Thursday, December 23, 2004

Some thoughts on Identity Boundaries and Children (probably part 1)

(For the context for what follows visit the Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler blog You probably wont be reading all 55 comments under last Wednesdays post but if you haven't been taking part perusing them might help in understanding what follows. Also what follows here should not be interpreted as representing the pastoral team of Reconciler nor the mission of the church. It is the personal reflections on some issues, by one of the pastors. These thoughts are mine and mine alone and I do not know if or to what degree the congregation or pastoral team would be in agreement.)
It is astounding to me how the mention of welcoming gays and lesbians along with those who would view such lifestyles as incompatible with Biblical and church teaching to a church and a church meeting in a funky urban cafe can elicit such intense scrutiny. Yet, I should perhaps not be so astounded, because the moderating position has almost completely disappeared from public discourse in America both in the church and in our social and political life. (Martin E. Marty has written about this I know, I remember a lecture on it in my Covenant Church History class but don't have the reference at the moment). Now there maybe an objection here that Reconciler isn't representing any such via media (the middle way). Yet, it seems that such an objection is most likely a denial of the possibility of a third position (or fourth or fifth, I don't like the label moderate because it assumes that reality is simply dialectical, This is not Christian idea but Hegelian and ultimately dualism and Gnostic) since both sides of the current opposition deny me the via media. Either I am a liberal, or too accommodating to the other side, a conservative in liberal skins.
Further more what strikes me as fascinating is that it isn't that the Baptists, Evangelical Covenanters (Free Lutheran Pietist essentially) and Episcopalians are coming together that gets people's back hairs up, but sexuality. (Jen I think you are on to something with the whole identity and sexuality comment, thank you.) To most our coming together as three differing denominations is almost ho hum. But say that we welcome gay straight, lesbian, homosexuals and do it in an urban socialist cafe where we rent space, where heaven forbid a socialist or hippie might (or even worse a Goth ;-) ) join in the worship service, well the world is coming to an end and I think we found the anti-Christ. This indicates to me that the church has bought hook line and sinker our cultures obsession with sex and I mean those who embrace the idea of various sexualities and those who stick doggedly to precious Biblical prooftexts about homosexuality.
Reconciler may be most offensive here in that we just might be refusing the given sexual identities, their binary oppositions their dualistic and fleshly world view. I will say that I would be very saddened if Reconciler chose to identify as a "gay" church. Not because, I think Christianity is a "straight" religion, but because those categories are themselves an exterior imposition, and cannot lead us to truth. To identify around clear distinct categories of sexuality and gender is the wrong place for the Christian to begin his/her self identification. In fact the guarding of those identities may in fact be contrary to the very underpinnings of the Christian faith.
There are two texts I wish to highlight for the sake of this discussion: "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; all of you are one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:27-29(NRSV) and "Then he said to them all, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?'" Luke 9:23-25(NRSV)
Let me first say how I do not take the Galatians passage. I do not take it to mean that these and any other number of identifying markers, sexual, gender, ethnic, racial, national, etc. Are obliterated and rendered without meaning. Rather, I understand Paul here as saying that there is a hierarchy of identity for the Christian, in the end there is only one identity that matters the identity we are given at baptism, that is the identity with Christ. This reorientation of identity is necessary precisely because these other identities remain powerful and wish to subvert and overthrow our baptismal identity. Any and all other identities either serve Christ or they are dangerous and enemies of Christ, for the Christian. Thus any Christian that begins to hold a position, theological or moral, beginning with an identity other than that of Christ and baptism, that position theological or moral cease to be true even if it is technically correct. All serves Christ, any identity worthy of the Christian will die to itself and release itself to Christ. This is where I think one ends up when we place Luke's saying of Jesus about loosing and gaining ones life, along side the Galatians passage.
Thus, I can only conclude that our cultures obsession with sexual and gender identity is idolatrous whether it comes from those struggling to identify as gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered, or those who seek to judge all things from absolutist heterosexuality. If we seek to preserve some pure heterosexuality or if we seek to defend our hard won alternative sexual identity we as Christians may just be missing the truth of our baptism. All these identities must die to Christ, in order that we may live in the truth of our being, which is Christ. We are all hoodwinked the moment we fight for our sexual and gendered identities for at that moment we deny our unity in Christ, not because we are all the same, but because in the end, so I preserve my hard won identity and control my world, so Jesus says I will have in so doing have lost my soul, the very self I was seeking to preserve and defend. Only by giving ourselves up to Christ, allowing the identity of Christ to infuse and transform every aspect of our being, will we find the identity we long for.
Recently, my wife Kate and I were asked at a party if we identified as queer? I was wearing a skirt (as a a man not as someone attempting to imitate the identity of a female) and my usual eyeliner and Kate dyes her hair pink so I suppose it was a reasonable question. We were stumped, we didn't particularly so identify though when given further explanation we could see how the label might fit. We shrugged it off. Now, I know how I would answer that question. "Do you identify as queer?" No, I am a Christian. That would be misunderstood and need the above vast explanation, but I want no other primary identity than that of Christ.
I believe this has deep and profound (perhaps troubling to some implications for child rearing. As parents if your highest goal is the protection of your child, you are just possibly not raising them as Christians, but as having some other identity than Christ's. I will explore this further in part 2.