Morgan Guyton, whose blog, “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is on the Progressive Christian Channel at Patheos, recently published a response to David Watson’s article on Christian unity and the moralism in the United Methodist Church. Appreciating the theological diversity that exists in the UMC, Watson expressed concern about the increasing moral absolutism of LGBTQ affirmation within United Methodism and how it’s undermining and fracturing the denomination’s ethics, policy and religious authority.
Guyton’s response affirms LGBTQ, but also argues that, “queerness [is] not only compatible with the gospel, but a critical means by which American Christianity can be detoxified.”
I agree that American Christianity is in need of a purification process to rid itself of the destructive ideologies, inventive eisegesis and corresponding practices that have contaminated both scripture and orthodox Christian teachings while leading many people astray.
But “queerness” as a tool for theological purification? Please.
Queerness, as defined by PFLAG, includes anyone who,
… a) wants to identify as queer and b) who feels somehow outside of the societal norms in regards to gender or sexuality. This, therefore, could include the person who highly values queer theory concepts and would rather not identify with any particular label, the gender fluid bisexual, the gender fluid heterosexual, the questioning LGBT person, and the person who just doesn’t feel like they quite fit in to societal norms and wants to bond with a community over that.
It is a fluid label as opposed to a solid label, one that only requires us to acknowledge that we’re different without specifying how or in what context. It is also a concise word that people may use if they do not feel like shifting their language along with their ever-evolving gender, politics and/or sexuality.
So “queer” is an intentionally created political identity that’s predicated on the deviation from – or outright rejection of – traditional norms of sexuality and sexual practice based on birth-given gender. To be “queer” also appears to include the distinctiveness of transcending the sexual limitations implied in same-gender attraction and sexuality – in other words, an identity based in gender and sexual fluidity.
And this, Guyton believes, is not only compatible with the gospel, but also capable of detoxifying American Christianity. And by detoxifying, Guyton means radically redefining the biblical prescription of sexual normalcy into the image and identity of queer – an image that doesn’t resemble anything close to the biblical and Christian understanding of male/female sexual complementarity.
Through this historically and intellectually meandering piece, Guyton justifies amending Christian theology and practice to affirm homosexuality and queerness by critiquing the moral normalcy of traditional sexuality. And he does this of course (because he’s “progressive”) by descending and appealing to historical and xenophobic sexual narratives about blacks and Amerindians that are supposed to reinforce just how evil white Christianity has been and continues to be in regards to the morality of sexual norms and behaviors. In our contemporary situation, the religious evil is directed toward queers.
The Christian debate over queerness is the final hill to defend for those who are invested in making normativity moral (out of loyalty to the past). I respect the fact that many people on the other side of our debate are genuinely operating out of a devotion to tradition and scripture, and are very emphatically and self-consciously opposed to sexism, racism, and classism to the degree that they have had their eyes opened. I want to be in a Christian community with people who are very cautious about reinterpreting scripture…
“Cautious” about reinterpreting scripture? When are progressive Christians ‘cautious’ about interpreting scripture? The only way they can religiously justify their personal positions – like same-sex marriages and social justice – is to make scripture conform to their self-created morality.
Guyton – and other progressive Christians – specifically reject restraint when it comes to their innovative theological interpretations that “create space” for specific sexual behaviors that violate birth-given dispositions that are anathema to sexual behavioral norms understood within traditional Christianity. Also, observe how Guyton respects Christians who show fidelity to scripture and tradition when it comes to sexual morality, “but.”
But, he says,
Sexuality is not and has never been a stand-alone, neutral concept that can be analyzed with universalized objectivity outside of our historical context….
“Our historical context?” So “we” in post-modern America are different, and (by implication) better than those who came before us, and therefore aren’t obligated to the same sexual guidelines that the church has understood and followed traditionally. Not only are better than our religious forbearers, we’re better than the divine ordination upon which these sexual norms are based. So Guyton’s unbalanced, Tillichian application of contextualized theology – here in regards to sexual norms and morality – ignores God attaching normalcy to sexual behavior in Genesis 1 and 2. Guyton’s theology also disregards the moral mandates ascribed to sexual behavior in God’s revelation to Israel (as its juxtaposed with the sexual behavior and immorality practiced by surrounding tribes). And his theology definitely discounts Jesus’ underscoring of sexual norms and morality in Matthew 19, in addition to Paul’s (strict) understanding and instruction on sexual morality to the churches in Thessalonica and Corinth.
For Guyton, that was then, this is now.
He goes on to declare,
I don’t support everything that happens in every aspect of queer culture (which is by no means monolithic [sic]). There are certainly reasons to put limits on how we indulge the appetites of our flesh. While I’m not a Platonist who believes that the goal of spiritual maturity is to be perfectly rational and in conscious control of my bodily impulses, I do believe that my desire needs to be liturgically shaped so that I can be the most radically hospitable vessel of God’s mercy possible. And it’s precisely because of my conviction that I cannot embody authentic solidarity for marginalized people without the ascetic pursuit of holiness that I want to obliterate the demonic distraction of conflating morality and normality once and for all….
Queerness is the wrecking ball that shatters the idolatry of norms which have allowed conservative Christians to settle for less than a radical pursuit of other-centered holiness and have pushed progressive Christians out of the church due to an avoidable toxic distraction… I’m saying that we need a better foundation for talking about why we put limits on our fleshly behavior than saying God gave men penises and women vaginas so that they could fit together perfectly like a jigsaw puzzle in a lifelong covenant that bears witness to Christ’s love for the church. Though that may work for 80-90% of humanity, those who don’t fit the jigsaw puzzle are not evil and cursed because they don’t fit the jigsaw puzzle. And it is evil to destroy their lives forcing them into that jigsaw puzzle so that our moral system can be less complicated.
Ah, ok. So if it doesn’t “fit” you must acquit.
One really has to read in full how labyrinthine his line of argumentation is as he tries to justify shifting the boundaries of accepted sexual behavior to include the queering detoxification of Christianity.
Guyton is another “progressive” Christian trying to radically (re)create a Jesus who accepts minorities and marginalized as they are, with no condition that they change their lifestyle in respect to the forgiving and accepting Christ. In other words, he’s flouting clear biblical precedent.
Jesus met many people in the midst of their sin but he didn’t leave them there; he knelt down and lifted them up to a higher standard of living. When Jesus pardoned the woman caught in adultery, his mercy and lack of condemnation was accompanied by the admonition to leave her life of sin. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man at the Bethesda pool, a moral warning and condition to stop sinning also accompanied it, cautioning him that something worse could happen if he refused. Jesus was clear that all those who embraced his way had to do so on precondition of self-denial to earthly wants and desires and bearing their cross – the burden of all that entails being a disciple. That’s the kind of love Jesus prescribes.
And this is what Christianity should continue to do – meet people in the midst of sin, and offer those who believe, a way out; not conflate love with passivity in respect to moral condemnation of immoral behaviors that contradict the name and teachings of Christ.
And that’s exactly what Guyton does here. Guyton’s beef isn’t with Christians who uphold “normative” views of sexual morality. In reality, his beef is with the scripture and orthodoxy that uphold it. What Guyton and other LGBT and queer-affirming “progressive” Christians want is to create varying standards of morality that’s acceptable for Christian membership. One standard (and a high one at that) is for heteronormative, cisgender people – regardless of economic well-being, but especially the middle class and white. Another is for racial minorities who have been and still are (as the narrative goes) victimized and oppressed by a white hegemony, which includes Christianity. Still another is for those who engage in – and self-classify themselves with – nontraditional gender and sexual roles and practices, including the ever-changing socio-political identities (and ideology) that accompany them (gays, queers, transgender…).
In practice, progressive Christians want the trappings of the Christian gospel that validates sin – contingent on what the sin is. For progressive Christians, if someone is a murderer, then one is expected to modify his or her behavior a great deal to come closer to traditional Christian expectations. However, if one is gay, queer or transgender, behavior modification is minimal – on its own merits to be sure, but especially when compared to how progressive Christians revise Christian orthodoxy to fit the “identity” of the new “convert.” They want Christ to bend to culture so they and Christ (in that order), appear “tolerant,” “loving” and “accepting” while doing further damage to the Christian faith and the unrepentant sinner.
The further down the progressive Christian rabbit hole one goes, the more convinced one should be that there’s significantly more emphasis placed on being on progressive than being Christian. Progressive Christians should be intellectually and theologically honest and drop the religious pretense. Creating God in one’s own image never ends well.