September 30, 2016

Towards a World Spirituality theology of gay marriage

Gay Men

Photo Credit: bodies-of-art

by Joe Perez

In a World Spirituality perspective, the theologian is more like an symphony composer, with theologians from different theological traditions translating the musical notation for the musicians of different instruments. Clearly there is give and take between the symphony composer and the composer for piano, violin, drums, etc.; but ultimately they are creating new music together.

In our times, a major crisis has emerged for theology which could help to doom religion in many countries unless it is redressed: the crisis of homosexuality within the churches. No, not the crisis that gay people are religious (there have always been gay people in churches, probably in disproportionately large numbers). The issue is that our religious traditions have holy traditions and scriptures dating to pre-modern times when there was no contemporary understanding of homosexuality or modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities (LGBT).

Consequently, a rift has arisen — sometimes leading to endless discussion and ultimate schism — on whether and how to include gay people in the religion. The regions which are most open are also, frankly, typically the most evolutionarily sophisticated. Their membership is more educated, more aware of cross-cultural differences, more able to see the social construction of sexual attitudes, and they are probably also more likely to know gays personally. These religions are also in decline, for a variety of reasons.

On the other hand, conservative religionists have dug in their heels. Feeling their entire belief system threatened by modernity and post-modernity, made irrelevant, and even worse, dismissed as intolerant, they have drawn their line in the sand. They will not permit gays to participate openly in their churches unless they adhere to celibacy or try to change their sexual orientation (yeah, right). Deep down, they know they are on the losing side of history, but this only fuels their anger and resentment to cover their disappointment. They fear losing the battle, but in the short term, their churches are the ones often growing rapidly, especially in the developing world, adding  hundreds of thousands of new adherents daily.

In “Out and Ordained,” Brett Webb-Mitchell tells of his journey as a gay Presbyterian pastor and offers his prayers for the Church. In 2011, the Presbyterian Church formally allowed openly gay and lesbian ministers. Now, there are new challenges ahead:

Webb-Mitchell writes:

In order to become more inclusive, there are many “next steps” to be taken in righting past wrongs. For example, as more states permit LGBTQ people to wed, churches will need to craft a theology of marriage that includes LGBTQ congregants.

To this, I offer my prayer that theologians in the Presbyterian communion realize that their work is not to be done in isolation, looking mainly to the Bible and the Westminster Confession.

We live in times in which people in every religion are awakening to see their sacred texts as historically conditioned and requiring much discernment to see how their authority can be reconciled with recognition of the dignity of gays and lesbians and others.

What does a World Spirituality theology of gay marriage look like? Remember, that it is not one which starts from the Bible to argue the morality of gay sex. It does not start from Thomistic/Aristotelian principles which were created centuries before the emergence of evolutionary biology and cultural anthropological research. Nor does it even start with “the experience of the oppressed,” which would give us only a subjective accounting of phenomenona much more complex than can be felt by any one individual or group.

No, a World Spirituality  theology of same-sex marriage must not rest content with looking to old texts to seeing how they have been misinterpreted; we must be willing to see our knowledge of God evolving over time in the fullness of history. A theology of marriage inclusive of gays must be one which acknowledges spiritual evolution, or it will only be a stopgap, an ethnocentric adjustment made at a time when what is most needed is a worldcentric transformation.

Affirming the sacredness of gay marriage isn’t about people embracing diversity for diversity’s sake, but finding in committed same-sex partnerships a new and essential expression of the Divine Love. That’s why the perspective I staked out in Soulfully Gay is so relevant to the future discussion about the sacramental worth or sacredness of gay marriage. I have been encouraged by the many, many readers who have found in the book a roadmap for moving forward with their spiritual journey as lesbian or gay people. On the other hand, the book has had very limited adoption by theologians, who will ignore the book’s central theological anthropology to their theology’s peril.

Soulfully Gay does not tell Christian theologians how to solve gay marriage in their Bible studies or Church doctrine (though the book has been taught in at least a few Christian seminaries). Soulfully Gay does not tell Jewish theologians how to reinterpret the law or Muslim theologians how to reinterpret their sacred texts and traditions, and so on.

What it does is take a step beyond the “diversity for diversity’s sake” rationale offered by postmodern religionists for affirming gay marriage, staking out an argument for gay marriage based on a post-metaphysicial philosophical and spiritual anthropology (that is, a vision of human nature) which describes how understanding the proper nature of gay love is essential to understanding the nature of God’s love for creation.

Theologically, affirming gay marriage is an evolutionary step forward in humankind’s understanding of the nature of Divine Love, a gift from God for all people, not just a tiny minority. The love of Same to Same is viewed as theologically distinct from the love of Same to Other, one giving us a mirror to self-immanence and the other a reflection of self-transcendence. Heterophilia gives us a picture of how humanity loves God; homophilia gives us a picture of how God loves humanity. Integral Theory can help to bridge the gap between  Soulfully Gay’s theological anthropology and their own tradition’s rich tradition of reflection on marriage and sexual ethics.

Such a vision is not merely a Presbyterian theology or even a Christian vision. It’s a philosophical-spiritual statement about human nature that can be affirmed by integral Christians, integral Jews, integral Muslims, integral Buddhists, integral Hindus, and even — by looking at self-immanence and self-transcendence as biological drives situated within a general theory meta-theory of evolution — integral secular humanists.

At the risk of sounding overly promotioinal (I’ll take that risk), if you want to build a theology of same-sex marriage, then you simply must read Soulfully Gay, especially Chapter 1, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4, where the philosophical anthropology and social ethics are sketched in enough detail to guide your own theological reflections.

Of the True Self, there is only one: neither straight not gay, neither man, nor woman. But in our uniqueness, overlapping that True Self in our self-identification, we come on-line as fully diverse, richly colored, textured, embodied, and sexualized according to our liberated natures as being free to be ourselves in a blessed and ultimately good universe.

 

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