Sunday, July 11, 2010

Earl's Sermon

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.


Dana said...

Thanks for this, Anna Lisa. I had been feeling like one of the "weary" that Nic talked about in his post, tired of having the same motionless conversation full of hurt and anger all around. After reading this, though, I think it's the narrowness of the conversation that you're naming that's making me weary.

What a deep and wide part of who we are, with potential for both great beauty and great hurt. We should be talking in those ways about sexuality. This way, in addition to being hurtful and discriminatory and ignorant, is also just plain BORING. And God did not create us boring beings.

Matt McKimmy said...

I agree that there are some important, notable shortcomings in Earl's sermon. It is frustrating that when folks speak out in "support" of LGBT persons that it is often done so in a way that is not as inclusive or supportive as they may intend.

Earl probably did not intentionally seek to frame queer persons as sinners, as Anna Lisa names. The more I grow into and think on this issue, the more I come to recognize this as being one of our largest problems. As long as we continue to equate being queer with being sinful then we will not be able to move forward. While texts like the one Earl used and the woman at the well are great examples of Jesus including social outcasts, they are problematic in that they end in the social outcasts turning away from what made them outcast.

In most circles I think the conversation has moved beyond inclusion - there are plenty of Christians willing to include LGBT persons, as long as they are willing to change. The conversation we need to be having is on which unhealthy patterns of sexuality are truly sinful and which are not. (Anna Lisa names some of these examples well, so I need not name them again.)

Thanks for the thoughtful, provocative post Anna Lisa. I agree that it was great to see Earl use is his privilege to speak out on this subject. Now more of us need to keep doing the same to broaden the conversation further.

Kristy said...

Have just re-read this for the third time. You have verbalized so much of what I feel about the issue. Eager to talk about it in person soon. Also, I am passing this blog entry to various people in my circles who I think would resonate with and appreciate it. Thank you, Anna Lisa.

Stephen said...

Thanks, Anna Lisa, for your comments. I was thinking, and considering many of the people I know.

I don't know if I would necessarily call them shortcomings or simply being outside the target audience...

I think that it intentionally wasn't for those who are already in the welcoming community. I think it was a sermon trying to reach across the isle to those who believe that human sexuality and all those other issues that are taboo and/or abominations to many in the CoB.

And I agree that Earl didn't intentionally cast homosexuals as sinners, I don't think he even said that, yet that is what people heard... he calls them "socially unacceptable." "Homosexual sinner" was only used quoted in a response from the crowd...

Those of us on the more progressive side can take a lot away from his sermon and apply his message to a larger field of issues.

More often than not, the arguments against Earl's sermon was that he didn't tell the whole story about repentance and change... Knowing Earl, I am pretty sure he was trying to reach those people in their mindset, for better or for worse.

More now than in the past, I see first hand the great theological divide between the various groups in the denomination. And if you want to be prophetic and somewhat persuasive, you have to meet people where they are, not start where you want them to end up.

Granted, I spend most of my time dealing with people on both sides of many issues (partially because of my family dynamics with people on both sides) and focus on building relationships that can overcome theological differences.

And also granted, I agree with the rest of the comments posted previously, but I think sometimes we dismiss the other side's viewpoint and emotions as quickly as they dismiss ours.

anna lisa gross said...

Steve, thanks for chiming in. I'll say again: Earl equated queer folks with Zacchaeus, to demonstrate how the (presumably straight) church should treat queer people. I have the impression that Earl does not consider LGBTQ folks to be sinners based on their sexual orientation, but he did not offer such correction to his metaphor.

I do think it's important to meet people where they are at, though I don't think that's the only way to be prophetic.

Can you think of a single sermon preached at AC that met queer people where they are at?

Nico said...

I think the complaint you raise that most resonates with me is that it's a conversation between straight people about queer people. It would have been awesome to see a prophetic AC sermon from someone from the LGBT community... of course, this would require us to invite an openly queer person to speak at annual conference.

Aside from the general rudeness of talking *about* people, it seems to me it's easy to keep from humanizing the other as long as the conversation stays third-person.

I am curious as to what a sermon might look like that would meet queer people where they're at? Could you talk more about what you would like to have seen in this vein?