Back in June, Christianity Today ran an article by Andy Crouch that called on the Church to rethink it's approach with the LGBT community. It made the rounds on social media and got a variety of responses. I wouldn't normally revisit a piece three months later like this, but how conservative Christians think and talk about the LGBT community is a topic I'm obviously very interested in, and I think this article provides special insight. I didn't have a blog in June, but now I do. So here are my belated thoughts on Crouch's article (which you may want to read first) for whatever they're worth:
- "The term "homosexual" has already disappeared among those who have taken the time to listen and learn from gay and lesbian neighbors and friends." Yes! Good for Crouch for recognizing that Evangelicals use the term "homosexual" as a pejorative and urging that we retire it.
- "Men in stable, committed gay relationships readily "[make] open arrangements for sex outside the couple," as a recent New York Times article put it; indeed, more than 40 percent have done so." This is problematic in several ways. First, it doesn't contextualize this statistic by comparing it to rates of open arrangements within straight relationships. Second, it does not acknowledge the church's complicity in encouraging promiscuity and infidelity within the gay community by stigmatizing a gay "lifestyle," offering no alternatives, and fighting to prevent gay folks from entering into the kind of monogamous, covenantal relationships straight folks enjoy and call marriage.
- The author doesn't seem to know what he's talking about with bisexuality (the 7th paragraph). Bisexuality is not an unstable orientation, as if a bi individual cannot decide whether he/she is gay or straight. Bisexual folks are simply attracted to both sexes. This idea that they should be influenced to choose heterosexual relationships over homosexual relationships is totally misguided. The bisexual person will fall in love with either a man or a woman. To be sure, there are benefits and privileges that heterosexual couples (Courtney and I included) enjoy, but bi folks don't fall in love with the person who promises a path of least resistance.
- In the paragraph on Transgender folks: "Jesus' reference to "those who are born eunuchs" may well refer to the phenomenon of intersex births, known to ancients just as much as to us today." Awesome of him to bring up such a strange and overlooked passage, but personally I doubt that Jesus is referencing intersex folks. But I'll have to save an in-depth study of eunuchs and Jesus' teaching about them for another post.
- "What matters is not one's body but one's heart—the seat of human will and desire, which only its owner can know." Behind the author's argument, I think, is the belief that being LGBT is one's personal decision. Notice that he uses the language of "will, desire, and preference." But there is a reason why LGBT folks use words like "identity" or "orientation" to describe their own experiences. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is not a matter of will or desire, but of wiring. Gay people don't decide to be gay any more than you and I decide to be straight. Similarly, you and I might feel that our biology matches our gender, but trans folks don't. So the idea that LGBT folks aren't listening to their bodies is wrong. It's just that their bodies tell them something different than ours do. Gay people don't decide to be gay in spite of their bodies; gay people accept that they're gay in spite of a heteronormative culture. I've never, ever heard of a gay person who wanted to be gay at first. Nearly all my gay and lesbian friends fought hard to repress their sexuality in the hopes that they might change to reflect something that society would immediately recognize and accept. That's how our stigmatization of the LGBT experience feels to many who are LGBT
- "And as with all readings based on proof texts, upholding it will require openly discarding a vast expanse of other biblical material, the many biblical voices (including Jesus') that affirm and elucidate the significance of male-and-female creation." Speaking of heteronormative cultures, wouldn't it be really weird if Jesus didn't validate--or speak exclusively about--heterosexual relationships? Wouldn't it be weird if he talked about homosexuality two millennia before that term and the whole idea of sexual orientation had been introduced to the world? The fact the authors of Scripture speak about a world in which everyone is attracted to the opposite gender is to be expected. That was their world, as they understood it. This is one of the biggest criticism of the conservative-traditional view: it projects a 21st century understanding of homosexuality onto Scripture. To be sure, male-and-female relationships are unique in that they have the potential to reproduce. But sex shouldn't be reduced to the ability to reproduce. Many heterosexual couples can't or don't want to have kids, but we do not call their relationship illegitimate or bar them from the privileges of marriage.
- "To uphold a biblical ethic on marriage is to affirm the sweeping scriptural witness—hardly a matter of a few isolated "thou shalt not" verses—that male and female together image God, that the creation of humanity as male and female is "very good," and that "it is not good that the man should be alone." This view of complementarianism, in which man and woman do not independently embody the imago dei, but only do so together, is also problematic. First, I don't see biblical warrant for that interpretation (Gen. 1:27:So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.). Second, this argument would suggest that single folks are not living up to their created purpose. Rather, it is every person, each individual, who is made in God's likeness and bears his image, regardless of their relational status. Third, if it's not good that straight folks should be alone, does the same not apply to gay folks? And yet when it comes to those gay and lesbian individuals within our congregations, we expect them to remain single regardless of whether they feel called to a life of celibacy.
- "Can we hold this position and love our LGBTQIA neighbors? Yes." No. Not the way the author has outlined it. I do believe that conservative folks who adhere to a traditional view of homosexuality can love the LGBT community, but not by talking about "what the heart desires." That kind of language is an indication of willful ignorance, not love.
- " All of us know, in the depths of our heart, that we are queer. Our yearnings, especially those bound up with our sexuality, are hardly ever fully satisfied by the biblical model of one man and one woman yoked together for life." Oh boy. On the one hand, I admire what he's trying to do. He's trying to identify with LGBT folks, taking on the term "queer" to describe himself as well. Unfortunately, you could substitute the word "depraved" for "queer" an it would make just as much sense within his argument. What he's saying is, "Listen, we're all fallen creatures and we all have these strange sexual urges sometimes." But this again reduced the LGBT experience to matter of choice, not a matter of identity. Just because I secretly think it would be hot, say, to have a 3-way doesn't mean my experience is comparable to someone who cannot and should not act sexually outside or his/her sexual orientation. For me, living within Crouch's understanding of the "biblical model" means I don't get to have 3-ways, but I do get to enjoy sex with my wife. If I were gay, living within this "biblical model" means I don't get to have sex. Ever. It's not the same thing, and the fact that the author hijacks the term queer to argue this point would surely be more than a little offensive to the LGBT community.
So if you read Crouch's article and agree or disagree with my take on it, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. What did I miss? What did I misinterpret? Let me know what you think.