You know how sometimes, in a word or a phrase, or in a picture, or in a moment – suddenly something becomes clear? Archimedes “Eureka”? Oprah’s less durable “Aha” moment? Well, it happened to me yesterday in conversation with a friend. It was what she said that gave me that moment of clarity.
We had been discussing an article that I and a colleague had written nine years ago, in a little known Festschrift for Albert Nolan. It was called “Oil and Water: the impossibility of Gay and Lesbian identity within the Church”.
This long-forgotten article has suddenly re-surfaced the other day. It was found a by an apparently not unsympathetic cleric, who is attached to the University of Cape Town, and who is valiantly trying to “listen” to LGBTI people in the “conversation” which the church is presently supposed to be having on the Gay issue.
The article had given him quite a shock,apparently. Because it is completely uncompromising and unforgiving. Both I and my Lesbian colleague described, in some fairly graphic detail, the journey we had taken to get us to this place. We decided not to pull any punches and consequently, the piece is fairly candid.
And that was that for a very long time. It seemed to have been studiously ignored, until now, when a shocked Dean of Studies from the University of Cape Town stumbled across it and raised the alarm. He is, I understand, one of the few Evangelical Anglicans around who is willing to even consider the issue.
So, I was talking to my friend about how it is that this, out of all the things I have written and said about the Church, should become the focus of concern? I have had “controversial” views on a range of things, and I have written extensively about them. But this is the area where the alarm persistently gets raised.
The article said, in brief, that sex should not be determinative of relationship. That there are other things much more significant than sex, which determine and define relationships. That of itself, sex is not particularly significant and should not be held as the grounds to decide anything at all.
And specifically with regard to homosexuality, we argued that a church which was entirely and disastrously hetero-normative cannot expect homosexuals to simply buckle under and accept (or even worse – promote!) hetero-normative standards and ideas. Because time has proved these to be changeable things in themselves and that the path chosen by the church is both unrepresentative of the human reality and disastrous in its own right.
So, if there is to be a “discussion” or a “debate” or “listening” to LGBTI people, then it has to consist of much more than the one side happily talking to itself, while the other side stands obediently silent. If the church wants to listen to the experience of Gay and Lesbian people, then it needs to accept the possibility that its present hetero-normative paradigm regarding sexuality might be so seriously flawed as to be worthy of being dumped. And if that is not at least a possibility, then the conversation is not worth having.
My friend then made the point which sharpened my perspective. She said this: She said that the view of the Church is essentially the view of an addict. When a food addict is at a party, they will know what every person in the room has eaten; they will note each time a person returns to be buffet table and they will observe what has been placed on the plate. An alcoholic will know where the liquor is in every house they visit. They will know where the liquor store is in every suburb. They will know the alcoholic content of every drink.
It is an obsession. It is a sickness. It is something which takes over rational thinking and distorts it and twists it and produces a view of reality which is profoundly dis-ordered. It shows itself in the kinds of decisions which have been made protecting priests who are paedophiles. It shows itself in the way in which parts of the church have handled intersex people. It shows itself in the discrimination which of Gay and Lesbian people in the church routinely endure. It is an obsession. It is an illness. It is not wholesome.
It cannot be expected that Gay and Lesbian people have any responsibility to protect this obsession, or to perpetuate it. It cannot be expected that we have any reason to tolerate or entertain a system of wrongdoing which is so clearly and obviously distorted, in its view of reality.
So when the Church tells us that they want to “listen” to us – then that is what they need to do. It needs to start by shutting up and allowing us to say what we need to say. It needs to start by dumping the sanitized and doctored versions of tame homosexuals who actually believe that the homosexual orientation is something less glorious than the heterosexual one. They are the “Bantustan leaders” on the sexual map. They are the “Uncle Toms”.
If the Church is not willing to accept that LGBTI people can teach it a new and better way of being the Church, then frankly, they should just stop talking. It is wasting everyone’s time. Because the sickness lies within the Church, not elsewhere.
The article I refer to above is in:
Spekman MT & Kaufmann LT (eds) Towards an Agenda for Contextual Theology. Essays in Honour of Albert Nolan. Pietermaritzburg, Cluster Publications, 2001.
Garner H and Worsnip M, "Oil and Water: The impossibilility of Gay and Lesbian identity within the Church".