The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Another Apology?

I don’t know if this counts as a trend or not, but I didn’t expect to see something like this so soon after the previous post. This time is the Lutheran Church, which still opposes marriage equality but expresses regret that "church teachings have been used to hurt gays and lesbians."

A task force drafting a statement on sexuality for the nation’s largest Lutheran group said Thursday that the church should continue defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

However, the panel did not condemn same-gender relationships. The committee expressed regret that historic Lutheran teachings have been used to hurt gays and lesbians, and acknowledged that some congregations already accept same-sex couples.

From there, it actually gets more interesting.

First, I don’t disagree that church teachings (pick a church, any church) have been "used to hurt gays and lesbians." But I’d like to invite them to consider that perhaps the teachings themselves are hurtful, or at the very least lend themselves to easily to harmful use. So, perhaps the teachings themselves need to be re-examined and re-interpreted.

And what makes me feel that way is this next bit.

The document released Thursday repeatedly states that sexual intimacy should be reserved for married couples, and condemns sex for personal gratification alone.

”The church recognizes the historic origin of the term `marriage’ as a lifelong and committed relationship between a woman and a man, and does not wish to alter this understanding,” the report says.

The task force goes on to describe different responses to gays and lesbians in congregations, noting that some churches require celibacy for them, while others urge gay couples to ”establish relationships that are chaste, mutual, monogamous and lifelong.”

”These relationships are to be held to the same rigorous standards and sexual ethics as all others,” the document says. ”This suggests that dissolution of a committed same-gender relationship be treated with the same gravity as the dissolution of a marriage.”

The document expressed regret that Lutheran teachings have been used ”to tear apart families with gay or lesbian members,” and asks all Lutherans to welcome gays and advocate for legal protection for them.

I’m nitpicking, I know. There’s much to like here. It would be great if more churches urged their members to "welcome gays and lesbians and advocate for legal protection for them." For that, I commend the Lutheran Church. No, really, I do. They’re light years ahead of churches like D.C.’s Greater Mount Calvary — which I mentioned earlier — and its recent outing scandal.

The outings added to the inner turmoil experienced by a large number of gays who attend services at the 7,000-member Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, located on Rhode Island Ave., N.E., according to a gay former member who provided copies of the e-mails to the Blade.

“I will be leaving the choir at the top of the year because 80 percent of the tenors are homosexuals and act more like a female in choir rehearsal than I do,” the church choir member said in one of her e-mails to Bishop Alfred Owens Jr., the church pastor.

The e-mail, sent in December, identifies about 45 fellow church members as gay. She sent a second e-mail to Owens on Jan. 2 identifying another 62 church members as gay.

“The following people I am asking you to monitor very closely and my prayer is that you will sit them down from their ministries,” she told Owens in the December e-mail. “Because they are ushering in the presence of sin, lies, a spirit of homosexuality and sexual spirits.”

She sent a copy of her e-mails to a Yahoo list group that goes to more than 300 church members, the gay former church member said.

…The church’s web site includes a listing of twice-monthly sessions of a ministry called “Breaking the Chains of Homosexuality,” which it says helps gays change their sexual orientation through counseling and prayer. Minister Dennis Sawyers, an expert in “ex-gay” ministries, is listed as the leader of the church’s efforts to counsel gays.

The former gay member of Greater Mount Calvary who provided copies of the outing e-mails to the Blade, has withheld his own name. He used the pen name “Jeff Hammer” in his own e-mail correspondence with the Blade.

He said Owens responded to the first e-mail by calling a meeting of all members of the church’s numerous singing groups. The groups include the Alfred Owens Chorale, the Sanctuary Choir, the Celebration Choir, Voices of Calvary and the Male Chorus, among other groups.

“He said he only wanted to help people who wanted help to not be gay and that he was willing to help anybody change from being gay,” the former church member said.

No surprise from a minister who previously called all the heterosexual men in his congregation to the altar to thank God they’re not "faggots." So, yeah, I’ll take the Lutherans’ approach over Owens’ any day.

But there’s something that bugs me about this.

The task force goes on to describe different responses to gays and lesbians in congregations, noting that some churches require celibacy for them, while others urge gay couples to ”establish relationships that are chaste, mutual, monogamous and lifelong.”

First, after looking up several definitions, I’m assuming that "chaste" in "relationships that are chaste, mutual, monogamous, and lifelong," means the same thing as "celibacy."

1.    refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morality or religion; virtuous.
2.    virgin.
3.    not engaging in sexual relations; celibate.

It’s one of many different responses, true, but it does set same-sex relationships, and same-sex oriented persons apart as something less than. Like I noted in a post about living your "second-best life," it’s all about being told you must accept less from life.

What’s always struck me about the whole “ex-gay” thing is that even at their most benevolent, the best they can offer me is this: being gay means that I have to expect less and accept less from life. Being gay means I deserve less from life. I don’t deserve love, I don’t deserve family. It doesn’t even elevate celibacy or “living a chaste life” to the status of a calling, as it might for the priesthood or monastic life. Indeed, a gay man — “chaste” or not — would be barred from both, based on history. At best, it’s a lifelong burden that you didn’t ask for or do anything to acquire. (That’s pretty much led me to believe that any “god” who’d create such a set-up — on the one hand saying that we shouldn’t exist, and continuing to churn us out on the other — would have to be one sick, sadistic son of a bitch.)

What’s just below the surface is the message that you must accept less from life because you are less than.

So long as we remember our place — no sex, no marriage or marriage-like relationship, no family — we’re fine with them. Of course that means understanding that as queers we must accept less and expect less from life than our heterosexual brothers and sisters, because we are less than our heterosexual brothers and sisters. That, in a nutshell is “love the sin, hater the sinner,” which is still pretty much a license to make our lives as close as possible to the hell they say we’re going to, in an attempt to save us from it. Makes sense, no?

It becomes especially true when you consider this bit of cognitive dissonance.

The document released Thursday repeatedly states that sexual intimacy should be reserved for married couples, and condemns sex for personal gratification alone.

Again, it’s a rule not evenly applied.

Most heterosexuals aren’t expected to live by that ideal. Procreation isn’t a prerequisite for getting married if you’re heterosexual. An infertile couple can marry and have as much sex as they want. An elderly couple can marry and have as much sex as they’re physically capable of having. And on and on. It doesn’t matter if they can’t reproduce. That would seem to suggest that sex must also serve some other purpose in marriage, and one that doesn’t necessarily exclude same-sex couples, and doesn’t require some mystical union of the sexes, magical thinking along those lines notwithstanding.

In response, I can only offer what I’ve learned after being with the hubby for almost eight years. Even when there’s no possibility of procreation, sex in the context of a committed monogamous relationship has benefits far beyond "personal gratification." (I’m not suggesting that other types of relationships are less than, however. I’m speaking about my experience, because that’s what I know, and I would love to hear and learn from other people about theirs. )

In that context, my experience is that it deepens intimacy and trust, and strengthens commitment. (And it’s more than "personal gratification" because, if it’s done right, you’re also gratifying each other.) My guess is that the same is true for heterosexual couples who, for various reasons, cannot reproduce with one another. Again, I invite people to share their experiences in that regard.

And I’m willing to bet the Lutherans wouldn’t deny non-reproducing heterosexual couples the benefits I described above. Because it’s part of the human experience; a good, healthy, rewarding part of the human experience.

If I am fully human, and fully equal in my humanity, why must I be denied or deny myself, that experience — which, judging from how important it is to everyone else around me, is so central to being human, and that has the potential to lead to so much that makes being alive here and now a happy, joyful, blessed experience.

If I am as human as you are, why must part of my humanity be suppressed? What price will I pay for that? And who else will have to pay it as well?

3 Comments

  1. These statements are compromises. I have been part of these disucssions, acutally in the Lutheran Church congregations (ELCA). Note that “chaste, mutual, monogamous, and lifelong” is given as something OTHER than celebate.

    Traditionally to have the virtue of chastity someone was celebrate before marriage and faithful thereafter. Sometimes being chaste in a relationship means having a certain attitude towards sex. It isn’t just that I *only* have sex with my husband but that I regard our sex life as somehow sacred — a gift.

    This is a big step. It doesn’t go as far as it should, not be a long shot, but for decades all the church could get a majority of people to vote for was “Gay and lesbians are children of God and entitled to equal participation in the Church.”

  2. I have to say, having also been a part of these discussions as a lay-person before I left the ELCA, that this is not a big step forward. This is exactly where the ELCA was six years ago when my college congregation took part in the “Studies in Sexuality” thing, and it’s almost exactly where the ELCA was over twenty years ago at the merger when they were telling gays and lesbians “not now”.

    I’m furious about this report, and feel validating in finding a church community that does not relegate LGBTs to second-class status or engage in absurd hand-wringing about whether to “include” them.

    LGBTs are not people on the margins we can fight about “including” or “not including”. They are faithful, loving people who are at the *center* of our community, who serve as pastors, priests, nuns, associates in ministry, strong lay leaders, and even bishops and denominational heads. We have to cut out this “compromise” nonsense and tell the truth — it is not God’s will that we continue to break the bones of our brothers and sisters who love those of the same sex.

    Until the ELCA wakes up and starts atoning for its appalling homophobia, until it makes up its mind about whether it is anti-gay or pro-gay, it will be “neither too hot nor too cold”. As the Book of Revelation will tell you, that is not a good place to be.

  3. Incidentally, celibacy is exactly what the ELCA currently requires of all its rostered gay and lesbian leaders. It requires chastity of all rostered leaders irrespective of sex or gender, but as it refuses to solemnize marriages (not holy unions, not “life commitment ceremonies”, but marriages) for same-sex couples, the de facto requirement for rostered gay leaders who are in same-sex relationships is celibacy.

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