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A Good Post and Ensuing Rant

October 13, 2009

ETA: This was originally on my Livejournal, and at Jill’s suggestion, I am bringing it here.  It is a bit raw and unedited, so take that into account when responding.

This is a fabulous guest post on a great blog about what it’s like to be trans and Christian.

http://www.womanist-musings.com/2009/10/let-talk-about-trans-faith.html

It hits a lot of the same points that I felt when I was still trying to reconcile being queer and Episcopalian.  I don’t really try anymore, since I tend to think of myself as Agnostic.  But regardless, I definitely watched my church begin to split on the issues of ordaining LGBT people, and many members of my church protested Gene Robinson’s ordination in 2003.  Being queer and religious is pretty difficult, just like being queer and from the South.  There was a time when I used all three of those descriptors for myself, and it’s pretty tough.  I constantly feel like I have to apologize for the people and culture that I often identify with.  Being a Texan, formerly a point of pride, is ridiculed and subjects me to pity, as if homophobia, racism, and religious prejudice don’t exist in the more “enlightened” or “civilized” North.  Let me make this clear:

I LOVE a lot of parts of Southern culture.  I love the food, the hospitality, the accent, the cowboy boots and hats, the incredibly strong tradition of high school involvement (we have some of the strongest music programs in the country, not to mention sports and academic honor societies) and the appreciation for people who work on farms, etc.  There’s something pretty refreshing about a place where being cooped up in an office and never interacting with animals or nature isn’t the paradigm of success and happiness.  In addition, say what you will about racism in the South, Texas is an incredibly diverse place, particularly in the cities.  In Houston, there are street signs in Vietnamese, there are thriving Russian markets and newspapers, an impressive Chinatown, a neighborhood that used to be a “gay ghetto” that has now become the beating heart of youth and alternative culture in the city, and, of course, large numbers of African-American and Hispanic or Latino people, among other examples of the diversity of background and experience represented in this one city alone.

Yes. There’s a lot of ugly in the South, but that ugly isn’t exclusive.  It takes up residence anywhere and everywhere it can find it, and I’m sick of being greeted with mockery or pity when I say I’m from Texas.  Yeah, I had to say the Texas pledge of allegiance every day in high school.  So what?  I have an ingrown loyalty to the state I’m from.  Is that really a problem?  I consciously recognize a lot of the problems: pollution, gross divides between high level achievers in schools and those who are not, homophobia, racism, and an uneasy history of race relations that stems from the Civil War and beyond, xenophobia that stems from high levels of legal and illegal immigration, and the list goes on and on.

But these are everywhere, and until we recognize that we “liberals” and “progressives” can’t act out our own insecurities about our own ugliness by using the South as a whipping boy, we are stuck in the same mold, refusing to deal with these same problems and allowing them to fester in our own movements and communities.  The classic example of this is how the African American community was heavily blamed for the passing of Proposition 8 in California.  Many white LGBT community members took the first chance to blame African Americans for this, exposing their own internalized racism.  They probably thought they weren’t prejudiced either, since they were part of a marginalized group as well.  My point is not to pick apart this particular instance, but to recognize that it represented that queers are not as free-thinking and “liberal” as we claim to be, at least, in some instances.  Another example is of the many, many misogynist remarks I have heard made by gay men toward and about women, not to mention the trans-misogynist comments and behaviors I hear and see from everyone (including myself – I’m still learning how to function as a trans ally), and the ableism that runs rampant everywhere.  I’m getting away from the point a bit, which is that we try to point the fingers at those people we see as less “enlightened” or “civilized” due to their region, mode of dress, or experience, while neglecting our own journey and the issues we still face in our supposedly tolerant, accepting, open communities.

And now to the faith component of my little rant.

There are a lot of things I LOVE about the Christian faith.  I love that there is a book that can be interpreted so many different ways – and that if you prefer certain translations, you can find them.  I love that it is divided into 2 testaments, with incredibly different messages for its adherents.  I love that in the Old Testament, it recognizes and documents the seeds of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  I love that the New Testament includes words from the supposed savior himself, and that they are the most radical words.  Love everyone?  Heal everyone? Do not put money about faith and love?  Use your talents for the betterment of yourself and your community?  These are all pretty great messages, I would argue.  Personal pacifism and forgiveness?  All of these things are awesome things to spread around.  I also love that people looking for meaning in their lives have the opportunity to find it in constructive ways, through service, personal faith, fellowship, and scholarly study of an important historical text.  I love that people find empowerment in the book and their faith to pursue their dreams and accomplish their goals.

Now for the bad:
I hate the way the Old Testament is used for violence, discrimination, and hatred, often without regard for the message of acceptance put forth in the New Testament, which, since it is the new promise given to the believer by God, and is specifically meant to replace the old one, should really be the more valid one.  I hate that people get so caught up in whether they want communion every week, or whether they believe in confession or whether they think women should be ordained, etc, that they have to argue, fight, and split into different sects.  I hate that people feel obligated to participate.  Religion is a personal experience that is highly private and changeable.  No one should be viewed as having fewer morals or less intellect because of their belief or disbelief.  I hate that as I do more research about the formation of the Bible, I reveal more and more instances of patriarchy and the power establishment inserting their own values into what is supposed to be a sacred text.  I hate that people who are “fundamentalists” often have read very little of the book they claim to believe literally.  I hate that in the Old Testament, God appears to be angry, vengeful, and sometimes hypocritical.  Lastly, I hate that there are so many contradictions, and instead of taking verses in context for the specific historical time (for example, I believe the ban on pork was instated because pork was hard to keep safe for consumption during ancient times), people take them literally, ignoring the idea that faith and belief can be an ever-changing entity, and when we buy into ancient doctrine as the absolute authority, we prevent our faith from moving forward with the times and allowing God to change, or instate new rules for new issues.

Wow, it feels really good to say all this.  I know I made some generalizations, but please understand that I don’t believe all queers blamed African Americans for Prop 8 or that all Christian fundamentalists neglect to read the Bible, etc.  This is a rant, so not all my thoughts are perfectly coherent.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2009 7:41 PM

    There is a long tradition in Christianity by which an argument is deemed credible by demonstrating that it isn’t Jewish. Christianity was built, in large part, off a sustained effort to discredit Judaism, declare to be irredeemably corrupted and sinful, etc. etc. It’s somewhat endemic to the religion, and what’s worse, “progressive” Christians strains buy into it just as eagerly as their more conservative coreligionists. Which is why I tend to have trouble trusting progressive Christians (or non-progressive ones, but they don’t come pre-inoculated with credibility among the folks I should consider to be allies).

    In any event, when putatively progressive Christians attribute everything bad to an “Old Testament” mentality, outlook, ethos, etc, they are rather flagrantly buying into this whole “corrupt Judaism” theme. I read these paragraphs as lecturing Christians you disagree with by throwing the ultimate insult: “What are you, some kind of Jew?”

    And this mentality has been responsible for a ton of anti-Semitic violence, prejudice, hatred, and bigotry. Most notably, the mentality that says that defines what’s good about Christianity is the extent to which it rejects Judaism is the same one that allows Christians to persistently justify minimizing Jewish voices, cast them as irrational and illegitimate.

    I’m not saying you meant what you said that way, or even that you knew about it. I’m just hopeful that this comment will be a trigger into confronting Gentile privilege.

    • cellardoor10 permalink
      October 16, 2009 12:33 AM

      Wow. You know, I had NEVER thought of that. I definitely hear and see discrimination against Jews, and the implicit assumption that because Christians believe something, Jews probably do too (Judeo-Christian values, etc.), without regard for actual Jewish opinions and voices, but I’d never thought of my preference for the New Testament’s overall message as gentile privilege.

      I should clarify, though, I don’t see all of the “Old Testament” as worthless, I just find parts of it to be troubling to me personally, because they contradict the way I try to view God, especially in the way it gets used in vengeful and hurtful ways. There are a lot of valuable messages in the “Old Testament” – loyalty, obedience, faith in the unknown, community and sacrifice, and God’s willingness to forgive, to name a few. This may take a different form than the New Testament’s brand of forgiveness, but beloved characters like Solomon, David, and Aaron were all men who committed pretty large instances of disobedience/sin and were forgiven and still awarded honored places in their stories.

      I guess part of it is that I rarely see Jews using the “Old Testament” as a way to discriminate, condemn, and deny faith and love the way I see Christians doing so, particularly since this use seems contradictory to a lot of the supposed ideals of the savior Christians claim, but that might have to do with my own not noticing of it more than an actual lack of occurrence. That also might have to do with the power given to Christians, particularly in the United States – it is a bit easier to notice someone’s discriminatory actions and beliefs if they are wielding the power of the self-righteous majority, and able to really hurt those groups they are discriminating against.

      Anyway, I’m sorry for it sounding like a rebuke of acting like Jews. I didn’t mean that, but I will be more aware of that implication in my words next time.

    • Grant permalink
      October 19, 2009 9:25 PM

      I just wanted to chime in to say that I saw two fair points. I know David’s right that Christians very often look upon Judaism as archaic and corrupted. Most of them don’t know much about Judaism except that Jews don’t have the New Testament, which in Christian faith is more important than the Old. Instead of investigating Judaism or at least admitting their ignorance, they just let their knee-jerk reactions fly based on this one simple observation. It’s probably good that he brought it up, especially in the respectful manner that he did.

      And cellardoor, I think it’s perfectly fair for you to discuss your feelings on the way your (and my) coreligionists abuse the Old Testament. I thought it was pretty clear that you were talking about how Christians sometimes use the Old Testament, not Jews, although I can see someone reading it differently. It’s always good to be mindful of your words and be sensitive to how others might read them, but there also has to be room to say that you think certain readings of the Old Testament are precluded by the New.

      I liked this post. Thanks for sharing your feelings (as well as the link).

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