Communities of Justice

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a small Christian university’s chapel about sexuality, friendship, justice, and the calling of the church. You can listen to the message here. If you don’t have 27 minutes or if you hate references to Harry Potter in talks about sexuality, I cobbled together a partial transcript of the second half of the presentation below. There’s so much else to say, but hopefully it’s a small encouragement.

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[After an opening section on the connection between, friendship, empathy, and social justice]:

Friendship, knowledge of someone, creates the foundational commitment that enables acts of mercy and justice to be meaningful, mutual, and ultimately good. Trying to serve people without developing friendship and empathy will only cause harm.

We nod our heads about friendship and community and service, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of daily life, of making substantive changes to our communities, most Christians leave sexual minorities to fend for themselves.

Gay/SSA Christians frequently feel stuck and isolated between a broader society that increasingly stigmatizes and misunderstands our religious convictions and a church that is often disinterested in or openly hostile to our existence. The church is our family, and yet we have to fight so hard not to be held at arm’s length.

And this is the thing, right? People have tried to “solve” the “problem” of gay people without first befriending and becoming family with us. And I think is because, if I can be stupidly honest again, straight people know that if they ask the right questions about sexuality, they will be called into action, forced change their lives in substantive ways. So instead of a good question, like “What would it take for celibacy (or the traditional sexual ethic) to be experienced as abundant and good?” it’s been easier for people in positions of power to simply place the whole burden on the shoulders of sexual minorities themselves.

This is why it was so popular to say, “Just become straight” or “Just marry someone of the opposite gender” or, as is more popular now, “Why don’t you just shut up about it and stop making problems?” All of that places all the weight entirely on gay people, and requires nothing of the rest of the church community. When it does this, the church is simply avoiding responsibility, and it deserves to be called out for that.

[This is followed by some comments on the particular failures of church communities to embody a healthy sexual ethic]:

And I think this is because, honestly, a lot of our churches have not had a really good social ethic. Have not served our communities in really meaningful, good, or just ways. This is why I think any Christian or any church that wants to have a coherent sexual ethic must also have a rich social ethic and vision for familial community.

Sexuality at its core is about how we relate to people, how we give and receive love in a way that brings life into the world. And sure, that can be sex, right? That’s the obvious one. Procreation. Babies flying out of the womb. Like, that’s the obvious way to bring life into the world. But I’ve found as I’ve participated in community organizing or mentoring or other things like that, that I’m bringing life into the world in my own way – and that’s important and valuable, and I hadn’t [learned to find much value in that]. As Eve Tushnet says, “There are so many ways to love that we have not been trained to see.”

The story of the last five or six years of my life has been learning to see ways in which I am able to love with the full gift of myself and bring life into the world in a meaningful and profound way.

All of this [beauty of] community, though, is only possible if you first learn to become my friend, and together we learn to do justice and love mercy in our communities.

Here’s the thing, guys. I need you to take friendship and community serious, because I, and people like me, don’t have much of a future without you. And – maybe you haven’t really thought about this – you don’t really have much of a future without me. Without us. We need each other, because we are already one body. And if we don’t live in a way that acknowledges the fact that we share the bond of Jesus Christ between us and work to become communities of justice, then we’ve missed it.

[Some comments directed toward the students, followed by the conclusion]:

I’m going to close, I guess, with something I wished for every time someone spoke in chapel about sexuality. This is for everyone, but specifically for those of you here who find yourselves outside the standard gender or sexual norm: You are beautiful, your bodies are good, and you have so much love to give. Live deep into your gifts and callings, and use them to bless those around you, proclaim the gospel, and create a more just society. You are worthy of a family to surround and support you – a family that you can serve and support, yourselves. And the church – imperfect as it is – is better off with you in it.

And I hope you know that when God sees you – in all your human messiness – the heavens erupt with a furiously affectionate

I love you

I love you

I love you

I love you

I love you

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The rest of the talk (one more time!) can be found here.

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