Somewhere along the way, however, homosexuality became an identity. I suppose it always ways, to some extent, and I have previously discussed the coming-out process as a form of conversion experience in this blog. Nevertheless, something new has been a-borning, for if you listen to the various activists, especially those in the Queer Clergy Caucus and Reconciling Ministries Network, you hear something different. The difference isn’t in their stridency on the issue, but in how they are constructing their identity.
I have known a fair number of gay (and bisexual) people over the years, as friends or parishioners. Whether they would today identify with the activists’ identitarian ideology, I don’t know, but even those most comfortable with themselves back when never quite formulated their identity as the activists do today. The LGBTQ folks have been fully taken up into Intersectionality, and insist on their people-status. They are a distinct community, with special ways of understanding not only themselves, but the world. And this leads some of them to say things about their understanding and practice of Christianity that I find very disturbing.
At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, I need to make a detour back to Nazi Germany to explain myself. One of the principal objectives of Naziism was the neutering or co-opting of religion (particularly Christianity) in order to inculcate their ideology of German-ness. The ideology of German-ness could be presented in many forms, some more palatable than others: it could be presented as patriotism or nationalism to the many; as anti-Semitism and racist Aryan bilge to those susceptible to those pathologies. To put it simply, it aimed to first redefine what it meant to be “German.” And once the mass of the population of Germany was on board with the new identity, it could be led to turn a blind eye to, then approve of, then participate in, all sorts of murderous blasphemy.
The Third Reich negotiated a Concordat with the Vatican. This checked Catholic resistance to Nazi ideology in areas where Catholicism was strong. The government of course violated the agreement before the ink was dry, but the Catholic hierarchy had lost the initiative. The various Lutheran and Reformed churches in Germany were all mostly State-sponsored (a legacy of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which endorsed the principle of cuius regio, eius religio). Patriotism was already very much a part of their culture. To seduce them and keep them quiet, the German Christian movement (Deutsche Christen) was formed. The Deutsche Christen were a political faction that engaged in ecclesiastical politics seeking to capture control of the Protestant churches and which spread an ideology of German-ness.
My point here is, the Deutsche Christen weren’t just “German Christians,” they were “German-Christians.” In their identity, “German” didn’t just modify “Christian,” in the sense that there are Polish Christians and Ethiopian Christans or male Christians or left-handed Christians. “German” modified “Christian” in the sense that “Protestant” or “Catholic” modifies “Christian.” They were establishing a different kind of Christianity, if you will. And as the movement took hold and the government put the screws to the Protestants, “German” (as defined by Nazi propaganda) became of equal value with “Christian.” Finally, with the adoption of the Nazi Führerprinzip and Aryan ideology, one could argue that “Christian” became a weak and heretical adjective modifying “(Nazi) German.” Dietrich Bonnhöffer and the Confessing Church refused to cooperate, and many of them paid the price.
Now, the same sort of thing, though on a less catastrophic scale, can be seen many times in the history of Christian missions. The swagger of 19th Century British imperialism affected the presentation and experience of Christianity for both the British and the other nationalities in the Empire and Commonwealth. David Livingstone’s self-proclaimed mission was to open up the interior of Africa to “Commerce and Christianity.” R.F. Delderfield’s novel, God is an Englishman, follows a representative of this national self-confidence. In the 20th Century, American missionaries have sometimes been criticized for confusing the task of Christianization with a process of Americanization. Other examples in history – painful ones – include Charlemagne’s conversion of the Saxons at the point of a sword. (Interestingly, the first German Holy Roman Emperor, Otto of Saxony, wore Frankish tribal dress to his coronation, as if to convince people that the Saxons had “got it” and were now completely with the program.) And to be fair, it should also be pointed out that there are less painful examples – good examples – of missions, too. The conversion of the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons were culturally respectful and completely voluntary, for instance.
But returning to the Deutsche Christen,one can see how an alien identity can go from being a mere descriptor, a harmless adjective, to a redefining attribute standing for a Christianity that is, at best, schismatic; at worst, an active partner in the doing of unspeakable evil. My question is, what is “Gay Christianity” as adumbrated and practiced by groups like RMN and the Queer Clergy Caucus? In their understanding, how much weight do they assign to gayness and how much to Christianity? Are they gay Christians or Gay Christians? Or “Gay-Christians?” (Perhaps there is a spectrum here. One would have to ask a fair number of them to form any sort of opinion.)
But if their identity as Christians is bound up with their identity as gays (or bisexuals, or transgenders, or the other sexual identities fast developing in our society), then that is a problem. We traditionalists have been arguing for some years now that our fundamental issues with the gay activists are theological, and that this is a much larger bone of contention than anybody’s personal behavior. Evangelicals, especially, point out that changing either the definition of Scripture’s authority OR the canons of interpretation (i.e., standing it on its head to make it say what it manifestly does not say) is a confessional issue. We can’t go there. But also, if the form of Christianity being proclaimed is fundamentally modified by the sexual identity of its practitioners, if we’re not just talking about gay persons who happen to be Christian, but a kind of Gay- or Gay-friendly-Christianity that changes the definition of Christianity, then that runs afoul of the catholicity of the Church, which is also a confessional issue.
The whole Intersectional octopus hangs over the entire discussion. If some people have a truth that is truer than somebody else’s truth – not just that they perceive things that others do not, but that their identity rates higher than someone else’s identity in the evaluation of truth claims, or in the right to speak of their experience, or if their victimhood or somebody else’s oppressor-hood validates or invalidates whatever they say, then the idea that Christianity is the same, regardless of where and by whom it is professed is not true, and the creed errs in saying that the Church is catholic.
No doubt the Church has often sinned in being a respecter of persons. But Intersectional theology makes God a respecter of persons. And I very much suspect that the theology of RMN and the Queer Clergy Caucus does, too. Perhaps I wrong them. We would have to discuss it to find out. But when I see new rites, such as Glitter Ash for Ash Wednesday, or re-naming ceremonies similar to baptism or confirmation, then I don’t see honest Christians attempting to include the previously excluded; I see a new religion being created which changes the meaning of things not only for those who take comfort in the new religion – but also for those who are unwillingly brought into the new religion when they came looking for the old religion they thought they were getting.