Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Educate yourself. Organize. Educate others.

Pr Ruth Frost has been talking to students, seminarians, conferences for years. Many of the people who vote on ELCA policies have heard the following:

Graced, gifted and gay:
Reflections on sexuality and spiritualities
by Pr. Ruth Frost

Pr. Ruth Frost is Associate Pastor for Outreach and Evangelism at St. Francis Lutheran Church, ELCA. This article is adapted from a talk she gave in 1992 to a meeting of the Lutheran Student Movement.

When I was born, there was no wise midwife present who could turn to my parents and say, "Congratulations! You have a lovely lesbian!" So my parents did what their parents did: took their baby home and never once questioned that one of them could be different.

There were clues to my difference, of course, but no one understood them or had a language for them, so we all just muddled through. By age three, I announced to my parents that I would accept only one doll into my young life and that it must be a boy doll. This was 1950 when boy dolls were scarce. My parents looked high and low for a boy doll and could not find one. They finally resorted to deception and bought a female baby-doll. They had a family friend sew boys' clothes for it and attach a male-styled fur piece to its head. So I got my first doll -- in drag. How prophetic!
By age four I was wearing my father's cast-off neckties every chance I could get, and had learned to tie a half-Windsor before I learned to tie my shoes. In fourth grade, my best friend was a boy, and together we made a pact to tell people we were cousins so people wouldn't tease us about the friendship. One day on the playground, I saw a group of little boys sniggering secretively over a deck of playing cards. Curious, I drew closer and discovered that one little boy had ransacked his father's personal effects for this deck and was making a killing selling it off card by card to the other boys.

I soon saw why. On the back of each card was a picture of Marilyn Monroe posed provocatively in the nude. As I caught a glimpse of her, I knew instantly that I wanted one, but I also knew I had to get it surreptitiously. Being a true friend, the little boy I called my "cousin" got one for me. That day in school I propped my desk top open a crack so I could look at that card all day. It was my most exciting day in school.

After school, I walked home carrying my card with feelings I did not understand and with no one to talk to about them. I threw away the card before I reached home.
That day was my first experience of sexual feelings. It was also the first time I was truly conscious of my difference. Most significantly, it was the first time I experienced shame because of it. Instinctively, I realized that this difference was not sanctioned in society. I had no language to talk about my awareness of difference but the few derogatory words I had heard used ("sissy," "fag," "homo," etc.) in school, words I did not yet fully understand but knew were not used positively.
By age thirteen, I was reading romance novels in which helpless "girls" got rescued by strong men who were rewarded for their bravery by a kiss from the grateful girls. Always, when I read these, I imagined myself in the body of the male hero rescuing and romancing the heroine. Giving myself a male body was the only way I knew how to be strong and how to enjoy the allure of a female body. While I delighted in these imaginary experiences of my sexuality, I told no one of them, because I had gradually learned I was not "normal."

After all, the world around me was heterosexual. All television I saw, all books I read, and all advertising I saw and heard bombarded me with heterosexual models for identity and for sexual expression in relationship. I was growing up in the midst of the most massive behavior modification and control plan any mad psychiatrist could ever have dreamed up for an emerging homosexual. My entire culture -- family, church and society -- were conspiring against my identity and my self-expression.
So I did what most of the rest of us who are in this ten percent of the population do: I assumed a false identity and tried to act my way into heterosexuality. Though I fell in love with women, I did everything in my power to deny my feelings and keep them at bay. When I was twenty-seven, I fell deeply in love with a twenty-three year old woman whom I became sexually involved with. In a panic, I broke off the relationship with her and married the first sensitive man whom I thought I could love. Ironically, he turned out to be gay.

After our divorce three years later, I swore off sexual expression altogether and decided that the only way to not be sexual was to be very spiritual. So I went to seminary. This proved to be no solution. In the seminary dorm, I was surrounded by healthy heterosexuals who were delightedly acting out their sexual desires in a variety of ways. There were, or course, homosexual students on campus as well as homosexual faculty, but I was too frightened to make friends with any of them. We all knew who we were, but we were so closeted in seminary that we were terrified of relating to one another. The power of fear and shame is the power to isolate people from support, thereby insuring conformity to heterosexist norms, or, failing that, at least insuring secrecy.

However, the seminary was giving me excellent tools for Biblical study and analysis. We were learning interesting things -- such as the status of women in ancient times. We learned that, in ancient Israel, Jewish religious law codes were written by men for men, that it was normative for men to legally own women and to have more than one wife; that women could not be responsible for any oaths they made but were always responsible for any sexual actions they took; and that men could divorce their wives simply by verbal decree, though women could not divorce their husbands. We also learned that anal rape of male strangers and prisoners was a popular method of subjugation and humiliation which Biblical writers roundly condemned, but that vaginal rape of women was overlooked by the Biblical writers unless it resulted in damage to a man's "property" through the death of "his" woman.

In short, we seminarians learned that scripture, like so much other history, is largely stories told by men about men and for men. We noticed that with few exceptions, women's voices, women's lives and women's loves were strangely absent except in affiliation with men's. Through this experience, many of us came to understand the powerful influences of racism, sexism and heterosexism that have permeated so many cultures and so many times, Biblical cultures and Biblical times not excepted.

But we seminarians also learned about the love of God and the ministry of Christ, calling us to be witnesses to the law of God in the love of neighbor as the self. Slowly, in the midst of this homophobic seminary community, I began to really believe the Gospel and to love my neighbor as myself -- all of myself. I began to imagine Christian community as dreamt of by the apostle Paul: a community without the usual divisions between male and female, Jew and Gentile, gay and straight, but rather a community which understands itself as beautiful in its diversity and as the healing presence of Christ in the world. I began to appropriate (prefer appropriate) my baptism as that ritual which signifies not only the reception of the Holy Spirit but the overcoming of all human divisions.

I realized that the church can be a powerful instrument either of abuse or healing. Finally, I became convinced that the grace of God for homosexual people is our release from the tyranny of heterosexist shame, release from doctrines and policies that teach us to hate our own bodies and to deny ourselves the blessing of love in mutually trusting, empowering, full-bodied relationship.
So, grace for homosexual persons, and indeed all persons, is to be affirmed by God in our giftedness as sexual and spiritual persons, and to be challenged to become all we were created to be.

I invite you to imagine a different world than the one you inherited. Imagine a world in which there is no sexual shame and no sexual threat of any kind.
Young women, imagine never having to think about or guard against sexual assault, never having to guard against someone's penis being used as a weapon against you. Imagine being able to love your bodies freely, to see them as magnificently beautiful and as belonging solely to you, to give to another only as you please. Imagine yourself free of the responsibility to be the sexual watchguard for men. Imagine yourself free to take loving sexual initiatives with a man or free to accept the loving sexual initiatives of a woman. Imagine a world where there is no inequality in relationship, no power imbalance, no economic disparity, and no gender or sex role prescriptions for you. Imagine the possibility of relationship free from fear. Now, having imagined living with this freedom, what is it that you need and want for yourself as a sexual and spiritual person who loves herself as much as her neighbor?

Young men, imagine a world where your manhood is not measured by the size or activity of your penis. Imagine loving your body freely, imagine a world where erotic desire is not seen as dirty or pornographic but as a natural expression of created goodness. Imagine a relationship in which you do not carry the major responsibility for providing economic security or sexual initiative. Imagine a world where your best performance is that of love rather than sexual prowess. Imagine sexual expression as the source of intimacy and play, imagine that your genitals and those of your partner are nothing more and nothing less than an extension of your arms and mouth and eyes made for loving embrace. Imagine erotic expression as the power of connection. Imagine the wonderful journeys you can embark on with a partner you love and trust and who delights in his or her body as much as you do. Finally, imagine that as you express yourself, physically, sexually and emotionally, as you "make love" in all the ways love can be expressed and created, God looks upon you and smiles delightedly, pleased with your erotic beauty and imagination.
Is this a pipe dream in the age of AIDS and with the fear of unwanted pregnancies? I don't think so. If we offer people sex education to help them prevent STDS and unwanted pregnancies, we give them the tools with which to make wise choices that can lead to life-affirming relationships. In this way, we would help people claim their spiritual and sexual wholeness and use the gift of their sexuality wisely and joyfully. If we affirm sexuality in its richness and diversity -- heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality (in short, every responsible manifestation of sexuality) -- we will help people to look at what they want in relationships and trust them to tell us what they need. If we stop modeling sexual power as power and control over another and start modeling sexual power as the power of connection which is of both the spirit and the flesh, we will teach people life-affirming behavior and help them to resist what is life-denying. In this way, we can eradicate shame from sexuality.

If we see sexuality as shameful or the privilege only of those in heterosexual marriage, we deny the rights and needs of young adults not yet ready for marriage, of older adults who have become single again through death or divorce, of women who outnumber the male population in this country by 15 million, and of lesbian and gay relationships seeking support and guidance from family, church and society. If we teach people that there is clean sex and dirty sex and the difference is defined only by heterosexual marital privilege, we are failing them and creating a situation in which the church presides over who gets a license for sexual expression and when. This is as demeaning to the church as it is to the faithful.

Make no mistake: lesbian and gay people do not want immunity from sexual responsibility. We do not want to cast aside sexual ethics any more than heterosexual people do. But in being told that our sexuality is so unspeakably sinful that under no circumstances must we express it, we are being denied sexual responsibility and ethical guidance. This is a travesty. Sadly, we are not alone in this ethical void. The ELCA's position is like a "just say no" campaign against loving sexual expression outside of marriage, no matter what the circumstances or ages of the partners. It asks the faithful to turn over responsibility of their bodies and their desire for intimacy to an institution with its official head in the sand. Thus the church fails all people whose relationships lie outside the sanction of heterosexual marriage.

We are creating a church whose policies ask people of every age, orientation and gender identity to lie about who they are and what they do. Through the ELCA's document Visions and Expectations (for seminarians and clergy) the church has codified a double standard of relational intimacy and sexual expression for those outside mainstream heterosexuality and those inside it. To deny the benefits of marriage to homosexual persons and to require sexual celibacy of gay and lesbian persons (and bisexual persons by implication if they happen to be partnered to someone of the same gender) is both an unfair and ludicrous position for Lutherans to take, given Martin Luther's stance against celibacy and his own happiness in marriage.

The church's discriminatory policies have created a religious atmosphere of lies, secrets and silence for all of us. In their attempts to maintain unity at the expense of honesty, our religious leaders have sold out. For those of us who are lesbian, gay bisexual and transgendered, the church has sent a clear message that we are the expendable populations.

I am frightened for this church which I love. We have entered an era in the ELCA where power and control are becoming increasingly centralized and mature dissent stifled and responded to punitively. Those of us not represented in the institution's model of heterosexual marriage are allowing religious leaders who neither understand our reality nor respect it to define our lives for us. In sexual relations we would call this abusive. In family systems we would call this dysfunctional. Who will save this church, if not the people of God who dare to risk rejection and exclusion by their honesty?


Eli said...

There is almost so much nonsense I don't know where to start. But, just to take the last paragraph, she is either delusional or purposefully deceptive. I mean-fear the ELCA? Because it is some sort of coercive traditionalist machine??? And somehow there is no escape from it, like it is a government dictatorship. Holy cow, what a 180 degrer from reality. And to use the word "abusive." God, that so cheapens people who really have had abuse. But, I suppose that outlook keeps you as the poor persecuted minority you need to be.

I know there is so much more dreck in this article, but somehow the last paragraph really made my jaw drop because I have couldn't imagine seeing the world portrayed as totally opposite from the way it really is.

Shrimp said...

Oh, it gets worse, it gets worse.

To me the scary thing is that this was based on a talk given to the Lutheran Student Movement in 1992, so not only is this a kind of a stump speech given over and over (her "testimony") and has such a shelf life that a Reconciling in Christ Church would use it in a February, 2005 newsletter, THE REALLY SCARY THING is that your offering dollars have made sure that this has been heard by impressionable young people struggling with their own self-esteem and hormones, and many of them have gone into to the church embracing this is as truth, and for some, embracing it as THEIR truth.

Wonder how many times Pr Frost and Jim Childs were on the same bill?

Anonymous said...

I am frightened for this church which I love. We have entered an era in the ELCA where power and control are becoming increasingly centralized and mature dissent stifled and responded to punitively. Those of us not represented in the institution's advocacy of the gay agenda and radical feminism are allowing religious leaders who neither understand our reality nor respect it to define our lives for us. In sexual relations we would call this abusive. In family systems we would call this dysfunctional. Who will save this church, if not the people of God who dare to risk rejection and exclusion by their honesty?

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...