Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Trouble with Nice People

If you’ve found a reasonably inclusive faith community, where as a queer man you feel more or less fully enfranchised, you’re lucky–and you’re blessed. But, malcontent that I am, let me ask: if you belong to a welcoming “mainstream” congregation, what, if anything, about your queer experience do you have to check at the door? Do you pay a toll for acceptance? And does that toll limit in any way the integration of your erotic with your spiritual life? (And please answer! I’d genuinely like to hear back from you if you’re reading this post.)

I attend one of the most progressive Anglican congregations in Canada. The last time I heard statistics, about a third of us self-identified as lesbian, gay, or otherwise queer. We’re fully integrated into the life of the parish at all levels of participation and leadership. We push the envelope in creative end-runs around the Canadian Anglican prohibition on church weddings for same-sex couples. The Toronto chapter of Integrity meets in our space. Still, I remain surprised and skeptical that we could possibly make up a third of the church. Sometimes we blend in so well you’d never guess. Maybe that’s not really such a good thing. Week in, week out, it's not all that easy to find each other, except by personal association.

Which is another way of saying, we’re in a particularly comfortable and roomy closet. Nothing says we can’t be open, but we’re assumed to be just like everybody else, so how would anyone ever know, unless you make a big deal about it? (And being Canadian Anglicans, oy, how we don’t make a big deal.) The struggle for equality slides easily into a quest for homogeneity: we want to get married like everyone else; we don’t want to be denied ordination.

Worthy goals, to be sure; and don’t get me started on what I think of the bishops' poor excuse for leadership in continuing to treat the issue of inclusion as one of charitable harmony and good order rather than of justice. But the notion that, in fact, we’re not the same as everybody else gets swamped here. Any possibility that our presence could offer a radical leaven to force a more general rethinking of the theology of sexuality goes straight out the window.

In most liberal Christian theology, the value of committed relationship replaces procreation as the principal justification for sex. Liberal church statements may go as far as incorporating bland language about celebration and the intrinsic goodness of the body. But sex remains something we’d still better monitor carefully, maintain a tight, voluntary control over, and not talk about any more than absolutely necessary. The perplexing--and endlessly fun--depth, variety, and muddiness of our erotic lives get pushed to the periphery, almost as effectively as they did when we weren’t allowed in at all. Our short-term relationships; our one-night stands; our autoeroticism; our multiple partnerships; the complexity of our fantasies and our experiments with playing them out; none of these makes it past the door as material for serious theological reflection, much less as possible sites of grace and the presence of God in our lives.

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