I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

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Friday, April 16, 2010

On being a lesbian and a Christian....and laying low for a decade or so

I was on a recent facebook exchange with some people who were discussing Jennifer Knapp. Knapp is a Christian music artist who left the biz. a decade ago and has been hiding out in Australia. She says she left because of the strain of the business, perhaps disenfranchised and disillusioned. However, it also turns out that she is a lesbian, which would have been a difficult thing to deal with a decade ago. It still is, of course; but Knapp is recording a new album in the States, and she is fully disclosing her sexual orientation.

When I was in college, I liked Knapp's first album, but shortly thereafter I kind of lost all interest in Christian music. I liked Knapp's style, and I'll probably try to find that album and listen again. She always struck me as kind of raw and real.

The aforementioned facebook discussion was a long battle between those who were sympathetic to Knapp's sexual orientation and those who said that the Bible condemns homosexuality. The discussion quickly turned into a debate on what-does-the-Bible-say-about-homosexuality. Here was my brief response:

Many Christians on the issue of homosexuality are looking to turn to the Bible for an "answer" to the question "is homosexuality wrong/sinful, or is it okay?" But why do we use the Bible in this way?

Perhaps the Bible was meant to guides us into the tradition of the sacred faith, to demonstrate the differing and diverse ways that people of faith have dealt with their humanness and with God's God-ness and with the world's world-ness.

Maybe the Bible wasn't meant to be an answer key. Why do we feel such a pressure to "justify that position biblically!"? I think such an attitude is mistaken from the start. It cuts us off from the heart of faith, which is a spirit-led life. In my opinion, the New Testament was meant to anchor us in Jesus (the Gospels) and in the early church teachings and praxis (the rest of the NT). These stories and teachings are diverse. Early Christianity was very diverse.

The faith needs to be reinvented by each generation, by each person. It always has been this way, and it always will be.

So, I suggest that we both dig into the scriptures but also use the wisdom, love, and discernment of the spirit as a guide...all of this in dialog with each other.

What are your thoughts?

How does religion or Christianity relate to one's sexual orientation?

Do you agree with my thoughts on how the scripture texts should be used in the debate about sexuality?


amy frances said...

I do, actually, agree completely. But I can't defend the position biblically. ;)

I think the Christian or any other faith is most relevant to sexuality in how it teaches us to approach each other sexually and each other's sexuality. For instance, when Peter encourages his male readers to honor their female partners as "weaker vessels," he is instructing them not to take advantage of their physical strength to take what they want, sexually (Sarah Sumner is the author who's written about that, if you're interested), because, let's face it, most men are physically capable of raping their female partners. Humility and honoring the sacredness of every human being. I think our responsibility as people of faith toward each other, in all matters and not just sexual, is honoring each other as an equals, helping each other toward self-actualization, and refusing condemnation and judgment. Even when Paul famously rails against homosexual intercourse in Romans 1, his point is not "gay sex is bad"; his point is "quit judging each other." (Besides, Paul would probably have a huge problem with most of our sex lives, really. The dude was wicked repressed.)

Anyway. My $0.02. Thanks for bringing this up.

tamie said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I don't know if you remember, but when I first started getting to know you and commenting on your blog and stuff I'd often say things like, "I don't really care about defending my position biblically" and I got the feeling that many of your other readers thought I was just lame. But my position came out of exactly the kind of sentiments you're talking about here. It's not that I didn't care about Scripture; it's that I didn't think defending a belief based on the answer key of Scripture was the right way to approach the whole thing. Plus, I had gotten SO sick of people defending sexism and racism and homophobia by using the Bible.

tamie said...

Also, I love how Amy says that Paul was wicked repressed. I have no idea what I think about Paul anymore. Mostly, I don't worry about him. But I think I'm interested in getting back into Paul soon.

I really appreciate what you said about needing to reinvent the faith with every generation. I think this is true. And I also think that we need to listen to the wisdom of the mystics, fathers, and mothers of the tradition. Like, we don't have to reinvent *everything*. :)

As for how tradition and Scripture relates to sexuality.........I think that faith and spirituality relate profoundly to sexuality, but I'm not sure yet how Scripture itself relates to sexuality. Ponderation in progress! I'm interested to hear what others think.

Asheya said...

This is the first time I've thought about not using the Bible to defend a spiritual position. I find it quite intriguing. I'm going to have to ponder.

I also listened to Jennifer Knapp about a decade ago, and quite liked her, raw and real, as I think you said.

Spirituality and sexuality are definitely connected. I used to think that homosexuality indicated a deep brokenness that needed to be healed in the context of the church. Now I don't necessarily think that, but I'm not totally sure what I think. I don't think homosexuals need to try to change their orientation.

I want to contribute something meaningful to this discussion, but I really don't know what to say. I wish the deep ideas were clear to me, but they aren't. At this point I think there's a lot of sexual and spiritual brokenness in pretty much everyone, and maybe the best thing we can try to do is love each other in our intimate relationships, as Amy said. And honour the love that people have for each other in intimate relationships.

I don't know how religion plays into it all--religion being mostly a social construct, I think. I think our society is moving away from contractual, religiously bound sexual partnerships, and into love that is more about being authentic about sexuality and what it means to love someone else. Which seems to make religion less relevant, but spirituality more relevant, if you know what I mean.

I liked what you said Jon about the N.T. being about the diversity of the church. The whole should we eat food offered to idols, should there be circumcision etc. It wasn't all just black and white. And I think that's the main thing about Jesus too. He shifts all our paradigms, and is so confusing and hard to understand. Healing blind people, cursing fig trees, calling Pharisees hypocrites, making really good wine at a wedding, and then getting killed.

One of the few things that is clear to me that Jesus did is washing his disciples feet. And then he tells them to wash other people's feet. I wish I could say I made a practice of washing people's feet, but I don't. And maybe that's what this all comes down to. There's a lot we don't know, a lot that Jesus didn't tell us, but he did make it pretty clear that we should wash people's feet. Touching others is part of sexuality, and maybe part of the point is that we should touch each other with humility and in order to serve, again as Amy said.

I'm sure this is not new for you guys :) Just thinking out loud, as it were.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Any thoughts on washing feet???

Jonathan Erdman said...


Some good thoughts for the low low price of two cents. It's a bargain for sure.

Funny comment about Paul! Why do you say he was "wicked repressed"?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Asheya: I think our society is moving away from contractual, religiously bound sexual partnerships, and into love that is more about being authentic about sexuality and what it means to love someone else.

Good observation. Seems to be true...I sure hope so, anyway!

Asheya, it's interesting about washing each other's feet. Have you participated in footwashing? The college/seminary I attended comes out of a denomination that washes feet...or at least they used to...I have never been to a footwashing, however, though I've always been interested in it.

I definitely appreciate what you say about having healthy physical contact with people. I imagine that a good deal of unhealthy sexual desire comes from lacking regular, loving physical touch.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Asheya: I think our society is moving away from contractual, religiously bound sexual partnerships, and into love that is more about being authentic about sexuality and what it means to love someone else.

Good observation. Seems to be true...I sure hope so, anyway!

Asheya, it's interesting about washing each other's feet. Have you participated in footwashing? The college/seminary I attended comes out of a denomination that washes feet...or at least they used to...I have never been to a footwashing, however, though I've always been interested in it.

I definitely appreciate what you say about having healthy physical contact with people. I imagine that a good deal of unhealthy sexual desire comes from lacking regular, loving physical touch.

amy frances said...

Seriously. I should think of raising my prices.

In the interest of retaining my sanity, I'm not going to go verse hunting (you'd probably do a way better job than I would anyway), but I've always had the impression that Paul was a tad preoccupied with sex and its perils in his writings. I know it probably had a lot to do with what was going on in the churches to which he was writings, but still, he had an awful lot to say about why people should stay away from sex and sexual relationships. And when he did talk about when sex "should" happen, it was in terms of duty and rights, not of freedom or love or desire or unity. Feel free to correct me if you think I'm wrong; like I said, this is just my impression. I agree with Asheya that our sexual and relational attitudes have diverged from those of the biblical cultures so much that what the Bible has to say about sex specifically has to be so contextualized that it's nearly irrelevant on the surface. I think of other relational attitudes that the Bible advocates as being far more relevant to sex than "give your wife her conjugal rights" or "do not indulge your desire for someone whose genitals match yours." Like footwashing. Asheya, I don't think I've ever thought of footwashing in as a metaphor for sex before (am I understanding you correctly?), but it makes piles of sense. The disposition is of humble concern for the dignity of the other, and the act itself is very intimate. Footwashing services (I've been to many) have always had little meaning for me because my relationships with the other participants never have that concern or intimacy in actual life. It's a symbol without a referent. But the last time I did it, my husband and I ended up washing each other's feet, and it was completely different. (I think footwashing would have more meaning for me with family or a group of close friends, if the ritual honored what was already happening in the relationship, but I've never experienced that, so who knows?)

And, Jon, you are 1000% correct that lack of regular, loving touch results in unhealthy sexual desire.

Jonathan Erdman said...


And, Jon, you are 1000% correct that lack of regular, loving touch results in unhealthy sexual desire.

Ha! No. Tamie gave me that idea. (She once told her college students to hug more so that they wouldn't be so damned horny!) I'll let her defend that idea!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Amy: I've always had the impression that Paul was a tad preoccupied with sex and its perils in his writings.

Fair point. Paul was expecting the world to end. Soon. So, he figured that sex was a waste of time. With the world coming to an end and God now welcoming Gentiles into the fold, why would anyone even want to do the hanky panky? That's my read on Paul.

He kind of retains some sense of male superiority, but to his credit, Paul says not only that the woman's wife belongs to her husband but also that a man's body belongs to his wife, which was a rather radical move in his culture. So, he retains some reciprocity.

It seems that the early church took Paul in two different directions. One way was to emphasize celibacy. The other was to lay down strict rules on how sexuality should be done, the do's and the don'ts.

In short, I don't think Paul is a good one to go to for ideas on healthy sexual expression. I actually don't think he talks about it all that much. It's like a nuisance for him. Paul just wants to get out and preach this cool new Gospel theology and plant some churches. He doesn't have a lot of patience for people with odd sexual practices.

Let's be honest, the real question is a psychological one. Which Enneagram number was Paul? Or what Myers-Briggs type?

Cynthia said...

Hey Jon! Good conversation.

When discussing the issues of homosexuality and the bible I think it is important to differentiate between gay culture and an individual's inherent sexual orientation. I absolutely think that the bible perscribes againts a lifestyle of homosexuality in which persons and groups of people become so identified with this aspect of themeselves that this is all they seem to live for. I have had and loved many gay friends (esp males) and can say from experience and observation that there seems to be an excessive pride among those who are most committed to expressing their gayness. I have also observed a lot of superficiality and needless drama among my gay friends- which is not honoring to God.
On the other side of the coin are those people like Jennifer knapp who are just simply trying to come to terms with this aspect of themselves in order to live as truthfully as they can. In the sense that the bible can be seen as an existential writing (which I do to a large degree), I think it has a lot to say to an individual who is seeking this truth for themselves(which echos your sentiments).

hope all is well! Congratulations on your engagemnet (to you as well Tamie)!

Asheya said...

Ha ha, I love the Enneagram/Myers-Briggs comment!

So, what personality type do you think Paul was?

I also like Jon's take on Paul and how he just found sex a nuisance and what he was really on fire for was Christianity. I like that perspective.

Writers of Kosciusko County Jail said...

Okay, peeps, sorry it took me a few days. The notification that y'all have added comments gets sent to the wrong e-mail address, which is why I'm now signing in on this name, so it gets sent to the right place. I don't know how to fix this! I am going to be one of those middle-aged people who needs their kids to do everything technological for them. But I digress.

When I was a kid, we went to church at the same denomination where Jon went to college (ie., the Grace Brethren). Foot-washing was a regular part of their communion services, which they had once a month, in the evening, along with a sit-down meal of ham sandwiches. Let's just take a moment to reflect on how bizarre it is that they served ham sandwiches at Communion, which originated from Passover....anyway. But foot-washing was a part of it, every time. The women would all go into one room and wash each other's feet and the men would all go into another room.

As a kid, I *hated* this. I was always made to do it, and it felt like forced intimacy to me (maybe because it was forced intimacy), and I hated hated hated it. Forced intimacy is right up there for me, in terms of things I hate most in the world.

I've never really been able to get over this. I mean, it's not like I think about it often, but my point is that I've never liked foot-washing services. I also have kind of mixed feelings about serving others. I think, again, these feelings probably arise from feeling like I was forced to serve others as a child. Or maybe watching women in my conservative sub-culture be forced into submissiveness.

This really affected the way I did my work as a chaplain. I absolutely went out of my way to make sure people weren't forced into anything, especially intimacy. Churches are gawdawful at forcing intimacy, or at making people feel uncomfortable or embarrassed and calling it "breaking the ice" or "getting to know each other." I went really out of my way not to do that kind of thing, and especially not to do any ritual during a service that might make anyone uncomfortable, nervous, embarrassed, etc.

I'm not sure why I'm saying all this, because it's clearly a personal issue. But maybe it's a shared personal issue? Do other people feel these things?

That's what I have to say on foot-washing!

tamie said...

Now I'll sign in as myself.

Asheya and Amy, you should read that book I was reading recently, To Touch is to Heal. It has a lot to say about the issue of people seeking sex because they haven't been touched in good ways, especially as children.

Oh, and Amy, I was thinking that maybe part of the reason we have this impression that Paul was obsessed with sex is because evangelicals are obsessed with sex, so they often focus on the few passages in Paul's letters where he actually talks about that stuff. Maybe?

Jonathan Erdman said...


I don't know what type Paul is. I know the Enneagram better than Myers-Briggs, so I'll stick with that; but even so, it's a tough call.

I can see Paul being a One because he kept the law "blamelessly" before he began to serve Christ and the Way. His view on sex is a lot like a One might be, a type that can tend toward repressing their sexual urges and desires, or viewing sexual desire as something that is impulsive and immoral, or just being suspicious of sex. The other thing about being a One is that Paul seems to struggle with relationships, which can be a difficulty for some Ones. There are many letters from Paul to the churches where Paul doesn't seem to exercise really good people skills, at least that's my take.

But he might also be a Six. Continuing with the last point, Paul seems like he's a bit over the top with his emotions sometimes, which some Sixes can be (but not all). Sixes as I understand tend to be emotionally demonstrative, but in small bursts: Strong Emotion!, then it's done as fast as it started. Also, Paul always frets over how the churches are perceiving him. Maybe that's the insecurity of the Six. Paul is also very loyal. First he was loyal to the Pharisees, going so far as to persecute Christ-followers; then after his conversion, he was a hard worker for the church. They say Malcom X was a Six, and Malcom had a similar conversion: faithful to Elijah Muhammad, then he split the scene and started a new movement.

So, I'd put Paul at a Six or a One. That's my take....I maaaaaybe might lean toward a Six.

tamie said...

What is it with the way that so many people could either be a 1 or a 6??????

amy frances said...


First of all, right on, sister! Thank you! Someone else has noticed how completely ridiculous the ham sandwiches are! When I point that out to people, I just get blank stares.

And, yes, that's exactly what I was trying to say. Forced intimacy. It is just icky to be in such an intimate space with people with whom I'm not at all intimate, and I'm always so glad when it's over. I feel the same way about "ice breakers" and "getting to 'know' each other" too. And the forced fellowship time at church. ("Alright now, everybody walk around and greet each other. ... Okay, now stop.") I think what you feel is totally valid, a personal issue for a lot of people, and I'm not sure you should get over it.

Actually, I feel this way about much of what goes on in super-sentimental worship services, not just foot washing. When the music and the lighting and the tone of the preacher's voice and the stories he tells are all carefully engineered to effect an emotional reaction, to me, this is forced intimacy. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like a state of heightened emotion is a very intimate space. I hate to be in that space in the presence of strangers. So when the worship leader sings a song about, say, a daddy and a daughter and Jesus (there are way too many of those songs), and my heart strings are tugged despite my fiercest attempts at resistance, I don't know, I just feel invaded and violated. I've talked with a few people about this, but I'm never sure how to express it well. In my mind, it almost feels like unwelcome sexual contact. Does that make sense to you (or any of you)?

amy frances said...

And I'm pretty sure Paul was an ENTJ or an INTJ. But that's just my gut. Because we INFJs like to listen to our guts.

Jonathan Erdman said...

'Cause in this here worl', a fella' oughta' be perfect or scared shitless.

amy frances said...

Oh, and, p.s., Kevin requested To Touch Is to Heal from the library for me, so I'm just waiting for it to show up.

And p.p.s., Tamie, I think you're onto something about evangelicals' obsession with sex being why Paul's attitudes about sex are fronted so much. Maybe it's evangelical Christianity that is wicked repressed, and so their interpretation of Paul makes him seem wicked repressed. Pondering.

Incidentally, it takes way too long to wash the brain of evangelical attitudes and interpretations and prejudices and jargon. Argh! It's like trying to get an oil stain out of your favorite jeans!

tamie said...

I'll be really interested in what you think of To Touch is to Heal. I had mixed feelings about the tone of the book, even though the info is decent.

I really can't believe they still do the ham sandwiches. It's so weird that things have continued on the same all these years. I mean, I went to church there 25 years ago.

I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't feel moved in any way by the sentimental church services, after you've been away from them for a while. But maybe not. I guess what moves one person is different from what moves another.

And I think you're right. Unwelcome spiritual invasion is similar, I think, to unwelcome sexual invasion. Because they're both such intimate parts of us.

amy frances said...

Well, for the record, I am hardly ever moved by those services; most of the time I'm just really irritated that they're trying to move me. But once in a while, like, the pastor has this thing for talking about how proud he is of his daughter and getting all choked up, or they show these videos with orphans in them or something. And once I start, man, it's all over. Shudder. I hate it so much.

And they do a sort of carry-in now, where each family is supposed to brig a tray of sandwiches and a side dish. But everyone is so stuck on ham that like 75% of the sandwiches are ham. It's so weird.

tamie said...

Someone needs to psychoanalyze the ham sandwich thing.

Yeah, no I understand about emotional manipulation. Hey man, sometimes I get moved to tears by commercials. Which makes sense, when you think about it, because companies employ *psychologists* to figure out what will move people emotionally, you know? At the same time, I sure do hate being manipulated emotionally! Actually, when I'm moved by commercials I think it's kind of funny. But when sappy crappy church services suddenly become moving, then the disturbometer boings right to the top. If you know what I mean.

How did we get on ham sandwiches and commercials from Jon's reflection about homosexuality? Sorry to sabotage your blog, sweetheart.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hey, this is cyberspace! Tangents are the name of the game!

Along with your thoughts, I recently had a revelation: contemporary Christian music is like soft rock. That is, they both seem overly sentimental.

The thing is, I don't have issues with soft rock. Every once in a while, I'll even sing along and feel moved in a silly sort of way. But with contemporary Christian music, for some reason it irritates me because it feels like we should be taking sacred things more seriously. Like they shouldn't be so sentimental.

So, maybe that's kind of a similar phenomenon to what you all are discussing, with feeling hostile toward the sentimentality of so much of Christianity....or maybe not! It's what came to my mind, anyway.

Tuishimi said...

I think we all have our sins, and at least ONE sin that we repeat over and over and over again. One time when I was sick and bedridden I took to watching a Catholic Priest (I am not Catholic) on TV. He was dynamic and very thoughtful. One thing that he said that stuck with me is that we all have something, one dark secret, or sin that we battle with ALL of our lifetime. It never "goes away" and it is ours to struggle with.

I think he is right. I know I have issues that I struggle with that sometimes get better and sometimes I waver.

I think issues like homosexuality are something that needs to be dealt with by individuals, and support AND leeway needs to be granted them by their brothers and sisters in faith.

I know Paul has spoken out strongly on certain issues, but I also know whenever sexuality was involved it almost always involved idolatry as well... and the SIN was not so much about sex, but about the worship of other gods... and we all know God is a jealous god. :)