I did my bit for FTBcon 3. (Where were you?)
From Sunday’s post:
I see why ‘doing God’ as a community might seem politically expedient. I understand the urge to demonstrate religion need not entail queerphobia. Despite this post, I value religious allies – and I recognise queer believers face all manner of challenges that mean they need inclusion and support. I’m not here to deny them that – queer spaces, most of the time, should welcome those of all beliefs and none – but I will argue the following: overt public religiosity stands in the way of this, and believers (queer or not) in LGBT space should be considerate.
Personally, I have appreciated and seen the benefits of Christian orgs offering their basically unearned place of automatic credibility and moral high ground to queer people and queer causes. The phone banks against Indiana’s anti-gay proposed constitutional amendment took place in a church. I’d like to explain the difference – for me – between what this essay is talking about and what progressive people of faith did for us in Indy.
The insistence for many on cramming their gay-friendly Christian theology into LGBT events seems less like ‘we are here to support you’ and more [like] ‘if we are nice to you, will you please keep us from becoming obsolete?’ It’s a demand, not an offer. It’s always on Christian terms and we always have to include them and even center them so that they can reassure themselves they’re not like Those Other Christians.
For contrast, take LifeJourney Church, which let Freedom Indiana use their space to phone bank against HJR-3/6. I never felt like the fact that we were in a church was supposed to matter to us. There was no necessary deference to Christianity required as the price of their assistance. They offered help and then let LGBT people take the reins.
Basically, it’s the same choice available to all allies. Crappy faux-allies will say, ‘You have our support as long as you use it to improve our PR.’ Actual allyship means saying, ‘Here’s what we’ve got available. Is that useful? Cool. Use it. Let us know if you need more stuff to use,’ and not demanding that the help come with those ‘and be sure to tell everyone we did it’ strings.
Christian theology comes from a text full of such diverse and often contradictory content that people can come to the text with whatever they want and walk away from it completely unchanged (but with shiny new scriptural support for whatever they wanted to think). As a result, yes, Christianity can be spun to be queer-friendly. However: supporting LGBT people as a way to show off how modern and cosmopolitan the religion can be so that its frequent backward arsery doesn’t render it obsolete? That’s gross. That’s not allyship, but it is what I see a lot.
I find it really alienating that in so many LGBT circles the drive to assimilate into a Christian-dominant notion of respectability is so important. Not everybody wants to be A Good Christian Just Like You Cis-Het Christians, and not everybody wants to be a prop in someone else’s quest to do that. Furthermore, we shouldn’t have to let Christians use us for their PR. LGBT people are the ones who need help, and treating us like a resource for churches that wanna bedazzle Christianity is hella exploitative.
I can’t wait until LGBT people don’t need help from churches, and honestly? The churches that are our actual allies can’t wait either. They’re the allies who are working to make themselves obsolete. Churches that use us for their PR as a symbol for how modern they are? To show that they are so good at Jesusing that they’ll even *gasp* be nice to TEH QWURZ? They like us right where we are, and never forget it.
I can’t tell you how long I’ve been trying to write this. Weeks in draft-and-delete mode spawned the post you’re reading, but drafting it at all was half the battle. Having first thought up this piece in February, I’ve spent 2014 with writer’s block – but a block is just the state of not knowing what to say or how, and I’ve felt that way about queer Christianity since leaving the church seven years ago. What I’m about to say’s a long time coming.
I was twelve the first time I came out, sixteen when I lost my faith. In the intervening years I never thought God was against me: mine was the God-loves-the-gays Christianity the gays have since fallen for, and I knew all the scriptural self-defence techniques I needed. No one was without sin; all were one in Christ; homophobic Bible verses had been badly translated; they had to be read in context; Jesus himself made Old Testament ideas redundant; he said nothing at all about gay sex; his was a gospel of love and acceptance.
I’m more embarrassed now of telling myself this than anything I thought about resurrections or virgin births. You’d think perhaps that as an atheist, I’d find all my former beliefs equally odd, but given my upbringing I understand why I thought Christ rose from the dead – within a certain belief set these things make sense. The claim that Jesus was a queer ally seems poor on its own terms, so clear a feat of wishful thinking I don’t know how I convinced myself of it, yet I hear it everywhere. [Read more…]
Occasionally I like something I read by a believer. Shannon TL Kearns at the Anarchist Reverend blog: ‘LGBT Christian Respectability Politics Have Got To Go‘.
The lesbian and gay Christian conversation (with occasional comments about bisexual and transgender folks) seems to finally be hitting its peak. Everywhere you turn these days there are new books and conferences and denominational statements. I’m observing some troubling trends within this LG(BT) Christian movement.
If you begin to follow the conversations online you notice a couple of things: The gay and lesbian people who are held up as the ones to listen to are polite, soft-spoken, center the feelings of allies, and rarely (if ever) get angry. They focus on the ‘clobber passages’ and don’t talk about liberation in broader terms. They are content to stay in their evangelical churches. They don’t unpack how other theology is harmful, not just to queer people but to straight and cis folks as well. Their entire conversation can be boiled down to ‘I’m just like you, only gay.’
Here’s the thing about respectability politics; they don’t work. They are based on a false notion that says if only you behave, if only you play by the rules, if only you are good enough, then the church will love and accept you. But it’s not true. Because even when you tell them you are celibate they still think you are having sex. And even when you quote the Bible at them they still distrust your reading of it. Even when you dress like them and talk like them and marry like them they are still waiting for you to mess up so they can discredit you.
And as you play into respectability politics you are not actually working for liberation. You are saying, ‘I’m not like those other queers. I’m one of the good ones.’ And by saying that you allow straight and cisgender people to say it as well and suddenly the ‘bad queers’ are pushed to the side, or worse, pushed out entirely.
When the people who hate us come for us (and they will) they won’t care that you are celibate. Or that you are married with a picket fence and 2.5 kids. They won’t care that you are white and dress nice and toe the line. They will look at you as if you are just like all of the other queer and trans people, the ones that you have said you aren’t like. They won’t see the differences between us. They will lump us all together. In that moment your respectability will not save you.
I don’t agree with every word, of course, but the whole thing’s worth a read – it’s nice to see the gay and lesbian Christian lobby get the slap in the face it deserves.
More coming soon, in my own words.
I’m sorry today’s atheist movement has inspired abuse.
Specifically, I’m sorry some of its ideas inspire abuse. To name a few things:
I don’t feel personally responsible for these things – I’m not sorry in the same way as when I step on someone’s foot or guess a Canadian’s from the US – but I’m sorry it’s the case today’s atheist movement has inspired them. Simply being atheists isn’t these people’s motivation – atheism by itself prompts no more action than theism by itself – but the particular atheist school of thought we share, which came to prominence roughly in the last ten years, produced the ideas that inspire this abuse just as particular religions produce their own. [Read more…]
Someone I know via social media posted the following update three days ago.
A friend and I went to the gym tonight. After our workout we tried to relax in the hot tub, when a random lady in an American flag bikini approached me.
The lady: ‘What does your tattoo mean?’
Me: ‘Oh, that’s my angry-feminist-bi-pride tattoo.’
‘Angry, feminist, bisexual pride. This is a feminist symbol, and it’s on top of the bisexual pride flag.’
The lady compliments my friend’s nails. An awkward silence.
‘Why are you bisexual?’
‘I don’t know how to answer that. I just am.’
‘Because I’m attracted to more than one gender.’
‘She’s attracted to all the genders’, my friend adds. We high five.
‘When I was little I was molested. Then I was told I was a lesbian.’
‘Well, that has nothing to do with me. I’m just bisexual.’
Banter ensues between me and my friend about how shitty men are and how glad I am that I never have to date one. The lady says something about how I should learn to tolerate men’s crap, then: ‘Have you heard about your personal lord and saviour, Jesus Christ?’
‘I don’t want to talk about Jesus at the gym.’
The lady continues talking about Jesus.
‘This makes me really uncomfortable. Please stop.’
The lady continues talking about Jesus, mentioning something about hellfire.
‘I don’t appreciate being told I’m going to hell for who I love.’
‘I didn’t say that. I didn’t say you’re going to hell. You’re the one who said that.’ (She tells me this in a ‘Gotcha now, queer! You know you’re gross’ tone.)
‘Don’t lie. You literally just quoted scripture to me about hellfire. Go away now.’
‘I didn’t say that. I’m not your judge. I don’t judge.’
‘Well, I judge – and you’re gross. Go away.’
‘Have you heard’, my friend asks me loudly, ‘about your lord and personal saviour, Satan?!’ We proceed to discuss the the black altar and orgasms. The lady walks away.
We reported her to the front desk for harassing us. They seemed to take the matter very seriously.
When I shared it with my followers, the exchange below happened between me and my Christian mum. (Her comments are in regular text, mine in bold.) It makes me want to write about a multitude of things – ally culture, the realities of queerness and Christianity, the fact I’ve lost offline relationships as a result – but for now I haven’t much left in me to say. [Read more…]
Legend has it that before Christ was crucified, his executioners found a blacksmith to forge the nails. There are two accounts of what happened next, the first telling how God cursed the blacksmith and his kin the Romanies to wander the earth, forever denied shelter. The second – the one I was told as a child – says that the blacksmith forged four nails but only gave the Romans three, absconding with the one meant for the heart. For sparing his son that pain, the story goes, God blessed the Romanies, permitting them to steal from those who persecuted them trying to reclaim the lost nail.
Which version you tell reveals your views about people known to their enemies as gypsies. Which one is a revision of the other I don’t know, but the two competing myths offer a clue about my ancestors’ relationship with Christianity – in some ways a historical yardstick of their status in Europe.
A couple of weeks ago – on Hallowe’en, no less – Constantine‘s second episode aired. The series, despite its comic book source, feels like a far less inspired crossbreed of Doctor Who and Apparitions (Google it), and its race issues are doing it no favours: this episode in particular featured (spoilers ahead) a greedy, dishonest, sexually aggressive Romany woman as its villain, whose husband’s violence toward her seemed not to make her killing him by supernatural means any more morally complex. At one point the series lead, a white exorcist fighting demons through Catholic prayer, even remarked disgustedly: ‘There’s nothing blacker than gypsy magic.’
Pale skinned Christianity, virtuous and pure, versus Romany witchcraft’s exotic evil – this is an opposition I know well. [Read more…]
Based on a Facebook status.
There’s a scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where Jadis (the Witch) explains to Aslan and three of the Pevensies why, according to ancient, mysterious laws laid down by Aslan’s father, she’s entitled to murder their ten-year-old brother Edmund, as well as anyone in Narnia who commits an act of betrayal. ‘Tell us of this Deep Magic’, Aslan says.
‘Tell you?’ Jadis replies. ‘Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the firestones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.’
‘You were the Emperor’s hangman’ responds Mr Beaver, one of the talking animals, which goes entirely uncontradicted.
Twelve-year-old Susan, the older Pevensie girl who by later books is ‘no longer a friend of Narnia’ because she’s ‘interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations’, asks Aslan, quite reasonably and especially so under the circumstances, ‘Can’t we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn’t there something you can work against it?’ Here, from the book, is what happens next.
‘Work against the Emperor’s Magic?’ said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.
I haven’t seen much discussion of this scene in criticism of the Narnia books, but allegory aside, several things it shows about Aslan strike me as disturbing.
If you’ve never read No Longer Quivering it’s time you did. Vyckie Garrison – an escapee of the Quiverfull religious movement whose former beliefs saddled her with an abusive husband, more pregnancies than she could handle and serious health problems inherited by some of her seven children – founded the blog in 2009, and it’s since become a meeting point for women fleeing and recovering from religious abuse.
Ill health exacerbated by her experiences has led Garrison to step back from the blog, which is now administered mainly by other writers, but her work has made a monumental difference to hundreds of people. If you’re a fan of Libby Anne’s blog Love, Joy, Feminism, briefly hosted on this network, the NLQ forums were where she started out, encouraged to write by Garrison. Nor is it just women she’s helped – another member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network is Jonny Scaramanga, whose powerful blog Leaving Fundamentalism I’ve often cited here.
Possibly more than any writer, and while our stories are remarkably different, Garrison has helped me recognise some of the things in my religious past were abusive. The blogosphere would be a bleak place without her efforts; unfortunately, as so often when bigotry and zealotry take over someone’s life, there have been financial knock-on effects, and for reasons related to her divorce from said husband, she’s at risk of losing her house. [Read more…]
Yesterday being a slow news day, the Daily Telegraph wrote to a right wing politician so they’d have something to print.
Britain is at risk of being ‘sanitised’ of faith because an ‘aggressive form of secularism’ in workplaces and public bodies is forcing Christians to hide their beliefs, a former attorney general has warned.
Dominic Grieve said he found it ‘quite extraordinary’ that people were being sacked or disciplined for expressing their beliefs at work.
He described Christianity as a ‘powerful force for good’ in modern Britain and warned that Christians should not be ‘intimidated’ and ‘excluded’ for their beliefs.
He said that politicians and public figures should not be afraid of ‘doing God’ and that they have a duty to explain how their beliefs inform their decisions.
The ‘appalling’ scenes in Iraq, which have seen Islamic extremists behead and crucify religious minorities including Christians, showed that it was ‘more important than ever’ for people to express their religious beliefs, he said.
He told The Telegraph: ‘I worry that there are attempts to push faith out of the public space. Clearly it happens at a level of local power.
‘You can watch institutions or organisations do it or watch it happen at a local government level. In my view it’s very undesirable.
‘Some of the cases which have come to light of employers being disciplined or sacked for simply trying to talk about their faith in the workplace I find quite extraordinary.
‘The sanitisation will lead to people of faith excluding themselves from the public space and being excluded.
‘It is in nobody’s interest that groups should find themselves excluded from society.’ Two years ago the Government changed the law to ensure that councils could not face legal challenges for holding prayers before town hall meetings after the High Court backed a controversial campaign to abolish such acts of worship.
There have also been a series of high-profile cases in which people have been banned from wearing crosses at work or sacked for resisting tasks which went against their religious beliefs.
Mr Grieve, a practising Anglican, said that Britain is ‘underpinned’ by Christian ethics and principles.
He criticised the Tony Blair era when Alastair Campbell, the then communications director in Downing Street, famously said ‘we don’t do God’ amid concerns that religion would put off voters.
David Cameron once described his own faith as being like ‘Magic FM in the Chilterns’, meaning it can come and go.
However, earlier this year the Prime Minister said he has found greater strength in religion and suggested that Britain should be unashamedly ‘evangelical’ about its Christian faith.
Mr Grieve said: ‘I think politicians should express their faith. I have never adhered to the Blair view that we don’t do God, indeed I’m not sure that Blair does. I think that people with faith have an entitlement to explain where that places them in approaching problems.
‘I think that those of us who are politicians and Christians should be in the business of doing it.
‘It doesn’t mean that we have the monopoly of wisdom, but I do think Christianity has played an enormous role in shaping this country.
‘It’s a very powerful force in this country [but] I think it’s underrated, and partly because in the past it has failed to express itself as clearly as it might.
‘Recognising people’s right to manifest their faith and express it is very important.’
(The article, which could be used to explain the Telegraph to aliens, also complains about the EU and laws against fox hunting.)
Thank fuck for another headline about aggressive secularism – we very nearly went a month without one. Ann Widdecombe, Eric Pickles, David Cameron, Sayeeda Warsi; Keith O’Brien, George Carey; the Pope. It’s exhausting to rebut the same thing again and again, but clearly we still have to: if it wasn’t an effective line, the Christian right would have stopped using it.
Because I’m fed up with this nonsense, I’m going to give my thoughts in list format.
‘We don’t do God’ must be the most misrepresented line in journalistic memory. Campbell said it to stop Blair waxing religious in an interview because Blair did do God: he built record numbers of state-run religious schools, cosied up to the Vatican, passed censorious ‘religious hatred’ laws, justified invading Iraq using religious language and started a global ‘faith foundation’ after he left Downing Street.
How many more times can right wing Christians running the country say Britain must be ‘more evangelical’ (Prime Minister David Cameron), promise religion a greater role in public life (Cameron) and gush about Christianity’s excellence (Cameron et al)… while simultaneously claiming to be marginalised?
More specifically, Dominic Grieve: how excluded from public life are you – how mercilessly have you been forced to hide your beliefs – when a soundbite from you about them is what the Telegraph uses to sell newspapers on quiet days?
Someone on social media told me last month that ‘Christians are persecuted in this country’. When I asked how, this is what they said:
I do not wish to go into detail. I have knowledge that gives me every right to use the word
It’s argumentum ad Laganja: ‘You’re picking on me, but I’m not going to tell you when, where or how.’
A new rule, I think: if you’re going to say Christians are a marginalised group in modern Britain, I want specific examples – not bald assertions or, as in Grieve’s case, vague innuendo about workplaces and councils.
Grieve doesn’t specify because he can’t: the moment it’s confronted with factual detail, the Christian persecution case evaporates.
While it’s true that in 2012 the National Secular Society won a court case against prayers being said at Bideford town council’s meetings (the government swiftly overturned this), the ruling prohibited them only as an agenda item. There was nothing to prevent Christian councillors praying together informally prior to meetings: it was simply deemed exclusionary for Christian rituals to be an official part of council business.
Shirley Chaplin, a hospital nurse, was asked in accordance with the NHS dress code to wear an ostentatious cross pinned inside her uniform instead of dangling hazardously on a chain. She refused to compromise, insisting it be visible to everyone, and was disciplined, losing a string of tribunals and court cases when she complained.
Nadia Eweida, a British Airways worker who continually harassed non-Christian colleagues with evangelistic tracts and homophobic comments, claimed BA was persecuting her when asked to wear her cross beneath instead of on top of her uniform. (After numerous court losses, the EHCR eventually found for her last January, but only because BA’s dress code was judged too restrictive.)
Lesley Pilkington, a registered psychotherapist operating highly unethical ‘gay cure’ treatment programmes was struck off the membership roll of Britain’s governing body for counsellors after journalist Patrick Strudwick wrote an exposé on her and others.
Lilian Ladele, the civil registrar who refused to perform civil partnership ceremonies, was disciplined because her job required she do this.
I’m a secularist because I want a mature democracy, not one based on a lie. Whoever pretends Britain is still a Christian nation knows deep down they’re being silly, and that doesn’t just demean non-Christians: it demeans our democracy by telling us to lie to one another.
I’m a secularist because I believe in sectarian disarmament. I think carving up public life into religious territories, each with its own schools, courts, bank holidays and seats in parliament, creates an arms race of religiosity and social tension, and sharing a secular country is a kind of truce.
I’m a secularist because I believe social support – welfare, education, housing, care – should be unconditional, tax-funded and available to all, not handed to religious groups where not everyone can access them.
Secularism is kind. Secularism is responsible. If you think it’s aggressive, you should hear my other opinions.
The Islamic State is driving Christian populations from their homes in Iraq; some are being forcibly converted, others killed. Dominic Grieve and the Daily Telegraph see this as a handy rhetorical jab against secular council meetings in north Devon.
But really: who looks at the middle east today and thinks bloody hell, that’s what too much secularism does?
Sunnis and Shias are killing each other in Iraq; Muslims are killing Christians in Iraq, atheists in Iran, Jews in Israel. Jews are killing Muslims in Palestine. Religious nationalism is at the core of all these atrocities. Secularism is the opposite: it is nonaggression as a political and national identity.