Consider This Perspective – Derek Webb Part 2 (Everyone Should Have a Gay Friend)

Yesterday we posted a little teaser from our video interview with Derek Webb. Today Derek talks about the fact that straight folks, especially straight Christians, really ought to have a gay friend. He delves into the ways our friendships form us, challenge our perceptions, and make us think more carefully what we say and how we say it. He right suggests that we ought to get to know people before we make judgments on them based on one single aspect of their lives and being.

 

 

Let us hear your thoughts. Agreements? Disagreements? What might you add to what Derek said?

Consider This Perspective – Logan Mehl-Laituri

Welcome to another installment of LOVEboldly’s interview series. Previously Tripp York, Wesley Hill, and Jen Thweatt-Bates offered their perspectives on a number of issues related to faith and sexuality. Now we are privileged to share some wisdom from Logan Mehl-Laituri as he draws some parallels between the issues that veterans and LGBT folks face in the church.

Logan Mehl-Laituri is a six-year Army loganveteran with combat service in Iraq in 2004 and author of Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience. In 2008, he co-founded Centurion’s Guild, where soldiers and veterans wrestle between faith and service in fellowship with other current and former military members. Logan resides in Durham, NC, where he is a masters student in theological ethics and a Co-Coordinator of the Women’s Center at Duke Divinity School. You can reach him through his blog.

 

Tell us a bit about the work you do with Centurion’s Guild.

We try to create space for conversation around the issue of Christian faith and military service. There are only a few of us, and we are not incredibly organized, but we try to make ourselves available to individuals struggling with their allegiances to both God and country, usually by email or phone calls. Folks either find out about us on Facebook, Twitter, or personal referrals from friends and family who have heard about us and what we do.


What have you found is the biggest struggle for the military community in relating with churches?

It is getting churches to talk about these issues deliberately and compassionately. In the US, it is taboo to talk about politics and religion, but these are two of the most important things to speak with one another about because they both demand so much of us.

Think about it, we will die for what we believe in politically or religiously, but God forbid we talk openly about it around the dinner table or in the pews! Especially during war, like we have been for the last decade or more, we absolutely must be having conversations of consequence; young men and women need to think critically about what it means to be prepared to give your life for the values our communities (national or religious) instill in us from birth. Refusal to do so condemns individuals to this incredible moral task in isolation, we put them in a moral vacuum.

Few people can withstand the ambiguity, doubt, and feelings of guilt that often result from conducting (even justified) violence in defense of a common good. Silence is not an option, it is a betrayal – of one’s trust, and of Christian theology.


What similarities do you see between the ways some churches treat military folks (especially war vets) and the way they treat LGBT folks?

LGBT issues are also taboo in many churches, and it is tragic that so many parishes are now only confronting the issue because it dominates general conferences and dioceses, and a few national headlines. We are dealing with this subject in hasty response instead of thoughtful foresight and compassion. We have shoved conversations to the background and waited until we can no longer avoid the issue.

With issues of war, we spoke of it for awhile, but as the violence in Iraq and elsewhere escalated, the number of, and reasons for, distractions increased. We don’t want to talk about war, and we don’t particularly want to talk about non-heteronormative sexuality, so when we do, discourse is dominated by ad hominem attacks and sloganeering instead of healthy, mutually respectful dialogue. I see the same thing in the realm of war; “chicken hawks” throw platitudinous trivialities at soldiers from the safety of their living rooms and self-righteous progressives use language just short of “baby-killer” to describe recruits that more often than not enlist out of economic desperation. Polemics have overtaken the public square, actual dialogue has all but ground to a halt.


What do you think it will take for the church to become a safe place, a sanctuary, again?

The first act in conversation is usually to listen. Sometimes I notice that when I get self-righteous or defensive, I’ll already be planning in my head what I will say next, even before the person I’m addressing has finished their sentence. That’s not listening. The Church needs to put their pre-conceived notions and biases (which are not in themselves a bad thing, accountability requires a kind of judgmentalism) on hold long enough to hear from those who have been affected most directly and harmfully by the current situation. Our biases need to be revised, our pre-conceived notions might need to find a new center.

To do that, all of us in the Church need to loosen our grip just a bit so that we can really hear from the least of those among us. I don’t know exactly how many or few are LGBT congregants, but soldiers make up less then 1% of the American population. That’s about as close you can get to the language of “the least of these” from Mathew 25. I can’t speak as someone who is non-heteronormative, but as a veteran the church needs to stop telling me that I am only either a hero or a monster. The church needs to hear my story, and in it hear a fellow human being. I suspect some LGBT folks might feel similarly.


How can Christians do a better job at showing hospitality to both groups (even, and especially when we disagree)?

I think listening is hospitality, and it is at the heart of the Gospels (hospitality, that is). Hospitality has nothing to do with dogma or doctrine or uncompromising convictions, it has to do with responding to the image of God in our neighbor; gay or straight or trans, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, man or woman or… not. Listening is the first step, but responding must follow, and how churches respond will differ. I can’t begin to imagine the ways that God might work in various congregations, but if the Spirit is there, it will move in love, not condemnation, not in indifference, not in distancing ourselves from one another. Preachers will preach difficult, loving sermons, pastors will pray difficult, loving prayers, and educators will teach difficult, loving subjects. It won’t be easy, but it needs to be loving.


Any other projects in the works?

I always have projects in the works  J  Next year I’ll be publishing my next book, For God & Country (in that order); Faith & Service for Ordinary Radicals (Herald, 2013), which will profile a number of soldier saints and patriot pacifists throughout Church history as a way of diversifying the voices we hear on the subject of faith and service.

I am also trying to compile music, books, and other resources with Centurions Guild to help the military community and their families narrate their stories more coherently, with all the pain, suffering, hope, and joy they encounter. There are some amazing things being done in new fields called “moral injury” and “soul repair” for soldiers that give me hope of which I am privileged to be a part. Other than that, I want to finish my theology degree and continue following God around the gates of hell that we call war, pointing people back toward home. Someday those gates will fall and men and women can come all the way home from their multiple deployments and crippling depression, and the church will be there with open arms. That’s the world I see, for all ‘the least’ of us.

Consider This Perspective – Jen Thweatt-Bates

It may be a week or two late, but we are pleased to offer the third installment of our interview series. Previously we heard from Tripp York, and Wesley Hill. This week’s interview is a bit different. Instead of asking a series of questions, we asked Jen to give us her thoughts on anything related to topics of faith and sexuality. And, give us some thoughts she did! Here are five steps in her journey to new understandings about both.

JTB headshot 2011 (2)

Jen Thweatt-Bates holds a B.A. in English Literature from Harding University, an M.A. in Theology from Abilene Christian University, and  a Ph.D.  in Theology and Science from Princeton Theological Seminary. She has experience as a seminary professor, author, mama, resident alien, a G.R.I.T.S. (Girl Raised in the South), an un-domestic-ated goddess, and, of course, a cyborg. Check out her book Cyborg Selves: A Theological Anthropology of the Posthuman.

 

So Jen, tell us something about faith and sexuality.

Faith and sexuality. Just the phrase itself suggests that we can/should assume that God has a specific intent for the expression of human sexuality. It’s that assumption that lies at the heart of the most repressive Christian convictions about sexual morality—and it’s that assumption that was the key for me in unraveling all of that.

First baby step: Learning to Love My Sexy Body

I grew up absorbing the lessons of “the cult of purity” that gets pushed so hard in conservative youth groups. You know, promise rings and stuff. Questions like, “what’s a more dangerous temptation, holding hands or backrubs? What about friendly tickling?” I sat in a room and answered those questions earnestly—all the while, like many others I suspect—deeply involved in a relationship whose physicality would have stunned those well-meaning adults. I was such a good girl in so many ways…no one, I think, including me, imagined that such a good girl, quick with all the right answers, was also a sexual being to her core and was learning the hard way that this was not something so easily locked away under an imaginary chastity belt and symbolized with a promise ring to Jesus.

So my first tiny baby step out of all of this was coming to acknowledgment the reality of my own body. That was a very long learning curve and truly, didn’t finish until years and years later, when I realized I’d never truly loved my body until pregnancy and the experience of birthing my first daughter. (And now, I suppose, I’m learning to love my post-partum body, which my spouse tells me is still very sexy, so I’m not really finished at all. But I digress.)

Second baby step: Identifying the Misfit

Anyway: the second baby step, for me, was realizing how very much I didn’t fit my church’s definition of a woman. Now, I’m a straight married woman with two kids—and *I* don’t fit? What the hell is wrong with me—or with that? But in a church that has defined preaching and theologizing and teaching as “masculine” activities—as if something about male anatomy is involved in executing these things properly—I don’t fit. I’m a woman who does man things.

So in terms of the categories of gender operating here, I’m “queer.” I haven’t used that word until recently to describe myself—and I used it with some trepidation and gut-checked it with some trusted friends—not because I’m afraid of how straight people will hear that claim but because I was nervous that LGBTQ people might hear it as a hijacking of their perspective, which I very much don’t intend. I don’t know what it feels like to be gay or lesbian or transgender, and I can’t speak to that and don’t mean to; I’m straight and cisgender and at the same time, in my church context, queer. Because of the narrowness and frank falseness of the gender categories at work there.

Third baby step: Questioning the Arbitrariness of God

In grad school for my MA in theology I finally had the time and space to dig into some of the questions about who I believed God to be. And one of those questions that turns out to be key for this discussion is, why is sin, sin? Or to put it another way, what makes something a sin? Just because “God says so” somewhere in the biblical text? I found that this answer was unsatisfactory in its arbitrariness—not to mention that there are plenty of things, as we know, in the Bible called sins or even abominations that we pay absolutely no attention to, so again—what makes some of these things salient and some irrelevant? How are making these distinctions between what still counts as sin and what doesn’t? I wrestled with this for some time, and even ended up writing a thesis on sin and evil, and came out of that process with the conviction that what makes sin a sin is that it harms people—and God is concerned to call out as sin those actions that wound others, because God is love. That’s not novel or anything, but it does mean that sin is sin not *just* because “God says” but assumes that God says something is sin for a reason, and that reason is love of humanity.

Applied to questions of the expression of human sexuality, of course, then this means sexual sin is something that harms others. And for awhile, being basically totally ignorant, I held on to the possibility that, well, same-sex relationships and sexual expressions must be sin because they are somehow harmful to people. Even if I couldn’t identify precisely how they were harmful—I thought there must be some way that they were. Psychologically or something.

Baby step 4: Science is Real

But this crumbled pretty quickly. I’d never held to an evangelical version of the RC stance on sex for procreation only, and thanks to my slow but ongoing process of learning to love my body and appreciate that God also loves material creation, the pleasure of sex seemed to me to be part of God’s intent for human sexuality. So, that was out as a possibility of identifying concrete harm. And I was quickly disabused of the notion that in gay sex someone was having pleasure at the expense of the other—thanks to a remedial lesson in male anatomy in a dinner conversation with a friend. So, that was out. I was left with this fuzzy notion of possible psychological harm, but there were two problems with that. First, as I was finally getting to know that I knew LGBTQ people, they certainly didn’t feel that way about their relationships—of course, I could contend that they were delusional, but that seemed a stretch, especially since what I could see of their relationships seemed often a bit more stable and healthy than my own at times. Second, the notion of psychological harm depended on a complementarian view of gender that I’d already given up, because it didn’t even fit me. And so the final move for me was being willing to grant that basic biology and the facts on the ground didn’t support this contention that somehow being LGBTQ was intrinsically harmful to people.

All of this is probably very familiar as an ally-coming-out narrative. It’s not that exciting. If it were a novel it wouldn’t have a plot (also my problem with writing novels, alas).

Step 5: Turning Cyborg

And, all of this seems to have been covertly at work as I worked my way toward a dissertation topic, researched and wrote and defended and published. The image of the cyborg is an image of hybridity, a constantly moving and shifting and realigning merger of the biological and mechanical. It’s a way, in short, to think about the impermanence and permeability of the boundaries of our categories—human and machine but also human and animal, and also male and female. These pure binaries descriptively miss so much about material reality that they become empirically false. And we spend a lot of time maintaining selective blindness to certain bits of material reality in order to preserve the sanctity of these categories—when, of course, what God is really calling us to do is live in the world that God actually created for us, a world that these pure categories don’t describe very well at all. Men aren’t actually “masculine” in the narrow way that our culture, including our churches which on the topic of gender are absolutely *not* countercultural, defines it and neither are women “feminine.” We’re just more complicated than that. The first step is admitting that. And the second step is to stop assuming that God wants you to somehow reduce complicated self, and other people’s complicatedness, to the simplicity of these categories that don’t describe God’s real creation.

It’s a beautiful and beautifully complex world we’ve been given. Beautiful and complex creatures live in it. We spurn that gift, rather ungratefully, when we turn our backs on reality in favor of a 1950’s cartoon version that lives only in our collectively warped imagination. And worse, we hurt people: by telling them repeatedly that God can’t love them until they become something else, someone other than who they are. And that, remember, is my basic definition of sin. There’s a lot to repent of, but embracing reality and giving thanks to God for this beautiful and complex world isn’t it. It’s the opposite.