Talking Points

March 16, 2007

It seems to me that we keep rehashing the same ‘ol arguments.  Perhaps it would be useful to summarize the arguments that seem to come up most often in my experience, as I find that repetition is the key to learning:

  1. GLBTQ people do not owe an apologist argument to straight traditionalists.  We may emphasize different elements of tradition than the neo-traditionalists, but that does not in and of itself make “them” right nor “us” wrong any more than the arguments that: the tradition of slavery was a tradition and could be rationalized as such; the tradition of patriarchy and misogyny was a tradition and could be rationalized as such; and the tradition of hierarchy and deference to the hierarchy of the Church (clericalism) was a tradition and could be rationalized as such.  Tradition does not, in and of itself, prove itself to be truth.
  2. Scripture does not prove the argument one way or another.  We can choose to be selectively literal and focus on deontological passages which seemingly speak to same-sex sexual activity.  We can be just as selectively literal and focus on deontological passages requiring us not to judge one another and to love each other no matter what.  Selective literalism does not move us forward in this argument.  To some degree we can deconstruct meaning behind each set of passages and begin to understand the author’s intent, context, and particular set of circumstances.  But solo scriptura simply does not answer this argument, and the response “the Bible says so” is inconclusive.
  3. This is not about sexual relations; this is about human relationships.  It may well be that at some point we need to reexamine what so-called “traditional sexual ethics” are, as there are many Christians, gay and straight, who question the “traditional” deontological teaching that sex is only constructive if it leads to procreation.  But this debate is not about whether or not it is ok to have sex outside of mutual, respectful, monogamous relationships of fidelity and love.  This is about Christian relationships of intimacy, of compassion, and of affection.  It is about relationships that share both joy and pain, good times and bad, highs and lows– all parts of the spiritual journey.  When “traditionalists” take it into our bedroom the discussion is no more relevant than if we take the conversation about heterosexual marriage into their bedroom.  Oftentimes activities of secular gay persons are used against us, but we there are plenty of examples of straight secular behavior which is non-representative of the Christian community.  That does not imply that the entire straight community condones or participates in such behavior.
  4. GLBT families are not responsible for the breakdown in “traditional marriage” nor in “traditional family values.”  When cornered, “traditionalists” realize that it is impossible to substantiate this claim.  There is simply no correlation, link, nor evidence that any of the concerns aired about the “breakdown” in traditional family structures are in any way related to the development of GLBT rights.  GLBT people are simply a convenient scapegoat and an easy target for political gain in the neo-traditionalist bid to win power by playing on the fears of their constituents.  Preying on the fear of a minority is not a new game; it is as old as discrimination itself.  No, straight people themselves are responsible for their skyrocketing divorce rates, for any significant decline in their ability to parent effectively and raise strong, ethical children, and their ability to be humble in the face of the unknown as they walk forward in their faith journey.  GLBT people have not contributed in any way to any of these problems.  There is simply no consipiracy here.
  5. Traditionalists advocate a return to a time that never was.  In the search for truth, traditionalists advocate a “return to the Bible,” a “return to the church fathers,” a “return to Orthodoxy,” or a return to any other romanticized other time when the perception is that things were good (usually good from a straight, white, male-in-power’s perspective).  Rationale for such a perspective is that the “Bible has the complete truth”, that “revelation stopped with the death of the last apostle”, or some other such logic.  Often associated with such logic is the idea that a theocracy is the ideal– that the separation of church and state is killing Christianity, and that the end of Christendom (union of church and state, particularly in Christian empire) means that Christianity must return to its counter-cultural roots in order to survive and eventually bring Christendom back (because, they reason, only Christianity has “the truth”).  Of course, none of this theology holds any water, particularly from the perspective of the context of the United States.  To return to such a time we must also embrace the vassal system of Christendom, a time when the very criticism leveled at us would not be allowed at the level of the “common people” but could only come through the official hierarchy.  Piety and deference towards the hierarchy was paramount.  It is no wonder that the enlightentment and end of the hierarchichal system of church and state was necessary to move us forward into a new stage.  No, each time has had its problems.  Christianity, in order to survive, must do what it has always done– stay in conversation with the culture.  Challenge it where necessary (e.g. unjust war, poverty, injustice), embrace it where revelation comes to it first, and keep moving forward as the Spirit wills.  It is the way it always has worked, and the way it will continue to work until kingdom come.


Note:  as always, this is not an official publication of any organization.  This is only my personal opinion.  I retain copyright, but reuse permission is granted for the use of furthering the GLBT Christian witness.


5 Responses to “Talking Points”

  1. Roger Olien Says:

    Just two points on scripture: 1. Jesus does not offer a brief on behalf of traditional families as they existed in his time or in ours. By teaching and example, he advocated non-traditional relationships. 2. As Sean Freyne and many others have argued, the Judaism preached by Jesus was inclusive, emphasized the goodness of creation, and both exemplified and advocated the compassion of God. That said, I don’t see scripture as “neutral” or “indecisive”, unless one narrows attention to explicit comments on sex; even then, the teaching on divorce seems to uphold mutuality and not patriarchy. 3. The pharisees, scribes, and priests are still among us. They still manipulate political institutions, the US Government and the Primates of the Anglican communion notably, to repress the visionary change of heart called for in the Gospels.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Yes, I think we agree in principle on our interpretation of the Bible. I think we disagree on whether that interpretation is useful in talking across the divide.

    We can make a case for scriptural inclusion, but it is based on our own hermeneutic (lens of interpretation). Other hermeneutics, particularly Pauline based hermeneutics, will not be convinced by such arguments. They will fall back on broader narratives looking towards divine judgment instead of social justice. Both have merit in the grand narrative of the text (Jesus says plenty of times that he comes with the sword, etc.), and while I do not believe that judgment theologies have merit their invalidity cannot be proved strictly from within the text. We have to move to tradition, reason, and ultimately to experience to prove the validity of inclusion, always checking our assumptions with the validity of Scripture. Scripture can justify many things when standing alone, and they are not all good.

    Jesus preached exclusive Judaisim. Jesus himself was an exclusive Jew, as was normal in his culture. I am not familiar with Freyne, but I know of scholars such as Marcus Borg who have argued that Jesus was anti-Pharisee and thus anti-Jew. There is no historic evidence to indicate such. Anti-Pharisaic/Jew sentiments did not develop until 30-80 years after Jesus’ death, when the Jesus movement began competing with the Pharisees for members (and the same time the gospels were written, thus the later the gospel was written, the more anti-semitic sentiment expressed– the order of authorship is: Mark, Matthew, Luke, John). Even in the text he refuses to minister to non-Jews on several occassions, and berates them. Only after several pleas does he then submit to do what they request. Jesus learns as he goes, just as we in the church learn as we go. It is Jesus’ humanity that is shown in these texts, a humanity that is shared by all of us.

    I agree with you on point 3– the priests are still among us, but democracy is flattening the hierarchy. The traditionalists would have us return to a time when the elite (church hierarchy) controlled everything – thus point 5. Democracy in its truest form destroys that hierarchy and makes the priesthood a sacerdotal function only, with Christ as the center and all others, including priests, ministers of the Word. The separation of church and state has ensured that those in high religious power do not have the ability to abuse the “common person,” at least in theory. There are certainly those who still have power and abuse it, as we see in the Anglican Communion today, and certainly under the Bush administration. Patriarchy does not die easily.


  3. Mark Says:

    I would add, if I missed it in my quick perusal, that traditionalists have never been able to, nor required to, produce any solid evidence for their position. The entire argument has operated a priori that their position has been proven correct, and we must successfully refute.

    An established interpretation may still be revisited and reevaluated for soundness.

  4. Jeff Says:


    Thanks for posting.

    I agree completely. I hope that is covered in point 1. If it isn’t, I meant it to be.


  5. Jeff Says:

    Pulled from another source:

    (Anonymous quote regard power issues.)

    I couldn’t agree more. That is the case with all of the “-isms,” including heterosexism. I believe I addressed this tacitly in point five, but I think you are right that it needs to be more explicit. I’m not sure that is all it can be because in my experience people don’t usually get persuaded only by talking about the root cause; it is usually a combination of the root cause and the symptom (just like when you are sick the doctor usually treats both the root cause and the symptom).

    We do have a power system that is less hierarchical than the rest of the communion, which is hopeful. But it is still hierarchical, and the bishops still have more power than I am comfortable with given the circumstances– what is their motivation to stop abuses of power and in so doing perhaps weakening their own collective power as a body, deferring to the deputies? We can only pray that their sense of justice will be enough to rein them in, or maybe hope that their outrage at being told what to do by another hierarchy of power (the Primates) will pull them to a conclusion that rests with the other house.

    We’ve already seen the Primates taking power that is not specifically granted them. Canonically granted power only works if the constituency, the hierarchy, and all participants agree to live by the rules that are outlined, particularly given that there is no separate independent judiciary in the Anglican Communion. By my estimation, the Primates have overstepped their granted power, and now the ball is in the court of the Bishops to decide whether or not they will grant the Primates the power they have requested or put a check and balance on the imposed hierarchy. If ++Katharine’s actions with S. Carolina were an early indicator, then we are in for something, that is for sure. But who knows what.

    I am also talking to an ecumenical audience with the talking points, not just particularly about the Episcopal church. I think it is important to remember that these exact conversations are going on in every major denomination in the country. We are doing ok struggling alone, but I think we (GLBT Episcopalians and our friends) can be of better service (and also better served) by working ecumenically, or at least thinking ecumenically at the grassroots level, IMHO. The remnants of our patriarchcal/hierarchical polity (as opposed to, say, congregationalist or elected-elder-based/presbyterian) isn’t a particular help either. But whatever the case, we are clearly out in the front, and I think others are watching to see how we handle it in our denomination before moving too far forward with their own changes.

    As always unless specified otherwise, this is my personal opinion and not an institutional communication.


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