What continues to concern me most is the following kinds of questions: what will and will not constitute an intelligible life, and how do presumptions about normative gender and sexuality determine in advance what will qualify as the “human” and the “livable”? In other words, how do normative gender presumptions work to delimit the very field of description that we have for the human? What is the means by which we come to see this delimiting power, and what are the means by which we transform it?1
This paragraph from Judith Butler's Gender Trouble addresses the crux of debates within the Uniting Church about LGBTIQ+ people and our place, or not, within our church. In the end, by our choosing to accept, or not accept, queer folk in all parts of the church, we are describing and prescribing who qualifies, before God and before us, as human. What the Generate Presbytery does with its dog-whistle statement2 “Hold the position that marriage is the covenantal relationship of one man and one woman,” is say that people like me are not quite fully human, before the church, or before God.
I call it a dog-whistle statement because it is not really just about marriage, just as statements about "we accept gay people, only not in leadership," are not really about leadership. They are about a reluctance to accept queerness in any of its forms, but that reluctance, like being racist, is no longer acceptable behaviour in much of our society. For one to admit to being racist is to open one's own humanity to question. The same is now true of much discrimination about sexuality, which is why the former Prime Minister indulged in his shameful dog-whistle about looking out for the children3. He was inviting people to be "racist"; that is, to be bigots about any deviation from traditional gender/sexual norms, without having to undergo society's questioning of their humanity—it's about the children, not sexuality—and pretending he himself was not prejudiced towards them.
Do Generate and other queer-hostile parts of the church understand this denial of humanity is what they are doing? I don't know. What I do know is that I'm trying to read Judith Butler's Gender Trouble. It's a formal academic text. Yet it reduces me to tears because it is accepting me as a fully human being whereas some of my church sisters and brothers don't. I am shocked by how distressed the contrast is leaving me.
When we were young, one of my contemporaries took their own life. As far as I can tell, their queerness was abundantly and undeniably clear to them, while I simply knew I was somehow different, and didn't fit. I remained oddly blind to the now obvious indications that I was gender-diverse. Perhaps it is just as well. Knowing what I know of myself now, and the emotional pain of being "wrongly built," if you like—and carrying the grief for what might have been, I wonder if I would have survived, if like my friend, I had seen clearly.
I have had the absolute support of my partner and my children. My friends likewise. And yet, this afternoon, trying to read, I am distraught. Think about that the next time you indulge yourself in theological theorising and prognostications about queer folk. It's real people whose lives you are indulging yourself with.
And for those who say to be LGBTIQ+ is not biblical, I absolutely agree. When Paul launches into his diatribe in Romans 1, it is clear that he, likely knowing about loving long-term relationships between same sex couples—they existed then4, as now—he was nonetheless utterly condemning of them. Churches almost universally fail to see the stunning theological point about judging others which he was leading up to in Romans 2:15. But for all the radicality of Paul's theology in Romans 1 and 2, I am in no doubt that Paul thought what we call same gender relationships were wrong. And I don't think that matters. Here is why:
Jesus, the one we are meant to follow, over-rode key points of scripture.6 And so did the early church. It was unthinkable that a Jewish man could be uncircumcised. If you wanted to convert to Judaism, circumcision was essential. So how could it possibly be that a Gentile could be baptised, and become a Christian, without first being circumcised? At the time I am speaking about, well before any of the Gospels were written, all Christians were Jews. Except that the upstart Paul was beginning to baptise Gentiles.
The point of the story of the Gentile Roman Centurion Cornelius, in Acts 10, was that the Spirit of God ignored the scriptural requirement of circumcision. Peter has not even finished preaching the good news when:
44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptising these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48So he ordered them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the Spirit initiates this whole event, well before this moment! Acts 10 says
One afternoon at about three o’clock [Cornelius] had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius.’ 4He stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ He answered, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.’
The Apostle Peter has raised objections to eating food that, according to the purity codes, is unclean; thus, he adheres to the rigor of the priestly codes, not unlike the ones we have seen in Leviticus. His objection, however, is countered by “a voice” that he takes to be the voice of the Lord. Three times that voice came to Peter amid his vigorous objection:
What God has made clean, you must not call profane (Acts 10:15).
The voice contradicts the old purity codes7!
The following points would not have been lost to the first readers of this story, which is retold in Acts 11: Gentile. Roman. Centurion. These are three personal attributes which no one would expect God to favour, indeed one might have expected the opposite, yet look what happens. And who orders the baptism? Is it the wayward Paul? No, it is the establishment figure of Peter the Apostle, leader of the twelve, and there is no circumcision.
Yet, and of course, this upset some who knew their scriptures and their tradition. During the controversy which followed, there was a church council which said in, Acts 15,
24Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, 25we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’
The Uniting Church, not at one meeting, but over a period of 40 odd years and multiple meetings at all levels of the church, has said: It has seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit that we do not impose a burden of separation upon LGBTIQ+ folk because, as in the time of Cornelius and others, we have seen the fruits of the Spirit in their lives despite what we have previously understood scripture to say and imply.(Regarding idolatry, see footnote 8)
Paul himself mentions in Galatians 3:28 three of the great dividing binaries of his (and our) society. There is, he says, "no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." He also overrules scripture at this point. The words "male and female" are a direct reference to Genesis 1:27: "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." This basic binary which was understood as foundational, is no more… if we are in Christ.
It is anti-LGBTIQ+ theology which is out of step with scripture and tradition, not the Uniting Church and queer Christians. We follow and worship a living Lord, not yesterday's interpretation of scripture, much as that may guide us.
Any perceptive reader will clearly see my longing for affirmation and acceptance in this post, not to mention sense my barely controlled anger, even though I have been protected from in-church persecution because of my own lack of self-awareness. How hard it must have been for those without that dubious protection from the church. How much we must have failed them, and still do. I weep for the times I was not one who affirmed and reassured and protected sisters and brothers who needed it.
I have decided I will title this post simply as Rant. But the wider intent is much, much more serious, for our whole reason for being church is that we are concerned with what it means to be human. We are about becoming more fully human, as Jesus was Human. Whenever we reject people, whenever we fail them, we fail at the most basic level a church can fail. We are failing to enable people to "praise God and enjoy God forever," that task the Westminister Shorter Catechism called our chief end, the task that is the joy of becoming more Human.
Andrew Prior (Feb 2023)
In November 2018 the Synod of South Australia voted to form a non Geographic Presbytery which is now called Generate presbytery. This presbytery stretches across the span of the South Australian Synod with any congregations or non congregational ministry agents able to choose to join Generate.
1. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, xxiii (from the Preface to the 1999 edition)
This was formed to:
1.Vigorously pursue the Great Commission
2.Strongly encourage effective mission and discipleship that leads to conversion growth, disciples being made, leaders being empowered, churches being planted and churches being renewed and growing.
3. Passionately stimulate Gospel renewal in the Uniting Church, starting with congregations, who are the embodiment in one place of One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
4. Hold the position that marriage is the covenantal relationship of one man and one woman.
(quoted from the proposal 28, November 2018 Synod meeting and affirmed through the Generate Standing Committee Minutes in at Generate’s September, 2019 meeting)
While Generate will hold to a traditional view on marriage we will continue to focus on the core things that God is calling us to as a presbytery. (Cited August 2023)
3. I quote a friend in the article linked here, as they write about Morrison's behaviour during the election campaign: https://www.onemansweb.org/being-lost-a-reflection-on-the-persecution-of-trans-people.html See also https://www.onemansweb.org/the-theology-of-scot-morrison.html
4. Bill Loader discusses this in Sexuality in the New Testament, pp21-23 (WJK 2010)
5. This is clearly expounded by James Alison, and the article is worth the read. http://jamesalison.com/but-the-bible-says/
6. "You have heard it said… but I say to you… Read Matthew 5:21-48
8 Note: "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and the Uniting Church—us—to impose on LGBTIQ+ people no further burden or responsibility than that carried by the rest of us, which is to abstain from idolatry. To be clear, fornication (vv29) is not a separate category over which we might quibble. Fornication is idolatry, for it is sexual behaviour which puts the self over others, and puts self before the Divine command to love others as ourselves. And the decisions taken by the Church over these forty years make it clear that it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to say that LGBTIQ+ sexual expression is, of itself, not fornication. (The word πορνείας which is translated as fornication is "a generic term for sexual sin of any kind.")" See https://www.onemansweb.org/a-deeper-healing/seeking-healing-for-the-church-and-ourselves-an-exposition.html
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