United in Struggle: A Prayer for Valentine’s Day

BehindTheCandelabra

Recently, a friend asked me why a lot of my public life lately has been wrapped up with issues of human sexuality, specifically homosexual/bisexual orientation. He had a point: I am currently working on two screenplays on the subject, am planning a film discussion night on Behind the Candelabra, just published a poem on this blog that could be understood in that light, and have steered much of my private dialog in that direction. But why? I must confess that I am straight and even married despite my young age. So why do I keep indefatigably trying to create dialog on the subject? Well, for one, I see myself in a rather dangerous proximity to systems/communities/cultures of oppression. In this blog, I’m going to define oppression as silencing an opponent, pretending they don’t exist or don’t have an opinion worth hearing. As a Christian, and specifically a member of the Church in the present age, I think it is vitally important to create safe spaces for dialog, and beyond that fellowship and even common worship. Christians confess to believe in the “holy catholic Church.” These days, that’s sounds derisive, but it is meant to be anything but. And, speaking to my Christian readers (for whom honestly this post is for), I believe the Church has done and is doing some incredibly dangerous things in the present day.

Just the other day, I heard about a non-profit called the Gay Christian Network. Researching it, I was filled with joy to know that there was a group committed to safe spaces. Hearing from friends who attended their recent conference in Chicago, my joy was increased to hear about the common worship shared and the powerful moments of encouragement and acceptance for those who have been silenced by their home churches. While GCN does seem to tend toward one position on a Christian view of homosexuality, what they testify to is a gathering of Christians with different beliefs who nevertheless devote themselves to studying and communing together, however briefly. It is incredibly encouraging to me to know that ministry exists.

As I mentioned, I am seeking in my own life to live into the Gospel in a manner characterized by listening. There are so many people hurt right now because the people they most care about refuse to listen to them or continue their friendship with them. There are many reasons this tragedy can occur, but a common one right now is sexual orientation. This breaks my heart, and I feel a call to listen more than anything else. I do not have the moral authority or qualifications to publish a possible position on a Christian view of homosexuality. I am not a theologian; I doubt I will ever be. That doesn’t mean I do not study theology; I do. But it means I do not teach others what to believe. That is not my role.

As a human being, however, and as a follower of Christ, I do have responsibility to listen and to fight oppression. Indeed, listening is one (but not the only) way to fight oppresion. What I’ve realized recently is that I need to hear with both ears. As one baptized into Christ’s Church, I cannot ridicule, degrade, ignore, or silence those who are the victims of oppression. Right now, many oppressed people are those with LGBT+ orientation. At the same time, as one baptized into Christ’s Church, I cannot turn a deaf ear to centuries of tradition that are, to use a modern term, hetero-normative. For much of its life, the Church has had consensus that heterosexual marriage is God’s intention and purpose for human sexuality. That is a hard word to hear.

To be honest, it scares me.

In part due to my American context, I have spent most of my life studying theology on my own and coming to my own conclusions. Of course, I have had dialog with others, especially with professors and the authors of the books I’ve read. But I’ve always tended to think that, especially in issues of ethics, it was important to grapple with Scripture and then come down on a position and embody it politically. Now, I still believe that one’s position is important. But I no longer think it is central. And I especially no longer think that I can treat the Christian tradition like a library, reading what I want in order to settle my own mind. The Christian tradition, rather, has tremendous moral authority, as well as wisdom. That is not to say that tradition never changes; rather, I think it is always adapting to its cultural context. But that task of adaptation is a weighty one. Over the past few years, I have been treating it too lightly.

So where is all of this going? As I said, I’m not going to outline or argue for a position on this issue. I’ve come to suspect that acting primarily in that vein does a disservice to everyone involved. At the extreme, it leads to our current state of cultural war, which is anything but grace-filled or exemplary. But even when more tact is involved, identifying with a political position is a mis-identification. My identity as a Christian is foremost found in Christ and his Church. Now, far be it from me to say that Church is not political, or doesn’t have a political calling. But the way the polis of the Church is primarily held together, the way it is meant to primarily identify, is as a worshipping community of God. Grounding ourselves in worship and in prayer is the only way to maintain the unity of the Church. Grounding ourselves in politics creates a million churches, as we have seen–especially in America.

As a worshipping, prayerful Christian, I cannot hold a position on homosexuality too tightly. I need to be able to listen to both sides of this divide, to affirm the commonality found therein, and to wrestle together in how to live in the current age. If I lose that ability to wrestle, I lose an important part of my Christian community. And the truth of the matter is, we are all wrestling with our sexuality: gay, straight, celibate, married, single, dating, etc. Sexuality is no longer (if it ever was) a purely private affair. We need a dialog about these struggles and this dialog particularly needs the voices of those who are struggling most with their sexuality: the ones who are oppressed. And above all we must remember that it is in struggle that we are met by God, who refuses to silence any of his children.

I know this will not be my last word on the predicament of human sexual orientation in the Church. I know this is not the end of the journey for the Church in this predicament. But I am increasingly convinced that in this struggle common worship and prayer must be our foundation. We must stay united as a Church during this time; it is when we stop struggling together that we are in danger. And so we must protect dialog. We must tend our love for one another.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

(from bcponline.org)

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3 thoughts on “United in Struggle: A Prayer for Valentine’s Day

  1. jmhielkema says:

    “If I lose that ability to wrestle, I lose an important part of my Christian community.”

    My own view on the matter is this:

    With every nod toward tradition and away from justice, there is hate
    With every hesitation to placate the oppressor, the oppressed loses trust
    With every attempt to “unite” with the oppressor, the truth is destroyed
    Instead, every effort must be made to destroy the oppressor–by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary.

    Truth is that which excludes. There is nothing virtuous about being a sectarian, starting arguments and stirring up trouble for the sake of private satisfaction or to take revenge. On the other hand, there is the matter of principle. If we believe that Christianity is the language of liberation, the Word a sword in the hand of the oppressed to bring ruin to the proud, we cannot help but exclude those who believe and practice otherwise. As long as the church equivocates and spins its wheels, it makes a mockery of the best aspects of its tradition, its revolutionary kernel. Church tradition only has moral weight insofar as it IS moral. If it is not, it must be cast off and condemned. This is not to say that we do not use a critical eye in evaluating history, only that, having made our decision and taken a stand, we do not stand in the way of the liberation of all people. Anything less than this is collaboration with evil.

    Is Christian community an “identity claim,” as you put it in another post, or is it an imperative to act? Is it liturgies and sweet-sounding words that lull us to sleep and make us believe that all is well, or is it the beginning of political consciousness, a source of strength and the will to do whatever is necessary to achieve revolution? Christian community is worthless if it is constituted against the oppressed, which, I am afraid, all organized churches are today.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful engagement as always, Jon. I am reminded by the tone of your call to action of the Old Testament prophets. The prophets did not mince words when it came to crying out against injustice. Yet, and this is key, the prophets spoke from a position fully within the tradition and community they criticized. I think the same position is needed today and I think a powerful option for those of us who are (rightly) sick of the Church’s oppression in this area is lament. That’s something I’m beginning to explore in my art. If you’re interested by this I highly recommend Walter Brueggemann’s “The Prophetic Imagination.” I do not think identifying with the catholic Church allows for any sweeping statements on this issue. That isn’t to say I’m advocating a lukewarm status quo. By no means! I think labeling oppression is important and I am choosing to focus on silencing. I will combat that tooth and claw. And while, as you’ve pointed out before, trying to silence the oppressors is not oppression, it is still a violence that I do not feel called to at this moment. Particularly because the church is so split on this matter and everyone has become entrenched and defensive of their side because of the violent discourse of these culture wars. That strategy is getting us who wish to awaken the tradition nowhere.

    I applaud your heart for the oppressed. I think you are playing with fire here, though, particularly by speaking from outside “organized churches.” Jesus cleared his own temple, not the Roman’s. I think there’s an important difference.

Thoughts?

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