Fear and trembling.

I am really looking forward to presenting at the next Generous Spaciousness Retreat in March, helping Christians dialogue about queer lives and sexualities, but I am doing it with fear and trembling. I will likely have three opportunities to speak: first, at a session on how Christians of various perspectives deal with biblical texts (allegedly) about homosexuality; second, at an afternoon workshop about privilege, social location, and Scripture; and third at a panel discussing sexuality.

Apparently, I have the most liberal, or the most “progressive,” viewpoint on sexualities of anyone speaking, though I might be wrong. But again, I approach with fear and trembling. I actually really dislike the term “progressive” in most cases, because it gives the wrong impression of what I’m trying to do and it tends to set people on edge, especially of those people come out of conservative Evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, or Reformed movements within the Christian tradition. To be sexually “progressive” might mean that really, “You’re just trying to justify what the world finds acceptable by cloaking it in shallow theological language.” People in my past who deal with “progressives” often believe (quoting the New Testament) that I “have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof.” The question that I ask myself is, “Can I talk about my views on sexuality, or even my sexual experiences, in a way that is clearly infused with God’s power?” (Pentecostals–glory to God!–often call this sense of being infused “the anointing of the Holy Ghost.”

Tonight, watching a group of pentecostal men talk about revival, I realised that I have a lot of what they would call “fear of man.” I realise that what I might say will cut against the grain of what most conservative Christians believe, but I think we need to grapple with serious questions, such as: why is it that people who have sex outside of marriage (not counting cheating on a partner) often do not feel guilt? Do all GLBTQ people and Christians want equal marriage, and if not, is there a way of honouring their healthy relationships (assuming that they can be healthy)? Is fidelity in Christian sexual relationships (usually called marriages) always the same as being monogamous? What place do erotic images and stories have in Christian life? Are these images and stories always the same as porn?

These questions are important, and letting me and other queer Christians bring these sorts of queries to the table is important because, in my opinion, the reason why the Christian tradition’s conversations around sex have been so fraught and have tended to be so fruitless is because we all think we know what the hell we’re talking about. In other words, we come into the room assuming that the most basic or interesting questions already have clearly understood answers.

I need to be humble. I mean this in a deep sense–I don’t want to just appear to be humble to win friends and influence people, but to say and live, “OK, I may be wrong–it might even be likely that I’m wrong–and I need the graciousness to change my behaviour and my thinking if I’m given a more persuasive argument that has better consequences than what I currently live and affirm. But looking for “the good fruit” takes time, and patience, and even a certain laissez faire about things. To change the image slightly: we need to let what’s in the pot simmer awhile and see if it smells good enough to eat–if there’s something rotten (sick-making), it will become clear soon enough.

I affirm that God will take the Church through this discussion (and many others like it), and that we will “work out our salvation (our wholeness and freedom in God) with fear and trembling”–with deep awe and a sense of the massive implications for life of what we decide. It is an awesome thing to have the responsibility to be adults in God’s presence, to deliberately choose those things that we believe are healthy and liberating. I hope to be one of the voices that can say something useful, despite pressure to conform to tradition or the accusation that an alleged “progressive” like me can stand under the anointing.

Go in peace, and pray for me, a sinner.
Pray for radical honesty.
Pray for the deep capacity to change my life and thinking.
Pray for the presence of God, and for the capacity to stand in it.
Even while talking about queer sex.

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