Vulnerability and Transformation

There is no greater place of human vulnerability than our sexuality. So much of our self identity is wrapped up in it. From the day we are born (and now even before we are born), we begin being socialized toward particular sexual identities. “Blue is for boys, pink is for girls”, the rule says, as if everyone is a stereotypical either/or. The fact is, we are all on a continuum of sexuality and a host of factors other than plumbing and genetic make-up impact who we are and how we understand ourselves.

When I entered seminary, I underwent the usual batteries of tests. Afterwards, I met with the psychometrist who, in explaining my scores said, “Well, you are pretty high on the masculine scale, but a few years of seminary will moderate that.” I blurted, “What??!!”

I didn’t understand at the tender age of 22 that masculine/feminine are psychologically defined scales that relate to sexuality in an indirect way only. I was alarmed because, at that age and in the year 1970, the idea of being “unmanly” was a frightening prospect. And why wouldn’t it have been? Everything in the culture, including the church, seemed to say that being heterosexual was “normal” and anything else was “abnormal” and “bad” in various ways. In the South, where I grew up, sexual epithets were as common as racial epithets. Unfortunately, in too many places, this has not changed. Unfortunately, in too many of our congregations, this has not changed.

I have always believed that the church is intended to be a laboratory for transformation, that individuals are supposed to be transformed through their experience of being church and that we are then supposed to transform the world in turn. But, of course, the church is often the exact opposite: a place where the world’s fears and prejudices are reinforced through depictions of “normality” that are designed to “keep us in line” with what the world considers “safe”. Our vulnerabilities, our personal fears and anxieties, are often used by the church, too often the world’s handmaiden, to make us “safe, compliant citizens”.

I long for a church that acknowledges our vulnerabilities but forsakes exploiting them for the sake of a culture of death to which we are so captive. I long for a church that uses our vulnerabilities as gifts that invite us into deeper exploration of what God is up to in creation, the beauty of diversity that God intends, and into the creation of community that values every person and their uniqueness. This is the kind of church that could and (where it does exist) occasionally does transform the world.

Of course, if I am going to be a part of this kind of church, it means I have to be that kind of Christian.  It means I must constantly surface my subconscious fears, anxieties and prejudices and surrender them, crucifying them. That takes courage. Of course, every Christian is called to exhibit this kind of courage, regardless of where they are on the “continuum of sexuality”, because we all have these kinds of issues in regard to various aspects of humanity and the human condition.

But, as important and seminal as engaging in this kind of internal change is, it is not enough. We are also called to witness to this personal change to the church and to the wider community. This also takes courage. For me as a heterosexual, it takes the same kind of courage that my GLBTQ brothers and sisters display when they risk revealing their own sexuality to the church and the wider community and refuse to be defined by it exclusively.

So, for heterosexuals like me, the question becomes, “Do we stand with our GLBTQ brothers and sisters, or do we keep quiet and safe, like so many of those in the Good Friday crowd?” We humans are more alike than different, in both our vulnerabilities and in our common call to witness to God’s love of diversity and to God’s desire for the transformation of the world into a place of true community, spirituality and justice.

It is only as I have lived the life of a pastor, have I come to understand the broad spectrum of humanity – that there are very few human “normality’s”.  And I have come to love all kinds of people so that I see how immature and dangerous I was in 1970. Of course, at the age of 64, I’m still dangerous because the old stuff still rumbles around in my subconscious, in spite of having made conscious decisions.