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Religion and Sex(uality)

March 17th, 2009 No comments

I recently received an email from a reader who thought I might find interesting a recent communication from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Good guess. The article reminds me that there are many intelligent people of faith who are capable of understanding the dynamic relationship between religion and the secular world. Here is what the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori had to say, to that point:

“[A]ll of us read Scripture through the lenses we have [including] our cultural norms [and] our scientific understanding….We also privilege particular parts of Scripture in the way we build our lectionaries.”

I really do encourage all of you to follow the link above to this remarkably nuanced and thoughtful article, especially in these times when so many of the most vocal religious figures are speaking mean-spiritedly or ignorantly.

On the nastiness front, Gary Bauer, President of the ironically named “American Values” group recently said that any effort by President Obama to extend domestic partner benefits to government workers (even though two federal appellate judges separately ruled that the workers were eligible for such benefits) would “provoke a furious grass-roots reaction, reinvigorate the conservative coalition and undermine his efforts to portray himself as a moderate on social issues.” Who’s immoderate here?

As for ignorance, the out-of-touch Pope Benedict XVI followed up his lifting of the excommunication of ultraconservative bishops (including one certified Holocaust denier) by statements he just made regarding the scourge of HIV in Africa. On the airplane taking him to Cameroon, he denounced the use of condoms as one tool in fighting the prevention of HIV infection: “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” he said. So far, so good: condoms alone won’t solve the problem. But then came this statement: “On the contrary, [condom use] increases the problem.” Noooooooooo!

The same article that captured the latest foot-in-mouth escapade of the seriously out-of-touch pontiff also reported the mainstream public health view that, in a continent heavily burdened by HIV/AIDS, condom use is one of many needed prevention strategies. The trip, by the way, kicks off a year of attention to Africa by this pope.   Africa to Pope: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Let’s end on a more positive note, by returning to the thoughtful article by Rev. Jefferts Schori. Surveying the landscape of cultural and social signifiers of gender and sexuality at the primates’ meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, she noted that the male-dominated culture there led to all kinds of behaviors that we would regard as either alien or dissonant: the almost complete covering of the female body while paintings of half-naked women adorned the wall of a conference room in her hotel; the view that one partner in a same-sex relationship must be acting the role of the “other” gender; and the hand-holding displays of affection by people of the same-sex that would be regarded differently here.

Rev. Jefferts Schori then concludes with an oddly moving encounter and her reaction to it. When she was greeting people in Texas after the meeting, one man described his friend in a wheelchair as “the most interesting gay man” he knew, and then said (apropos of nothing in particular, apparently): “All of this is really about male supremacy, isn’t it?” Here is the rest of the reverend’s article, set forth below without comment:

“His words, not mine, but worth consideration. ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ Galatians 3:28.”