Thursday, October 19, 2006

Discussion on Homosexuality and the Church

I am the Education Team Chair at my church - think "Director of Education", but without a salary, and in a team-ministry model. As such, I oversee all of the education ministries in the church. On of my favorites is the Wednesday Evening Forum, a kind of weekly seminar on almost any sort of topic, so long as it relates in some way to the life of the church. Usually we bring in a guest speaker/presenter. Last week we had a wonderful time with a local musician who presented on the Gospel roots of blues, R & B, country, rock, and Americana music. I say "presented," because he did much more than just speak or teach - he presented us with the music, and helped us learn how to hear it, how to listen intently and hear things that we may not have expected to hear.

Not surprisingly, that wonderful presentation set an attendance record. But I don't bring in guests all the time, and we can't always talk about the music we grew up listening to. Sometimes I actually get to do some teaching - or at least directing - myself. You may remember that early last month I gave a seminar on the Bible. Well, this month I have a more daunting task.

There is no more divisive issue in our culture and in our churches than homosexuality. This issue sets up some unique pastoral issues. While I don't like dividing our society up based strictly on sexual identity (which reduces a whole person to merely their sexual interests, desires, and behaviors), any sensitive church leader has to appreciate that a group that has been marginalized and stigmatized by our culture will have some unique issues related to that. As such, even though we need to approach homosexual persons as persons, part of affirming their personhood includes exploring issues related to their sexual identity.

Seeing a pressing need for openly discussing the relationship between homosexual persons and the church, my pastor and I decided to do a two-week series, a guided discussion designed to get the congregation talking about that troubled relationship. Yesterday we talked about our personal encounters with homosexual persons, and how they inform our views on homosexuality. It gave everyone a chance to tell their own stories in a safe environment, sharing deep feelings which they may have never had a chance to share in church. Next week we will talk about the ethical and theological issues which surround the topic.

My role this week was to facilitate conversation rather than doing much talking myself. Next week I will probably do more actual presenting. But preparing for both this week and next week's conversations, I put together a list of open-ended questions, designed to get people started talking. Today I'm posting some of those questions here, hoping that this format, while not quite as conducive for conversation as the church parlor, can still lead to some much needed airing out.

As the facilitator at church, my own views on homosexuality and the relationship between homosexual persons and the church were kept hidden so that they wouldn't shape the conversation too much. If we are to have an open conversation, we can't have anyone feeling that we are looking for a "right" answer. At the beginning of a discussion the only right answer is the honest answer, the open answer, the answer which helps air out powerful emotions which may have been festering for a long time. Here, however, my views are certainly not a secret. But, while each of you know my opinion, for the purpose of this discussion there are still no "right" answers.

I do have an agenda with this topic. I would love to see homosexual persons fully accepted and included in the life of the church. And, I would love to see their primary relationships affirmed by the church. But my primary agenda here is to bring some humanity to the topic. That agenda is more immediately important than the other agenda, because it keeps from fragmenting our already divided church. While some leaders on both the left and the right speak eloquently of prophetic moral vision, and decry the "idol" that is the unity of the church, as a worshiping Christian I hate to see any issue get so big that it overwhelms our ability to worship corporately as a single community.

With that in mind, here are some sample questions from both yesterday and next week's sessions. If you find them useful, try to answer them in the comments section so that we can have the sort of fruitful discussion here that my church has been having at our Forum:

Have you ever encountered a homosexual person?
Can you describe that encounter?
How did you feel during it? Were you comfortable or uncomfortable?

Do you have any sort of a relationship with a homosexual person?
Do you work with a homosexual person?
Do you have a homosexual friend of family member?
If so - and given that roughly 10% of the population is homosexual, you probably do, whether you know it or not - how does that relationship inform your views about homosexuality?

What should Christians turn to in order to inform their views of homosexuality?
What sorts of authorities should Christians consider as they wrestle with how to relate to homosexual persons, both as individuals and as a church?

Is there a difference between the way that an individual Christian should relate to a homosexual person and the way that the church as a whole should relate to a homosexual person?


Each of these questions assumes a heterosexual group attempting to make judgments about homosexuality from the outside. As such, these questions participate in one of the most common errors that Christians make: assuming heterosexuality as the normative Christian experience. I wrestled with that, but ultimately chose to embrace that error rather than ask probing questions which might lead to the public outing of a closeted homosexual before they were ready to come out. As we had our first discussion I heard the story of a mother who accidentally outed her daughter at a family event, convincing me that, in that audience, I made the right decision.

That said, this is a slightly different environment. As such, if anyone has wrestled with homosexuality in a more personal way, your stories are also welcome here.

16 comments:

Amy said...

Straps,
As a heads up - We've been having a conversation here over e-mail (the type that should NEVER happen in such a medium, because of heightened sensitivity and people's tendency to react). It has been brought up, as it has in other conversations, that the term "homosexual" is offense to many within the LGBTQ community (standing for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered and Queer), for many reasons related to the ability to name themselves, the clinical sensibilities of the word, and many other concerns. You may want to address those sensitivies as you frame the discussion, and as you continue writing about this very inflammatory issue.

Tom said...

This may be a bit insensitive, but I am curious and I mean no offence to anyone by this: I get what "Lesbian", "Gay", "Bi", and "Transgendered" mean. But what is "Queer" that it does not fall into any of the other categories. I didn't know that there were more options.

jenny said...

Sandalstraps,
I've been poking around reading your blog for a few days now, which I have quite enjoyed and found very refreshing. Anyway, I decided to take the plunge and add my two cents.

It just seems so unfamiliar to me that anyone would not have had an encounter (strange wording choice) with a homosexual person. Maybe that's because two of my closest friends are gay. One of whom I have known since freshman year of college. Or maybe I am just too separated from the original intended audience of these questions.
I certainaly can't remember the first time I knew someone was gay or saw a gay couple, not for lack of trying, I just can't remember. What I do remember is my mother's reaction to my homosexual friends. She always brings it up when I mention them by saying things like "is so and so still gay? That would just break my heart if he was my child." I won't even go into the unresolved discussions she and I have had and now refuse to have on this topic.

Getting back to your questions, I am going to skip most of the middle ones, as I am sure you can guess my answers.

I feel strange attempting to answer your last set of questions as I am not Christian, but I will offer a response from an outsider's point of view.

To me the answer seems simple, and I in no way mean this to come off as flippant.

Shouldn't Christians and the Church react to a homosexual person the same way Jesus would? I mean, if we are to assume the stories in the Bible offer true insight into Jesus' behavior, and if Christians try to live a Christ-like life, then shouldn't they follow the example he set of welcoming and loving everyone no matter what?
Even if they don't agree with the lifestyle, even if they can't fathom the idea that homosexuality is not a choice (which would mean God created those individuals that way), even if they can quote passages in the Bible to prove homosexuality is a sin, shouldn't Christians still at least offer their love, compassion, and charity to homosexuals simply because they are people too?
I know my responses were really questions, sorry about that.

Amy said...

Tom,
You're not being insensitive at all - I, too, needed to have the various differences explained to me. Often, the initials in "LGBTQ" will be jumbled up (I assume in an effort to address issues of primacy/hierarchy, but I'm not sure), and sometimes "A" will be added, including those who consider themselves "Asexual" in the quotient. "Queer," I believe, is included so that those who don't feel they can put themselves in any of those categories have a place, as a sort of catch-all. As a straight woman, I haven't made myself discover what else would be included - a show of my own ignorance on such issues.

BTW, when I mentioned "over here" I should have stated that it was in a series of e-mails to the entire campus at Louisville Seminary. You should see the vehement comments that flare up!

Sandalstraps said...

Amy,

Thanks for the heads-up. I think that, for the moment, recognizing the limitations of the term, I'm going to keep using the word "homosexual." Incidentally, I think that the biggest objection to that term should be that it identifies someone principally by their sexuality, which denies the totality of their being.

The phenomenon that we refer to as "homosexuality" is a biological one, not just a behavioral one, and encompasses all aspects of one's being, and not just their sexuality. To have the generic term refering to this phenomenon and those individuals directly impacted by it focus entirely on sexual behavior is a deep flaw.

But, right now we have so many different competing lexicons that I simply can't find a term which both

a.) is more effective at actually describing the phenomenon, and

b.) is recognizable to all of the voices that I'd like to bring into this conversation.

To a certain extent I feel like a well intentioned WASP trying to talk about race relations in the 1960s. Which term do those people prefer? I recognize that my participation in this discussion may be offensive to those who have had too many derrogatory labels applied to them by a society that wants neither to understand them nor accept them. But I also recognize my own need to participate in the discussion, as sensitively and clearly as possible. As such, at least to a general audience I will keep using the inadequate mainstream term, understanding that it is misleading and even offensive to some. But, while it can be a dehumanizing term, I try to use it in a very affirming, humanizing way.

I share your concern about the emails. I've always thought that campus emails were being misused, but this seems to me to be the worst sort of misuse of the campus email system. I have no words.

Jenny,

Good to see you leave a comment. Sami told me that you'd been dropping by from time to time. I wondered when you'd decide to contribute.

First off, I think that, given that 10% or so of the population is homosexual (that is an old statistic, so if anyone has a better number you're welcome to correct me - particularly in light of the non-monolithic nature of the phenomenon we describe as homosexuality) everyon has not only encountered a homosexual person; they are in fact related to, or even close friends with a homosexual person.

Of course, in many parts of this country the only "safe" place for such a person is the closet, so they may not know how close they are to a homosexual person.

The question itself is designed as a conversation starter, and as it got you to enter the conversation, it looks like you're not as far from the intended audience as you might think you are!

I'm sure that you know that your mother's response is not an uncommon one. Wednesday we heard someone on a video we used to help propel the conversation say that her mom went to her grave believing that her homosexuality was caused by a hormone imbalance that could be cured if only she would take her medicine. For many people, taught that this is a moral-behavioral issue, the phenomenon is a temporary one which some cure. The inability of the homosexual person to simply accept the cure (whether the cure is the grace of God, professional counselling - yes, homosexuality used to be treated as a mental disorder - or some sort of drug) speaks to their poor moral fabric. As such, they can be blamed for their pitiable condition, and cease to be a "victim" to be pitied and instead a moral agent to be judged. But, of course, the poor family suffering through this can and should be pitied, poor dears.

As for the theological questions, while I share your concerns, how individual Christians and groups of Christians answer these questions comes down to how they view authority in religion. Your answers suppose both

a.) that the life of Jesus, as Annointed One who reveals the nature and concerns of God to us, and models how life should be lived, serves as the primary religious authority for Christians, and

b.) that Jesus would be compassionate toward homosexual persons, especially in the ways that you described.

But not all Christians would agree with the first supposition, and unfortunately very few, I'm afraid, would agree with the second.

For most Christians - or, at least, most evangelical Protestants, who serve as the normative American Christians, establishing the Christianity that the rest of us have to respond to - the Bible is the primary religious authority. And, in their reading of the Bible, it expressly condemns most of the sexual behaviors which have come to be associated with homosexuality. As such, if Jesus had been as accepting of homosexuals as we "liberals" would make him out to be, then he would be in violation of the Word of God which he came to reveal, which would be an impossible contradiction.

For a more full treatment of theological approaches to the issue, you should - if you haven't already, read this exceedingly long post from last December, which breaks down various different arguments against homosexuality and shows where they fail.

As you don't identify yourself as a Christian you may wonder why you should look at Christian theological positions. As an atheist professor of mine once said, when asked why he studied theology, "You must know your enemy." Living in a culture which has been shaped to a great extent by a particular form of Christianity, I think that you need to understand the thought environment represented by that form of Christianity in order to counter its influence on the culture.

Anyway, thanks for joing the conversation, and I hope that you get to contribute more in the future.

Amy said...

Chris,
I respectfully disagree. Using a term that you know is seen as demeaning and offensive to the people it is labeling is to participate KNOWINGLY in their oppression. To blunder, without being aware, is one thing, but it is quite another to know that the language you are using de-humanizes someone, and still choose to use it. I don't think anyone would be confused as to what an alternate term (like LGBTQ) meant as long as the acronym was presented in full words the first time in the discussion. In addition, it is only through the modeling of appropriate language that those you yourself will be working with can learn to speak in ways that do not hinder dialogue because of hidden hurts.
I understand your sense of confusion surrounding the multitude of terminologies, and your effort to speak in a way that is clear, understandable, and affirming. However, as an educator, it is your responsibility to model in that communication a manner and a diction that sheds light rather than inflaming situations. I am afraid if you continue to use your current language, you may be casting aside that responsibility.

Troy said...

Chris,

glad to see this issue in your blog again. I went back and read your "overlong" post and must admit...since the reformation, we have had some chaos!

Someone named James saw my comments on this issue over at BW3's blog and sent me this link: http://www.narth.com. I haven't had a chance to do any reading there, but I thought I'd throw it out here.

We agree that the current Christian reaction to homosexuality is driven by many personal-internal factors, few if any of them constructive, but even more by the way scripture is read: what do I make of homosexual behavior? Let me check the bible and see....

And you make the case: Leviticus cannot be used for direction here without encountering significant problems. And Paul's letters make their points, but it's very hard not to see him as operating within his own personal and cultural limitations. To believe everything Paul writes is God's word defies credibility and nearly deifies the very-human apostle.

Could I be wrong? Yes, but what we do see from Jesus (whom we do deify) is that we must love our neighbor and not judge others. In short, the Bible, for me, cannot tell me much if anything about homosexuality, though Jesus tells me how to treat others in any context.

I do not know if homosexuality is biological or environmental or a blend of the two. Is it a choice in any sense? Can such orientation be changed? Perhaps. But what right does the Christian community have to tell Christian homosexuals they must change? If homosexuality is eventually shown to be some kind of neuroses, if it fails to 'build up human personality' (using MLK) perhaps those in leadership positions in the church (priests, deacons, bishops) should be asked to examine this part of their life.

But how complex that would be! I have neuroses, but as long as I function in the church no one is going to hold me back. And if homosexuality is found to have a genetic component, or at least not be destructive to the spiritual health of the individual, then who are any of us to forbid such a marriage!

I am not a free-sex for all Christian. Perhaps it's the way I'm built, but I think sex has a significant emotional component for most people. This clearly connects to spiritual responsibility.

I don't want to repeat things I've already said on my blog, but until we know what to make of homosexuality, tolerance and acceptance is the only Christian approach. And if and when we do know what to make of it, we have to remember we are talking about feeling human beings with very deep, personal sexual orientations regardless of their source.

If I'm wrong...well, then I'm love-wrong. Surely God respects that more than my need to control others different from myself, or my application of a legal code which might be emotionally, and hence, spiritually harmful to those I place it on. The law, ethics, is made for human beings, not the other way around.

t

Tyler said...

I always thought that the q in glbtaqetc stood for "questioning," rather than queer. The academic types seem to want to envelop the jumble of letters under "queer," as in Queer Studies. I kind of like that because it appeals to my freak-out-the-squares side. Some GLBTAQIknowthere'smore's understanably resist the term queer, both because of its origins as a derrogatory term and it's totalizing nature and wish to focus on specific embodiments of sexuality -- I'm a lesbian woman, I'm a gay Catholic, I'm a bisexual man who feels the need to put on sparkly dresses and sing Whitney Houston songs in Provincetown, etc. I have sympathy for this type of argument, but sometimes we have to make generalizations, we should do so knowing their inherent imperfections.

I'll defend Strapso's use of "homosexual" to a certain extent -- the church is mostly dealing with the relationships of two men or two women and, etymologically, homosexual works for both kinds. No doubt the situation of a transgendered person who wants to become a priest is a difficult and akward one, but it seems like a separate issue from how the church should respond to committed couples of the same gender.

Sandalstraps said...

Amy,

I don't want to waste this whole discussion just talking about language, so I'll be as brief as possible, and then move on.

Using a term that you know is seen as demeaning and offensive to the people it is labeling is to participate KNOWINGLY in their oppression.

I'm not sure that's what I'm doing. For one thing, I'm not sure that we can say that the whole community speaks with anything like a unified voice on the subject. For another, I'm not sure that the use of a single word quite rises to the level of oppression, unless that word carries a great deal more baggage than the word "homosexual" seems to carry. There is perhaps only one word which I can think of whose use comes anywhere near oppression, and that is a particularly derogatory word long applied to Blacks (I say "Blacks" rather than "African-Americans" here in part because the word has not only been applied to Americans, and in part because Diasporic Africans or Africans in Dispersion or any variety thereof, while the best designation, does not yet flow easily from my lips, or for that matter anyone else's - language takes time to change). While I do not doubt that many people lumped under the heading "homosexual" are offended by that, I have not yet met any of them, leading me to believe (perhaps falsely - I am open to correction) that there either aren't that many of them, or it isn't that big a deal.

There are, in fact, many parallels between the use of language in refering to those lumped under the heading "homosexual" and those lumped under the heading "Black" or "African-American" or either of the headings mentioned in the previous unwieldy paragraph. In both cases, no designator ever completely applies to the population it is intended to refer to, and in both cases some people may be offended no matter which term you use.

As best as I can tell, we can compile a list of potentially respectful, or at least neutral, terms, and a list of slurs. One is certainly obligated to avoid the slurs, but the general usage of the word "homosexual," despite the limitations which I've acknowledged, is far from a slur. I may chose not to use the term in the company of someone who is personally offended by it, but unless there is such a person present in this discussion, for expediency I will continue to use a term whose meaning, usage and limitations have been made clear here. And I think that it is safe to say that, in doing so, I'm not placing any undue obstacles before people.

In other words, those who have been called here "homosexual persons" have bigger problems related to their oppression in this culture than my calling them "homosexual persons," and I think that we can all agree on that.

Amy said...

Chris,
I understand your desire to make sure this discussion isn't hijacked by issues of language. For this reason, this will be my last post. However, we cannot forget that certain words that are now universally recognized as derogatory were once considered perfectly acceptable, supposedly neutral words. The line between what is slur and what is a neutral term cannot be drawn by the group that is in power, but rather must be drawn by those who are directly affected by its use.

You say that you do not personally know people who take offense at the use of the term "homosexual." Frankly, I think you do know them but you're simply not aware of it. I would be more than happy to forward you copies of the correspondence I have recieved through campus e-mail regarding experiences of this term, in order to provide a first person account. These individuals are your future classmates, your neighbors, and your coworkers. I can assure you that use of the term "homosexual" will not be considered acceptable in dialogue when you arrive at LPTS next year.

Tyler,

Even if "homosexual" were considered an acceptable term by the people it labels, those who identify as gay or lesbian are not the only ones included in current ordination/leadership debates, but rather all those included in same-sex relationships. Not all those in same-sex relationships consider themselves gay or lesbian; many consider themselves bisexual or in another of these categories. In this way, referring to the issues as that of "homosexuality" also excludes the experiences of others in same-sex relationships. And, really, isn't it better to use terms that cover as much of spectrum of the issue as possible? "Q" may be interpreted as questioning in some presentations of the initials; however, I do know that when the term was explained in the press about a same-sex wedding that happened on campus this month, "queer" was the word chosen by the writer and affirmed in definition by the student who was married.

Tyler Simons said...

I hope you're still reading this, Amy, because at some point, of course, the language we are using relates to the reality of actual lives.

In this way, referring to the issues as that of "homosexuality" also excludes the experiences of others in same-sex relationships. And, really, isn't it better to use terms that cover as much of spectrum of the issue as possible?

Look, the point I was trying to make is that, for the purposes of the actual discussion of actual people, homosexuality is an appropriate characterization of one of the key issues at hand. The Church needs to decide whether or not it's okay for a pastor to participate in a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex and whether or not it's okay for two people of the same sex to get married in the church. Insofar as this is the issue -- and this is a major issue for the church -- homosexuality is an appropriate term for the topic at hand. A bisexual person only gets caught up in this debate when she or he pursues a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite gender. There is no problem is she or he chooses to partner with someone of the opposite sex.

This is not to say that the "homosexual question" is the only question of sexual ethics faced by the church. This is not to say that there aren't really bisexual or transgendered pastors and that they don't have their own issues to face. I'm just saying that those can be seen as separate topics when we're talking about whether or not Jim and Tom should be allowed to get married in the Church.

In this way, referring to the issues as that of "homosexuality" also excludes the experiences of others in same-sex relationships.

That's not the way I'm talking about though. In the way I'm talking, "homosexuality" refers specifically to the experiences of people in same sex relationships be they gay men, lesbians, unions with one or more transgendered partners, or two bisexual women who happen to want to marry each other. I don't intend to, nor would I ever want to use the term "homosexual" to refer to anyone participating in a relationship that falls under this understanding of "homosexuality." I can't emphasize that enough, and I think you're assuming that I would. Again, the term "homosexual" referring to a group of people does not, in this understanding map completely onto the people who participate in homosexual relationships.

I think that the need to be careful with language is a real one, but it is more complicated than eliminating particular words from discourse.

When I want to talk about alternative sexuality in general, I usually use the word queer, which is as general as possible -- it refers to anyone who isn't straight as an arrow and the straight folks who love them. This doesn't mean that homosexuality as a general term is useless, just that it shouldn't be used as a general term for non-straight people.

Sandalstraps:

What sorts of authorities should Christians consider as they wrestle with how to relate to homosexual persons, both as individuals and as a church?

That's really interesting. I might put it this way for the blog audience -- what sorts of authorities are implied as, well, authoritative, by Christians who argue that the sacrament of marriage should be available for those in homosexual relationships?

Tyler Simons said...

That paragraph would have been easier to understand if I'd written it this way:

I don't intend to, nor would I ever want to use the term "homosexual" to refer generally to everyone participating in a relationship that falls under this understanding of "homosexuality." I can't emphasize that enough, and I think you're assuming that I would.

Sandalstraps said...

Amy,

I appreciate your desire not to allow this conversation to see this conversation highjacked by a discussion on language, but, as I see that this is an important issue for you, and as it seems that we have already gone down that road a bit farther than I would have liked, let us carry on a bit longer and see where it leads.

First off, there is no need for you to forward me any parts of the email correspondence, as

1.) I trust you, and don't think that you need to take such a step to demonstrate that you have accurately represented the views presented in that discussion, and

2.) I am still concerned with the very public nature of that sensitve conversation, and would like not to participate in it, even as a listener.

I wonder, though - and I have no way of knowing - whether that conversation represents the consensus of persons lumped under the heading "homosexual," or merely the views of the persons participating in that conversation. In any event, to demonstrate that some people are profoundly offended by that use of language you need not demonstrate that those people represent mainstream views. You have clearly argued that some people treat the term "homosexual" as an imposed label, and as such, a slur.

I wonder about each of the proposed alternatives. I have read (from a lesbian theologian from Duke whose name I have forgotten after I loaned the book to one of my former/future classmates at LPTS, only to see it like so many other books I hand out end up permanently in someone else's library) that "queer" is a prefered designation. Yet that strikes me, given the history of the word, as akin to Blacks taking the dreaded "n-word" (the only word I will never say nor spell) as a self-designation.

I suppose I see the value in taking a label that was intended as an insult and wearing it with pride, humanizing a formerly dehumanizing label. After all, I am a Methodist, and anyone who knows the history of Methodism knows that the word "Methodist" was first slung as an insult at John Wesley and his fellow Holy Rolers by their incredulous classmates at Oxford. But, of it Wesley said, echoing Joseph, "What men intended for harm, God intended for good." The label stuck, but eventually without the negative connotation.

Even still, I wonder why a word which has long been intended as a slur - and is often still used as such - is so preferable to a term intended as a neutral designation. I understand that it has some very significant limitations, ground we have already covered (though I'd like to reemphasize my discomfort with the term's emphasis on purely sexual behavior). However, as this is a discussion specifically about the church's attitude toward the sexual relationships and behavior of such persons - even the most ardent homophobes in the church try to make the discussion about sexual ethics rather than identity - it seems to be to be the best word.

I do hate to go to bat so strongly for a word which I acknowledge to be insufficient for a proper discussion of the phenomenon. Perhaps I am doing so simply because I cannot understand the backlash against it - especially in light of the willingness of the GLBTQetc community's willingness to make peace with externally imposed labels which have been intended for harm.

So, my question for you is this:

What word/s should we be using here instead? What word/s more clearly speak to the subject at hand, and carry less baggage? Personally I find them all profoundly wanting, but I am not a member of the community labeled by them.

I also have another question. You say, rather strongly

I can assure you that use of the term "homosexual" will not be considered acceptable in dialogue when you arrive at LPTS next year.

The use of this term will not be considered acceotable by whom? Has it - so long considered a neutral label, and still the most prominent designator for the population labeled by it - made its way onto the institution's list of unacceptable words? Or would it be considered unacceptable in a less formal way?

I try not to become attached to anything, much less a word which I don't particularly care for, and which doesn't work particularly well. But, if the backlash against the word "homosexual" is as strong as you make it out to be, a part of me may be more inclined to use it. I say that not to indicate that I take some sick pleasure in offending people. Rather I say it honestly acknowledging my unwillingness to conform to the machinations of the "language police" when I don't understand why they have "outlawed" what they have outlawed.

And, despite your valliant (intended without any sarcasm or irony) attempt to get me to see the light on this subject, I don't yet. Alas, I am not any closer to seeing your point of view than when this conversation began. Perhaps I am like an old southerner who simply doesn't know how to refer to Black people now. So, I'd like some better options than the ones that have been presented to me. On other subjects I am inclined to invent my own terms, but here that just might make things worse, particularly given the diversity of the available lexicon on the subject.

Sandalstraps said...

Perhaps we should make a distinction between the ways in which the word "homosexual" is used. Perhaps that - if it had happened earlier - would have cleared up this issue with a little less heat.

I am willing to admit that it is possible, even after making this distinction, that some people might still be offended - and reasonably offended - by the use of the word "homosexual." But I suspect that a slight distinction could eliminate a great deal of the offense caused by the word, and also make it more clear how that word is, and more importantly, is not being used here.

"Homosexual," without any sort of qualifier to make it an adjective or an adverb, should never be applied to a person, because it undermines their personhood, reducing them to their participation in a particular kind of sexual behavior. Homosexual, then, is not a noun, much less a proper noun. As such, the word "homosexuals," because you cannot pluralize an adjective or an adverb, has never and will never be used here. I would never wish to be labeled simply "heterosexual," as though that were a noun which could identify me. However, I have to admit that as a adjective used to modify my person, or a adverb used to modify some of my behaviors, it is appropriate.

Similarly, I can see how someone label as a "homosexual" or a group labeled as "homosexuals," would resent being identified purely by a word which can only properly modify a single aspect of their personhood. That said, it does properly modify the behavior of certain individual persons. As such, here I have used to admittedly flawed designator "homosexual persons," using "homosexual" as an adjective to modify a particular aspect of the persons being described by the phrase. In doing so I did not, and do not, mean to limit those persons to the attribute described by the adjective, nor do I mean to reduce them to merely their sexual inclinations and/or behavior. I simply mean to identify the aspect of those persons which has placed them too often at odds with the church.

I use the word "person" or "persons" specifically to eliminate the possibility of the denial or reduction of entire personhood of the individuals, which I assumed was enough to eliminate most offense. For the life of me I can still see no better way to discuss this issue in a church setting. I still solicit the help of anyone who would like to offer a better way of clearly discussing this issue without offending people who have been too often offended by our culture and the church.

Amy said...

sorry I haven't responded yet - it's in the works, but with Womanist extraordinaire Delores Williams speaking tonight, and committee meetings all weekend, it's likely to be a few days longer... You'll hear more from me soon

Sandalstraps said...

Amy,

Take your time. Many demands have been made of you here, and you should have all the time you need to respond to them.

In the meantime, how was Delores Williams?