Homophobia Begats Sexual Violence

A bad.hack (read more about it here) is a manipulation of a Christian system either using illicit means to achieve an end, or achieving goals that leave the system worse off and less open than before. Read on for the hack!

Homophobia leads to weakened witness against sexual violence.

Hear that again: Homophobia in the United Methodist Church has weakened our witness against sexual violence.

I was having dinner with T.L. Steinwert and she alerted our table to this fact. I'm gonna post it here before her to steal her thunder. :-) As a result of our denominations' fear of gay people, we voted in a weaker stance on sexual ethics that does not give words or power to those who suffer from sexual violence.

We get our stance on sexual ethics from the Social Principles. The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church are our stances on social issues, such as war, the environment, politics, democracy, abortion, and...homosexuality! Indeed, we have an entire section devoted to human sexuality.

Anyway, other blogs have written much about the lack of changes to the homosexuality prohibitions. I'll leave that to them. I want to write about how our fear of all things gay has removed the language against sex acts of violence.

Anyway, here's what the Social Principles say now about sexual violence.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are only clearly affirmed in the marriage bond. Sex may become exploitative within as well as outside marriage. We reject all sexual expressions that damage or destroy the humanity God has given us as birthright, and we affirm only that sexual expression that enhances that same humanity. We believe that sexual relations where one or both partners are exploitative, abusive, or promiscuous are beyond the parameters of acceptable Christian behavior and are ultimately destructive to individuals, families, and the social order.
Here's what was removed at General Conference 2008.
Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are only clearly affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage bond . Sex may become exploitative within as well as outside marriage. We reject all sexual expressions that damage or destroy the humanity God has given us as birthright, and we affirm only that sexual expression that enhances that same humanity. We believe that sexual relations where one or both partners are exploitative, abusive, or promiscuous are beyond the parameters of acceptable Christian behavior and are ultimately destructive to individuals, families, and the social order.
Notice what is missing?
You can read it again here, it wasn't put in elsewhere.
Here's what the 2008 Social Principles will NOT say about sexual violence.
  • No words of prohibition against marital rape
  • No words of prohibition against improperness in marriage relationships that are outside of legal codes.
  • No words of comfort to those who are troubled by their partner's demands of them in sexual relations.
I know when we get hurt we turn to the bible for comfort. As sick as it sounds, some pastors and even lay UMs turn to their Book of Discipline for our stance on deeply personal issues. If they don't see their issue reflected back at them, if a woman being raped by her husband doesn't see words to give her power, then the United Methodist Church's stance on sexual violence has been weakened.

The minority report tries, it really does. Here's its reference to violence in sexuality.
All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence.
Weak. Way to replace a well-written sentence that acknowledges the messy humanity of relationships with an ambiguous one that does not speak truth to power.

This is a bad.hack. We have replaced language that gives power to people with language that does not empower people. It's like saying "We are against snowcones" without condemning those who make snowcone machines or the funnel-sized cups. There is no substance behind our witness, and indeed the substance that was there was removed, making the system of symbols less effective in social witness. By this change, we have made our system of social witness weaker and less relevant.

There are always unintended consequences to our actions. In our homophobia and zeal, we forget the humanity of those whom we wish to strip rights from, and unintentionally remove language of power to those who suffer from sexual violence. In other words, by focusing so much on sexual relationships, we have given power to those who commit sexual violence.

May the God of broken bodies forgive our church for our homophobia, and may we look in the mirror and realize that the one who is broken by homophobia is ourselves.


cometothewaters May 2, 2008 at 8:05 AM  

This is an interesting take. I did not see the clear statements against abuse and violence in any sexual relationship as weakening the language.

I'll have to think about that some more.

I find the shorter statement broader. I understand why others read it differently. When I read it, I thought, "It says the same thing but with fewer words." As a word-guy, I'm usually in favor of being concise.

I don't think I'd have a hard time telling a person that marital rape is wrong based on the new language.

Eric Helms May 2, 2008 at 8:48 AM  

I think I agree with come to the waters, though I would allow for the possibility that our unhealthy focus on homosexuality influences our blindness to and way in which we deal with other issues including sexual violence. I think some might read every statement on sexuality and they are primarily looking for whether or not the "other side" is trying to pull one over on them. homophobia is a problem, but I also think it is important to realize that not everyone who believes homosexual sex is outside the bounds of Christian teaching is homophobic--such declarations (implicit or explicit) keep the conversation from moving forward.

Rev. Jeremy Smith May 2, 2008 at 10:05 AM  

@ John (CttW), sexuality is so nuanced and diverse that conciseness is not a virtue. If given a choice between the two, I would rather see language that reflects real human situations than ambiguous statements. I don't want to have to convince someone that marital rape is violent, I want my Discipline to explicitly state that it is. There is no reason to remove it.

Please remember the purpose of this blog is specific: to identify hacks of the Christian system and what effect they have on it. I think claiming the 2008 language is weaker on sexual violence than the 2004 language is a proper claim to make from that perspective.

@ Eric, I thank you for your grace and ability to allow that focus on one expression of sexuality blinds us to more violent forms of sexuality. I agree that there's too much politics in sexual ethics, and if we are afraid of anything nuanced, then we are not really relevant to human expression, are we?

To your statement about homophobia, Merriam-Webster defines homophobia as an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals. We can "holy conference" forever whether the UMC Discipline discriminates against gay people, but from hearing the speeches on the floor, the aversion is very clear. Thus, while it may not apply to you in person, as a corporate whole on the GC2008 floor, I feel the term covers it.

Dave May 2, 2008 at 11:43 AM  

First I want to say that my line of thinking is along with the thoughtful posts of cometothewaters & eric.

Some things have been standing out from webposts in the past couple of days:
1) The IRD comes across as paranoid and delusional, kind of like Mel Gibson in "Conspiracy Theory" or like well... Mel Gibson.

2) One would think there were only two type of delegates pro-LGBT and homophobic haters -- no middle ground

3) I am getting the impression that anyone who believes that the bible says that homosexuality is wrong is a biggoted homophobe.

Eric Helms May 2, 2008 at 2:55 PM  

Having only seen clips of conference from the live streaming, it is more difficult for me to speak to the feel on the floor. I agree that the conversation is too heated--by both sides. I think this makes those who are "fighting for a cause" come across homophobic whether or not they are (that is unfortunate. I wonder if there is a label for people who are afraid of defining marital relations as only appropriate between male and female. If so, then I would imagine that the other side of the debate would come across as such.

A question that I have been mulling recently is whether or not it is ever appropriate for the church to discriminate. For instance, because of our very nature we discriminate against other religions in that those who do not profess the Christian faith are not invited to be members--what is and is not appropriate discrimination?

I might be open to saying same-gender sex is contrary to Christian teaching, but leaving the self-avowed practicing homosexuals cannot be ordained language out--we don't list other specific sins (assuming same-gender sex is sinful) with regard to who is and is not fit for ordination. I don't know, I am just looking for new was to approach the conversation.

David May 4, 2008 at 2:58 AM  

One different way to approach the conversation, Eric, is to consider whether Christians who either are in a monogamous gay relationship, or wish to enter into one out of mutual love, can say in conscience that they believe they have a calling from God to enter into such a relationship. Marriage and ordination are traditionally, and rightly, considered as sacred callings; but can gay relationships also be termed as such?

If not, does this mean that gay persons in relationships are not fully responding to God's calling or will in some fundamental sense? To do so, by implication, would involve celibacy as one part of an all-embracing dedication of the whole person to Christ. Gay sex, in this context, could be seen more as a sin of omission (not fully responding to God's call) than a sin of commission (setting out to hurt or damage someone). And every Christian has so many sins of omission and ways we fall short of our vocation that this should diminish the special opprobrium that many still reserve for gay sex, even in the context of lifelong monogamy: 'he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone', etc.

Another question to consider is at what point you say certain types of sexual behaviour are morally acceptable (and again, acceptable to whom?) and at what point they become immoral? You've got to set the limit somewhere; and, of course, traditionally, the church has determined that the limit is marriage. But, crucially, this of course does not mean all sex within marriage is morally OK. Some churches (e.g. the Roman Catholics) set the bar very high, i.e. by formally considering any kind of sex other than genital and consensual marital sex without contraceptives as being immoral.

Clearly, such prescriptions are not acceptable to all Christians, or even, arguably, the majority of Catholics themselves. But what they at least do is make it absolutely, unambiguously clear what the Church thinks is the will of Christ in the matter; for instance, that any sort of violence is abhorrent, and that any sex outside of marriage - including heterosexual sex, a point that needs to be emphasised - is falling short of our Christian vocation. Not that I'm saying the UMC should adopt Catholic teaching in the matter. But I'm surprised why people would rely on a set of Church rules rather than the obvious truth to anyone who loves Christ that he abhors violence of any sort, whether within or outside marriage.

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