Hauerwas, Rolling Stone, and Mars Hill

It is probably because I’m reading Resident Aliens again, but I keep hearing Stanley Hauerwas when I’m reading other things.

For instance, this Christianity Today piece on this Rolling Stone article about the sex lives and norms of Millennials strikes me as something straight out of Hauerwas. (BTW, read the Rolling Stone piece and tell me again how polyamory is not something the church needs to be able to talk about.)

The gist of the CT piece is the author’s shock at the sexual norms of Millennials followed by the realization that advocating for conventional biblical sexual norms will either be drowned out or will drive people away from the church. Instead, the author comes to realize, all that talk about what to do with our private parts is intended not for the pagan culture outside the church but for those inside the church trying to live a new people.

From the records we have, we can deduce that Paul talked about sex with people who were already within a church community. He didn’t stand up on Mars Hill in Athens and preach about immorality. He told the story of Jesus, the one who rose from the dead. He didn’t argue about “lifestyle issues” with pagans. If he argued about anything, it was about grace and truth and love. And then he told the story of Jesus again. (See Acts 13, and Acts 17 for two examples.)

Of course Paul writes plenty about sex, but again, he does so to people in Christian communities and he almost always does so in the context of whole-life change. Sex is one moral issue amidst a host of others. Paul assumes that for these Christians to change—whether in what they eat or who they sleep with or how they talk or anything else—Paul assumes change will be radical, positive, and ongoing. He assumes it will only happen with the help of the Spirit, in the context of Christian community, and only as they grow up in the knowledge and love of Christ.

Christian speech is only intelligible inside the community called church. This sounds a lot like Hauerwas to me.

The writer concludes that she should not speak of biblical morality at all outside the church community. I’m not convinced that is the right approach.

I’m certainly not advocating getting on a soap box and screaming “fornicators!” at people on the street. But there is something to be said, I think, for the claim that Jesus Christ is Lord and he offers something that all the sexual exploits in the world cannot. When Paul stood up in Athens, he did not shy away from saying he knew something about God that all their searching and striving had missed.

We should never be smug. To be a Christian is to be humble and meek. But I don’t think we want to hide the holiness of Jesus Christ under a basket.

I could be argued out of this thought. What do you think?

A woman, her husband, and her boyfriend

So, I don’t know if this is a quirk of my web browser or cookie settings, but as I was scrolling through Salon.com looking for the link to an excerpt from Adam Hamilton’s new book on the Bible, I stumbled on this defense of polyamory two stories before Hamilton’s.

The article, “Polyamory works for us,” tells of a woman with a husband of 17 years and an ongoing boyfriend of 2 years all living together.

My path here was a long one. As far back as I can remember, I felt that loving one person romantically did not preclude the possibility of loving another at the same time. It seemed natural and intuitive to me. But I had no models for that way of living, so I assumed there was something wrong with me.

I married my husband and remained in a monogamous relationship with him for many years. I knew I wanted to be with him for the long haul. But I was never entirely fulfilled. I couldn’t shake the feeling that some part of me was repressed.

The article ends this way:

When my daughter talks about same-sex marriage or polyamorous relationships, she always looks perplexed and says, “I don’t understand why anyone is angry about people being in love and not hurting anyone.” And I long for a world where everyone is able to see it so simply.

What I’d like someone to do for me is explain what basis the church has to disagree with this woman in a world in which we are rushing as fast as we can to declare that the Bible has little to say to us about God’s will for human sexuality that we would not already say if we had never had a Bible in the first place.

(For those who are interested, the excerpt from Hamilton’s book chapter is at this link: Stop twisting the Bible: There is no message against same-sex marriage.)

Chongho Kim: ‘We all cried’

I finally got the time to listen to the sermon given by Rev. Chongho Kim at Marsh Chapel at Boston University School of Theology. You can watch it here.

The sermon, which was a series of personal stories about his theological struggles, including his struggles with the biblical and pastoral issues related to homosexual sex, caused an uproar and provoked condemnation from a committee at the seminary.

Kim has been characterized as being unfeeling and/or overly dogmatic in his talk. I personally do not see this.

His affirmation of the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles regarding human sexuality and a story he told from the late 1980s are at the center of the storm over the sermon. Before telling the story, Kim acknowledged that the details of the story would hurt or offend some of the congregation. He asked the congregation for their forgiveness for his insensitivity or ignorance.

The story he told was this. The District Committee on Ordained Ministry that Kim chaired was split on the vote to approve a woman who had come out as a lesbian and — as I understand through the poor sound on the video — she was rejected in part because he abstained from voting.

He explained his abstention as his deep uncertainty about the right way to balance his biblical interpretation with the people he knows who are are gay and lesbian. He went on at some length earlier in the sermon about how he finds himself accused by progressives and conservatives — and even his own family — of being in the wrong, but that he can’t find any way to interpret the Bible other than the way the United Methodist Church’s official statements have done so.

After the woman was denied ordination, and as a result of being in the center of controversy and the subject of harsh criticism, she took her own life.

And this is the point where people accuse Kim of being insensitive. Some in comments have implied he made some grand pronouncement about holding on to dogma despite her death. But I do not hear that in the sermon. He criticizes those in his annual conference who used the woman’s death as justification for her rejection by the committee on ministry.

He describes how in the aftermath of the woman’s suicide, he was asked to preach at a deeply divided annual conference. He recounts part of the sermon he gave:

I preached saying I did not know how to understand this issue, but I know that we are Christians. Christians are of Christ. If we are of Christ, we should have given her a message of hope, love, and grace instead of hatred and rejection. I asked the conference to ask God for healing and forgiveness … and I started crying. That was all I could do. In fact, we all cried. Everybody cried. Out of guilt, out of anger, we all cried.

Kim called on the church to be one in Christ and lamented the divisions within the denomination. (I hope the quote above is word-for-word accurate. As I say, the sound is poor, and I’m not sure I heard each word properly.)

I have listened to this sermon twice — and parts of it more than that. If the way he spoke about this topic is considered beyond the pale and the creation of an “unsafe” space in worship, then I do not see how anyone could ever address these issues from the pulpit.

Kim said he preached on this topic because the lectionary text from which he preached included Paul’s call to the church to be of Christ and united. He noted in his sermon that he has served in the Chicago area and in North Georgia. His own experiences inform him of the deep divisions in the church. I suspect he preached what he did because he wants the church to get beyond division. The reaction to his sermon certainly demonstrates that we are deeply divided.

Seminary committee denounces sermon

So, I’m trying to piece this together from threads and bits and pieces. You with better Internet skills than I can help out.

It appears that on Feb. 26 a guest preacher at a chapel service at United Methodist-related Boston University School of Theology included in a sermon that the preacher supported the United Methodist Book of Discipline on matters of sexuality. (Here’s a blog post about the sermon. I cannot find a link to the sermon or even the name of the preacher.)

This led to an outcry among students who felt attacked by this sermon, which led to the school’s spiritual and community life committee issuing the following statement.

While we recognize that denominations are divided on this issue, we are not. We, as a school are clear that the gifts that the church needs today will come from all of us. And we are convinced that there is no room for messages of exclusion and calls for Christian unity at the expense of our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers. We recognize that there are times when communities are called to speak loudly, prophetically, and affirmatively with those who are marginalized in an unjust world. This is one of those times.

Are we queering the Body of Christ?

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.