Theology and Kink in the News

Today’s reporting from CNN. Click for story.

The unfortunate thing about the salacious sex lives of our so-called-conservative leaders is that not only are they unsurprising, but when they are outed it simply reinforces the stigma associated with being honest about sexuality.

None of us believes Falwell’s particular kink is unusual, right? Or that “cuck” is a term loaded with contempt precisely because *so many* manly men sense that their jealousy is an aphrodisiac, and they are secretly embarrassed about it, right? Just like so many virulently anti-gay pundits are in the closet. We hate most in others what we see in ourselves. We are masters at projection.

I have to admit feeling some schadenfreude, because Falwell is a cruel and hypocritical person.

But y’all, it’s also so, so sad. We cause so much misery in our own lives by refusing to be curious about *why* something appeals to us that is socially taboo.

For example: there is a reason the woman in the Song of Songs teases her lover by saying,

Tell me, you whom I love with all my heart—
where do you pasture your flock,
where do you rest them at noon?—
so I don’t wander around with the flocks of your companions. (Song of Songs 1:7)

She teases him by saying she will give her affections to his friends. She says this BECAUSE jealousy evolved to create this very response, a mixture of anger and arousal that is highly stimulating. White conservative men, many (but not all) of whom are perpetually angry, are particularly attracted to this brew of emotion. They are also highly defensive about it. That (and misogyny) is why “cuckold” is their epithet of choice.

(FTR, I think it’s pretty obvious that what we’ve heard in the media is only the surface-level stuff. Also, I don’t really need to hear any more.)

The Bible also tells the story of an explicit BDSM relationship between Samson and Delilah. Pastors have often preached that Delilah “tricks” Samson, but she doesn’t. She asks directly, “Tell me how to tie you up.” He tells her, and then submits to being tied up. THREE TIMES.

You think *modern* people invented bondage play? Like human beings only *recently* learned about kink? (And that’s not all that’s in the Bible, BTW).

Why does Samson eventually reveal his secret? Because even the strongest man in the world needs to feel vulnerable sometimes. The burden of being strong is exhausting. Samson was tired of performing all the time. So it’s particularly bitter that he ends his life performing! (Judges 16)

All that to say: so much of religious conservatism is about performing. Most of these preachers and pundits who have such loud voices in our society are performing. When Falwell says he was depressed, I believe him—but not for the reasons he gives. It is sad that their comeuppance creates *more* incentive for people performing conservative religiosity to be incurious about their own brains, their own sexuality, and their own spiritual lives. Seeing their colleague publicly humiliated, they bury their secrets deeper.

And no, admitting, “We’re all sinners” is not helpful. Sin isn’t even the point. The point is if you’re afraid of your own internal life, you will never be at peace. You are at constant enmity with the world and God because your theology of sin sucks. It is our own incuriosity about our inner life and our binary view of good and evil that creates such manufactured suffering.

When you live your whole life under a giant SHOULD, you develop a “worm” theology. “You are not worthy, and you never will be, you pervert, you miserable worm.” It does not shame one into being a virtuous person. It makes one into a hypocrite.

Hypocrite literally means “actor.” A performer.

In our society, we are lousy with them. And this kind of religion is killing our planet.

The Sermon on the Plain: The Backstory

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Disciples_Eat_Wheat_on_the_Sabbath_(Les_disciples_mangent_du_blé_au_sabbat)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, Jesus doesn’t talk about hypocrisy explicitly as he does in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. But “acting religious” is still in the background. Just before Jesus delivers his sermon, he has two disputes with religious leaders. In the first, the religious leaders complain to Jesus because they saw his disciples pick some heads of grain on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-5). They seem to say, “Jesus! What in the world are you teaching your followers?” In the second, they go after Jesus himself, because he heals someone on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11).

Jesus delivers his Sermon on the Plain against this background. He knows the religious authorities find him offensive. He wants to impart to his disciples how they are supposed to be different from typical religious people. Jesus seems to be saying to religious leaders, “I wish y’all cared as much about human beings as you do about being right!”

Two reflections on this:

  • One of Christianity’s enduring problems is anti-Jewishness. Even though Jesus was a Jew, and all of his first followers were Jews, and even though the Hebrew Bible is largest part of our Bible, many Christians still traffic in antisemitic stereotypes and speak disparagingly of Judaism. Christians still use the word “Pharisee” to describe religious hypocrites, for example, unaware that such use is offensive to modern Jews.

    I try to use the phrase “religious leaders” instead, because hypocrisy—or “acting religious”—is just as much a problem for Christians as anyone else!
     

  • We are in the middle of a Reformation today. Many public religious leaders have revealed themselves to be nothing more than political climbers who “act religious.” People who have left the church in disgust have done so not because they dislike Jesus and his teachings, but because they see so much of the institutional church is against Jesus’s teachings and way of life.

    I have seen this thrown into sharpest relief a) politically, in the election and support of Donald Trump by white evangelicals, and b) theologically, in the schism of the United Methodist Church. “Acting religious” has seldom been as obviously harmful to human beings, to organized religion, and to the health of the planet. Again, this is not a Jewish problem. This is a Christian problem, and a problem with religion in general: “I wish y’all cared as much about human beings as you do about being right!”

So when Luke’s Jesus delivers his version of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Plain, we hear an explicit contrast: “Happy are you who are poor, because God’s kingdom is yours,” but “how terrible for you who are rich, because you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:20, 24).

I can’t think of a message the church needs to hear more right now. God is not pleased with the status quo, with people “acting religious” while supporting policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. People who act religious worry about nominal protocol violations or gay marriage. People who follow Christ have other priorities.

Prayer:
God in whose image we are made, help me to love people more than people’s praise.

Good Friday

Christ_and_the_Abbot_Menas_Louvre_E11565_n02

A friend who attends First United Methodist Church in Dallas said that at tonight’s Good Friday service, anti-LGBTQIA protesters gathered outside their church to condemn the church for being an inclusive congregation. He said it felt appropriate, and I agree. But I also felt moved to write the poem below, made up almost entirely of scripture references.

Good Friday

Jesus said his yoke was light
But you make it look too easy
Galloping with joy, entirely too unburdened.
So we said you were abolishing the law
Instead of fulfilling it. 
We tied up heavy burdens for you
That we did not have to bear.
We locked the kingdom of God to you,
afraid to go in ourselves.
We crossed land and sea to make converts
And told them to write unjust laws and oppressive decrees
To kill the gays in colonized lands.
We made your yoke unequal to ours;
While we enjoyed every permitted pleasure
Of marriage, family, divorce, and adultery,
We laid our sins upon you,
And pierced you for our transgressions
Insisting you take up a cross that was never yours,
A yoke none of us had to bear,
Of celibacy, of mortification, of violence,
A circumcision not of the flesh or heart,
But of the soul, of the brain.
You bright and shining ones, Children of light
Who dared to love because God is love,
We called you gluttons, and friends of harlots and drunkards.
Even our own children we smashed against the rocks,
Exiled them to strange lands
And stifled their songs,
Sacrificing them to our angry gods
Though it never entered Her mind to do ask for such.
(How could She forget her nursing children,
or show no compassion for the children of Her womb?)

The pastors among us
Talked of welcome without affirmation,
Betrayed you with kisses,
Said “peace” when there was none offered,
And dressed your wounds as though
They were not serious.

Yet wisdom is proved by her children.

You did not accept a cross
Foisted upon you by unbelievers,
You refused to be the sacrificial lamb,
To give us the catharsis we wanted,
You opened your mouth to say a mumblin’ word
About dignity
And humanity
And love

And eventually
We began to find
Jesus.


 

scripture references (roughly in order of appearance, though I may have missed some):

Matthew 11:28
Matthew
 5:17
Matthew
 23:4
Matthew
 23:13
Matthew
 23:15
Isaiah 10:1
2 Corinthians 6:14
Matthew
 5:32
Isaiah 53:4-5
Acts 15:10
Romans 2:29
Ephesians 5:8
1 John 4:8
Luke 23:26
Matthew 11:19
Psalm 137
Jeremiah 19:5
Isaiah 49:15
Luke 22:48
Jeremiah 6:14