Gay Pride, the Church, and a Holy God – Part 1

gay_pride

Part 1: Gay Pride

Introduction

The late 20th century saw a flowering of Modern era philosophical and scientific thought and the beginnings of the Postmodern era. Art, culture, science, philosophy and even religion now had a settled view of the place of relativism in the seeking and enunciation of truth. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche taught us to reject moral absolutes and ideologies such as liberalism, socialism and Marxism, which he saw merely as human attempts at the same religious idea.

Similarly avant-garde developments in psychology and literature would play their role. Sigmund Freud argued that the human mind is a complex interplay of three competing drives. The notion of human personality had now become more complex. Emile Zola, Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov championed a humanist approach to storytelling that stripped out much of the mystical, mythological and religious elements of previous romantic and religious writing.

Of course, science was also revealing even more complexities in the physical world. The discovery of Johann Mendel’s work in Genetics, Marie and Pierre Curie’s observations of radioactive elements showed us that matter is inherently unstable and changing. The emergence of quantum theory in the work of physicist Max Planck would reveal that matter could exist in different simultaneous states. Suddenly “P” and “Not P” could both be true in the same plane of reality.

Beneath all of this was the driving force of 19th Century Darwinism, a biological proposition that itself spawned a general ideology of life, science, and human expression that did away with God and relegated the relevance of religious, creation-based conceptions of life.

This trend produced a new conception of humanity that was as dynamic as it was comprehensive. Eventually they laid the philosophical foundations for new developments on the idea of human sexuality. It was in this milieu of thought that the LGBT movement of the late 20th Century took its root. Human beings were no longer absolute, moral creatures made by a personal God, but merely creatures of chance, and products of an ever-changing, highly stochastic and random environment. Their personalities were not the fixed image of an unchanging, divine God, but rather the product of internal psychological forces that were in constant competition and disequilibrium.

In a real way this was a liberation that allowed human beings to be anything they wished or thought they were, without the trappings and inhibitions of absolute norms or morals. The gay movement arose essentially to champion this liberation in the area of human sexuality and the social response to it. The foundations of post-modern thinking were already being laid; nothing was true anymore, and everything was consequently becoming possible.

Nietzsche called himself the philosopher of the “Perhaps”; it is fair to say that he and his contemporaries helped give birth to the age of the “Why not?”

Today this liberal attitude provides fertile soil for the flourishing of causes that could not have been openly supported even one hundred short years ago. Particularly the LGBT cause is benefiting from this climate of liberalism, especially in the West, but increasingly in some parts of Africa. Debate on homosexuality and other LGBT related issues is not only rife in general society but in the church, and it has become both necessary and interesting to address how Christians should respond to the phenomenon in terms of its socio-cultural and theological dimensions.

The Modern LGBT Movement through History

The LGBT movement is really a broad spectrum of loosely coordinated efforts aimed at securing greater rights, freedom and acceptance for lesbian, gay or homosexual people, bisexuals and transgender persons. It has a history that spans at least a century, and underpinnings in science, law, society, religion and politics. The movement (or movements), is a response to social and legal restrictions based on personal, moral, religious, scientific, legal, cultural and other philosophies, ideologies and attitudes.

Stonewall Inn, USA

In the early hours of June 28 1969, customers of the Stonewall Inn in New York stood up against persistent police raids on the popular inn. It was a popular rendezvous point for many homosexual (gay), lesbian and bisexual people. Police raids had been going on throughout much of the 1960’s in America. On that occasion however, the raid did not go as planned, and ended up in violent riots that lasted long after that event.

Homosexuality was illegal and American society was generally hostile against gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and other demographics. Pro-gay rights movements began to form from the 1950’s onwards. After the riots of 1969 the uprisings swelled into a true movement of people and organisations fighting for a clear and precise cause: equal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. Founded in 1950s pressure groups such as the Mattachine Society, Daughters of Bilitis and One, Inc., began to raise awareness. By 1973 homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manuals.[2]

Europe

The late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe brought some scientific exploration of the concept of different human sexualities. Sigmund Freud’s view was that homosexuality was not pathological. He however classified it as the result of arrested sexual development, an idea that has been attacked by scientists and activists since then. Much of Western Europe provided marriage equality and freedom of homosexual expression. The same is not true across newer EU member states in central and Eastern Europe (the East/West Divide). Currently activists are concerned with reducing the differences between east and west in regard to the extent of freedoms enjoyed in each.

Inroads in Africa

In Africa LGBT activism is a relatively new phenomenon that is only beginning to get noticed. Advocacy groups are severely suppressed by a socio-political, cultural and legal environment that is decidedly hostile.

In the West, the LGBT Movement benefited from a general wave of activism during the 1950s and ‘60s, and into 1980s America. The Civil Rights Movement, anti-Vietnam-War protests, and the feminist movement all rode this wave. However for much of the period African states were occupied with independence struggles against colonial powers, and later on with unstable political dispensations owing to numerous military interventions in governance. Partly as a result of this the LGBT Movement has not gained as much ground as it has in western countries. Nonetheless, it is making inroads in terms of more vocal, open campaigning. Today the LGBT agenda is driven primarily as a logical necessity of free and equal societies; a democratic principle, which must be present in any genuinely democratic society. The case is made that African democracies need to develop in the context of this democratic principle of freedom for all minorities, the LGBT community included.

 

Current trends in LGBT movement

A Widening Gyre: LGBTQIA…

As the world becomes more progressive and secularized humans have become infatuated with the ideas of sexual and gender fluidity. The LGBT movement has gained more ground, and today the LGBT society does not only include lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender, but also, intersex, asexual and pansexual people.

The range of conditions and orientations encompassed by the LGBT community may be be broadly categorized in two: sexual orientation, and gender dysphoria. In the sexual orientation bracket are Homosexuals who are attracted to the same sex, Asexual people who feel no sexual attraction or desire towards any group of people, and Pansexual people, who “experience sexual, romantic, physical and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions.”[1]

The second section includes persons who fall under Gender Identity Disorders (Gender dysphoria). In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) describes Gender Dysphoria as “A condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.” This group includes Transgender people, who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, as well as others who are Transsexual: a person whose gender identity is incongruous with his or her sex. Additionally, Intersex people represent a group of people with chromosomes that do not fit either the expected male or female models.

These various designations have led to several pushes for the expansion of the entire set of people with variant sexual identification or expression under the Queer classification. Others have suggested broader classifications such as LGBTQ, LGBTQA and LGBTQIA to encompass the various group. Controversy rages within the ranks on these wider classifications, particularly on the inclusion of the Intersex group.

Pro LGBT Theology

As members of faith communities LGBT persons have also been very vocal in theological discussions about the moral and religious classification of their various orientations. The emergence of Queer Theology is at least one attempt at challenging traditional interpretations of the Bible that classify Queer orientations and practices as sinful.

Queer Theology tries to meet the “special” needs of LGBT Christians. Queer-friendly interpretations of biblical texts are promoted by Queer Theology advocates such as Patrick Cheng.[2] Similarly Kelly Kraus urges, “The queer community needs to be liberated from the heterosexism latent in Christian theology. Queer theology can become a legitimate practice and mode of biblical exegesis if the queer community can liberate heterosexually biased Christian theology.”[3]

Queer theologians argue that passages such as Romans 1:21 – 28, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 2 Timothy 3:3 must be understood in the context of the time and culture, and argue that in light of current knowledge in science, they cannot refer to homosexuality because it is “natural.” They also assert that the biblical lexicon on homosexuality is not as conclusive as traditional theology suggests.

Queer Science: The Ever Elusive Gay Gene

On the scientific front there is vigorous discussion over the extent to which nature and nurture influence sexual orientation, and whether or not it is “natural”. Dr. Bruce Bagemihl, a Canadian scientist, took the nature argument a step further in his book entitled, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. In it he scientifically documented the incidences of homosexual behaviour in more than 300 species of animals worldwide, providing more support for the argument that homosexuality is a normal part of the evolutionary biological heritage of living organism, including humans.

In the meantime many pro-LGBT scientists continue to speculate that homosexual and transgender traits have a genetic basis. Research aimed at locating that genetic factor – the so-called “gay gene” has still not yielded positive results. That notwithstanding, the global legal environment is increasingly shifting towards legal recognition of gay marriage and other LGBT associated rights.

 

LGBT in Christian Society

These trends in LGBT activism have largely developed as a response to historical marginalization and stigmatization within Christian faith communities. LGBT persons of faith seldom enjoy free participation in Christian fellowships without experiencing stigma and outright rejection. Many Christian gay and transgender people “come out” at a very high cost. Many lose long-cherished church and family connections. Many Christians have simply found it easier to “love them from a distance” or even not at all.

The vast majority of Christian churches and communities do not allow practicing homosexuals into membership or church leadership. As a result Christian LGBT persons often attend church without revealing their sexual orientation. They live in constant fear of discovery, a situation that is unacceptable in a Christian society.

While we acknowledge that there are many positive ministries towards LGBT persons, we must admit that much of the treatment that Christian faith communities have historically meted out has not been helpful. LGBT persons have been ostracised, excommunicated and subjected (directly or indirectly) to dubious “conversion therapies” that attempt to cure LGBT people through questionable psychological procedures.

The rhetoric employed in addressing LGBT issues tends to speak past, and at best at homosexuals and transgender people, rather than to or with them. Engagement is often one-sided, a fact easily borne out by the rhetoric. Words and phrases like “unnatural”, “abusive”, “inhuman”, “exploitative”, “diseased”, “abnormal”, “abominable”, “faggot”, “shemale”, “not our culture” and many others are just as easily heard in church as out in the world. Such rhetoric has only tended to create further distance and make constructive engagement and ministry more difficult.

In the midst of the general rejection, however, the LGBT cause persists, and indeed has come to be a significant voice for reformation within the church. Particularly in Western countries church restrictions on homosexual activity are loosening, and there is greater acceptance of homosexuals in laity and in the clergy.

With LGBT activism on the rise and attitudes within churches becoming more open and inclusive, many would say that there is a clear trend based on which to predict the future. Despite the fact that it is largely an American – at best a – Western based trend, it is nonetheless relevant for Christianity around the globe: Many Christian denominations in Africa, Asia and the remaining Global South are headquartered in the United States and Europe. These bonds are more than theological; they are also economic, and both have had strong historical influences. Up till now African churches have largely withstood outside pressure to relax their doctrines and policies towards LGBT issues. Time will tell how long more the strain can be borne.

Stay tuned for Part Two – The Church

 

References

[1] LGBT Terms and Definitions. Rretrieved from  https://internationalspectrum.umich.edu/life/definitions on 17-08-2016

[2] Cheng, Patrick (2011). An Introduction to Queer Theology: Radical Love. Church Publishing

[3] Kraus, K. Queer Theology: Reclaiming Christianity for the LGBT Community. e- Research: A Journal of Undergraduate Work, Vol 2, No 3 (2011)

 

Authors

Akosua Ameley is a medical student at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. She is passionate about sharing her faith and is particularly interested in its practical application to helping others face the challenges of everyday life.
Agana-Nsiire Agana is a theologian, communicator and writer. His passion is for communicating eternal truth in a contemporary context which is influenced by postmodern, secular thought. The gospel, though unchanging, can and should be expressed in terms of the challenges, philosophy and language of the present day.

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ProvingAllThins.org aims to provide just such a critical examination of the ethics, customs, philosophies and theologies of our day, and not only do so on a theoretical level, but on a practical one. The aim is to provide tools for a more intelligent approach to faith and religion in a sea of popular confusion and error.