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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Theology and Sexuality: 3 recent (short) articles

Yes, I know it's been a while since I've posted anything here. Suffice to say, things can get rather busy when you're the lone employee of a church of 130, and the only full-time, working Unitarian minister in the Australasian region.

However, I hope you enjoy this selection of three recent articles from my "Theology and Sexuality" column from Blaze magazine, Adelaide's glossy GLBTi monthly.

Bear in mind, the tone and content reflect the audience and the medium. They are NOT pulpit-fodder.(Sorry about the weird spacing below--there was nothing I could do to fix it, short of write the damn things over.)

“Poly Parroting”

One of the basic ideological differences between LGBTi and the normative ‘straight’ communities is the difference between intentional relationships and conventional relationships. In sexual terms, the LGBTi community has been and is more likely to openly embrace non-monogamous sexual relationships, whereas in ‘straight’ culture, the sexual norm is conventional monogamy (albeit inclusive of its shadow-side of affairs, swinging, and the sex trade to offset the obvious discontents of monogamy). Perhaps the straight community could learn a thing or two from the polyamorous-ness of LGBTi culture.

Some of the intentional values at work in polyamorous relationships include non-possessiveness, true gender equality, open communication to negotiate boundaries and make agreements, fidelity and loyalty (not as sexual exclusivity) to the promises and agreements made, and thus the emphasis on honesty, trust, loyalty, and respect for all. Not a bad way conduct one’s most intimate relationships, eh? Since so many ‘straight’ people are not actually monogamous anyway (aye, even in their hearts) why not develop a straight non-monogamy that is socially defensible and acceptable?

Not that the polyamorous life is without its challenges, of course. Parenting and custody ramifications can be a legal and social minefield, as can the struggle to overcome the culturally-taught possessiveness reflex that reduces all humans to commodities to be ‘owned’ to some degree. This is part of the cost of doing business.

But an intentional, rather than conventional, approach to sexual intimacy seems to me to offer one truly vital, human thing we’re all hankering deeply for. No, not more sex with more people (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but community. Writer (and Unitarian) the late Kurt Vonnegut said of ‘straight’ couple divorcing, that if their dispute could be reduced to one sentence, it would be this: “Why aren’t you more people?” If I’m honest, the one thing I’ve always truly envied about my LGBTi friends is that they inhabit an intentional community of like-minded people that truly support each other, in a degree of intimacy largely unknown among friendship groups of ‘straight’ couples.

Although our Unitarian denomination does not have an ‘official’ position on polyamory, we do have an interest in communities of intention, being an intentional, non-conventional church ourselves. In fact, the ‘Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness’ have a developed an RE curriculum called “Love Makes a Family” to help educate people about polyamory. Also, some very lovely and life-affirming rites of passage ceremonies—polyamorous weddings, naming ceremonies, memorial services—have also been written and used in recent years. Check it out at http://www.uupa.org/

Anyone who lives not by doing what everyone else seems to be doing, but by their perceptions and will and values, will have much cause to rejoice in this life. Perhaps it’s time the ‘straight’ community parroted this poly.

I guess you could call me a Kant(ian)

I guess it’s an assumption of this regular column that matters of faith and religion and spirituality might be important to at least some of Blaze’s readership demographic.  So far, the responses I’ve received seem to confirm that assumption (the fact I’m getting any responses at all is something of a miracle). Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks!
But maybe this assumption is less true for some of you. Perhaps for you, GLBTi issues are more to do with the politics of sexuality (remembering that any personal issue is always political). In that case, a more philosophical might speak more directly to your experience. Politics is a species of ethics—the evolving dialogue about how we are to relate best with each other. And there are some ethicists whose thoughts might help you express and live your sexual identity more freely and fully.
My own denomination is actually more comfortable approaching notion of ‘the good’ from a philosophical angle rather than a theological one; we don’t think revelation on ethics or anything else is sealed and comes down from above like a parcel. Instead, we recognise the universe is essentially dynamic, changing, evolving, in flux. But how then shall we tell right from wrong, good from evil?

We affirm, as a starting point, that all beings have inherent worth and dignity. A key ethical principle that seems to flow from ‘inherent worth and dignity’ is that all people have the right to be autonomous, self-governing. As a former philosophy student, I reckon Immanuel Kant’s view of autonomy and the good life elides perfectly with my Unitarian theological principles, and speaks a freshly today to our experience as it did in the Age of Enlightenment. For Kant, what makes humans special (and deserving of that worth and dignity) is that they have the right to decide for themselves what constitutes the good life. Not only can we choose the type of life we want to live, but we can revise that idea in the process of living. When our ideas "evolve," we are being most fully human, most fully ourselves.

But Kant is not a wishy-washy relativist. His ethical line is when anyone does anything that evidences a blatant disregard for inherent human worth and dignity, that action is immoral. Simple and air-tight! How this applies to the cultural dialogue about sexual identity in religious circles—i.e., that non-normative sexual practice is immoral—should be obvious. We are evolving beings, evolving our idea of goodness. The comfortable moral dogmas of the past are inadequate in this respect; they need to be examined, reflected upon, revised, or discarded. This is your human right.

So when faced with the puckered disapproval of anyone who judges your right to choose the life you want for yourself, if doing so does not constrict others, you can calmly look them in the eye and say to them: “Read Kant” (comma insertion optional).

Of genes and privilege

Enough has been said in response to Senator (how did THAT happen?) Cory Bernardi’s dim-witted and myopic ravings about any sexual activity other than the hetero-normative variety. His book’s satiric Amazonrevues alone are far more acidic than anything my humble pen could produce. However, the results of a recent genetic study should, let us pray, nail shut his bilious yap for good. If he’s intellectually honest, that is. No evidence for that thus far, but no one is beyond redemption, right Senator?

I refer to findings produced by a peer-reviewed study at Northwestern University, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which found that homosexuality tends to be genetically inherited. Like most complex biological states, it’s not a case of cause-and-effect, though. Certain genes have a ‘limited and variable’ impact on sexual orientation. Genes alone were found neither to be sufficient, or necessary to sexual orientation, so they don’t completely determine it. The many other contributing nurture factors include the levels of hormones babies are exposed to while developing in the womb. However, the amalgam of genetic predisposition and pre-and post-natal nurture factors point to this: that sexual orientation has nothing to do with choice. Earlier studies have pointed toward this conclusion, so it was no surprise to the scientists involved.

So tell me, Senator…when did you choose to be straight? What was it like? Was there much internal struggle? (Thou doth protest too much, methinks…)

Will these findings help move the political debate forward, however? In the current political climate, I have my doubts. As a culture, we are raising privilege above equality. Look at what’s happening to the Gonski education reforms. Look at how unions and hard-won entitlements are being bashed. ‘Them that’s got shall have; them that’s not shall lose’, as the old song says, and the dominant myth of capital encourages us to see it as right and proper for the privileged to enjoy the privileges of class, race, gender.

But let me ask you something, Cory (can I call you ‘Cory’?). You and your lovely wife can walk down the street holding hands, even canoodling, and never for a moment fear for your personal safety, right? You, who did not choose your sexual orientation any more than Liberace did. That, right there, is you (and I guess your wife) enjoying heterosexual privilege. Privilege for a sexuality given you, not earned. How miserly of you not to wish the same for others, just like you in that regard-- powerless to be other than what they are?

Your notion of God is one who sees everything, yes? If that’s the case, Rev. Rob says there is time for you to redeem thyself. Start by listening to facts, and treating all others as you yourself enjoy being treated.
Maybe he’ll forgive you for that execrable book.