2013-02-10 by abookflog
Preacher: Christopher Adams
10th February 2013
Readings: Isaiah 53:8, Matthew 12:49-50, Matthew 5:1-10
(in that order – and referenced towards the end of the sermon).
As I began re-reading my sermon last night to make some last-minute changes, I realized that the ‘sermon’ I’m speaking today doesn’t sound much like a sermon. At all. It’s really more a working out of some ideas I’ve had since becoming a part of this church and while working out my own acceptance of my sexuality. The ‘sermon’ doesn’t, um, really mention Jesus until much later, and it mostly talks about gay people, which I realize is not the most relevant of topics to the majority of people in this room. That being said: this sermon series is called ‘soap box’, and the sermonizer gets to sermonize on whatever he or she chooses, so—yeah—um, deal with it.
In home group we are reading John Howard Yoder’s book What Would You Do If, which looks at several responses to the question: what would you do if…an armed gunman threatened your grandmother—would you kill the gunman? That kind of thing. The book looks at pacifism as both a stand against war and a stand against violence. I had been aware of the historic links between the peace activist movements and the gay movement of the late 1960s and especially the 70s, but I’ve been wondering for some time now what is it about some gay people that leads them to a pacifist stance? Is there something inherent in gayness itself that moves people toward this position? And, more broadly, how are sexuality and peace linked? How do we understand pacifism in light of our sexualit(ies)? How do we understand our sexuali(ties) in light of pacifism? I realize, even while writing this, that I don’t have a hope of answering these questions in any depth, and even by asking them I’m raising your hopes and expectations only to be dashed and unsatisfied. But again, um—I guess you’ll have to deal with it.
To begin answering these questions, I immediately turned to the obvious place: Google. But then I realized, to my horror, after I had tried search after search, that I had chosen a topic that is not easily Google-able, meaning, Google won’t tell you everything you need to know on the very first search results page. Or even the second. Shock and awe.
A search for ‘gay pacifism’ turns up a few interesting hits—most notably from ‘Gay Gamer.Net’ (it’s search result number four!) in which the postee talks about how (s)he’s interested in playing World of Warcraft without killing any other players. Result number three describes historical links between the gay movement and the pacifist movement, which I’ve already mentioned. Result number two is the Wiki page for Bayard Rustin, an African-American pacifist, and a gay man. And the first result is for all the articles on the Huffington Post website tagged ‘pacifism’. But ultimately, despite all of this information, nothing is immediately forthcoming about explaining what it is about being gay itself that leads (some) gay people to be involved in the pacifist movement.
I then decided to quit Google and employ some basic reasoning skills instead. The next section of the sermon-that-isn’t-really-a-sermon is my train of thought:
When the US lifted the ban on gay persons serving in the military in 2011 (the UK lifted its ban in 2000), I found myself strangely conflicted. I am strongly for equality in all aspects of society, and, as one of the nation’s largest employers, the US military’s decision seemed a good step forward. However, as I thought about the concept of the military—and as I attended this church and began to form an understanding of ‘peace’ and ‘pacifism’—I thought, Wait a minute: I’m all for equality, but I’m not sure how I feel about equal-opportunity access to violence. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was something inside me that said my problem with gays in the military was deeper than I had expected. There seemed a fundamental contradiction between being or identifying as gay, and being in the military. It seems unnatural—and I use that word fully aware of the irony of using a word that has so often been used to denigrate gays.
On the surface there would seem to be several compelling reasons why gay people serving in the military would be an incongruous idea. To confine the case to America for the time being, the gay population (and here I’m using the term ‘gay’ as a catch-all for those groups under the LGBT heading) has historically been a repressed, and oppressed, minority group. It has and continues to suffer social and legal exclusion. In legal terms, gay persons are not uniformly protected from workplace discrimination. Gay persons face restrictions in adoption laws. Gay persons cannot have their civil unions or marriages recognized by the federal government. In society, gay persons are the subjects of bullying and violent attacks. Gay persons commit suicide at a higher rate than the normal population. And gay persons must put up with the perpetual disappointment that life is not a West End musical and people do not regularly break out into choreographed song-and-dance routines. And so on. Anyway, as an official institution of the US government, the military actively upholds and perpetuates these legal (and social) discriminations. On some level it seems contradictory to work for the institution—the government—that only has a patchy belief in your legal right to lead a full life. Extending the argument further, it seems not only contradictory but actually suspect to be willing to fight for and potentially ‘die for’ an institution that does not fully honor the sacrifice involved.
And broadening this argument to a wider audience we find that it may apply to other groups generally. Why should, say, women join the military when US law and society still discriminates against them (equal pay, reproductive rights etc)?
So that’s argument, if you will, but it doesn’t seem to satisfy the requirements of the question fully. Which leads into my next point: the military is fundamentally at odds with queer masculinity and, I will argue, with a Christ-centred approach to sexuality and kinship (maybe this will be a sermon after all!). My reasoning: If war has a gender, it is male (despite the French language’s insistence otherwise). As an institution, it is patriarchal, hierarchical. As queer antimiltarist Andreas Speck writes, ‘The military was and is an institution based on certain concepts of masculinity, which it drills into its soldiers, and which it needs to function.’ What are these concepts? Certain words come to mind: aggression, duty, a capacity for doing what you are told. I’m not one for taking essentialist positions, but there does strike me as something wrong—something wrong with the idea of gay persons serving in the military—as if gayness itself were opposed to the values listed. It’s dangerous to talk about anything defining ‘gay’ or what it means to be gay, but one thing that strikes me as decidedly ungay is an acceptance of hierarchy, since the fact of being gay is inherently subverts society as it is currently structured.
But still an opposition to military values doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For that, I realized I needed an explanation more elemental. And this is what I came up with. Armies of men go around killing other armies, whose members are overwhelmingly men. The collateral damage is, of course, overwhelmingly women and children, but the intended targets are other males. War on some level then—and I know this is a stretch, but please bear with me—war on some level is a playing out of an evolutionarily competitive sex drive. When men kill each other in war, they are killing potential rivals. The ‘cause’ may be ‘justice’ or ‘freedom’ or ‘vengeance’, but the result is fewer rivals, fewer other men to threaten potential mates. And how much violence is done in the name of ‘protecting our women’ or ‘securing a better future for our children’? Sex and violence go hand-in-hand in a warfare setting where masculinity is specifically a sexualized masculinity: rape, of both women and men, is a common counterpart, even an approved tactic, to military violence.
From a gay man’s perspective, warfare is incomprehensible because other men are not potential rivals; they are, for lack of a better explanation, potential lovers. And thus why it feels so fundamentally wrong, so unnatural, to me, for gay men—and, indeed, anyone who rejects a view of masculinity posited by militarism, to engage in combat. The playwright Noel Grieg in his play Poppies, set simultaneously in the 1980s and on the eve of Britain’s entrance into the Second World War, gives a final speech to his protagonist, who explains why he chose to become a conscientious objector:
‘All I could see, in my mind’s eye, was a young man from Germany. Rolf, or Pieter, or Klaus. He’s up here one day, on [Parliament Hill], this Rolf. Over here to see the sights, just him and he’s a bit lonely. He’s sitting on a bench and you stroll by, at a loose end. It’s a grey old day and he’s lonely. You sit next to him, get to chatting….What else is there? They’re asking you to drop bombs on him, rip his guts out. [You] could have held him.’
A queer consciousness, therefore, is fundamentally at odds with the structure and intent of the military.
This being church, I would now like to turn our attention to Jesus, in an attempt to make the discussion so far more general and more applicable. I would like to do this by taking a look at the masculinity of Jesus, and linking this masculinity with the discussion of gay pacifist sexuality. Please note I am NOT trying to say or even suggest anything about Jesus’ sexual orientation—gracious no—I am only pointing out that Jesus’ life and teaching, especially on nonviolence, share a point of contact with an understanding of gay sexuality.
Jesus’ masculinity is not predicated in terms of his producing, or defending, offspring. Any speculation into the sexuality of Jesus is liable to lead down very strange paths, trodden by the likes of Dan Brown and the Illumanati, so I’ll stick to the fact that in the Gospels Jesus is not recorded as having children. Perhaps, having already created the universe, he thought having a child would just be showing off. The prophecy in Isaiah 53:8 suggests this is the case, in some versions.
Isaiah 53:8 (KJV)
He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living.
Isaiah 53:8 (Wycliffe)
He is taken away from anguish and from doom; who shall tell out the generation of him? For he was cut down from the land of livers.
(In my nightmares I picture a ‘land of livers’ as something very, very unpleasant.)
Anyway: Jesus’ masculinity is not evolutionarily competitive. It even resists grouping by blood relationships. It makes family out of biologically non-related people.
49 Behold my mother and my brethren!
50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Jesus’ teaching is in many ways unnatural, in the sense that it goes against the grain of our inclinations toward kinship bonds. Jesus creatively rather than procreatively constructs family and relational units.
I find this further reflected in Jesus’ teaching in his pronouncements of the Beatitudes, which we will hear read now.
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,
2 and he began to teach them. He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What struck me as I was re-reading the passage was that the verses can be grouped into two categories: those ‘blessings’ where the ‘blessed’ receive a just or fitting reward, and those blessings in which the blessed receive—something else. So, in the first category we have the poor, the mourners, the hungerers, and the merciful. The poor will receive a kingdom; the mourners will be comforted; those who hunger will be filled; and those who are merciful will receive mercy. But in a second category we have: the meek, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. If the pattern held true, we would expect the meek to receive—I’m not entirely sure, something like confidence or strength perhaps; we might expect the pure in heart to be treated purely; and finally we might expect the peacemakers to receive peace, the thing they are working for. But this is not the case. The meek, instead, are given: an inheritance. The pure in heart: the face of God. The peacemakers: called children of God. What strikes me about these three blessings is that they are personal—relational—they are about the individual’s relationship to God. And even more so they imply a familial, lineal relationship. An inheritance implies someone to inherit from. Seeing God implies a face-to-face or presence-to-presence connection. Children of God implies God as a parent. As followers of Christ, as peacemakers, we join in this family, not by birth or blood relationship, but by adoption.
So: how are peace and sexuality linked? How does each inform the other? For me the answer lies in denying a necessary link between sexuality—specifically conceptions of masculinity—and violence. A certain brand of masculinity may breed violence, but it does not have to. We should also be aware of those assumptions that say Let us choose X, Y or Z violent action now so that ‘the future’ will be better, or at peace or so forth. In what ways does society coerce us toward violence for the sake of generations yet unborn? Shouldn’t peace—and the adoption God promises—be enough for us, here and now?