What’s Sex Got to Do with It?

imageI am ordained clergy in a Christian denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches, that exists because of sex.

Thus, it may not seem unusual that we are having a three-day virtual symposium entitled, “Who Are We Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit.”

And yet, this is the first such planned, intentional conversation ever in our mostly Protestant global denomination that arose in Los Angeles 47 years ago to serve the spiritual needs of lesbian and gay Christians.

Rev. Elder Troy D.Perry
Rev. Elder Troy D.Perry

In 1968, when Rev. Troy Perry issued the invitation in The Advocate for people to come to his home for the first service, people were regularly arrested for having same-sex sex and for dressing “against” their gender (butch lesbians, femme gay men, transexuals, e.g.), and many attempted suicide in the face of losing family and jobs. Troy himself was not arrested, but he did attempt suicide. And in his autobiographical account of the founding, tells of going with many others to bring friends and lovers home from jail. One such incident sparked the call in his heart to start a new church. Twelve people showed up on October 6, and things started rolling.

imageThat’s why I say we started because of sex. Sex is at our center as a gathered faith community. If men were not having sex with men and women with women, we would not exist. Just in case you are wondering, we still are having sex.

imageBut the truth is that in many, if not most, of our churches, you would not know it. We don’t talk about it much. We’re just like the rest of the Church, in denial.

One reason we keep quiet about sex is that we have tried hard to be accepted by the larger religious establishment. That has worked, somewhat, but we are still barred from membership in the National Council of Churches, and the World Council of Churches, too.

imageAnother reason is that many of our people are still fighting internalized homophobia and shame. LGBT folks are not exempt from the various forms of body shame that infect so many people, and we all have to cope with the same air of negativity and judgment about same-sex love that everyone else has had to breathe.

imageThose factors are undergirded by the general sex phobia of Christianity. Why our larger faith is this way seems strange–Jesus is not recorded as saying anything negative about sex (or even same-sex sex), and even cares for several people who are sexually active (remember the woman accused of adultery?).

In the first two sessions yesterday, the first day, we heard some of our history in the U.S. and some of the challenges we face in other parts of the world today. We also delved into approaches to “deconstructing heteronormativity” (sadly I missed most of this session).

imageAnd in the third session, about 30 of us conducted a moderated, open discussion of the question, “How do we bring sex to church?”

Implicit in that question is that it is desirable to bring sex to church. I surely agree.

imageBut that is not by far what many Christians, in MCC and in other groups, ordained or lay, would say. And for many who would agree, it would be to be sure that people only had sex in marriage and for many of them only for the purposes of procreation. And they would not think that a group of LGBT folks ought to be bringing our perverted sexual lives anywhere near church.

imageSo the first line dividing many (I hope all in MCC are on this side): sex is good. The second might be that there should be more of it. But even before that would be the reality that God is the author of sexuality and that God’s design is rich and varied and not under the control of self-appointed, or even biblically anointed, sex police.

Could this be your church?
Could this be your church?

This symposium is touching on all this, and more, and pushing boundaries all over the place, and is the most exciting religious/theological event I have attended in a long time.

Such is the power of sex. Thank God!

[Note: this last picture, taken at the renowned Opera House in Sydney, Australia, is too white for my taste–I want my church to be far more diverse–but I had a hard time finding a picture of a large group of naked people. And it is pretty cool anyway–all those wondrously naked bodies simply enjoying being alive! If you click on it, you can appreciate the diversity of bodies.]

The “Naked Saint”–A Model for the “Protestant” Pope

Pope Francis is doing something radical in the Roman Catholic Church: he is encouraging people to have conversations about formerly taboo topics.

Pope Francis thumbs upBy and large, the media focuses on what he says–and what he might be thinking–e.g., will he support same-sex marriage (unlikely any time soon) or change church teaching about divorce or abortion (also unlikely)–rather than what seems to me to be the most important thing he is doing, namely engaging laity to think for themselves. He may be the most Protestant Pope we have ever had!

Of course, theological and ecclesial conservatives are alarmed. They see “confusion” where before there was order.

I have long believed there are two kinds of models for church. They are in some ways polar opposites of each other, and all churches fall somewhere along the continuum between the two ends.

rules must followOne is the church as an ideological institution in which the church, and its leadership, promulgate and enforce doctrines and behaviors. I call this the Rule Church. The other is is church as a gathering place for people who want to receive and share the unfolding truth and love of God. I call this the Free Church. You probably can tell my bias.

feeding-5000
Feeding the 5,000–a model for the Free Church?

No church in existence, or in history, is precisely one or the other. Rule Churches include gatherings of people which at least look somewhat like the Free Church. And the Free Churches have rules and people to enforce, or at least articulate, them.

Right now, the Rule Church known as the Roman Catholic Church is being challenged, not just by lay people and a few unruly dissident priests. Now it is the Pope himself (so far, it must always be a “him”) who is raising questions about the rules and their enforcement (and sometimes the enforcers).

Pope Francis blessing bikers
Pope Francis blessing a group of Harley Davidson bikers

One response to this untidiness is to invoke the historic doctrines, or rules, of the church, and to remind the Pope, and others who support him, that “The pope does not have the power to change teaching [or] doctrine.” That is the voice of Cardinal Raymond Burke, a Wisconsin-born prelate recently demoted by Pope Francis.

St. Francis renouncing worldly goods by Giotti Di Bondone
St. Francis renouncing worldly goods by Giotti Di Bondone

Francis. The name is a clue. This is the saint who gave up worldly wealth and power, stripped off all his stylish clothes and became a Christian ascetic. He got along with those in high authority but at the same time he built the order he founded the way he wanted. He did not seek high office, never becoming a priest. He lived by a few rules, and told others in the order to do so as well. Mostly, they focused on serving the poor and outcast.

In his emphasis on humility and service and love, as well as his willingness to break with authority and custom when it denies life to others, St. Francis seems to me to be the most Jesus-like of all the saints.

Unlike many of his critics, Pope Francis seems to believe the rules exist to serve the people. Perhaps he, like his saintly forebearer, is less interested in power and rules and more interested in service and love.

That sounds a lot like Jesus to me.