by Anna Lisa Gross
While I was thrilled to hear sexuality being preached about directly, rather than alluded to surreptitiously, from the Annual Conference pulpit, I have a few frustrations with "Measurably New."
It certainly would not be possible to preach a single sermon that could speak to all 3000+ gathered at Annual Conference. But this sermon was clearly not aimed at me. I do believe that many in the room were moved by the message, and I am glad for that. But I'm frustrated that our conversations about sexuality are always so elementary.
First of all, Earl consistently used the term "homosexuality." While this is quite reasonable for his generation, younger people are much more inclined to talk about LGBTQ or queer folks. Homosexual does not apply to all the people whose sexualities are under scrutiny in these conversations. "LGBTQ" is a much more inclusive term, particularly for those who are uncomfortable with the term "queer."
Secondly, the scriptural grounding for the sermon located LGBTQ folks as sinners (even though I don't think that's what Earl intended to preach). So often we have used the story of the woman about to be stoned for adultery (and this time Zaccheus the tax collector) to discuss sexuality. The beauty of these stories is that they call for loving, respectful, humanizing interaction with "sinners." The danger is that they frame LGBTQ folks as sinners. If we consider a sexual or gender identity to be a sin, the only way to repent is to change a core part of one's identity. Some Christians say that the sexuality itself is not a sin, but sexual acts between people of the same gender are, and therefore only celibate LGBTQ folks are acceptable. So we either ask queer people to become fundamentally new people, or to deny themselves the fullness of love, sex and intimacy. This is horrendous, and I have much more to say about it at another time.
Thirdly, the conversation continues to be one between straight people about queer people. Earl never "spoke to" LGBTQ folks in his sermon. We fall into this faulty mindset continuously in the church, telling ourselves that straight is default, and forgetting that there are queer people in the pews right now, this moment. But fewer and fewer all the time when our language does not reflect this reality. Many people in the church talk about, but not to, queer people.
Fourthly, the sermon talked about only one aspect of sexuality - homosexuality. I can't believe that we continue to have conversations about the complexities of sexuality and spirituality that are so narrow. This allows straight people in the room, regardless of their perversions or poor behavior, to never be under scrutiny. In a society in which rape, child abuse, infidelity, prostitution, harassment, lack of enjoyment in sex, shame-filled sex, and many other unhealthy sexual experiences are rampant, why do we only talk about "homosexuality?"
I do appreciate Earl's bold sermon, and realize that he will be one of the most talked about people throughout the denomination in the weeks to come. Earl as an old, male, straight, white, educated and otherwise privileged person has the capital to spend on such a sermon, and I'm glad he used it.