Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

Archive for Ethics

Can I Quote You? St. Ignatius of Loyola on self-sacrifice

Teach us to give and not to count the cost.

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), spiritual director and founder of the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits).  Today is his feast-day.

And a comment from me: Even in my most passionate activism, and even in my relationships with those I love the most, I am so quick to think of myself first.  May I learn to ignore my selfish instincts, which objectify and dehumanize those I am called to serve, and give without hesitation to the utmost measure.

(Thanks to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.)

My activist manifesto

My activism is patient.  It is kind.  It is not jealous; it is not arrogant and never blusters or boasts.

My activism never acts dishonorably or unbecomingly.  It is not self-serving.  It refuses to allow itself to be provoked.  It is not vengeful and does not take into account a wrong suffered.

My activism does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.

My activism bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  This is my activism.

If my activism speaks with power, wit, and sophistication, but lacks any of these aforementioned qualities, it becomes merely noise.

If my activism is full of depth and insight, and if it persists beyond all human endurance, but lacks these qualities, it is barren and destitute.

If my activism prompts me give up everything I own that is of earthly value–even to the point of giving my very life–but lacks these qualities, it merits nothing.

This activism–my activism–never fails.

(Thanks to the Apostle Paul.)

The questionable ethics of “love the sinner, hate the sin”

“We have seen Satan, and he is us!”

Writing at yesterday, Dr. Miguel A. de la Torre (director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology) reaches that conclusion after a concise deconstruction of traditional responses to the Problem of Evil and the development of the concept of Satan:

The early shapers of sacred text found themselves in the position of having to protect God from accusations of being the source of evil. As it became less acceptable to have aspects of God represented in evil elements or events, independent evil figures had to be birthed. If Satan did not exist, then they had to create one so as to vindicate God.

One problem with their strategy is that the texts often place responsibility for human suffering squarely in God’s lap. De la Torre notes the story of Job, the case of Saul, and the words of Amos (“Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?“) as evidence. This is why systematic theologians have to walk such a fine line when they describe Satan. Attribute too much power to him, and you weaken your monotheism; too little, and you risk making God responsible for acts otherwise considered evil.

But there are other, more practical problems with our traditional conception of Satan as well, as de la Torre points out. (Emphasis here is mine.)

Here then is the ethical concern: seeing Satan in the other. It cannot be denied that evil was, and continues to be, committed. But to reduce the other to a representative of evil justifies cruelties and atrocities to be committed by those engaged in the battle to save humans from Satan’s corruption. No evil ever dreamed up by Satan or his demons can outdo the atrocities committed by good, decent people attempting to purge such evil forces from this world.

Hence de la Torre’s conclusion: “We have seen Satan, and he is us.” We unwittingly do evil when we see other community members as evil’s source and deal with them accordingly.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians regularly face this kind of treatment from their brothers and sisters in Christ. A mother and father force a gay child into a harmful reparative therapy program against his will. A family gives a lesbian aunt the “silent treatment” for years. A church ejects a long-time member who chooses to transition from one gender to another. This is what “love the sinner, hate the sin” has tended to look like.

Like the traditional theological conception of Satan, the doctrine of “love the sinner, hate the sin” forces adherents to walk a fine line. Stray too much toward love, and you risk enabling behavior you see as sinful. Stray too much toward hate, and you risk… Well, what, exactly? Most Christians, I think, instinctively sense that hate is dangerous, but would be hard pressed to say why. God hates, according to the texts at least, and Christians are instructed to hate (Romans 12:9 being the most general example). But the problem we recognize intuitively lies in hating the wrong things or hating for the wrong reason. Here the texts are often ambiguous, and that’s where the danger is.

This ambiguity means that Christians will err in their application of this doctrine, and so we’re forced to make some calculated decisions to minimize the error. Unfortunately, many seem inclined to err on the side of purity, and as a result, LGBT people are excommunicated from churches, ejected from families, and made to submit to exorcisms or rehabilitation programs. But the hypocrisy of erring on the side of purity is obvious–as both Testaments proclaim, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” When we reprimand some for alleged impurity without recognizing impurity in ourselves, we show our ethic to be arbitrary and self-serving. This hypocrisy is increasingly off-putting to those outside the church, and the LGBT people who are forced to endure it often leave the church and their faith behind, never to return. Above all, God’s feelings about hypocrisy are clear: “Woe to you.” Eight times, “Woe to you.”

So then why do we choose to err on the side of purity rather than on the side of inclusiveness and welcome? Perhaps, when God asks us that question one day, we can say, “The Devil made us do it.” It would go better for us, I think, if we remembered that Romans 12:9, the verse that instructs us to hate what is evil, prefaces that instruction with these words: “Let love be without hypocrisy.”

(Image courtesy gapingvoid).

Ex-gay torture chambers in Ecuador and spiritual abuse

Please read Jim Burroway’s post at Box Turtle Bulletin about LGBT Ecuadorians being committed against their will to “treatment centers” that can only be described as torture chambers. (Translations of the series of articles Jim cites can be found here.) Here’s an excerpt from a 22-year-old transgender woman who experienced their treatment:

“My father paid $1,000 [approx. $350 dollars] to have them lock me up in a clinic because he wanted me to change. Four men practically kidnapped me on the street. I wore my hair long and, since I had already taken hormones, my breasts had grown. They clipped my hair. Me and another three homosexuals. They would lock us up in rooms of less than a meter wide. So small that we had to stand on our feet, in the dark, with flies.”

The place where she was taken was God’s Paradise, a drug and alcohol rehab center, led by Jorge Flor who some residents call “My Pastor.”

“When I tried to escape,” says Chiqui, “they hit me until they broke my nose. They’d ask if I was a man or a woman, they’d take our pants down, they’d throw water between our legs and would put live cables to shock us with electricity.

How in the world can such atrocities be committed in the name of Jesus?

I’m reminded of a story from the life of St. Joan of Arc.  Before she revealed to her family that she had received messages from God calling her to lead the armies of France, her father had a recurring dream. In his dream he saw Joan leaving their home town of Domrémy in the company of soldiers, which he interpreted as a premonition that she would become a camp-follower and prostitute.  He swore to his wife and sons, Joan’s mother and brothers, that if such a thing seemed about to occur he would drown his daughter, and made his sons promise to do the same if he could not.

Such a thing flies in the face of our modern understanding of basic human rights–and yet such things take place every day in our world, and in Jesus’ name.  And they don’t just take place far away.  Spiritual abuse happens in the church next door and the synagogue down the street and the mosque across town any time families are taught or counseled to mistreat their LGBT loved ones in God’s name.

What would have become of France had Joan been murdered by her family as she was departing in men’s clothes to meet with the Dauphin?  What beautiful destiny does the church unwittingly destroy when it abuses its LGBT members and their families?

Can I Quote You? Chief Justice Ron George on marriage and the state

Under these circumstances, we cannot find that retention of the traditional definition of marriage constitutes a compelling state interest.

California State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George, writing for the majority in today’s ruling in favor of marriage equality.

And a comment from me: Thank you, Lord. Let justice roll.

None is incorruptable, not even one

or, Daniel Day-Lewis teaches me about the nature of power

One of those wonderful cosmic confluences has given me some new grist for my thinking about power and activism in the form of two Daniel Day-Lewis films that hit my consciousness within a week of each other. 

In the 1993 film In the Name of the Father Day-Lewis plays Irishman Gerry Conlon, who along with three others was coerced under torture to confess to the 1974 Guildford pub bombings.  Conlon and the other members of the Guildford Four spent 15 years in British prisons for the crime until it came to light that police officials had lied about their initial interviews with the Four and had doctored evidence to implicate them, all in an effort to demonstrate to the British public that they were succeeding in their efforts to stop IRA bombings.  Their convictions were reversed in 1989, and in 2005 Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a formal apology to the Four and their families, stating, “I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice (…) they deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated.”

Day-Lewis plays a much different character in last year’s magnificent There Will Be Blood: turn-of-the-century oilman Daniel Plainview.  Driven by his insatiable lust for power, Plainview shows himself willing to crush anyone who gets in his way, including members of his own family.  I hesitate to reveal any more of what I consider to be the one must-see movie of 2007 for the sake of those who have not yet seen it, but knowing that the story is based losely on Upton Sinclair‘s novel Oil! will probably give some idea of the ethos and pathos of the narrative. 

Together, these two stories have helped me cosolidate my recent thoughts on the nature of social power.  To be precise, they’ve taught me

  1. that once they attain a certain modicum of social power, individuals or groups will very rarely surrender it, and
  2. that far more frequently they will stop at nothing to maintain and expand their power, including the wanton violation of social norms and values concerning power. 

What I found most fascinating, however, was how quickly in both stories those whom we would expect to advocate for the powerless themselves fall prey to the dynamic cited above.  This sad truth becomes apparent almost from the outset of There Will Be Blood in the person of preacher Eli Sunday (again, I’ll refrain from saying more in the interest of readers who have yet to see the film).  In In the Name of the Father, Gerry Conlon learns this hard lesson under the tutlege of a fellow prisoner, Irish Republican bomber Joe McAndrew, who proves himself just as capable of injustice as those who have unjustly imprisoned the Guildford Four. 

Note to those of us who consider ourselves activists and advocates for the marginalized (including myself):  “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”   “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; [for] the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

Can I Quote You? Gary Nelson on speaking without entitlement

[It takes] humble sensitivity . . . to live as a biblical people in a place where you are only one voice of many and are not necessarily the dominant voice.  [Churches] must respect that they are only one voice in a number of voices, and the ability to dialogue in a pluralistic world is not so much about prison as they are about creating healthy places where their voices can be heard.  I do not fear prison as much as I would be concerned about simply being ignored or marginalized even more because I have chosen to speak with a sense of entitlement and assumed moral authority that others around me have not granted. In Canada we earn the right to speak, and speak we do with courage and sensitivity.

Dr. Gary Nelson, General Secretary of Canadian Baptist Ministries, responding to the recent assertion by Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. Frank Page’s that pastors in Canada can be jailed for speaking against homosexuality

And a comment from me:  Page’s original comments came in the context of an interview in which he decries an alleged liberal bias in the media.  It strikes me as curious that a theology that affirms the righteousness and justice of the market economy would be so fearful of the marketplace of ideas.  Can a fundamentalist theology of human sexuality compete in a marketplace where all ideas are placed on an even field?  More importantly, can they compete in a way that upholds the traditional Baptist value of soul competency and refuses to descend into oversimplifying the issues, mocking the competition, or fear-mongering?  Time will tell.

Thanks to Ethics Daily.