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The Necessity of Change in Christianity Pt. 1:God, Sex and Queerness

I grew up Catholic and thus with a supreme sense of religious superiority. My Church was the one, true, universal Church, the unbreakable pillar of truth within the corrupted and splintered Christianity. The pillar of truth, my church, got its strength from its devout and steadfast ability to not change with the turbulence of the times. These beliefs, while a bit sheltered, are not exclusive to Catholicism. Indeed, the core message of Christianity is the unchanging idea that Christ died for our sins, that he was raised from the dead, that his death freed us from sin and granted us eternal life, and that he will come again at the end of times to bring faithful believers into the New Age of Heaven on Earth. So where does all the other stuff come in?

Depending on your denomination, the Text(s) of your belief also are unchanging. For the majority of denominations, the Bible is the one, true text and all that is written is infallible. While for Catholics, there are two: the Bible and Tradition. The latter includes the teachings of the Church like the beliefs regarding the Trinity, the Eucharist, Mary’s perpetual virginity, the importance of works AND faith, etc. These deeply held Traditions are fundamental aspects of the faith that are not explicitly mentioned in the bible.

Christians argue that the continuation of the Church is because of its refusal to change to the whims and sins of man. For Catholics, the mass was the same when the apostles said it in the Acts of the Apostles as it was when Pope Leo XIII said it on Christmas day as it is when our local Priest says it on Monday mornings with the Catholic school children. The language and the readings and the phrasing might have been adapted but ultimately it is the same. The lack of change is meant to be comforting. God’s grace and forgiveness will always grant our salvation. But in other ways, it can be very, and justly, terrifying. For example, will the Church ever accept LGBT individuals with open arms, without risk of violence or rejection from their families? Now, many churches will claim that they DO accept gay individuals (if they repent or remain completely chaste). Here, the parenthetical is incredibly important. And many devout christians back it up with scripture. In fact, they have mastered the use of language so that condemnation is not about the person, but the sin (More on that in a later post). Look at the introductory paragraph from this website:

“God’s timeless Word reveals His plan for humanity and His intentions for marriage and sexuality. While Scripture teaches that homosexual acts are sinful, these Bible verses aren’t about condemning homosexuals, gays, lesbians, or transgender people. Rather, read God’s loving warning and offer of grace for those who have strayed from His will for sex. We live in a fallen world with a fallen nature, but in Christ, we can be new creations.[Emphasis mine]”

However, Christianity gives no room for a “rightful” calling of the body for any queer person, but rather only for straight individuals. Those who identify outside of the “Straight” part of the Kinsey scale are just told to “repent” or remain chaste.  While much of the scriptures quoted in the website above are about sexual immorality, for those who are devoutly christian and cisgendered and straight, sex and sexuality are not always wrong because there is a doctrinal right time: within the Sacrament of Matrimony. [I use the term matrimony to refer to the Christian tradition of marriage for several reasons. Marriage has always been a social normality and is not exclusive to any religion; marriage was present in most societies before the spread and colonization of Christianity. In the United States and many countries, one must receive a marriage certificate before one’s matrimony is considered legal. Marriage has always been a public, social contract. While we can argue that marriage follows matrimonial ideology, the truth is that marriage ceremonies have been in countries and cultures that have had little, if any, christian influence in their development. Matrimony is a religious covenant between a couple and God, whereas marriage is a social contract between a couple and the state.] Tied closely into the conversation of Christianity sexuality is the subject of gender. Is gender a social contract or a religious covenant? Depending on who you ask, you will get two different answers. In mainstream psychology and gender studies, gender is socially constructed. What we consider “Male and Female” and “masculine and feminine” are simply binaries that we as a culture have imposed on individuals, and the forced binary of gender clouds the actual expression of healthy and diverse sexuality. What makes someone masculine or feminine, or both, or neither, is how the individual chooses to express it. How frustrating for individuals who have been raised to believe that:

But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10: 6-9)

 For the vast majority of mainstream Christianity, gender is entangled with matrimony. Your gender, what makes you male or female, forges you to your literal other half. Perhaps, when looking at it this way, we can understand the fear of being separated from what you have been assigned at birth. If you reject, in part or totally what God gave you,the gift of your binary sexuality expressed through the use of your male/female genitals, are you not condemned? Most would say yes. That is why openly gay couples cannot receive communion at mass. It is why children fear emotional, physical or even sexual abuse if they open up about their sexuality or gender with their parents. It is why politicians decry the LGBT community as abominations and worthy of death in front of cameras, then are found entangled in the arms of someone of the same gender. It is why so many transgendered youth commit suicide. Condemnation provides a strong motivator for secrecy and hiding, both within our faith and within our communities.

So what gender is God? The creator of this great dilemma must have a perfect example of Spiritually Correct Gender and Sexual Identity. As followers of the Judeo-Christian tradition, we personify God as male. God our Father. Jesus the Son. Even the Holy Spirit is seen as male. While God is male, he embodies both Masculine and Feminine. He is both violent protector of the Israelites and pacifist savior who instead of killing his enemies, dies for them to save them from their sins. Christ surrounds himself with children, praising their innocence; he socializes with women frequently in domestic scenes; he allows and honors his female followers. The Trinity absorbs the blurriness of expressing gender because the Trinity is supposed to be empathetic and  unmatched in its appeal to the universal audience. The Trinity represents the idea of three persons (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) in one God.  As our favorite Catholic Saint, Saint Patrick of Ireland, is credited with explaining, the trinity is similar to the clover: three separate leaves while in essence one plant. Because of its “Three in One” theme The Trinity is often used in Catholic sexuality lessons as the basis for true conjugal love. Consider Mark 10: 6 again. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” It is in this union between a cisgendered man and cisgendered woman that results occasionally, under the right circumstances, in a child. The love between a man and a woman spark a third, separate being, while all three of them are still one flesh, through the act of sex. Similarly, theologians say that the love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. The Family is the physical portrayal of the Spiritual. 

Why then do we deny the sanctity of the love between same sex, queer and/or transgendered individuals when our own Trinity shows that the love between the two explicitly Male persons are the basis for the teachings on reproductive unity?

“Undergirding Jesus’ teaching about God as Father is the idea that God has revealed Himself as to be such and that His revelation should be normative for us. God, in other words, calls the theological shots. If He wants to be understood primarily in masculine terms, then that is how we should speak of Him. To do otherwise, is tantamount to idolatry—fashioning God in our image, rather than receiving from Him His self-disclosure as the Father.” (EWTN.com)

Christianity prides itself on its intimate relationship with God. In more innocent or vulnerable situations, such as grief or times of fear, the relationship models a relationship between a parent and child. God plays the  larger, stronger parent, protector, life-giver, and knows all beyond our human failings. But the Bible provides us with another type of intimate relationship God fosters with his people, perhaps most explicitly expressed in Song of Songs, the biblical book of erotic poems. Interpretations of these poems tend to encompass both the exhibition of the carnal pleasure of married unity, and the love between God and his people/The Church. The mere fact that these interpretations of the book are widely accepted and promoted alongside each other, by both the Catholic church hierarchy and the Christian community at large, gives weight to the opinion that the book is a metaphor for the love of God for his People. The nature of the poems then reveals that the love of God is decidedly not innocent, but erotic, passionate, and at its most human, lustful. Our intimacy with our God is not only one of parent and child, but one of lover with lover. We use this intimacy in our rituals. We dip the easter candle in holy water to signify the conception of our new life in Christ, or as Fr. Hugo Rahner explained, “Through the sign of the cross you are conceived in the womb of your holy mother, the Church. It is only by the procreative power of the cross that the church is fructified.” The intimacy is sexual, unitive and creative.  I believe that Fr. Rahner called it procreative in an effort to connect it with sexuality; the cross has virility, a spiritual semen, that differs it from merely creating faith out of nothing. This is not an Eden that God creates within our hearts, but rather a marriage bed with a honeymoon baby of faith.

If we can view the relationship that God has with us as both Intimate and Comforting, and Intimately Passionate, then we can also apply that to the relationships between the three persons. For God the Father is both the concerned parent of the future of the human race, and as the role model of creating life. He is both virtuous and virile. God the Son, then mimics this with his Church. Several of his parables use the Bridegroom and the Bride and their sexual relationship to represent Christ and the Church. Christ gives his body to the church, a standard later applied by Paul to husbands for their wives. Christ is the ultimate husband.

In the continuation of the sexualization of spiritualization, we refer to nuns as the brides of Christ. We advocate for our women to be pure so that they are close with God, so like the Virgin Mary, they might experience both the parental role of God’s protection, and the spermatozoal side of Our Lord. Mary carries the seed of God in her womb, the literal physical manifestation of the procreative unity between a husband and wife. “God so loved the world” that Christ’s very physicality comes from His Father’s sinless inseminating of the Blessed Virgin. Christ is a product of the virility of God the Father. As such, his sacrificial act of crucifixion is seen as a guide for the physical act of submitting your body to your partner’s out of total giving. So the nuns give their sexuality to him, pledging abstinence and chasteness to him, like a young bride pledges her faithfulness to her new husband. Conversely, priests take the Church as a bride. Whereas Christ does not have the physical body on earth to consummate the Church, so he employs those who act as him in other sacraments. Priests, who act In persona Christi, as forgiver in Confession, as sacrificial lamb at the Eucharistic rite, as midwife at the baptismal font, act as husband to the Church.

Therefore, we view God the Father as masculine, as well as fertile. There is also no reason to doubt that Jesus was male. We understand that God has revealed his relationship with his people to be understood through erotic metaphors to emphasize the intensity and growing nature of his love; when we combine this deeply passionate love with the symbolism that the Trinity, when used as a model for families, stands for the consummation of love between spouses, then we can infer a same sex love present in one of the very basic tenets of Christianity, the Trinity.

And yet, we cannot accept that the love between two queer people can be as holy as our straight love because gay and lesbian cisgendered couples cannot naturally have a child. But even Catholicism, which has one of the strictest codes on sexual ethics and the prohibited use of birth control or sterilization, still considers a marriage a valid one if one or both of the spouses cannot contribute to a successful pregnancy. It is rather the fact that these two individuals COULD produce a baby if their anatomy would function the way it was supposed to. Just like an older couple COULD produce a baby had they met earlier. Just like removing an ectopic pregnancy isn’t abortion if you cut out the part of the fallopian tube the embryo has attached to, even though that means a less successful chance of a viable pregnancy later on for the woman (see question 6). The loss/absence of new life is a side effect rather than a direct reason. Called the principle of double effect, it “protects” a parent who has to chose between health and the child. Another popular explanation is if a pregnant woman was diagnosed with cancer and chose to do chemotherapy during her pregnancy. Should she lose fetus due to the treatment, she would be considered not at fault as the fetus dying from chemotherapy exposure is not the direct reason that Chemotherapy was used; it was used to save the mother, the baby just happened to die as a side effect. However, the woman would be sinning if she got an abortion before or during her time with Chemotherapy. While the death of the fetus happens in both scenarios, the first was merely a side effect, while the second was a choice to end life.  This convoluted reason is why two queer adults, with the desire to spend the rest of their lives together, and raise orphaned children, are seen as problematic, even secularly, perhaps because an unspoken part of the marriage social contract is the production of children, rather than the preservation of children.

Now, one might argue (and probably will) that the true preservation of children is keeping them within the Father-Mother dynamic, and that the separate genders provide different qualities. To that I would say a direct symptom of this dangerous game is the rate of sexual abuse in foster homes. “As many as seventy-five percent of all children in foster care, upon leaving the system, will have experienced sexual abuse…One study by Johns Hopkins University found that the rate of sexual abuse within the foster-care system is more than four times as high as in the general population (hg.org).” Such depravity and evil like the violation of a child’s dignity is not a symptom of a healthy familial social system. These children are not assaulted by the supposedly scary Gay Man, but rather by the Heterosexual Man. Men who assault boys most often identify as heterosexual, in a heterosexual relationship (1in6.org). But we do not denounce heterosexual love because of the horrible perversion of these monsters; yet they are the ones who keep hurting our children and we continue to blame the LGBT community. We target the transwomen, or nonbinary individuals who want to use a public bathroom in relative peace with laws prohibiting them using the bathroom that they feel comfortable in, then lie about their motive for going to the bathroom. On average, trans people are assaulted at a rate of more than one in four, though trans women and trans people of color are assaulted at higher rates. Up to fifty percent of trans people report sexual assault in their lifetimes and ten percent are assaulted in a medical care setting (rrsonline.org). In addition to this, queer individuals are three times more likely to report sexual assault and/or harassment (rrsonline.org).

We condemn so that we may not be condemned. They are not the ones who are assaulting us, we are assaulting them.

About 3 weeks ago, a local politician in my town made national sensationalist news when he harassed a server at a coffee shop, demanding she reveal her “true” gender and threatening to show his penis to prove his gender. In this isolated liberal corner of Arkansas, in the most liberal coffee shop in town, the woman was safe and Fayettevillians took her side and denounced Mr. La Tour, calling for his recall from office. But this call for justice is not always the case, and trans women have and will continued to be killed by men like La Tour, by churches who continue to spread lies about these innocent people, by politicians who pass laws requiring people to go to the bathroom corresponding to the sex stated on their birth certificate. Five trans people have been killed this year, and in 2015, twenty-one transwomen were killed, the largest number recorded to date (wikipedia). Trans and gay panic defence, or the legal argument that someone’s gender or sexuality caused you to go into such a fit of rage that you seriously harmed or killed them is currently a legal defence in all the states except California, who banned the defence in 2014 (wikipedia). Mr. La Tour, in Arkansas, would have a legal defence if he claimed that his server’s gender expression caused him so much anxiety that he acted out violently. How absolutely disgusting.

The Church needs to change. It will not be easy. But it wasn’t easy for the early Church either. In fact, one of the first conflicts within the early Church was a “Bathroom” issue: the question about circumcision of adult men in order to be saved. How familiar does this sound: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1) Unless you go to the bathroom of the gender that is stated on your birth certificate, you will be breaking the law. But now, read the words of Peter as he addresses the council of Jerusalem.

Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.  So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?  But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ[a] we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” (Acts 15:7-11

Now, it sounds like Peter is calling upon tradition but really, he was advocating for change in the belief that one must be circumcised to be accepted by God. And his reasoning is sound. Circumcising an adult was very painful, even dangerous, with high risk for infection. Sound logic aside, Peter was rejecting what Abraham said was a necessary facet of Jewish faith, a physical marking of the covenant with God (remember at this time, the first “Christians” were more of a Jewish sect, so adhering to the Old Testament rules laid out by God was essential). Peter rejected an old teaching because it did more harm than good, and was painful and dangerous to a new set of followers. And circumcision was not life-threatening, whereas one in twelve trans women are at risk of being killed by a cisgendered person – and that number jumps to one in eight if you are a trans woman of color (pathos.com).

Now, you might not be calling for the death of LGBT individuals, but vocal Christians are. Pastors who open conventions for presidential contenders are. The Duggars, who claimed that trans women would molest young girls, while allowing their own son, with a history of impulsive sexual abuse of young girls, including his sisters, to continue to be around young children without any reputable therapy, are. Christian Colleges who consider consensual unmarried sex the same evil as sexual assault, and both as results of “justified temptation and reclaiming of the female body,” are. So too do the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who refused to release the number of accused priests and victims in 2003 when an extraordinary number of people came forward; in 2013 alone there were 152 newly accused priests. The Abel Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study suggested that each pedophilia molester averaged twelve victims and over 71 acts of molestation, whereas an older study by the same researcher showed that 561 molesters amassed over 191,000 victims, but less than three percent of perpetrators were caught. (boz.religionnews.com). How terrified we must be if 152 pedophillic priests are only three percent of the problem. Within the same faith that cannot control the deplorable and despicable abuses against children, a priest told a friend who had come out as bisexual to him that she “was mixed up inside,” that “there is no such thing as bisexuality,” and that there were “places where she could go where they could help sort you out.” Consensual love between two adults is still seen as more threatening to the sacrament of matrimony than over 5000 pedophillic catholic priests for 2013 alone, if we do the math for the numbers quoted above. [X (number of total abusive priests) times 3%=156. X=5066.666) And that’s just one denomination, in one year. When consensual love becomes more problematic to the USCCB then the thousands and thousands of children being manipulated and harmed by men of god, then truly the Catholic Church is very,very sick. And if you don’t believe me, just look at the USCCB’s page for literature on same sex unions  and look at the literature on sexual abuse of minors. Which page do you scroll through twenty, thirty links and which one has five? Guess, if you want.

The Church can have no right to declare that queer couples are unfit for parenthood when priests, the husbands of the church, the father figures of our communities, are violently attacking children. Because that is what this is, a decades long attack on the innocent. The USCCB states that ~ 6,427 priests between the years of 1950 and 2013 (bishop-accountability.org). But, this number, I believe is conservative considering the USCCB’s coverups and moves of many pedophillic priests throughout that time, and the reasonable assumption that this number is incomplete based on whether or not victims have come forward and if they have, if they were believed. If Dr. Harlow’s study is correct, and I believe it is, based on the fact that only thirty out of the 178 dioceses have given the compiled lists of abusive priests, and as of November 2015, there were over 2,400 abusive priests not named but known about in our country, the number could be as high as 214,223 total abusive priests in the united states between the years 1950-2013. I encourage you to watch the movie Spotlight which chronicals the staff of the Spotlight feature of the Boston  Globe’s investigation of the priests within the Archdioceses of Boston. It is not an easy film but it is amazingly well done and it is an important film. All of the articles relating to the investigation are online as well, so you can read the primary sources.

We are killing people around us, swinging that beam that is in our own eye, while trying to convince people that the splinter in our neighbor’s eye is a larger log

The Church has to change. People are dying. We are asking others to wear a yoke that we will not wear ourselves. Peter rejected a law that was hurting people and causing unnecessary harm DESPITE it being a substantial element of Jewish history and tradition. But it was the necessity of the change, rather than the weight of tradition that inspired Peter.

Next Time on The Necessity of Change Pt. 2:

A discussion on the very nature of change within the Church, from the time of Peter and Paul. Also, why are catholics afraid to speak out against the Church?

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