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A recent post from Zach Hoag on LGBT persons and the blessings they bring to the church troubled me and reminded me of why I think third way is the worst way. Namely, its appearance as well reasoned and the hidden violences that animate this position.

The “draw” of the third way comes primarily through its mode of narrating the world: It is a frail and broken world where people are unkind to one another, hurt one another, and increasingly polarized. It is a world where people’s ideologies position them into one of two camps. Either for “this thing” or against it. Each side wants to say there is no middle ground, no nuance–that it is black and white. But, the third wayer reveals to us, this is a false image! Yes, the world is frail and broken, yes we hurt each other and increasingly polarized, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s another way. A way that is more peaceable, more just, more Christ-like. A … THIRD WAY.

This dramatization isn’t meant to belittle third way beliefs (ok, maybe it is just a little bit), but rather to make explicit how third wayers narrate the world. Their story of how the world operates is already invested in a certain kind of dramatization of what’s wrong with the world. Thus, this narration positions the third wayer’s place in the world as the ones who know how to fix it by finding some well reasoned balance in between the “two sides” of the fight. In their narration, the left and the right are just like each other, screaming just as loudly as the other, drawing lines in the sand just like the other, and increasing the fragmentation of Christianity and society by maintaining such strong positions while they are the bearers of a more peaceful way. The third way. 

What’s mainly missing from third way positions, though, and why I find them disingenuous is their failure to take power into serious consideration and the dismissal or elision of critique as attempts to pin them down into taking a side when they don’t want to take one. For example, I read a tweet from a Christian the other day who was talking about why they denounced both Israel and Hamas for violence because third way is the best way and is the side of the innocents. The inability to distinguish Israel’s hi-tech military operations from Hamas’ desperate attempts to force an end to the military’s unlawful occupation of Palestinian territory reveals that the third way actually isn’t nuanced. collapsing Israel’s military and settler colonial violence with Hamas’ violence is to reveal the extent to which one is not able to analyze situations and ask, “What makes this violent?” and “Who decides what violence is?”. I’m basically a pacifist, but I also believe that forceful resistance often looks like violence because of how resistors are framed by those holding more power and because attempting to confront a violent system requires a force that is disruptive. That third wayers are unable to recognize any kind of difference in violence, how violence operates as a condition of the military occupation in the everyday life of Palestinians vs. some low-tech missiles that are decidedly ineffective and are a response to a much larger, insidious, and US backed mundane and brutal violence of colonialism suggests that what’s wrong does not require more nuance, but a matter of positionality and how one positions one’s self in relation to others and to the world.

I want to be clear that I am not arguing that Israel’s war on Palestine is the same kind of violence that the Church has visited on LGBT persons, but I am trying to point out how issues of power asymmetry frequently go ignored, unthought, or underthought by third wayers. Thus, I think it is this way of positioning one’s self as the bearer of the best way while ignoring issues of power and violence that is the problem many had with Hoag’s 3rd and final point where he claims that one of the blessings LGBT folks bring to the church is their deep (and elsewhere he clarifies it as almost miraculous) joy, even through all of the suffering they’ve experienced. Hoag later expounded that he was talking about a couple of specific gay people he knows and some stories he has heard as the basis for these comments. I don’t think the problem most people had with his point is sharing about LGBT people whose resilience and labor has created spaces where they are included in faith communities, but rather the third way narration of suffering and how LGBT suffering and joy here is utilized as a way to make the third way look good. That is, these stories of LGBT suffering and joy are being used to reinforce the position of the third way as the best way. In someways, this narration feels like when conservative Christians point to celibate gay and lesbian persons as proof that their beliefs are the best for lesbians and gays. Although Hoag is clear that he doesn’t desire to celebrate suffering as redemptive, it is difficult for it to be anything but that in light of how he positions it as a good that emerged from embracing the third way when he writes that, “as more open LGBT people find acceptance and inclusion in communities of all kinds (because there is a third way) the church is witnessing the tenacious, effusive joy that only the Lord can give to his people who have suffered.” I am sure some LGBT Christians support a third way, but that doesn’t make the third way less violent than other ways. It primarily reveals the various ways LGBT person navigate and negotiate violence within in faith communities, the different desires LGBT folks have for their lives and faith communities, and the different visions of liberation that are held. When one recognizes these multiplicities in LGBT Christians and in the world in general, it seems unnuanced to claim the third way as the best. Without assessing the conditions of violence and how power is structured, it is difficult to find one’s way at all. Instead of attending to the conditions and structures and their effects on LGBT person’s choices in how they participate in faith communities, the third way wants to repeat Christianity’s universalism in a nicer, more relevant way.

Also, why is it always only two sides and a third way? Why can’t their be 13 sides and a 14th way? Or just 36 sides and no ways? Or only 5 ways and no sides? Why the flattening of positions that lie to the left and the right of where one is? And this is what I mean by the lack of discernment of power, violence, and critique on the part of third wayers. But I think this lack of discernment is prevalent in many circles. We need to be able to attend to material conditions and experiences of vulnerability while also keeping in mind that the most visible violence isn’t the only violence, that mundane and structural violence often goes unspoken. Rather than simply celebrating surface level inclusions, it’s quite important to look at whether power is being redistributed in a way that makes the conditions of possibility for communities and society more just rather than furthering a more inclusive or kinder asymmetry.

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The Australian government is currently conducting a Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. A major focus of this investigation has been the church; how the individual denominations have responded to allegations of sexual abuse, and how the denominations, in many cases, worked to cover abuse up. Having followed the lead up to, and evidence given to the commission fairly closely, I was not entirely shocked, but certainly disappointed to witness a number of religious leaders behaving defensively.[1]

What saddened me, as the evidence mounted up against the various churches, was the deep level of defensives rearticulated by lay members of denominations. Having known a number of people directly and indirectly implicated and associated with various cases before the commission, I was involved in a number of conversations that mirrored institutional patterns of self-justification and diversion. I was told that the bare minimum legal requirements had been met on many occasions (as if the Church, that which continually argues for a particular moral and ethical ordering of society, should be celebrated for doing the very least expected of them). I was exhorted to think of offender’s families, and the great cost to them in a time of public transparency. And I was I was reminded that all people sin and that we are not to judge. In short, I was reminded that institutions protect themselves at all levels of participation, and that power is always mobilizing to protect the powerful and the power discourses of those very institutions.

Of course the Church has a unique explanatory power when it comes to responding to the handling of sexual abuse. A tragedy laid plain in the testimonies given at the Royal Commission, is that religious institutions not only dealt inadequately (and this word is hardly strong enough) with allegations of sexual abuse in the past, but that they can continue to do so. And it seems this defensiveness is made possible by the theological discourse that is rehashed time and time again.  Continue Reading »

I most love blogging for the way it places me just a keystroke away from people I would otherwise never even pass by on the street.  I can communicate with and receive feedback from anyone with an internet connection.  In this way, blogging is a form of communion.  It does not replace (or even come close to) the communion our bodies can make, but I am grateful for it nonetheless.

I received some rather unexpected reactions to my latest post, “Gay and Catholic? A Response to Eve Tushnet.”  I would like to address one of them here.

Both in the comments’ section of my post and in a separate blog post written in response to mine, I was accused of “reducing” gayness to sex.  One commenter contended that for people like Ms. Tushnet, gayness involves “desiring profound emotional intimacy with their own gender, deep spiritual friendship, appreciating the goodness and beauty of themselves and their companions–with part of that being sexual attraction…but not being the primary, overriding or sole determiner of the orientation.”

One blogger accused me of just not understanding what it means to be gay (people who know me in real life will understand how funny that statement is) because I do not realize that “being gay has much to do with how we love. Love, however, can be had without sex, just as sex can be had without love.”

Continue Reading »

Earlier this month, the Jesuit magazine America published an interview with lesbian Catholic blogger Eve Tushnet.

More than just an uncommonly gifted writer, Tushnet also tells an unconventional conversion story. She is proudly gay and unafraid to call the church out on its homophobia, but resolutely committed to living within the limits of the church’s teaching on homosexuality.

While affirming magisterial teaching on homosexuality as the truth, Tushnet describes her choice to “accept her sexuality” as

“being honest about where you’re coming from, what you’re experiencing, where your sexual desires are being directed, and not feeling that this area of your life is somehow shut off from God or turned away from God in a way that the rest of your life isn’t. It means not separating out your sexuality and your sexual orientation by saying they need to be repressed or destroyed in some way.”

But, I argue, if the magisterium speaks the truth when it classifies sexual relationships between people of the same sex as unconditionally evil, then this is exactly what homosexual women and men ought to do, seek to eradicate their orientation towards what the magisterium classifies as the categorical evil of gay sex.

While Tushnet strives to prove the church’s teaching on homosexuality both true and liveable, she actually ends up demonstrating its deep incoherence.

Continue Reading »

One of the main discourses to constitute social differentiation as hierarchy and domination is that of binary opposition. –Janet Jakobsen, 1998                                                                         

Is this the way the world ends? When groups that share common cause, utopian dreams and a joined mission find fault with each other instead of tearing down the banks and the bankers, the politicians and the parliaments, the university presidents and the CEO’s? Instead of realizing, as Moten and Hearny put it in The Undercommons, that “we owe each other everything,” we enact punishments on one another and stalk away from projects that should unite us, and huddle in small groups feeling erotically bonded through our self-righteousness. –Jack Halberstam, 2014

 

If there exists a madness that is laughable, it can only be one compatible with the general health of the mind,—a sane type of madness, one might say. Now, there is a sane state of the mind that resembles madness in every respect, in which we find the same associations of ideas as we do in lunacy, the same peculiar logic as in a fixed idea. This state is that of dreams. So either our analysis is incorrect, or it must be capable of being stated in the following theorem: Comic absurdity is of the same nature as that of dreams.–Henri Bergson, 1900

 

I’ve been thinking about Jack Halberstam’s brilliant and provocative piece on trigger warnings quite a bit this past week, especially in light of the many comments it provoked—which he aptly referred to as a “screeching apex of venom” in a clarifying post on his facebook page—as well as the flurry of responses, both critical , laudatory, and otherwise, that came soon thereafter. While my describing the piece as brilliant from the forefront clearly betrays my own position on the matter, I am also quite sensitive to a number of the critiques raised against the conclusion and/or implications of Halberstam’s argument. Continue Reading »

Unsure what to write about this month, I asked around for blog post topics people might like to see me explore. Somebody suggested that I write about things that high schoolers should know before arriving at college, so I’ll run with that. Except that it’ll just be about college, it’ll involve the axis of gender, and it’ll be a story from my own life.

My first semester of college, I elected to take an advanced writing course. The course topic was “power” (so “anything”), and it involved reading social theory and watching movies (read Weber and watch Fight Club and make them go together!), discussing the art of rhetoric and the structure of good argumentation, and then writing, rewriting, workshopping papers with the entire class, crying, laughing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. Continue Reading »

This morning the Instrumentum Laboris for the October 2014 Extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops was released (topic: The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization). You can read it here. The first three paragraphs cover “The Biblical Teaching on the Family” and cite, respectively, Genesis, the gospels, and the epistles. But Paragraph 2 mentions only the wedding at Cana (John 2), Jesus as the Bridegroom (John 3:29), and Jesus’s prohibition of divorce (Matt 19) to show that “the Church’s proclamation on the family finds its foundation in the life and preaching of Jesus, who lived and grew up in the family of Nazareth.” There are many other passages that show Jesus’s commitment to the biological family. Such as:

Matt 23:9
“And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”

Mark 3:32–35 (repeated in Matt 12:47–50 and Luke 8:20–21)
“And a crowd was sitting around him and said to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mothers and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.'”

Luke 14:26
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Matt 10:34–36 (repeated in Luke 12:51–53)
“Don’t think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies [will be] those of his own household.”

Matt 10:37
“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Luke 2:48–49
“And when they saw him, they were shocked. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why did you treat us like this? Look, your father and I have been desperately searching for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my father’s house?'”

Luke 9:59–62 (repeated in Matt 8:21–22)
“But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ But he said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another person said, ‘I’ll follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to those in my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'”

 

 

 

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