Shuck and Jive

Thursday, January 25, 2007

God is Lavender

On this blog I have been attempting to work out my own theology for the twenty-first century. On the right of this blog you will find the categories, Preliminaries, Context, Creation, and God. I am still working on God! In a previous post, What Color is God?, I approach the question of God from a variety of contexts. The idea is that while we may think of God as beyond all images, nevertheless we are constantly describing and approaching this mystery from our human experience.

In the Book of Genesis, the writers tell us that humankind is created in the image of God. If we wish to see a reflection of God, we look at humankind. What does that mean? I will leave the question unanswered. I do know that my prejudices tend to color God in a way that is limited to my experience. Therefore, my ethics and experiences are shaped by my image of God. As a Christian Protestant, the image of God has largely reflected patriarchal and Europeon culture. To put it somewhat flippantly, God is a white guy in the sky. As theologian Mary Daly put it 35 years ago, "When God becomes male, the male becomes God."

If we are open to the experiences of others, we might appreciate another aspect of God to which we have been color blind so to speak. As we begin to uncover our own prejudices which are mostly unconscious, we can open ourselves more fully to the Divine life as well as discover more deeply the image of God in others and in the whole of Creation.

Some of these prejudices that serve to bleach out the spectrum of God include racism, sexism, classicism, and heterosexism. We are also recognizing that Earth itself reflects the divine image. I have written that God is Black, Woman, Red, and Green, to remind myself and perhaps others that the Church needs to take seriously the human experience of those whose voices have been muted and victimized by the Church's prejudices. Also, as we become aware of the Earth's story, its evolutionary history as well as the interconnectedness of our home and all of life, we might appreciate that God is within all rather than apart from all. Earth itself has suffered from a theology that either regards it as a place from which we need escape or a natural resource that humans should exploit.

Today I suggest that God is Lavender. The Church has not been aware of its prejudices and its fear of sexuality. The notion that sexuality is the vehicle for the spread of original sin has done a great deal of harm to women and to men. Guilt and shame over sexual feelings, the repression of women and of female imagery for God, sexual abuse and violence, and the scapegoating of gays and lesbians are all the result of the repression of eros. Because we lack a healthy sense of our sexuality we regard it as something to fear, to control, and at best, as a necessary evil.

Today, the churches are split over, supposedly, homosexuality. We debate endlessly whether or not homosexuality or homosexual "practice" is a sin. Passages from the Bible are launched like missiles at homosexual persons. Others think that the issue is biblical or church authority. I think the real issue is our inability to speak openly about sexuality and sexual ethics. Because we have been unable to speak about sexuality in all of its complexity as both a biological drive and as an expression of the Divine image, we are ashamed of our sexuality, repress or deny it, and then become "sex-obsessed" by projecting it negatively on others, and acting out our sexuality in a way that harms others and ourselves.

Our best teachers regarding this may be those who have suffered most from this negative projection, namely gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, and transgender persons. (Rather than go through the alphabet soup, glibt, I will simply use the term gay as a shorthand for all sexual and gender minorities. I hope you will forgive me for doing that). I am honored, humbled, and grateful to gay people who despite so many obstacles in our society and condemnation by the church, have discovered their sexuality as a good gift of God and have told their stories. Their stories have enabled both gay and straight people to talk about sexuality and sexual ethics (eros for short). Thanks to you, courageous, beautiful gay people, for helping all of us appreciate that eros is an aspect of the Divine life and a reflection of the Divine image.

Helpful books in this regard include Mel White, Stranger At The Gate, any of the books by Chris Glaser, Marie Fortune, Love Does No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us, Marvin Ellison, Erotic Justice: A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality, A UUA resource, Sexuality and Our Faith, books by Mary E. Hunt including Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship, and I am sure that many of you have other helpful books. You can find many, many more here.

In a spirit of protecting my gay church members and readers of this blog, I have discouraged and in fact eliminated comments that promoted so-called change ministries and other anti-gay rhetoric. It is hard to figure these things out when you are a blogger. Since I have opened up the discussion, comment how you feel, but be nice!


  1. It's interesting to see you blog on this. Your support for gnostic approaches to Christianity seem to undermine your efforts. It's a historical fact that the gnostics - not the Christians - had problems with sex and sexuality. The historical (i.e. canonical) Jesus spoke candidly about the goodness of sex in a marriage in two gospels.

    The Jesus that appears in the "gnostic gospels" despises material existence (see the Gospel of Judas, where Jesus dies in order to release himself from bondage to the material plane). They also were quite uneven in their treatment of women. Your beloved Gospel of Thomas says that Mary can't enter the Kingdom of God until she becomes male! (saying 114)

    The canon of the Old and New Testament preserves a balanced view of sexuality that still makes sense for the modern world because it is rooted in the intention of the Creator. The gnostic texts are uneven, and untenable.

  2. You are overstating two things:

    One is that there is such a thing as a gnostic approach to Christianity. Karen King has pointed out the Gnosticism is largely a grouping by the orthodox to lump all gentile Christians they didn't feel were orthodox. What we often call gnostic was widely diverse.

    Second, to say that the gnostics had problems with sex and sexuality is a gross mistatement which was again, a slandering by their opponents.

    I have no desire to defend these other communities and their texts except to read them from their point of view. How they understood sexual ethics, the material world, women and so forth will require that we try to understand each text on its own terms.

    Obviously, there will be things that are not acceptable to us today, as well as things in the canon that are not acceptable to us today.

    Saying 114 of Thomas is a puzzler. Some say it is an addition. Others try to interpet it in light of the male as representing the spirit world and female as representing the material world with the suggestion that males and females can enter the male/spirit world. Admittedly, it is not great. But Jesus in the text sides with Mary, not Peter. Mary does have a right to be there and to speak.

    I'll take GThomas and GMary over the pastorals any day.

    Here is the beauty that the misogynist orthodox left us:

    I Timothy 2:8-15

    "I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.

    Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.

    For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty."

    Talk about uneven and untenable.

    I am not interested in the argument about who is better, the orthodox or those the orthodox booted out. I am interested in looking at all the literature of that time, from its historical setting.

    We can make our own decisions as to what is useful for today.

  3. John I think it is noble that you offer a place for the 'gay' person to attend a service - I am all for that - great!

    However, I do digress from some of your stand and I have to consider the natural use of the human bodies as a most basic rationale - which only means the 'norm' would be a man and a woman in the sexual act. But I don't condemn anyone 'gay' for being 'gay' either - they have to be welcome in our congregations or our gospels are useless as a teaching tool (in my opinion).

    But the gnostic gospels - I have not read nor do I see the dire need to do so - not because I want to remain ignorant (which i am in this regard) - but because the gospels give me a well rounded view of the teachings of Christ. Paul, on the other hand, is letters - and I take them as such - some of the things he taught have to be 'of his day and for his day' - but that's reading context correctly (according to a letter).

    The Timothy passage was likely an addition by the early church since Paul seemed to endorse women leaders in his letters - but the fact the early church held this value doesn't over-write the gospel teachings in anyway - where women play a special part - nor or they spoken against as being a part of the faith's leaders. However. women in those days may have been subject to the cultural norm - which sux - but they aren't anymore.

    Still the church has a lot of changes that need to be made and I think you challenge some of that - but I think the church needs to be challenged on the basis of the very scriptures they value - I think they are missing the point of a lot of this early community.

  4. Society,

    Thanks for your comments and for your affirmation of the church being a welcoming and accepting place to all people.

    That is a critical point of agreement.

    What is a norm? That is an important question. We both would agree that norms vary from place to place and from time to time.

    As you point out, even within the New Testament we find differences, huge differences, as you mentioned between Paul's authentic voice and the passage I quoted from Timothy. We are always seeking to find out what is timeless and what is timebound.

    We make decisions on these things all the time. That is one reason why there are so many different denominations and differences between Christians of the same denomination. We are always in process and come to different conclusions regarding matters of gender roles, sexuality, politics, the person of Jesus and so forth.

    I am a student of Christian origins (an amateur--I am not a professional scholar) and so I am interested in who Jesus really was and why things turned out the way they did and what the arguments were. This is not simply academic. This has to do with that which we take as a norm today.

    Please don't think that my interest in the the non-canonical writings means that I dismiss the canonical ones. They are all part of our history--a history that is always in process.

    All of the writings, gospels and letters, are interpretations of the Christ story. They are all written by fallible human beings. As far as Jesus is concerned, I am interested in the real person. What was his message? What was he about? What were the various messages of those who admired him?

    As far as sexuality is concerned, the texts of the Bible are all over the board. Paul advocated celibacy. We have no idea regarding the sex life of Jesus.

    We put our values, unconsciously for the most part, on the texts. For instance, many people affirm as you do that the norm for sexuality is heterosexuality. If norm simply means majority, then that is true. There are far more right-handed people than left-handed. One could then say that right-handedness is the norm. If we are speaking of majority then that is correct. If , however we are thinking in terms of right and wrong, then few people would advocate that left-handedness is sinful because it is not the norm. We make left-handed golf clubs. We don't think of it as right is "right" and left is "wromg." Why can't we do the same in regards to human sexuality?

    The answer is that we can and we will just take some time to realize that humankind varies in gender identity and in sexual orientation. No right or wrong.

    As we realize that, we can speak of sexual ethics. What type of sexual expression is good, pleasing, loving, life-affirming and what is not?

    The not would be abuse and non-consent and that which harms.

    The expression that is good would include equality, intimacy, commitment, maturity, which can happen between people of the same-sex and the opposite sex.

    Then, I would add that we need to see sexuality as a divine gift.

    A long speech. I appreciate you and your views very much and for opening this discussion on your blog!


  5. "We put our values, unconsciously for the most part, on the texts. For instance, many people affirm as you do that the norm for sexuality is heterosexuality. If norm simply means majority, then that is true." (John)

    I hear what you are saying with this conclusion you are drawing but I actually am not using the texts in regards to the natural use of the human body for sexual purposes, nor am I mentioning the 'majority rule'. I look at the human body of the man and woman and I see certain parts fit into certain places for what seems to be a certain purpose (or there can be a purpose - ex: child). For the life of me I cannot see how two males or two females have those parts to fit together - for a joint purpose of what the bodies are created to do. Top that off and a lot of the ways the sexual act has to be performed between two people of the same sex is quite creative. My point is the nature has determined your sex - and the human body has as the 'norm' to relate with another fitting piece. Is it just me or is this something others see?

    The left handed and right handed thing makes little difference since no one is created as one or the other - we all have two hands. Gender is something we only have one of - and only people of that gender have the same certain tool. Man my mind is weird today.

    At the same time I understand your drive to include the gay community within the church - cause they want to be there too. As far as sex goes, well that's none of my business what they do and vice versa - these things are personal and I have no right to meddle in those affairs. I guess what I am saying is I support you in your endeavor and I also think any group of people should be included in the church - and race, creed, sex, and language should never be barrier.

    All I really know is that God loves them all - I mention some particulars on certain issues - but this should in no means blur my judgment of another. Their friendship with God is really between them and God - not really for me to say. In the end of the day, that's where I am at - I accept them also - and the rest is just talking points.

  6. Society,


    You wrote:

    "All I really know is that God loves them all - I mention some particulars on certain issues - but this should in no means blur my judgment of another. Their friendship with God is really between them and God - not really for me to say. In the end of the day, that's where I am at - I accept them also - and the rest is just talking points."


    I used to worry about the "parts fitting." I struggled with this for some time. I find now that human sexuality is so much more than that. Intimacy and love and finding someone to share your life with is a beautiful thing. I cannot call that a sin.

    Blessings my friend!

  7. Regardless of whether I agree with you on human sexuality, I just wanted to share something with you. I happen to be the same shade as most Caucasions. However, I am not Caucasion predominately. I have many friends that are not Caucasion as well. I have come up with my own philosophy on the color of people, and that is that we are all shades of purple. Truly! Even before I read your blog post. So it just may be that God is lavendar. :) Thought you might find that amusing.