radical theology and the lgbtqi+ community (part three): theological methods

(This is the final installment for the series concerning the lgbtqi+ community and radical theology. My goal was to demonstrate a new approach and way of thinking when it comes to the Christian Scripture and the affirmation and welcoming of the lgbtqi+ community.)

U.S. mainline denominations (Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians etc.) possess broad methods for thinking theologically. Methodists come equipped with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. Episcopalians and Presbyterians have a similar method, but use different illustrations. Yet, still many denominations in the U.S. say that they only depend on Scripture or sola scriptura  as their main source of theological understanding! This, of course, does not leave room for a historical/traditional discourse about the interpretation of Scripture and the events that happened pre-Protestant reformation.  As I wrote in the first post in this series, it is impossible to listen to only one voice in the Scriptures, and not acknowledge the other voices that contradict or oppose it.

What we need are new hermeneutical methods for Scriptures or to re-discover recent, yet discarded ways of critical theory. This would be methods and ideas from deconstruction to Marxist reading and certainly feminist and queer readings of tradition and Scripture. Postmodern Philosopher and Theologian David Tracy points out:

“The great creative individuals–thinkers, artists, heroes, saints–found themselves, impelled to find new ways to interpret an experience that their culture or tradition seemed to unable to interpret well or even at all.” (Plurality and Ambiguity, pg. 7)

Today, we face our own crises in our churches and discerning how to approach the lgbtqi+ community. From the mainline traditions, the Episcopal church has affirmed that they will urge Congress members to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Episcopalians also are very public with their welcoming and affirming stances and had the first Bishop who was openly gay in 2003. In July at the Presbyterian Church of the USA General Assembly same-sex marriage affirmation was rejected, nevertheless by a narrow vote. Three years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America allowed openly gay clergy members to serve. Still countless Christian denominations either do not speak about this subject, such as churches who do not have much power in the public sphere or they have stances that oppose even the idea of same-sex partners.

One of my concerns with congregations that have strict restrictions concerning same-sex relationships is that they do not know anyone in the lgbtqi+ community that practices Christianity. News outlets portray the lgbtqi+ community as ultra-radicals trying to subvert the very culture of the U.S. Yet, if the only information that we collect and experience comes from a TV/computer screen, our perception counts for not much. As humans we interpret everything at all times. Sometimes we get those things right, like when the popcorn stops popping and it is still on the stove, I am going to take it off and not leave it on there to burn.

With the lgbtqi+, we have neglected dialogue and conversation, instead we place our own perceptions on them. The greatest thing that I did intentionally was to attend a church that serves the lgbtqi+ community. I thought going into the experience was a church that would call God  father/mother and that would have song with progressive lyrics. Instead, the experience felt very close to my Pentecostal upbringing. We sang 90’s worship songs. Sure the pastor was gay and most of the congregants were in same-sex relationships, but talking with them after the service, they were much more theologically conservative than I. There was even an altar call at the end of the service.

The challenge for us now and in the future will be how we will experience faith. How can we not allow anyone who wants to follow God in the way of Jesus to come to church? Theology must go beyond, but also include Scripture, yet if the cultural context of Scripture does not fit within our own experiences, it is hard to only focus on Scripture. The Wesleyan quadrilateral could be helpful for understanding the theology. For instance, my experience with the lgbtqi+ has been delightful, I know several people part of that community who follow Jesus. The Scriptures are faithful to “loving God and loving neighbor,” therefore my harsh judgments against those who have not persecuted anyone and find themselves as the underdogs must not be forced into more oppression. Depending on one’s reading of the Christian tradition, it could go either way. For the church in the East, John Chrysostom denounces homosexuality in the 400’s. Yet, a non-issue about homosexuality was Augustine’s approach. To reiterate, the ancients thought of homosexuality was more of a sexual act more than a relationship between two persons of the same sex. It was about dominant power rather than mutual love. Lastly, a reasonable theological conclusion must submit to the fact that Christianity and same-sex relationships are certainly compatible.