‘preoccupied’ might be a more apt description considering how the last many years have been spent in getting beyond the decade of my life which one professional referred to as ‘psychic rape in the name of God’ and avoiding the subsequent self-victimization one could have collapsed into.
It’s also been the very real adventure in grace of growing into the gift of being born a gay man and person of faith and claiming the blessings of both.
Striving to be authentically present and of service in the darkest years of the AIDS hollocaust here in Montreal; and to be authentically alive and present in the decades since, with all they have brought.
But this week-end has seen another one of those ‘aah-ha’ moments
long overdue perhaps (what took you so long,, I can almost hear one particular and very dear sister asking me already).
Maybe not quite on the scale of July 27, 2006, but one of those tight almost inevitable places when you’re dancing with the Holy Spirit; where almost everything cannot help but be changed- wether it’s broken open or now resonantly perceived in a larger context and understanding.
And as so often in my life there’s a person involved.
In this instance it’s ‘G’ who has been part of my life for more than twenty years, and is one of the very few still among the living who knew my beloved.
‘G’ first turned up as a too-well-intentioned Westmount lady wanting to volunteer for those ‘poor souls suffering with AIDS.’
An Anglophone, barely capable of managing the simplest of conversations in French, she was given to me for sensitization and training. Inspite of the great disparity of our economic backgrounds; our common Anglian background, and our personal struggles with the almost complete absence of both the official Church and practising Christians from the front lines of AIDS service made for a real closeness and prayerful practice.
Since then ‘G’ has gone a long way, and she gives me more credit than I am due when she calls me her chief cheerleader. The lady, and her adult daughter are both living wonders!
And it was ‘G’ who lobbed this particular experience my way.
Knowing that one of the sharpest bites of my current economic situation has been the loss of the freedom to buy books, and being partner of what I personally find an exceptionally rich on-going conversation on faith beyond patriarchy, ‘G’ thought of me when she came across a particular, recently released book. ‘A Lily Among the Thorns: Imagining a New Christian Sexuality’ by Miguel A. De La Torre, professor of social ethics (Illif School of Theology), a director of the Society of Christian Ethics. A single copy ordered several months ago, ‘G’ apparently thought of it as a possible Christmas gift for me. Only one day last fall, out of what she admits was idle curiosity, she dipped into the book herself- and ended up literally throwing it across the room at one point- where it apparently laid for several months.
In the meantime she ordered a second, undamaged copy for me. Which she tried presenting me with when we got together over the holidays.(a story for another time and place). Sufficed to say I ended up with ‘the more interesting copy’ and insisted on ‘G’ inscribing it to make my winning our tussle official.
Since then, ‘G’ has returned to Dr. de La Torre’s offering- leaving me two voice oblique messages, asking if I’ve ‘started’ the book or ‘reached that chapter yet?’
Well, beloved ‘G’ I did, and I have, and ‘that chapter’ has been one of the most agonizing reads in a longtime, and if you knew the contents of my bookshelves, you’d know that is saying a lot.
For me at least, as a person of faith, Dr. De La Torre is an individual at least ‘to be dealt with.’ Having said that, as my read of his offering is still unfinished, it is important for me to make clear this in no way implies a recommendation of the book.
Dr. De la Torre’s struggle is with the misogyny, racism and homophobia in the Bible, and he presents an what could be an interesting alternative to the standard either/or alternatives on Biblical interpretation and inerrancy- most particularly when tacking ‘those verses.’ This post however is not about his methodology. It’s about my experience of that chapter.
‘Liberating the Female Body’ - an innocuous enough title perhaps, though as a gay feminist, I confess to a certain guardedness to anything spoken or written by a straight theologian- no matter how well-intentioned, about my sisters, their lives or bodies or about my LGBT tribe, our lives or our bodies-
Give Dr. De La Torre credit though. I have yet to discover how workable his methodology for liberated Scriptural interpretation might be, however he sure had got my attention, and he sure does know his Scripture. That chapter ends up being an articulate, concise catalogue of the culturally defined objectification, exploitation and abuse of women in both the Hebrew and the New Testaments. In addition, Dr. De La Torre cites some of the consequences of those same verses in subsequent Church culture through the writings of Church patriarchs and those who have followed in their steps. And the whole experience left me positively reeling.
Yes, I might have already known many of the individual objectionable verses, recognized or vaguely remembered others, but it was seeing them all there in one chapter; not even simply listed but contextualized; this wasn’t casual curiosity about something which might prove interesting. This was my faith tradition standing convicted of something I detest, and each new instance registered physically, almost like an actual blow. Several times, I had to stop before continuing, resorting to my meditation training to get beyond my visceral reaction. By the time I had finished I was both raw and angry- very angry, and just sitting there with that inarticulate rawness seemed the most prayerful practice I was capable of late that evening.
Sitting there, a number of questions came to mind
How has this been allowed to go on so long? (cue that question from a certain beloved sister again)How can any intelligent human being, cognizant of these verses and of the insights of contemporary critical Scriptural study continue to claim inerrancy?
Where is the Church- our Church’s self-critical examination, discussion and repentance of the effects of this pernicious misogyny in our structures, theology and practices?
Where have our ordained and consecrated sisters-in-faith learned such heroic patience with their colleagues still trapped in privileged patriarchy? And has their patience indeed been heroic?
How serious is this?
I wouldn’t presume to try to mirror Dr. De La Torre’s scholarship by quoting Scripture, a few quotes from heirs of Scriptural misogyny suffice to show where it leads when unchallenged:
Woman was merely man’s helpmate, a function which pertains to her alone. She is not the image of God but as far as man is concerned, he is by himself the image of God.
Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman
Clement of Alexandria ( c 150 -215)
God created man with a broad chest, not broad hips, so that in that part of him he can be wise; but that part out of which filth comes is small. In a woman, this is reversed. That is why she has much filth and little wisdom.
Martin Luther (1483 - 1546)
Does one need to get more specific than Martin Luther to recognize the foulness of Christian misogyny?
Well if Luther weren’t bad enough I would include but one example of Dr. De La Torre’s analysis which could very well be the point at which my friend sent the volume sailing through the air.
Women were considered the weaker sex, in part, because they were perceived to be the negation of men. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Law understood the legal concept of person to be male-centered; women (and children) were perceived to be incomplete males. Maleness was considered normative, the ideal. Anything that fell short of the norm fell short of God’s ideal. Thomas Aquinas wrote that ‘woman is [a] defective and misbegotten’ male- probably due to ‘some influence, such as that of a south wind, which is moist.’
This ideology was manifested in how the physical differences between women and men were comprehended. Women’s genitalia were viewed as the anatomical antithesis of men’s. From as early as the second century until the eighteenth century, the woman’s cervix and vagina were imagined as an inverted penis. Even the internal position of the ovaries was construed to be the counterbalance to the external location of the testicles. In this one-sex model, women had reached only a lower evolutionary stage of development; this categorized them as something less than fully human- a ‘defective and misbegotten’ man. Their stunted and inverse ‘penis’ only served to prove their deficiency as humans, their lack of complete maleness.
Sitting there late into the night it was my very clear sense that if our Church had indeed owned, self-critically examined and discussed and truly repented of its misogynist heritage when our sisters first stepped forward to claim their vocations to the priesthood, the current shameful circus and scandal over the full inclusion of LGBT baptized couldn’t have become the disaster it has allowed to develop into.
Even later I found myself wondering if part of the muddledness which exists in current discussions might have been avoided if we had not allowed the patriarchal interests to essentially define the issue and our role in it. Perhaps most particularly, I’m referring to being called ‘liberal’ which my have been but the initial wedge which has allowed them to accelerate into all sorts of name-calling ugliness while wearing the garments of their priesthood.
Liberal I and many I love and honour may be, but that label has nothing to do with our faith or our sense of what the Holy Spirit is striving to accomplish in and through the exemplary medium of Anglican practice in these times. An incredible diversity of individuals whose lives and experience have only informed their love and passion for the Christ the liberator who calls us to have life more abundantly. A people who reject the ‘necessary lies’ of violence, fear and the reign of guilt. Individuals whose lives are defined and liberated by our baptismal covenant, and who are equally unafraid of science, ambiguity and the finding of critical Scriptural scholarship. A people sure in the faith transmitted by the saints who recognize the elemental sacrament of the lives we’ve been given and of the interesting challenges of living in these times, who reject the fearful construct of medieval dualistic thinking.
My sense is that the term may not yet have been coined to describe the larger, post-patriarchal vision we share, and equally that we have yet to claim the skills to redefine the what is really at stake in the current turmoil our Church is undergoing. But with God’s grace and the long-suffering patience of the Holy Spirit this is still possible. Too often personal prejudice or opinion have been allowed to stand unchallenged as good theology, too often selective manipulation of Scripture and elective amnesia of contemporary critical academic study have been allowed to stand.
As I shared with ‘G’ on the phone last night, one thing the current debate has taught us is that the justice of LGBT inclusion is not even going to register with the patriarchy’s purity police when they have been so comfortable with overlooking and abetting so many centuries of institutionalized misogyny within the Church. As with my sisters in faith and their vocations, the redemption and vocations of my LGBT brothers and sisters rests alone on the great blessing and redemptive seal of our baptism and the covenant made at that time.
Bottom line, for me the essential question always is and remains which vision and understanding of what is currently at stake renders great glory to our wondrous God?
To echo a comment I made recently to a beloved sister, which gave her some pause; it is long overdue that we began behaving like the redeemed people we are. And it is my deep sense that it is only in that redeemed confidence the more intelligent and better educated than I will find their prophetic voices.