Friday, May 13, 2005

"Unbinding the Gay Conscience"

Another article by James Alison at (Thanks to Christopher at Bending the Rule.)

I'm tired, tired, tired of the "Church and the gays" issue. I really don't want to talk about it anymore, but unfortunately, on it goes - and I'm in it whether I like it or not. (For instance, I wrote this post a few days ago, about the worldwide rise in IQ scores, and was left a trackback to an article claiming that this was proof against the "sexual orientation is immutable" argument. I probably shouldn't have followed the link, I admit, but here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about - we're in this whether we like it or not, and whether we discuss it or not. This is also what James Alison talks about here.)

The article is quite brilliant, and it does perfectly describe the unbelievable push-pull, the contradictory whirlpool of instruction and scolding and belittling that the world, and especially the Church, manifest towards gay people. One the one side, we are told we have to be celibate (this is the Catholic view); on the other, we are told we need to "change" (these are the Evangelicals). I should add that in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, these sides seem to co-exist at once, and also seem to swap arguments whenever the mood strikes. That's the old Via Media, for you!

I wish sometimes I had never gone back to the Church, because it is by far the least healthy atmosphere I could possibly have put myself into. I'm losing interest in it now, in fact, and don't really want to go to services anymore; I've stopped going to midweek eucharist and prayers. I was bothered by prejudice and hatred while out of the Church, but inside it there is true insanity:
Let me say first that in an ideal world, Peter would realise that he had been given the power to bind and loose specifically so as to be able to open heaven to the gentiles. He would pronounce those words ‘God has shown me that I should not call any human profane or impure’2, and gay people would find themselves with unbound conscience as brothers and sisters in the Church on the same footing as everyone else-as sons and daughters and heirs.

But in fact, it seems to me that we find ourselves in a strange moment in that story from Acts 10. We find ourselves in the tiny gap after Peter has preached to us about Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and power3, after we have believed that message, and so realise that Jesus is Good News for us, and after the Holy Spirit has come down upon us, so that we are beginning to live the life of loved children and are able to speak well of God4. But we find ourselves in the tiny space before Peter has found it in him to declare ‘’Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ’5.

If you want a reality check on this, then consider the current teaching of the Vatican Congregations: ‘the homosexual inclination, though not itself a sin, constitutes a tendency towards behaviour that is intrinsically evil, and therefore must be considered objectively disordered’. If you read that phrase in the light of the passage from Acts which I have just recalled, you can see quite clearly that it is a piece of backsliding. Where Peter said, ‘God has shown me that I should not call any human profane or unclean’, his modern minions say, ‘While it is true that gay people are not profane or unclean, they must in fact be considered to be so’.

So, we find ourselves living at a time of Petrine backsliding from the Gospel, and yet beginning to be aware that the reception of the Good News, and our own unbinding does not come from Peter, but from God, and that Peter later on gets to understand and confirm this. This is a perfectly understandable biblical pattern which we can inhabit while we wait for Peter.

Now I would like to examine the binding and the unbinding. What does it look like? The first step is to look at what being ‘bound’ means. A bound conscience is one which cannot go this way or that, forward or backwards, is paralysed, scandalized. In that sense it is a form of living death, and those afflicted by it are living dead, and many of us are or have been such people. For example: we are familiar with the notion of a ‘double-bind’ or a ‘Catch 22 situation’. A bound conscience is a sense of being formed by a double-bind or a series of double binds. For instance: ‘My command is that you should love-but your love is sick’; or, ‘You should just go away and die-but it is forbidden to kill yourself’; or ‘The only acceptable way for me to live is a celibate life, but if they knew who I really was, they wouldn’t allow me to join’, or ‘Of course you can join, but you mustn’t say who you really are’; or ‘You cannot be gay, but you must be honest’. Many of us have been inducted into such patterns of desire over time. They classically follow the form, ‘Imitate me, do not imitate me’. If you find yourself drawn towards someone, and yet the underlying message is, ‘Be like me, do not be like me’, you will be scandalised, eventually you will judder to a halt, unable to move forwards or backwards.

What I would like to suggest is that in all these cases we are dealing with a self that has been formed by being given contradictory desires without being given any ability to discern where they might appropriately be applied. In other words, two instructions are received as on the same level as each other, pointing in two different directions at once, and the result is paralysis. This is what σκάνδαλον-skandalon-refers to in the New Testament-scandal, or stumbling block. Someone who is scandalised is someone who is paralysed into an inability to move. And the undoing of σκάνδαλα-skandala – which means the unbinding of double binds that do not allow people to be, is what the Gospel is supposed to be about.

I wonder how long I'll be able to feel favorable towards the Church; I wonder if my current malaise is temporary or permanent. I do need some sort of spiritual support from somewhere, but this might not be it.