July 20, 2009
Miss California and the Politics of Sexual Redemption
Is the church being hypocritical about sexual ethics?
I know this is little late, but for me, nothing illustrates the current state of the church's witness in regard to sexual issues in America better than the Ms. California/USA pageant episode a couple months ago. It was an embarrassing irruption of the Real that any follower of Christ has got to wince at (it's so embarrassing).
Here a woman prances before the media in a minuscule bikini (ironically designed by another ex-evangelical, Jessica Simpson), a woman who had ("sexually-enhancing") cosmetic surgery, who had been in a revealing photo shoot of some sort, and she is asked about her position on same sex unions. She responds by saying, "I think in my country, in my family, that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."
The next day on the Today show, she said "I don't take back what I said." She added that she "had spoken from my heart, from my beliefs and for my God. It's not about being politically correct," she said. "For me, it's about being biblically correct." Using the "B" word - "biblical" - in front of the cameras makes her an evangelical stereotype. In the process she becomes a symbol of evangelicalism's lack of political (communal) credibility to witness to the gay/lesbian populations.
By saying what she said about gay unions moments after the swimsuit competition, Ms. California was basically telling the world, "We do the same things, but for gay people it's sin. Lust is good, objectifying my body is normal, the fulfillment of all desire is good." Then, on the other hand, she says to the gay and lesbian world, "But you can't do any of this, because you're different."
Such an episode reveals the inner contradiction of our own sexual life and politics as evangelicals. It reveals how pointing out someone else's sin allows us to ignore the empty frivolity of our own sexual lives. We do not need to fess up that our own sexual habits are so badly skewed, our desires so poorly oriented. We can keep ignoring the emptiness of our own sexual sanctification by displacing our lack of "enjoyment" onto "the others." This has become the nature of our witness in society.
I believe the gay, lesbian, bi and transsexual groups pose the defining test case of the decade for the witness of the church in the new post-Christendom contexts of North America. And we evangelicals are failing miserably. The broader evangelical church of my heritage has, generally speaking, not been capable of speaking (any kind of) truth into the sexual lives of anyone - nevermind the gay/lesbian community. We have been hitherto incapable (theologically) of embodying the sexual redemption made possible in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And until we get our own communities to line up with the sexual redemption in Christ, to the gay community we look like empty, judgmental, duplicitous fools who see everyone else as thieves stealing away our enjoyment.
We need to ask what kind of people we should be in order to welcome gay and lesbian people into the redemptive and healing salvation of God in Christ for sexuality. In my opinion, most evangelicals date and marry much like the rest of society, where an unexamined sexualized attraction is a guiding factor. We teach that lust before marriage is bad, yet lust after marriage is good (implicitly). In our practice of salvation, there is no formation of desire to be integrated and developed into a narrative of self-giving love and commitment to mutuality, self giving and procreation over time in marriage. Without a communal witness of love and redemptive sexual healing, our words are empty. And so we protest same sex marriage or institute some kind of legislative action. In so doing we reveal our fear for our children and our insecurity in our own sexual formation practices within our church communities.
I believe we need to become the kind of community that
a.) does not indulge hyper romanticist notions of sexuality that objectifies sexual attraction as the basis of heterosexual marriage,
b.) quits disembodying sexuality in the way we do whenever we make the Bible into moral propositions that should be enforced instead of a narrative world to be shaped and directed towards so as to live into.
c.) worships in a way that orders desires towards God and away from narcissism (feel-good pep-rallies), for any other kind of worship cannot train us out of our narcissistic obsessions with sex.
d.) stops acting like heterosexual marriage and sex itself are absolutely essential for a fulfilling Christian life. We should elevate celibacy/singleness as a vocation, testifying that sexual drive and all desire needs to be sub-ordered to God's purpose and mission for anything remotely fulfilling to take place in our lives.
e.) loves and nurtures the hurting souls and bruised lost ones who seriously desire to be shown another way but are too consumed at this moment to see anything else.
I've assumed a lot of things in this rant, including stuff in moral theology (hoping it was just intuitive). Sorry! For those who need to know, I do not affirm gay/lesbian sexual practice as normative for the Christian church. This makes communal, embodied, incarnational witness to our gay neighbors all the more indispensable. There's no way I could clarify all my positions concerning gay, lesbian sexuality etc. So I welcome questions and discussion.