Someone recently forwarded me a link to a blog by Matthew David Morris titled “What It’s Like to Be A Gay Christian.” As someone who, in my better moments, considers myself aligned with those same identity markers, I was interested to hear this author’s reflections and see if they matched my own experiences. What I read, however, surprised me because it turned out that this author was more interested in refuting the claim that there was anything noteworthy about being a gay Christian.
Morris writes, “I’m also not actively processing my Christian faith through a gay lens. That is, not until a straight person reminds me that I’m a gay Christian.” I think I get what Morris is trying to do in his post by showing readers that his faith is not summed up by his sexuality. He writes that there are deeper questions that guide his faith that have nothing to do with sexuality.
On many levels I say a deep and profound “yes” to these assertions. I, too, recognize that my sexuality is not the totality of my being. But for Morris to deny that he is processing his faith through a “gay lens” seems, first of all, like a disservice to himself and, secondly, like a refusal to recognize the way his own social location inescapably informs his faith.
First, to deny one’s self the ability to process faith through the lens of one’s own experiences of sexuality means missing out on the rich resources that experience can bring in shaping ideas about faith. I will never forget the night I first “came out” and my mentor told me that he was, in some ways, envious of me. He said he recognized that I would be able to understand God in ways that he, as a straight, white male, never could. At first, I did not understand what he meant. I thought he was trying to say that my attraction to other men would give me a deeper understanding of what it meant to “love Jesus.” While this might be an interesting dynamic to think about for gay Christians, I think over time I have come to understand that what he was trying to say was that the process of understanding God is fundamentally different when it is undertaken from a social location outside the dominant notions of society. The “gay lens” that Morris works so hard to deny has been an invaluable resource for helping me understand what it means for the work of God to function liberatively in the world.
Second, the notion that Morris (or anyone for that matter) could escape the various lenses of identity that he claims is an absurd notion. There is no theology that is completely free of contextuality. To claim otherwise is to ignore the realities of how ideologies function within our various communities. Liberation models of theology teach us at all times to ask whose interests are being served by the theologies that are espoused, even when they are our own.
The last few years, I have had the honor of learning from a professor who insists on recognizing that all people have baggage and that the point is not to get rid of our baggage but to become aware of it, to own it. Every once in awhile we need to unpack our baggage and figure out what still fits, what doesn’t, and what things have crept in along the way that we might not be aware of. With this metaphor in mind, I would want to challenge Morris to check his own baggage. Not only does he need to do the work of realizing it is there, but he should also learn to appreciate the resources it can provide him and make it his own.
In the end, a carefully packed carry-on seems preferable to the weight of the often unacknowledged baggage we inevitably bring with us on the journey of life.
Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)