Acceptance, Affirmation, Grace & Wisdom, Identity, Inclusion, Lostness, Massive Identity Confusion, Oriented to Love, Relevance, Respect, Sexuality, Tolerance, Woundedness
When Aretha Franklin first belted out the iconic R-E-S-P-E-C-T, it became an anthem for a generation.
“What you want,
Baby, I got;
What you need,
Do you know I’ve got it;
All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect…”
I suppose we’re all askin’ for a little respect. Heck – maybe we’re asking for a lot of it!
Respect is a loaded term. Put as simply as I can, “I want to learn to honour others as Christ honours others, and me,” but:
I get it wrong… a lot. And after reading this, some may scream at the screen that I got it wrong here. Nevertheless, here is my feeble attempt to understand “respect.” I will try to accept enough grace for myself, and hope you may also be blessed with such a grace, especially for me.
Recent Triggers to Spur the Discussion: Respect
Rob Bell announced “A Church That Doesn’t Support Gay Marriage Is ‘Irrelevant‘,” and Nashville Evangelical Church Comes Out for Marriage Equality. It is not my greatest goal to be “relevant” (see Nouwen’s insightful treatment of this in “In the Name of Jesus“), or to espouse “marriage equality,” but these kind of announcements force Christians to think through the dynamics of respect, acceptance, tolerance, affirmation and inclusion. (For a thorough treatment on same sex marriage see Alastair’s Adversaria.)
I repeatedly address the hypothesis that the issue with sexual and gender identification is the problem of a confused basis for identity; but I’ve been told that I’m out of line for saying this: who am I to judge “confused identity;” who am I to say such a thing? These questions tempt me to stop the very conversation I want to have – but this reaction also hints at the raw rejection and the numbing condemnation our LGBTQ friends have endured. There appears to be little patience for a fool like me meddling in something too close to be anything other than emotionally explosive.
Many of us (all of us?) know people who self-identify as LGBTQ. Identity is key, as Ashley C Ford puts it in her Guardian article: I’m queer no matter who I’m with. I won’t define myself differently for your comfort. We know them as our friends, colleagues, and children. With the strength of that kind of relationality, I do not write as if our friends are either distant or adversaries, whatever the tone of the conversation becomes. Further, before I go on, I am not suggesting a “we-they” dichotomy. I will however suggest something equally offensive: we are all lost and wounded sinners in need of grace found in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If this is offensive to you, then I suspect I have nothing to contribute to the conversation. You can safely conclude I am the fool I already confessed to be.
But, if we do recognize something of our own lostness and woundedness, then we might be able to accept each other the way Brennan Manning quipped, “Jesus accepts us as we are, not as we ought to be, for none of us are as we ought to be” (see Jesus in John 4).
Attempts to understand Respect:
Respect recognizes the inherent value of the person, however confused and sinful we are. Respect accepts a person as they are, but does not necessarily tolerate self-destructive behaviours, or behaviours that harm others.
Respect affirms the worthiness of the person without affirming a commitment to continue sinning (see Jesus in John 8). Respect includes others into the community as we are, while also not ignoring the ultimate lostness of the lost, or the encouragement to be transformed by Christ in communtiy.
Respect holds unresolved disagreements in suspense. I like how Rick Warren speaks to this:
Our Culture has accepted two huge lies:
The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them.
The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything thy believe or do.
Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.
Recently I read Kathy Kwon’s review of the book, Loving my LGBT Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace & Truth, written by Glenn T. Stanton. Kathy outlines what she can affirm, and what she can’t. To read more of her thoughts on the topic, you can go to her blog, BonnesConneries. Or you may be interested in the Evangelicals for Social Action’s Oriented to Love. I make these references, not because I agree with everything, but because I appreciate the respectful tone of the conversation.
As I said earlier, Respect is a loaded term. Put as simply as I can, “I want to learn to honour others as Christ honours others, and me.” I love how He does this, and I firmly believe this is more enigma than dogma.
If you’ve endured this long, you may be vibrating with reaction, or sitting with confusion (I am aware that I have these affects). Nevertheless I welcome your informed, faithful, and… respectful response.
Well stated Rusty.
[I repeatedly address the hypothesis that the issue with sexual and gender identification is the problem of a confused basis for identity; but I’ve been told that I’m out of line for saying this: who am I to judge “confused identity;” who am I to say such a thing?]
I think your big misunderstanding here is that you view these identities as things that people set out to achieve for themselves (assuming this based off the link to your blog post quoting Tim Keller). The problem with Tim Keller’s view of this is that he has inadvertently engaged in a sort of halo fallacy of explaining the problem with romantic orientation and gender identity by taking all aspects of identity (e.g. those we discern based off of intuition, evidence, and the like and those we strive to achieve ourselves) and placing them all in the same exact category.
The basic logic is “I can choose to be an architect and being an architect is a self-imposed identity. Homosexual is also an identity, therefore it is self-imposed because it is an identity”. Broken down, you can see where the problem is.
I would be romantically attracted to other men whether the word “gay” existed or not. “Gay” is a designation, like homosapien or igneous. Much of your issue with this subject seems to hinge on this misunderstanding of what we are.
[The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them.]
The previous leads me to the problem with this particular wording. The problem with “lifestyle choice” is that it is inherently dehumanizing because it reduces me to an animal incapable of love or anything greater than hedonistic, deviant sexual behavior. The reason my brethren and I react so poorly to the words “lifestyle” and “lifestyle choice” is because it is something we recognize as an attempt to reduce us to our bedroom activity.
Tactically, the purpose of this is clear enough; people feel sorry for mistreating their fellow man but less so when mistreating vermin who only understand base sexual compulsion. If we are perverts then we will be universally rejected. I have no doubt that those who coined and pushed this wording in the beginning knew this and chose it for the express purpose of harming us.
This is likely not your view of it nor the view of those who use “lifestyle choice” these days. It is something most Christians view as harmless vernacular but that is why you will see LGBT people react poorly to the phrase.
If you do plan to minister to or reach across to speak to the LGBT community, you would do well to strike these phrases from your vocabulary.
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R.H. (Rusty) Foerger said:
Thanks for your thoughtful response; though it is very helpful, I will comment on things you address that I was not getting at:
You indicate that there is a problem with the notion that identity is a thing one “sets out to achieve” (I will let Timothy Keller speak for himself, but I admit I appreciate his contribution to the conversation). I wouldn’t put it quite like that, but I would say that the construction of an identity is what we do create none-the-less, even if we are not intentional about the kind of identity we “want” or “find.” You come close to what I am getting at when you state the basic logic is “I can choose to be an architect of a self-imposed identity” – but not quite how I’d put it. (I wonder if you followed the link to Ashley C. Ford’s article in the Guardian: “I’m Queer no matter who I’m with;” she gives an interesting perspective to identity – or self-identification).
You might appreciate that I am coming at the issue of identity from a different world view. I am suggesting that we find our identity most restoratively in the One who made us for Himself. I think, like you, that it is inherently reductionist to self-identify merely or predominantly by sexuality. It is clear that we are sexual creatures, and that we express ourselves sexually across a continuum of sexualities, but I have problems with how reductionist it is to identify by sexuality. To borrow your words, I would say it is inherently dehumanizing to reduce our identity to our sexuality.
As you speculated, I was never getting at a “life style choice” kind of vocabulary. To restate, we are sexual creatures; I am not wise enough to know the dynamics that give rise to our attractions or impulses. Instead, impulses by themselves do not necessarily give us a clue to who we are – they merely inform us of what we might do, given the chance. I would be interested in your response to Higgins and Burns book on “The Life and Legacy of Henri Nouwen” – titled “Genius Born of Anguish.” If you are not familiar with Nouwen, then the conversation might be academic; but as one who appreciated Nouwen’s articulation of spirituality, I am further impressed with how he lived (or should I say, “anguished) as a man attracted to a man, but never acted on this impulse.
Again, thanks for your informed and respectful comments. I welcome your response to this (or any of my posts with the tag “Identity” – since I visit this idea several times). My intentions are as pure as I can admit (this means, I am not holy enough to suggest I don’t have contradictions and varied motives – ha). I am very interested in the process of restoration (being restored in relationship to God in Christ) – and I am convinced this restoration is found in finding our(true)selves in Christ.
Peace to you.
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Phew! I waded through all that, but it’s a bit too complicated for my simple mind. I feel like I’ve been through the wash cycle and been dumped in a wrinkled heap and not sure whether I grasped too much in the process. But thanks anyway. I guess this is not a place for me.
R.H. (Rusty) Foerger said:
Hi Jem, I am sorry, but it may be cold comfort to know you’re not alone in going through the wash cycle, etc. As I said, it is my feeble attempt. I think we both know complicated does not equal brilliant. If I were any good at this, we’d both simply know what I was getting at. Nevertheless I try.