Bait and Switch?

Paul VanderKlay points to an interesting article at the BBC by Brandon Ambrosino, “The Invention of ‘heterosexuality.'” VanderKlay wonders, in an era of increasing sexual fluidity, might other items be at stake, as well?
The argument for the CRC embracing SSM is that “people are born that way and have no other choice. Are you heartless?” It increasingly looks like the 73 report won’t die for the reasons imagined even a few years ago, but because it dares to imagine people ARE “born that way”. Sexuality is fluid and to not celebrate whatever fluid moment is demanded in order to make the fluid feel validated is violence, oppression and the worst sort of evil (per a tweet from Rachel Hyde Evans).
I think the basic point of Ambrosino’s argument stands, that our sexual expression is culturally formed. E.g. how we understand marital relations today is really quite different from how marriage was understood 200 years ago.
What I find interesting is that this discussion of “fluidity” is unconciously part of the neo-liberal economic era. The notion that it is asserted or validated through violence points us in that direction.
When we had SSA as a physical or innate condition, we may have been making a theological statement but we were certainly claiming a political stance. If I am (physically) different, innately so, then I have a right to participate in society as that physical person. With an innate understanding of SSA then, to come out is to make a claim on societal resources; it is inherently political.
Now check in with fluidity. If identity is not located in the body (I.e. Externally) then how does it possess rights? The celebration of the self that chooses (this fluidity) lapses over into a participation in consumerism, in self-gratification. That matches with how we buy cell phones (iPhone v Android) — choices can participate in tribes, but the concept of rights? Of politics?
This fluidity is one more part of the post-modern era, but it still leaves the notion: how do we agree in common, on what basis? Even accepting this as a personal decision, how does one evaluate the choice; what makes one choice preferable to that of another? On what grounds? We are back to tribal identities and with them the determination of group relations by power equations: one wins the other losses; it’s all zero-sum, and very much part of the Spirit of the Age. Thus, this sense of fluidity is quite compatible with the restriction of human rights.
I think here is where the actual struggle takes place, where Christians engage: how do we relate to one another? On what basis? Christian thinking makes particular claims about bodies and selves. In the Western tradition it underlies, forms the bedrock for a political liberalism. And where I have an identity, then the subsequent question can be asked: to what purpose does that identity incline?

Where are they anyway?

With the Supreme Court decision, same-sex marriage is rapidly institutionalizing, at least in Blue America. The shift has not only dismayed traditional and religious conservatives, but challenged them as to how they should response, and particularly, how exemptions might be carved out.  Rachel Zoll at AP captures the current state of affairs well.

While commending her report, Terry Mattingly at Get Religion asks an interesting question,

Where are the views of religious liberals in this story? Where are the leaders of the denominations that actively favor same-sex marriage and what they view as the modernization of both ancient religious doctrines and the nation’s approach to the First Amendment? This is not, trust me, just a debate between religious people and secular people.

So the camp of the “orthodox” made it into this story. Where are the believers in the camp of the “progressives”? What are they saying about these religious-liberty cases?

Perhaps the simplest answer is that while religious liberals may have an opinion they are not speaking out. There’s little to report because there’s little actually being said. This is in contrast to the last moment in the culture war turning on the same theme of religious liberty, that of contraception. Then, leaders in the mainline did speak out.

By contrast, in the campaign for same sex marriage in New York, the religious left was not part of the reported lobbying. Where the religious community has come together to lobby for same sex marriage in Massachusetts or Illinois it has been through the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, a largely Unitarian-Universalist led group.

The silence is notable: where are they? After all from internal battles in denominations, there are certainly any number of articulate voices on the pro- side. Shouldn’t we hear their view? This would be Mattingly’s view:

Some on the religious left SUPPORT the changes and have political and doctrinal reasons for doing so. The moral left is NOT all secular.

The silence however, probably lies elsewhere, away from an uncurious reporter. Two reasons suggest themselves.

First, there is the nature of the actual political battles. Much of the recent political heat has been around the question of exemptions. As Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Committee, expressed it

same-sex couples should not, without very good reason, be allowed to force dissenting religious organizations to recognize or facilitate their marriages.

In terms of the conflict, “facilitation” is seen as encompassing a variety of services (photography, bakery, even a bed and breakfast). Behind the conflicts is the insistence on an individual’s personal conviction.  Theologically, it is grounded in a mild Calvinist understanding of the whole of life being religious — thus, even the civic arena, especially the civic arena can become a center for conflict. This viewpoint has also led to the extension of potential religious exemptions into previously neutral settings, e.g. the notion that a for-profit corporation may have a legitimate religious viewpoint. Given the religious liberals’ more communitarian focus and their role (still) as custodians of the establishment, these themes make the religious conservatives concerns less palatable.

Of course, the frank trafficking in fear by some on the Right also serves to delegitimize  conservative concerns. But there’s more than the usual politics at work here. The conservative push bumps into a second, far more significant issue: civil rights.

Within the religious left, gay rights are generally seen as an extension of civil rights, a natural outworking flowing from the same biblical injunctions as to the treatment of the neighbor. As a moral principle, it is an application, derivative of a broader issue. That derivative nature as much as anything reduces the moral valence of the objections. The issues are not central to the identity of the religious left.

The history with the civil rights movement adds another layer of reluctance. The exemptions that are sought in the name of “religious liberty” are  the very sort of practices with accommodations that the church had fought to overturn during the civil rights era.

Finally, it would be a mistake on the Right to think that the religious left is necessarily indifferent to religious liberty. If anything, it is this centrist tendency in the mainline that offers the real hope for pragmatic accommodation, or support should the worst fears begin to be realized.


Complicating the narrative

Sunday’s New York Times brought one of the more interesting pieces on same-sex marriage. In the Misnomer of Motherless Parenting, stay at home dad Frank Ligtvoet begins

SOMETIMES when my daughter, who is 7, is nicely cuddled up in her bed and I snuggle her, she calls me Mommy. I am a stay-at-home dad. My male partner and I adopted both of our children at birth in open domestic adoptions. We could fill our home with nannies, sisters, grandmothers, female friends, but no mothers.
My daughter says “Mommy” in a funny way, in a high-pitched voice. Although I refer the honors immediately to her birth mom, I am flattered. But saddened as well, because she expresses herself in a voice that is not her own. It is her stuffed-animal voice. She expresses not only love; she also expresses alienation. She can role-play the mother-daughter relationship, but she cannot use her real voice, nor have the real thing.

This complicates the conventional narratives, and well it should. Ligtvoet brings an  honesty and humanity. That is not only refreshing but instructive, for  it is always useful to see our relationships as full and as rich as possible. Such complications are not to be rejected but embraced. When we see relationships fully we move away from theevery  easy political or cultural narratives. All marriages are more complicated than the easy narratives would have them.

On a political note, it is easy to see how opponents of marriage may and likely will seize on this (as they already have). Their’s has been a struggle to find some harm in the same-sex marriage sufficient to warrant its prohibition, and this would seem to fit that talking point. Still the question is not finally the politics but the humanity.

And complications are here to stay. As our families and relationships (and technology) grow more complicated,  discussions of this sort can only increase.

Who’s Telling the Story?

Patrol asks,

Are gay parents worse for kids than straight parents, or is Mark Regnerus, as some LGBT groups claim, a “right-wing ideologue”? David Sessions on the controversy over his explosive new study.

Sessions does a good job summarizing the controversy (who knew that Regnerus was an old Calvin prof?), its limits and the attendant controversy.

As the report notes, the data is old. As Regnerus admits, he didn’t have enough to look at intact same sex households, and that would be crucial. As a matter of public policy, the establishment of legal status of same-sex relationships would seem to support the maintenance of intact households. This conservative view has been well-known for years, and is attested to elsewhere in surveys of gay attitudes to marriage generally.

So oddly, our friend Rod Dreher is not that far off the mark, traditional is best. (And same-sex households can be very traditional.)

Belhar’s open doors

The decision by the NAACP to endorse same sex marriage rights sanctions the understanding of gay rights as a civil rights. This whole cloth approach to human rights makes the segregation of the Belhar Confession from gay issues more difficult.

The link first came to light in the actions of Allen Boesak at the general synod of the Uniting Reformed Church of South America. In response to that, the Christian Reformed Church has explicitly rejected this link., that gay rights do not exist as a civil right in the same way concerns about race or socio-economic status might.

In wake of the NAACP’s action, this denominational stance loses a fair measure of credibility. That in turn means the vote next month at Synod will not simply be one on the Belhar document itself, but on gay rights generally. A rejection that now seems more likely, nonetheless does not stop the issue. seeping in as it does, like the tide at King Canute’s feet. The church may say no today, but the questions remain, lapping at the door.

Mollie Hemingway raises some useful questions about the political handicapping of the President’s change of view on same sex marriage, highlighting a useful comments and commentary from Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today, and Mickey Kaus.

Or as Kaus put it:
But 39% said it would–and they split two-to-one against Obama and gay marriage. Since the election is currently not two-to-one against Obama, that’s a net loss right there.
Worse, among independents, 23% said it would make them less likely to vote for Obama while only 11% said it made them more likely–a net negative for 12% in this group. Obviously, “less likely” doesn’t mean it’s going to be the deciding factor for that 12%–there are bigger issues, and gay marriage seems likely to fade in salience. But even if it’s the deciding factor for a tenth of that 12%, it’s a blow to Obama’s chances.
It goes without saying that one should correctly interpret the polls before explaining why voters are responding as they are, an area where religious views surely play a significant role.

As a practical difference, the question is whether those who say they are more (or less) likely to vote for the President in fact already have some disposition to vote for or against. It may be this is a tie-break sort of issue, but if tonite’s NYT/CBS poll is any indication, probably not the deal-breaker for most voters. At this stage, the issue seems more to be the economy. This morning’s Times, Peter Baker also got in a nice story on the damage control the White House is doing — so the concerns of Kaus et al. are at the least being heard.

As a matter of practical politics, we might want to think of it in terms of the 25 percent of Evangelicals who voted for Obama in 2008 — will the president’s decision erode that share? Perhaps, though the CT article Mollie noted picks up on the age split even among Evangelicals, so one may not be sure. And given the emergence of a Christian alternate to the standard Evangelical lines, this question is likely to remain muddied at least for now.