our structural marginalisation and not cultural normativity for the lived experience of the majority of queers.
The person who wrote the comment on Tony Jones’ blog appears to be arguing that no line can be drawn when it comes to sexual ethics. To argue on behalf of lifelong, committed relationships between two men is — in this eyes of this commenter and apparently some others — to advocate for an oppressive homonormativity that is little better than the Christian doctrine that people are trying to dismantle.
Jones for his part sought to reassure his commenter that more progress would be made:
Matthew, of course I’m not saying that all is now well for the progressive vision of our cultural future, nor am I saying that no one is marginalized, nor am I saying that all of our problems are solved, nor am I saying that we should stop fighting for equality. I am simply saying that we’ve come a long way, and this newpaper is a cultural touchstone.
To which, the commenter replied:
I’m not denying the progress, just seeking to add that it’s relative. There’s been more progress for those whose queerness can conform to homonormative norms, white, cisgender gay men and women in monogamous, two-persons, (upper) middle class relationships, than those who queerness does or cannot. For those of us in the latter category, seeing acceptance of homonormativity touted as victories for us all reinforces our own peripheral or even outsider status in the mainstream LGBT movement and community.
So, this leaves me confused.
What I hear argued in our denomination is that we should not discriminate against loving, committed, monogamous relationships. So is that the final point in this process of evolving doctrine, or do we go to the next step demanded by this person on Jones’ blog? If not, why not?
These questions continued yesterday when I started getting posts on my Twitter feed out of a Progressive Youth Ministry conference. I went searching the hashtag #pym14 and found some of the following tweets from conference attendees. (Please note: I am not offering these as a representative sample, but as ones that confused me or raised questions that I do not know how to answer.)
Since I do not understand what queer theology is, I did what every 21st century person does. I Googled it. Here are the top responses: Wikipedia, a dedicated web site complete with queer lectionary reflections, what looks like an undergraduate paper on the topic, a book called Radical Love, and a Huffington Post article tag.
I did not buy the book, but did read much of the other material. I have a better understanding of what queer theology is, but I am not clear whether it is informing our debates in the UMC.
So, again, help me out. In this process of dialogue in our denomination, are people trying to move us toward a “queering” of the body of Christ? Or is there some other end point? And what does it mean to queer the Body of Christ? Specifically what are people arguing on behalf of? And if they are not arguing for that, why not? What are the doctrinal and theological resources that argue for some movement in this direction but not total movement? Or is what people are arguing for not indebted to queer theology? What is the shape of our teaching on sexual ethics that advocates for change envision? And what is the basis for that revised doctrine?
I’ve e-mailed Bishop Talbert and others about these questions in the past. So far, I’ve gotten little help in understanding these things that confuse me.