Heterosexism: A wound in Christ’s body

By W. Christopher Evans

The late F. D. Maurice one wrote that “the Incarnation may be set aside in acts as well as words.” The Incarnation, in other words, is not just about systematic or doxological proclamation. The Incarnation has something to do with how we are with one another, with our relatedness and our social worlds, here and now. The Word of God does not shrink from politics, but moves to the heart of human concerns and works continually to redeem them. That means that sometimes we will disagree publicly with one another, that we will fight with one another, and that we can be assured that God is working out our salvation in us and among us in our midst not despite our struggles, but precisely through, with, and in them.

Any spirituality that claims a peace and quiet of escape from “all that” is something other and something less than Christian spirituality. I start hearing jeremiads of “peace, peace.” Any Christian authority who claims neutrality for ecclesiastical social teaching or public stance or words is failing to take responsibility for effects on real flesh and blood lives. Christian spirituality refuses to shrink from the realities of human lives. Refuses to deny responsibility for our words and actions upon others’ lives. Indeed, Christian spirituality calls us to dive into the mess, including engaging in politics.

After all, politics is at heart about social relatedness, about people interacting with one another and with our surroundings and place in creation. Politics is precisely about how it is we are with one another in our social worlds together. And the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is very much concerned with the ways of flesh with flesh. After all, Christian spirituality too is at heart about relatedness, of ourselves to God through Christ in the Spirit, and in turn, of ourselves to self, one another, all creatures and the whole of creation. Wherever spirituality and politics are divorced, or the former is claimed to be somehow neutral in relation to the latter, beware. Such is in some sense, a denial of the Incarnation. As the late William Stringfellow reminds us in The Politics of Spirituality:

Whatever else may be affirmed about a spirituality which has biblical precedent and style, spiritual maturity or spiritual fulfillment necessarily involves the whole person—body, mind, soul, place, relationships—in connection with the whole of creation throughout the era of time. Biblical spirituality encompasses the whole person in the totality of existence in this world, not some fragment or scrap or incident of a person….Politics, hence, refers comprehensively to the total configuration of relationships among humans and institutions and other principalities and the rest of created life in this world. Politics describes the work of the Word of God in this world for redemption and the impact of that effort of the Word of God upon the fallen existence of this world, including the fallen life of human beings and that of the powers that be. Politics points to the militance of the Word of God incarnate, which pioneers the politics of the Kingdom which is to come. Politics heralds the activity of the Word of God in judgment over all persons and all regimes and all things whatsoever in common history. (22, 25-26).

Recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave yet another interview in which he claims neutrality while continuing to justify present Anglican Communion words and behaviors toward lgbt persons without consideration that it may be the Communion and its Churches that are in need of conversion of manner of life in relationship to lgbt persons, in need of conversion of heterosexist “habits, behaviours, ideas, and emotions.” Williams’ words are not neutral. His exercise of spiritual authority is not apolitical. To call us a “wound in the whole ministry” is flesh-denying. To commend to, if not demand, celibacy of us without observation of our faithful relationships for the same fruits of the Spirit automatically imputed to his own marriage by reason of heterosexuality alone is to bear false witness.

Under such circumstances, I prefer to remain outside the inner ring of Williams’ version of Anglicanism where so much harm is justified toward us in Jesus’ Name without taking responsibility for the hurt. As C.S. Lewis once observed: “The quest of the Inner Ring will break you heart unless you break it’.” Christ’s circle surely does just that, break the inner circle of Anglicanism by infinite embrace. Anglicanism will not leave without torn joint in this struggle, a struggle lgbt Christians increasingly engage by not fleeing but by pushing back in Jesus’ Name.

For contra Williams, his spirituality does real harm to flesh and blood persons, God’s lgbt people both inside and outside the institutions of the Churches. On the one hand, his words reinforce covert and overt forms of hostility in our everyday social worlds. On the other hand, they lend themselves to self-hatred on the part of lgbt persons. But worst of all, they admit no consideration that repentance and conversion might be incumbent on the part of the Church toward others of Christ’s members.

The ecclesiastical focus has been almost exclusively on the manner of life of lgbt persons, particularly, lgbt Christians. It is time to turn the spotlight on the manner of life of Archbishop Williams and the rest of the Body in relationship to us.

The sinful fruits of the rest of the Body as expressed in the Churches’ present stance in relation to us are wicked and many, easily named and readily available for empirical examination. I name just a few of them again: False witness; self-righteousness and justification of self according to sexuality rather than to Jesus Christ; verbal abuse; physical abuse; emotional abuse; spiritual abuse; space in teaching to justify parents and families throwing us out of the house and worse; bullying; loss of jobs and housing; support of government-sponsored torture as so-called conversion therapies that include the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Africa; reparative rape; imprisonment; and murder. Apparently these standards are no bar to clerical service, much less full participation in the life of Christ’s Church.

Archbishop Williams’ words subtly allow for the endorsement of all these more vicious aspects of the Anglican Communion in its relationship with God’s lgbt people, and they continue in none-to-subtle terms to suggest we are garbage—that we should just go away. And it is time to stop pretending that his is not a deformed version of Christian spirituality in its claimed neutrality toward us, a claimed neutrality that has real life effects in our relationships together as human beings and does God’s lgbt persons harm—harm and effects that from an lgbt point-of-view are a denial of the Incarnation in words and acts. His neutrality and its effects on us are anything but Christian virtues or demonstrations of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the true measure and standard of Christian living, lay or clerical.

Indeed, neither the Churches of the Anglican Communion, nor the societies in which they find themselves and participate, are neutral ethically, culturally, or politically. Many are actively as well as passively homophobic and heterosexist. Just in the United States alone this last week, I saw the report of several young men kill themselves for being bullied because of perception of or for being gay: Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, and Tyler Clementi.

The stances of the Churches of the Anglican Communion are not neutral, and for Archbishop Williams to continue to claim neutrality spiritual and political must be challenged in the name of Christ Jesus, indeed, by refutation of the Archbishop with his own words:

Our responsibility for a just commonwealth is the same responsibility laid upon us to be partakers of this holy Communion. If we are to respond to the invitation of God, we must in will and deed be answerable for our common life. That it is God who invites, the holy and sovereign God, must reinforce our sense of the danger to which we are exposed by our collusion in the rapacity and fragmentariness of an unjust commonwealth—“the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions”, to quote from the prayer whose original context is political, not ecclesiastical in the limited sense….the company at the Lord’s Table represents a social order, the possibility of sitting together as God’s guests is inextricably bound up with the way power and wealth are being used outside the liturgical assembly…. the specific Anglican contribution to the theology of liturgical construction and reconstruction has to do with the making of liturgy that connects the catholic pattern of life in the Body of Christ with the patterns of community that prevail in this place and time; it is to grasp that part of the task of liturgy is to provide a resource for “imagining the Kingdom” against the specific social and political background, so that the judgment passed by the structures of Christ’s Body on the failed and sinful patterns of an unredeemed or rebellious world may have some chance of being concrete and local. Above all, it assumes that the worshipping congregation is responsible to God for the social patterns in which its members are involved.[1]

[1] Rowan Williams, “Imagining the Kingdom,” in The Identity of Anglican Worship, ed. Kenneth Stevenson and Bryan Spinks (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1991), 5-6.

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

Past Posts