The lesbian and gay Christian conversation (with occasional comments about bisexual and transgender folks) seems to finally be hitting its peak. Everywhere you turn these days there are new books and conferences and denominational statements. I’m observing some troubling trends within this LG(BT) Christian movement.
As you look at the faces and spokespeople of this movement they are either white, cisgender, straight allies or white, cisgender, gay men with the occasional lesbian in the mix. Amongst these folks there are some common themes:
- All believe (or say publicly that they believe) in celibacy in singleness and then monogamous gay marriage.
- All talk about arguing for inclusion based on the Bible; but not necessarily from the story of Jesus, more it’s about debating the “clobber passages”.
- They don’t challenge any other doctrinal tenets. In fact, they go out of their way to affirm evangelical theology.
All of this points to a heavy emphasis on respectability politics and these politics aren’t just being foisted on us from outside of the LG(BT) community but are coming from the people being held up as leaders of the movement.
If you begin to follow the conversations online you notice a couple of things: The gay and lesbian people who are held up as the ones to listen to are polite, soft-spoken, center the feelings of allies, and rarely (if ever) get angry. They focus on the “clobber passages” and don’t talk about liberation in broader terms. They are content to stay in their evangelical churches. They don’t unpack how other theology is harmful, not just to queer people but to straight and cis folks as well. Their entire conversation can be boiled down to “I’m just like you, only gay.”
We believe that by playing these games we are winning the hearts and minds of people. We believe that we are making them love us and trust us. We believe that we are breaking down barriers and creating inclusion. But we are still playing someone else’s game. We are still basing our self-worth on the rules laid out by a church that honestly wishes we would just go away.
We’re setting up a hierarchy that allows straight and cisgender people to hold up the “good gays” and silence the “bad gays.” And who are the bad gays? They are anyone who believes that liberation should be for all queer and trans people. They are the ones who get angry or raise their voices about injustice. They are the ones who say that it’s not okay for allies to speak over queer and trans people. They are the ones who say that there is more than one way to be queer or trans, that you don’t have to be celibate, that you can medically transition if that’s what’s right for you. The bad gays are the ones that tell you to read a book instead of going over the clobber passages for the 7000th time. They are the ones who read the Bible not as a list of do’s and don’ts but as a textbook of liberation.
And this hierarchy isn’t doing any of us any good because it’s all about behavior, not about our intrinsic value. They’ll love you if you are celibate, but if you have sex you’re done.
Here’s the thing about respectability politics; they don’t work. They are based on a false notion that says if only you behave, if only you play by the rules, if only you are good enough, then the church will love and accept you. But it’s not true. Because even when you tell them you are celibate they still think you are having sex. And even when you quote the Bible at them they still distrust your reading of it. Even when you dress like them and talk like them and marry like them they are still waiting for you to mess up so they can discredit you.
And as you play into respectability politics you are not actually working for liberation. You are saying, “I’m not like those other queers. I’m one of the good ones.” And by saying that you allow straight and cisgender people to say it as well and suddenly the “bad queers” are pushed to the side, or worse, pushed out entirely.
When the people who hate us come for us (and they will) they won’t care that you are celibate. Or that you are married with a picket fence and 2.5 kids. They won’t care that you are white and dress nice and toe the line. They will look at you as if you are just like all of the other queer and trans people, the ones that you have said you aren’t like. They won’t see the differences between us. They will lump us all together. In that moment your respectability will not save you. They will still say that you don’t have a place in their churches, that you don’t deserve to have civil rights, that it would be better off if you would just go away.
Setting up this hierarchy allows people to control us. It also allows people to say who deserves respect and rights. You deserve rights if you toe the line and behave. You deserve respect if you are polite and don’t get angry and speak softly.
But is it really what you want that only the people who the majority think are deserving get rights and respect? Do you really want to be in a position where, at some point, the majority might turn on you and you have no recourse? Where do we draw the line?
You can live however you want. You can choose celibacy or singleness or marriage for yourself; that is not the issue here. But when you demand it from other people or when you set it up so that your choice is the one that is acceptable by the straight and cisgender people you are being harmful.
I want liberation for all queer and trans people. I want liberation and welcome in the church for the ones that are celibate and polite and want nothing more than to get married and I want it for the ones who are kinky and polyamorous and hook up. I want it for all of us because we are all worthy and beloved and good just as we are. We don’t have to fit into anyone’s boxes or to anyone’s lines we simply need to be true to ourselves and that must be good enough.
Liberation is about liberation for all of us, and if it’s not liberation for all of us it’s not liberation. When you narrow the rules so that only the “good” get in you’re not actually working for liberation. You’re working so that we can be defined by someone else’s rules and priorities and that’s not good enough.
We don’t need acceptance. We don’t need approval. We don’t need permission. We need liberation.