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LGBT rights

Social Issues

I’m bisexual and still just as objective as you

If you’re a living person in Christian culture, then you’ve run into the following sentiment:

I can agree with much of what she's written and I definitely think that the church has lost its way. But as much as she speaks to the motivations of the authors of the Bible you have to ask how much she's motivated by being "an out bisexual feminist"? When people live opposed to what the Bible calls sin then they will often be opposed to the Bible itself for their own reasons.

The argument goes that because we’re LGBT (or, in this particular case, also a woman who believes in equality), we have “skin in the game” of biblical interpretation. Obviously we’re predisposed toward a particular outcome, so our judgment can’t be trusted. We can’t possibly read the Bible “objectively,” so any argument that a queer person makes about Romans 1 not necessarily being about sexual orientation is intrinsically untrustworthy.

Unlike straight people, who are clearly impartial and unaffected by this issue, so they can read the Bible without being influenced by their feelings. They can come to a clear-headed and open-minded conclusion on whether or not having sex with a similar-gender person is a sin, but a queer person can’t. In short, straights are telling the LGBT community that they definitely have our best interests at heart, and they can totally be trusted not to be wrong about this.

Aside from how incredibly patronizing this attitude is, we also have some fairly definitive proof that straights do not have the best interests of the LGBT community in mind. I know that in their head, they do– I know that they’re probably aware of how their “support” looks to us. They also don’t really care. To them, all that matters is that we’re saved from our sinful lifestyles; if they have to support legislation that will harm trans people, or force destructive conversion therapy on LGB youth, or encourage parents to physically beat their children into being straight, or call for us to be stoned to death … then they will. They have to hold us accountable for our sin, and if they kill us (or encourage other people to kills us) in the process, then no matter.

And even after countless decades of the Christian right condemning our very existence as sin, like this fellow:

Your website says you are bisexual, is it true? Is it not a sin according to God's word?

… we’re just supposed to accept that straights don’t have any possible motivation that could affect their judgment. They don’t have feelings about us that could make it difficult to be impartial. No ounce of hatred, no sliver of fear. No revulsion or disgust whatsoever. They approach LGBT rights and the Bible as a blank slate, with no predispositions of any kind.

Oh, except that’s completely wrong. In fact, people like Thabiti Anyabwile have explicitly argued in favor of Christians depending on their disgust (which is, needless to say, an emotional reaction) to drive their morals and biblical interpretation. Listen to Kevin Swanson and his ilk bloviate for more than two seconds and their hatred of us comes searing through.

Sure, maybe I’m being affected by my desire for love and acceptance when I read Romans 1 … just like any straight person can be affected by their disgust or hatred or fear when they read Romans 1.

The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to the Bible, no one is objective.

I came to the Bible a few years ago, doing my best to be open and honest about what I would find. To be blunt, my thinking at the time was that if I discovered that the Bible does speak on sexual orientations and condemned similar-gender relationships, then I was going to walk away from it all and leave Christianity behind. I knew I was bisexual, and if the Bible was going to tell me that was wrong, then I was done. Obviously, I’m still here, so I must’ve discovered something different. In my opinion there isn’t enough evidence one way or the other to be absolutely conclusive, so I err on the side of loving others and doing no harm. My hermenuetic looks a bit like St. Augstine’s, actually:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.

This argument that only straight people can be trusted to interpret Scripture correctly and appropriately– because queer folk don’t want to be told we’re sinning– doesn’t make any sense. If it were true, then no one would ever be able to agree about any sin. Except we know that it’s possible for greedy people to know they’re greedy and that the Bible vociferously condemns it. Or how about the two sins that almost always get brought up in these conversations: pride and gluttony. I’ve known many people over the years that confessed to gluttony and acknowledged their belief that the Bible says that gluttony is a sin– and the same thing goes for proud people.

If straights are right about the LGBT’s supposed inability to “properly” read the Bible, then how in the world is it possible for anyone to read the Bible and feel challenged by it? Our personal experience tells us that it is not just possible, it happens all of the time. I still experience feeling “convicted,” to use the evangelical parlance, and I don’t even think the Bible is inspired or inerrant anymore.

We all bring our baggage to the Bible. That’s part of what makes our collective experience of it so beautiful. It’s a text we share communally and individually, publicly and privately. We talk, we share, and together we try to build an understanding that enriches our lives, brings us comfort, and helps us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

LGBT people shouldn’t be shut out of this conversation anymore. We bring a different set of experiences, a different way of being, a different way of seeing. When you silence anyone who isn’t white, or isn’t straight, or isn’t nuerotypical, you’re shutting yourself up into an ivory tower. It’s impossible to cut off the parts of us that make us human and still do good and loving theological work.

In my life, being bisexual puts me at a certain distance from the Bible because I’m not deliberately included in it. Because of that, my relationship with the Bible has to be more interrogative than it would otherwise be, because it’s a story we’re supposed to find ourselves in. When it’s not obvious where I fit, I have to do more digging. I’m open to discovering things that aren’t sitting on the surface. In a sense, I can benefit from the fact that I’m not the primary audience– often, I’m an outsider looking in. I can help broaden some of the narratives, bring stories into new lights and next contexts.

I can look a story that we’ve all heard a thousand times and ask questions like is it possible that Ruth is bisexual? When she abandons Moab and aligns with Noami in a speech that is often used in our wedding ceremonies; when she lives with Naomi, comforts her, listens to her, and raises a son with her … do we have to view her character as straight? Why do we assume she’s straight?

Because I don’t have the dominant experience of heterosexuality, I’m better equipped to get at the bottom of some of our assumptions. It’s my first impulse to ask why of concepts that seem long settled.

I lack objectivity. So do you. And that’s a good thing.

Photo by Murray Barnes
Social Issues

opening the door to an affirming church?

Where I live, there are no LGBT-affirming churches. Most are outright hostile, and the ones that aren’t still preach from the pulpit that wanting to be in a loving relationship is a sin for a significant number of people. It’s just a deeply conservative area when it comes to religion, and because of that, I’ve been having a hard time finding a church. My politics and my theology puts me squarely outside what’s acceptable here … and occasionally that’s a little heartbreaking. I want so badly to be a part of a church, but nowhere feels at all safe.

Which is one of the reasons why I decided to attend The Reformation Project’s (TRP) Regional Training Conference in DC last weekend. I’ve recommended Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, and he’s the founder of TRP.  I don’t agree with Matthew on a lot of things, but his theological positions put him in a unique place when it comes to “the gay debate“: he agrees that abstinence before marriage is a requirement for Christians, and he has what conservative evangelicals call “a high view of Scripture.” Those two things enable him to have conversations that a person like me can’t really have with conservative Christians.

And, because of where I live, if I’m going to be able to have conversations with pretty much anyone, I have to be able to have a conversation the way that Matthew would have it. I don’t personally believe the same things about the Bible that the people around me might believe, but what I can do is work with where they are. There’s a way to see the “clobber verses” in a new light– and, personally, I find arguments like Brownson’s and Matthew’s pretty convincing.

I wrote a reflection of my experiences at the conference for Convergent Books, Matthew’s publisher, that you can read here.

Photo by GF Peck
Social Issues

being a progressive, being an optimist

Prometheus by Adam

The first time I ran into the broader concepts of political ideals– not just American politics in particular, but how many (at least Western) countries have only a few dominant political branches– was when I was reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and Matthew tells Anne that he’s a conservative; she decides that’s what she’s going to be, and then asks him what it means. Matthew gives a pretty basic definition of political conservatism: they’re a little suspicious of change.

Progressivism came out of the European Enlightenment, with the US and France very much embracing the concept culturally and politically. It was this grand idea that humankind was on an upward track, that things could only get better– that we were all heading in the direction of progress, and progress seemed to be inherently good. Then the Industrial Age happened, and you have the Romantics and Victorians questioning whether new really does mean good, but before they’d really figured that out we’d had two world wars and then the Bomb.

And, suddenly, most of us were suspicious of progress. Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done became a familiar phrase, and since the 50s there’s been a culture-wide nostalgia in America, a longing to return to the “good old days” that comes in a variety of formats– Christian fundamentalism, the rising popularity of “vintage” and “shabby chic,” the glorification of the past, how much American conservatives talk about “original intent” and the Founding Fathers. Not that I think this is particularly new phenomenon: even Plato spends an awful lot of time talking about how awesome things used to be. But . . . still, I think this nostalgia has gotten worse in the last seventy years.

However, there’s still people who describes themselves as “liberals” and “progressives,” and I think this has a lot to do with optimism. I wouldn’t have described myself as an optimist until I was in the middle of a conversation talking about chattel slavery, and part of my argument for why American chattel slavery was so egregiously awful was this unspoken expectation that Americans in the 1800s should have known better. It’s not that slavery had never existed– it’s that Americans should have been better than ancient Rome (or any other civilization that legalized slavery).

The interesting thing is– some Americans did know better. They wrote books, pamphlets, preached sermons, and eventually went to war over it. We ended chattel slavery and outlawed slavery of any kind  in this country. Today, any of the arguments made in support of slavery– even biblical ones– are heinous and evil to almost all of us except a select handful that everyone else condemns as twisted and immoral. Slavery still happens in this country– sex trafficking and human trafficking sometimes reap more profit than drugs or guns in this country– but, with rare exceptions, Americans know that it’s wrong.

There have also been other moments in our history that have the same core idea running behind it. The Civil Rights Era, and today’s slow march toward LGBTQ rights. The fact that we made it illegal for men to sell or beat their wives. How the the number of forcible rapes (the only kind of rape consistently measured) has gone down in the past 20 years. How, yesterday, researchers announced that making contraception more freely available resulted in less unintended pregnancies– and that 2011 had the lowest rate of abortion since Roe vs. Wade.

These are all fantastically good things, and I believe in what they mean.

I believe that rape culture could disappear in my lifetime– that any kind of rape could become rare, and that when it does happen the victim can receive justice. I believe that education and contraception– not forced births through horrible laws– could lower the abortion rate to 6 per 1,000 women like it is in Holland instead of the 24 per 1,000 it is here. I believe that we can empower people and make the widespread violence against cis women and trans* persons a thing from the past. I believe that the rampant and often deadly attitudes of racism and bigotry could evaporate. .

I do. I believe all of that is possible, and I believe I can be one of the people who can make that happen. That I can be a part of that change. That the world can become a better place, that I can help bring the kingdom of God to earth. That all oppression shall cease, that all bonds will be broken, that justice can be fought for and achieved.