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Link Wednesday 5: SCOTUS Ruled; Now What?

It’s amazing what a few days away from the office can do to clear your mind. I just got back from Wisconsin this Sunday after visiting family. Wow did a lot happen since I wrote last. SCOTUS delivered their big decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. There was much despair. And there was much rejoicing.

In Evangelicalism, conversations moved to what needs to happen in its community regarding the decision. Amidst this background, I came across two very interesting sets of questions from very different points of view. They arise from the same tradition and use the same text.

Kevin DeYoung
Kevin DeYoung
Kevin DeYoung of The Gospel Coalition issued “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags.” Here are some of the questions he asked:

  • “3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?”
  • “7. When Jesus spoke against porneia* what sins do you think he was forbidding?”
  • “11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?”
  • “12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?”

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines, founder of The Reformation Project, issued a rejoinder, similarly titled: “40 questions for Christians who oppose marriage equality.” He asked such questions as:

  • “3. How many meaningful relationships with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people do you have?”
  • “12. Do you believe that same-sex couples’ relationships can show the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?”
  • “17. Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s passages about slavery before you felt comfortable believing that slavery is wrong?”
  • “18. Does it cause you any concern that Christians throughout most of church history would have disagreed with you?”

Each set of questions demarcates communities. I won’t comment on the virtues and vices of either. I assume my readers are educated. I will reiterate something, though: one faith, one text, very different questions.

Amanullah De SondyAfter I read these, I was listening to a podcast with Amanullah De Sondy. He was discussing his book, The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities, on the New Books Network. There he made some keen observations about religious communities.

One of these has to do with the appropriation of texts. He asked what a text looked like outside the perspective of hegemony. In other words, if you are not part of a dominant class—whatever social marker that is—how does that affect how you envision a text or sayings? Both DeYoung and Vines are speaking from a place that may or may not be wrong. Which is in a more privileged position? Does privilege vary from situation to situation? If texts had as stable of meanings as we might like them to, there probably wouldn’t be as many interpretive traditions (=denominations, sects, religions) as we have today.

De Sondy’s comments had me thinking how much theology and legal reasoning try to make sense of native ambiguity in texts: ambiguity they recognize and wish to elide or naturalize into a preferred reading for their community. This ambiguity, however, is what I find so inviting and exciting about religious studies.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass
To illustrate interpretation outside hegemony, my friend and classmate, Samantha Nichols, wrote a post about the 4th of July. She included a speech by Frederick Douglass (delivered in 1852, before the Civil War) on the discourse surrounding the holiday:

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

What I am highlighting is that you cannot escape your life circumstance and how that colors your interaction with texts (among other things). Sometimes my circumstances prompt me to ask certain questions that people with other social markers ignore, and vice versa. Part of your life circumstances is the groups to which you belong and the groups you reject (for more on this, see my post on community).

I ask this to my reader: how do you arbitrate between two people who understand themselves as faithful to the same tradition, but have different life circumstances informing their interaction with the tradition? I conjecture that it’s probably whatever person’s views most closely align with your own. These debates, while ostensibly about who is most faithful to an original text, at least lend themselves to drawing battle lines: these sets of questions allow persons and communities to identify and align themselves with these two men to achieve certain aims.


*porneia is a Greek word. While this could simply be regarded as a rhetorical move to dismiss the opinions of people who do not know the language in which the New Testament was written, the fact that the New Testament was written in a language other than English seems to invite attention to what is happening in the original language. However, you could also just as easily say that the vast majority of people do not live out their religion by any reference to exegetical and theological tools like Greek—I think it worthwhile to mention that you would need to decide how much that religion is defined by official/institutional means and how much of it is defined on the ground by living, breathing believers.

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Link Wednesday #1- Feminisms, Same-Sex Marriage, and Caitlyn Jenner

Long post (1000+ words)

I’m excited. This is the first of what I hope to be many Link Wednesdays. It will run something like this. I will include at least one link on theory and at least one link of gender and sexuality in the news, hopefully having something to do with religion (I’ll admit, you can relate pretty much anything to religion if you work the definition right). After I introduce each person and the subject, I’ll ask some questions. So here goes.

1. Rita Alfonso Surveying Feminisms

Dr. Rita Alfonso thinkphilosophy.org
Dr. Rita Alfonso
thinkphilosophy.org
ThinkPhilosophy is a philosophy website run by “Dr. A” (Rita Alfonso), who taught philosophy and gender studies at Grinnell College and U.C. Berkeley before retiring. She is now an independent scholar and professional photographer.

Alfonso’s first few podcasts seem aimed at making a general audience clearer thinkers through reading and writing practices. Her blog is a text-accompaniment to her podcast. (Also neat: if you subscribe to her site, you can get Feminism: A Very Short Introduction as a free download. Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series gives a quick survey of a topic by experts in the field. They run ~100-150pp and ~$10).

I came across Alfonso’s site when looking up gender studies blogs. Her first podcast that I heard was her explanation of three prominent feminist theorists: Simone de Beauvoir (existentialism/Marxism), Luce Irigaray (psychoanalysis), and Judith Butler (post-structuralism/queer theory). De Beauvoir pretty much kicked off Second-Wave Feminism with her The Second Sex. One of her most famous lines is “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.” In other words, sex is not identical with gender, but gender has a cultural history. According to Alfonso, Irigaray takes de Beauvoir in an egalitarian direction while Butler takes her in a radical direction.

The audio runs ~38 minutes.

What do you make of de Beauvoir’s quote? Are women reducible to wombs or to what is called “feminine”? Is femininity something that is stable in a person or something that must be constantly maintained? How much is femininity a performance or projected image and how much of it is innate to a woman? Is woman simply the Other of man? How does liberal feminism differ from radical feminism?

How does Irigaray critique de Beauvoir’s “othering” (abbr- where you set up an opposite of yourself or your group to say “I’m not that” and use it as identity reinforcement) of women? Is Irigaray saying de Beauvoir sees women as simply non-actualized men in need of full (male) agency? How different does Irigaray find women and men as subjects?

Butler argues that if we take de Beauvoir’s sex/gender distinction seriously, we have no guarantee that a sex results in a given gender; if you always exists in a culturally expressed gender, do you ever exist solely as your sex? In other words, are bodies and biological sex ever interpreted free of cultural bias? In Alfonso’s questioning, does gender occur as naturally as a falling rock demonstrates gravity (every time)? Alfonso interrogates sex as a natural category: should it not result in a particular gender expression? Is the nature/nurture distinction itself a cultural product?

2. Albert Mohler on Attending Same-Sex Weddings

Albert Mohler is extremely influential in the Southern Baptist Convention and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His output is prolific. He has an almost daily podcast called “The Briefing” where he analyzes current events from an evangelical perspective.

I started listening to him because I wanted to gauge where real evangelical leaders are coming from and rather than being filtered through various outlets like Salon or other media which focus more on sensational figures (thinking Pat Robertson here) rather than on what broader evangelicals accept.

Albert Mohler albertmohler.com
Albert Mohler
albertmohler.com

If you are unaware, sometimes religious leaders play with a supposed (from an outside perspective) or real party line (again, this is why I think essentialism is unhelpful). While holding to a traditional view of marriage, Mohler also claimed that the church was guilty of homophobia and aggression (rather than redemption) against homosexuals.

The podcast I listened to on Monday was dated. He analyzed Sen. Marco Rubio’s statement on attending a same-sex wedding. Rubio would attend one if he loved the people, even though he doesn’t support same-sex marriage. Mohler argued that based on the phrasing from the Book of Common Prayer (“If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married…”) one’s attendance of a wedding is silent consent to the marriage, and that therefore, Rubio’s statement doesn’t make sense.

The segment on Rubio is the first ~7 min of ~18 min.

What do you make of this? Does Mohler’s assessment work for you? Can one not attend a same-sex wedding, love the people involved, and still disagree with what they are doing? Does attendance or presence equal consent? Does Rubio’s statement conflate loving people regardless of their sin and what people affirm? If a mother-in-law doesn’t like the spouse her child has chosen, and she still attends the wedding, is she affirming their marriage or her child? How does Mohler employ the term “category”? What does Mohler mean by love? Does he define it?

3. “Bruce Jenner Is Not a Hero

Yesterday was a mixed bag on my Facebook feed. There didn’t seem to be much middle ground surrounding Caitlyn Jenner’s reveal on the cover of Vanity Fair. This post was a negative assessment of her coming out. When I tried to find out about the author, she didn’t have an “About” section. Scrolling through her posts, I gathered that she is a mother seeking to explain a Christian worldview in light of cultural (generally sinful) trends. What caught my attention in her post was the following quote: “I never want to shy away from speaking something that needs to be said even if I know it is not something people want to hear.”

What prompts someone to speak to an issue to the point of saying that their words “needs to be said”? I can think of some possibilities: everyone is doing it, your position hasn’t been heard, your position has been maligned, your position has been misunderstood, you like to hear yourself talk, imminent danger, etc. I think in this case she sees a societal danger, but you tell me what you think.

How is Emily Suzanne using gender? Does she buy a distinction between sex and gender, or are these two items even distinct? How is she characterizing arguments in favor of Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out? What sources of authority does she use? How and why does she use them? What does she mean by “common sense” when coupled with a Christian worldview? How does Caitlyn coming out as a woman constitute being “lost, sinful, and desperately in need of Jesus” in itself? According to her definition of a hero, has Caitlyn not sacrificed and risked? When Emily Suzanne uses “we,” who is included and who is excluded?


I plan on using Jenner’s case as a launch pad to talk about the biology and politics of sex in an upcoming post, possibly before Saturday. Again, in Saturday’s post I am going to discuss how I relate religion and gender in my studies.

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Inevitable

There is a robin who built her nest atop the light at our front door. Her chicks broke free of their eggs a couple of weeks ago. One day I came home and found one of them dead on the porch. It has been there for over a week now. I watched in fascination as the days went by. Its belly started to distend. Its eyes aren’t there anymore. Now it lies covered in flies which feast upon its decaying remains. The corpse’s siblings are growing into nice little birds. Their mom flies away each time I go in or come out the door. They lie there scared, but I say, “Hello birds.” Then I look down at their fallen sibling.

I have left it there. My life is so insulated, so sanitized, so stable. Death is nowhere around me. At most I see the slow death of struggling persons when I decide to go downtown. My belly distends, too, but from comfort. This chick reminds me of life’s fragility, that my bubble could burst at any moment, that death, whether slow or immediate, is inevitable. In an instant I could be paralyzed or die, leaving my family with nothing but questions.

Will I arise as a phoenix from the dirt? Or will my life continue in comfort, still decaying, along with a world that continues to rot around me?

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Looking back on where I’ve been

It’s weird sometimes reading back on where you’ve been and wonder why you were there. I guess that’s easy when you’re in a different place. Sometimes empathy is hard, even with yourself. I read what I have blogged and wonder why I was the way I was. But then I remember the feelings. I didn’t feel sure of myself or my place. I felt unsure of how I fit in with my family, church, sexuality, and work, all huge sources of identity. That liminal space where nothing is truly defined allows one to ask questions of everything because the givens that were formerly given are no longer given.

It gives me space for grace, though, to extend to others in similar circumstances. If I have gone through things in which I didn’t have the answers, how would I want to be treated during such a time? If I wasn’t sure and someone else was overconfidently, I didn’t want to hear them; I doubted the very foundations of their surety. But I enjoy leaving my blogs up as is. I can say I was different then and still accept myself.

People change. It can be scary, because I want people to treat my current incarnation the same way as they had treated me insofar as they knew me before. Change is a risk. Sometimes others welcome the change. Sometimes, I find, one loses trust, even friendships. Sometimes others can’t handle the change, or at least their change in perception of you (you may have been constant all along, just not presenting yourself authentically). I could find it sad that it’s taken me 32 years to learn that, but I’m thankful that I know it now. I can use it in how I approach relationships. I can use it in helping my children learn the ropes of the world.

If you feel you need to change (or you already have, but you want your public presentation to match what you are in private), take stock of yourself. Make definitive plans, because change has effects that lie outside your control. It can affect your job, your romantic relationships, your family relationships, your friendships, your access to social resources. However, the other side, as difficult as it might seem when you’ve taken stock, is liberating. People know you for what you have presented, and then can know you in a new way that may differ from what they thought they knew of you. Identities are funny things. Sometimes I want others to remain stable so that I can explore new horizons, but that’s not fair to them. Life is sometimes an unstable mess and that’s what makes it an adventure.

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