Sexuality and Identity
As Baptists, can we live in the tension of our differences, bound together in our common love of the Risen Christ? By Joe Haward
Grounded in Jesus
Throughout Church history we have, as Christ followers, sought to grapple with the great unanswerable mystery of 'Who is God?' Without doubt Church history is resplendent with majestic analogies, wondrous metaphors and breathtaking descriptions of who this God is that we have encountered in Jesus of Nazareth. And time again we have fallen to our knees in wonder as all these words, in all their power seeking to describe the Indescribable, have been wanting as the simplicity of the name Jesus is uttered, meaning, ultimately, all words fall away in light of the Word made flesh.
In other words, we are about Jesus.
It is Jesus whom we encounter in the Garden on resurrection morning, not Adam. Humanity then, is not marching towards some Edenic past, rather it is released into a Christological future, beckoned towards its goal in who Jesus is, the True Human. Or as some of the Church Fathers put it, 'He became what we are so that we might become what he is.' Therefore, any discussion surrounding humanness and sexuality should be grounded in the Person of Jesus and who it is He is making us to be.
Perfection then was never found in the “male and female” and the distinctions we have, it is found in Christ. Whereas before Christ our relationships were determined by the Law, differentiations determined by social and ethnic distinctions, now, in Christ, our relationships are a sign of redemption, a glimpse of the redemptive power of God, a ‘new creation’ where the old order of things have passed away.
Therefore LGBTIQ people can equally model relationships of redemption determined through who they are 'in Christ'.
Walking in relationship with the LGBTIQ community
My ministry is one where I 'sit on the margins' with people from all different walks of life who have never even considered 'going to church'. Some of those people I encounter and spend time with are from the LGBTIQ community. Until I began building relationships with these people I had no idea of the scale and level of pain, persecution and loneliness they had encountered through the years.
One man described the beatings he had endured by the police because he was a gay man. He spoke of how the gay community had seen lynchings and humiliation, all because of their sexuality. This same man described the pain of being told by a vicar after a funeral of one of his friends, that he would burn in hell forever for being a 'gay pervert'.
In all our discussions I think we must not neglect to highlight the reality on the ground of what real people have gone through and the loneliness experienced. Depression and suicide rates amongst this community remains shockingly high.
As Baptists we must be in the midst of the LGBTIQ community seeking to walk in relationship and solidarity. We worship the Triune God. We are people created in God's own image, and so relationship is the primary mode of reality. Loneliness threatens the quality of our life at the deepest level for loneliness militates against the very One we were created in the image of. Loneliness has no place within God's own Self.
Why is homosexuality 'the big issue' in our churches?
As Baptists our views surrounding dignity and equality in regard to humanity has changed in our history because of our continual encounter with the Risen Christ. We have, therefore, changed our hermeneutics when reading certain passages of Scripture.
It seems that there are many of us who are continuing to do this in regard to Same-Sex Marriage. I would have hoped that churches and ministers would have the freedom to follow their conscious on this issue. Yet the language of 'mutual respect' used in the statement by Council seems to suggest otherwise.
I keep pondering why homosexuality is ‘the big issue’ in our churches, in the sense that if you want to create debate and high emotion then bring this up. My experience within ministry is that people do not want to talk about it because of how emotive it is. Yet, on the other hand, people feel like this is the issue that needs to be fought most strongly about whilst still saying things like ‘it is no bigger a sin than…’.
And people will clearly fight for this issue. On the ground, I have heard people ‘in the pews’ speak with more passion over this issue than any other. It is something people feel very strongly about.
And I keep wondering why? Why this?
René Girard speaks about the Crisis of Distinction where communities have become so undifferentiated they become mimetic (imitative) rivals. In other words, they all want the same thing, desiring the same ‘object’ and so become imitators or one another. Here a crisis breaks out and we have mimetic rivalry, everyone the same seeking the same thing, violence turned upon one another.
So, unconsciously, a scapegoat is sought. Someone who is like us but odd enough to not be one of us. Our violence turns upon them, cathartic in its release. Peace is restored, for a time. It feels miraculous, like the gods have visited us and delivered peace.
‘The fundamental psychosocial meaning, the reason why people expel victims, is because they have trouble inside the community and they always try and resolve it. So the scapegoat can be seen as a symbol for all sacrifices…We always expel scapegoats because we think that, by killing one victim, we’re killing all the badness inside the community.’
Reading the Bible with René Girard, p 82
... and is the Church scapegoating the LGBTIQ community?
Church decline has brought with it many complex issues, one of which has been identity; who are we?
In asking questions surrounding our identity we have seen various theological, ecclesiological, philosophical etc etc questions being asked and explored. What we have also seen is the UK church incorporating and developing ideas and resources from our culture to enable us to engage with and within our communities. The way we use music, social media and advertising would be good examples.
I wonder if we are witnessing a Crisis of Distinctions? The church struggling with identity, non-differentiation, and mimetic rivalry. See ultimately we can behave within our church communities as though we are competing with the culture in how to attract people. So we try and work out ways to be more appealing and so somehow tap into the consciousness of the people of our communities, get noticed and get them along.
Yet we - the church and culture - are now all after the same ‘object’ and there is a breakdown of peace in our churches - fear, anxiety. So, as is the nature of humanity, we need someone to blame, someone to place our fear, anxiety and violence upon.
Girard highlights how scapegoating is difficult nowadays because Jesus has revealed the innocence of the victim. So whilst scapegoating does happen there is now usually a voice that highlights the innocent victim whereas in archaic culture no-one saw their innocence.
Therefore culture has looked to the bankers, to politicians, to muslims, to refugees.
Perhaps some of the UK church is trying to do this to the LGBTIQ community? We can’t do it to the greedy, because we’re all greedy. This is not to say people are consciously seeking a scapegoat. Girard makes the point that you can’t consciously do it. A scapegoat is someone you believe is actually guilty.
Living in the tension of our differences
As questions and debates around human sexuality rumbles on there could well be sharper lines drawn, greater distinctions being made on both sides; ‘I’m not like them…’ We all need to be careful not to make scapegoats.
The Spirit is calling us into self-giving, nonviolent, non coercive, grace-filled, unlimited-forgiving loving relationships that reflect the Trinitarian Life. Jesus is the One we are called to imitate, invited into the Oneness of relationship revealed through Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus’ prayer for oneness is a prayer to see us united in our love, redeemed in our relationships, being perfected in God.
Surely, as Baptists, we can live in the tension of our differences, bound together in our common love of the Risen Christ? Perhaps we need to move away from concepts and rediscover our sense of wonder? The question of who we are is important, but the question before this question is ‘Who is God?’ Or as Gregory of Nyssa writes,
‘Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.’
Picture: Benjamin Eggen/Freely
The Revd Joe Haward leads This Hope Baptist Church in Newton Abbot.