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Dr. Marvin Ellison at EDS: The Goal is a Radical Queering of Society

Monday, December 1, 2008 • 8:15 am

On November 13, 2008, Dr. Marvin Ellison, a gay partnered Presbyterian minister and - I kid you not - professor of Christian ethics at Bangor Theological seminary, gave the following address titled “Is Marriage a ‘Must’ or a ‘Bust’? Enlarging the Justice Agenda.” Location? Why, the Episcopal “Divinity” School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of course.

I’ll spare you the fawning compliments to Carter Heyward at the top of the speech and get right to the red meat. In a nutshell, Ellison simultaneously frames the normalization of sodomy as a justice issue and commits the fallacy of the circular argument, by speaking of “winning (or beginning to win) the freedom to marry for those unjustly denied”; and insists that the goal for the gay community cannot be simply tolerance from heterosexuals and inclusion in the institution of marriage; that is not enough. There must be a radical, comprehensive overhaul of exactly what marriage is, and exactly how homosexuality is thought of by society as a whole (translation: Churches and schools must teach our children how wonderful it is).

The whole address deserves your close attention, but I want to highlight just two paragraphs that should serve to explain why.

The first is this:

The prevailing Christian code—celibacy for singles, sex only in marriage—is no longer adequate, if it ever was, for at least three reasons. First, this code is fear-based, punitive, disrespectful of human personhood, and aimed at control rather than empowerment of persons. Second, the Christian marriage ethic is not sufficiently discerning of the varieties of responsible sexuality, including among singles and samegender loving people. Third, it is not sufficiently discriminating in naming ethical violations even within marriage and has been way too silent about sexual coercion and domestic abuse. A reframing of Christian ethics is needed to realistically address the diversity of human sexualities and place the focus not on the “sin of sex,” but on the use and misuse of power, the dignity of persons, and the moral quality of their interactions.

The second is this:

One of my favorite authors, Flannery O’Connor, has quipped, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you odd.” Celebrating our common humanity requires making an odd, decisively queer turn toward radical equality and plunging in together to rebuild a vibrant, just, and wildly inclusive social order. Rather than embrace a more modest marriage equality agenda, tonight I’ve encouraged us to embrace a larger, more disruptive queer agenda. The queer agenda has never been only about sex or even sexual justice, but rather remains a persistent, unwavering demand for a comprehensive renewal of life-in-community. The change we desire, deep down, is not mere inclusion, but rather spiritual, moral, political, economic, and cultural transformation, from the grassroots upwards and from our bedrooms to far beyond.

Here is the entire text of the speech (also available here as a PDF):

As the presidency of George W. Bush was sinking, a cartoon pictured the President at a press conference. A reporter asks, “Mr. President, Iraq and Afghanistan are in chaos, polar ice is melting, the middle class is disappearing. What response do you have to all of that?” Mr. Bush replies, “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” Shift now from the painfully surreal to the painfully real: During the 2008 election season, proponents and opponents of California’s Proposition 8 spent in excess of $70 million to secure or prevent the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, the most expensive ballot measure in this nation’s history. Two other restrictive Constitutional amendments were passed in Florida and Arizona along with an Arkansas measure that prohibits single adults, as well as same-sex couples, from becoming foster parents or adopting children. Given the intensity of these anti-gay campaigns, it’s safe to say that whenever two or more are gathered, we’re wise to expect significant conflict regarding marriage and family rights for same-gender loving people.

Listen to a sampling of voices in this contentious debate:

The first voice is that of marriage traditionalists. Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, when asked about California’s Proposition 8, said, “[This was] the most important thing nationally on the ballot. We have survived bad presidents. But many, many are convinced we will not survive this redefinition of marriage.” Glenn Stanton at Focus on the Family has argued similarly: “[So-called] same-sex ‘marriage,’” he asserts, “is being forced upon us by a small, but elite, group of individuals dressed in black robes - judges - who say that thousands of years of human history have simply been wrong. That is a very arrogant notion that will bring great harm to our culture.” “God bestowed [marriage] upon mankind, and we tamper with it at our own peril.” “[R]edefining marriage in this way [is] the first step toward abolishing marriage and the family altogether.” Why? Because marriage equality erases gender differences. As Stanton explains, “Gender would become nothing. . . . Real, deep, and necessary differences exist between the sexes. [Same-sex marriage] rests [instead] on a ‘Mister Potato Head Theory’ of gender difference (same core, just interchangeable body parts). [But] if real differences [do] exist, then men would need women, and women would need men” in order to be complete. For marriage traditionalists, same-sex marriage is a “bust.”

A second voice is that of marriage advocates. Andrew Sullivan, gay social critic and author, has written, “This debate is ultimately about more than marriage and more than homosexuality. As an argument it is a crucible for the future shape of democratic liberalism.” “Including homosexuals within marriage, after all, would be a means of conferring the highest form of social approval imaginable.” Again, Sullivan writes, “Gay marriage is not a radical step; it is a profoundly humanizing, traditionalizing step. It is the first step in any resolution of the homosexual question - more important than any other institution, since it is the most central institution to the nature of the problem. . . . If nothing else were done at all, and gay marriage were legalized, ninety percent of the political work necessary to achieve gay and lesbian equality would have been achieved. It is ultimately the only reform that truly matters.” For marriage advocates, same-sex marriage is a “must.”

A third voice is that of marriage critics: Gay social theorist and historian John D’Emilio, in an article entitled “The Marriage Fight Is Setting Us Back,” argues that “the campaign for same-sex marriage has been an unmitigated disaster. The battle to win marriage equality through the courts,” he writes, “has done something that no other campaign or issue in our movement has done: it has created a vast body of new antigay law. Alas for us, as the anthropologist Gayle Rubin has so cogently observed, ‘Sex laws are notoriously easy to pass. . . . Once they are on the books, they are extremely difficult to dislodge.” Moreover, D’Emilio argues, “as a movement” haven’t we been “pushing to further de-center and de-institutionalize marriage? Once upon a time we did.”

Jewish feminist theologian Judith Plaskow and her partner Martha Ackelsberg agree. “We love each other,” they write in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, “and we’ve been in a committed relationship for nearly twenty years. We are residents of Massachusetts. But we’re not getting married.” Why not? Because, they explain, “focusing on the right to marry perpetuates the idea that [a range of social and economic] rights ought to be linked to marriage. Were we to marry, we would be contributing to the perpetuation of a norm of coupledness in our society. The norm marginalizes those who are single, single parents, widowed, divorced, or otherwise living in non-traditional constellations.” They question, therefore, the wisdom of reinforcing “the centrality of marriage to the social order.” The problem is not, as Focus on the Family insists, the devaluation of marriage in this culture, but rather the over-valuation of marriage as a marker for social status and as the exclusive conduit for allocating social and economic benefits, from health care to inheritance rights.

Similarly, Mary Hunt argues, “I remain of mixed mind, not to mention mixed emotion, on the question. I seek relational justice for all rather than legal remedy for a few. . . . Although I support enthusiastically the right of same-sex couples to marry, I am not persuaded that it will inevitably lead to greater relational justice, a feminist goal.” For marriage critics, same-sex marriage is a “bust.”

Despite their differences, both marriage advocates and marriage critics are in full agreement that, as a matter of simple justice, if different-sex couples have the freedom to marry, then same-sex couples should have that same freedom, and yet justice is never simple. As important as it is to defend the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, I would argue that limiting justice to a liberal framework of acquiring equal rights downplays or ignores altogether other important justice considerations, including reordering social power and debunking cultural ideology, including religious claims, that legitimate sexual and other social hierarchies.

One set of these justice concerns is about marriage as a cultural practice. Ours is a marriage culture, in which upwards of 90 to 95% of all adults marry at least once by age 65, but what commends marriage as a site for human bonding? Patriarchal marriage is unethical because it is constructed on the basis of gender hierarchy and male control of women’s lives. Marriage traditionalists say that a valid marriage requires gender difference, but the sub-text is gender inequality, with a dominant male and submissive female. Think of the Southern Baptist Convention’s invitation for wives to submit graciously to their husband’s leadership. Is there an alternative, non-oppressive model of marriage, and what would ethical marriage require of its participants and the community? Another set of justice concerns is about the role of the state. Why should marriage or any other adult intimate relationship be licensed by the state? Or, again, why should civil marriage be privileged as the exclusive conduit for a wide range of social, economic, and cultural benefits, especially given the diverse ways people form intimate partnerships and create families other than through marriage? What are the community’s obligations to recognize and support these diverse patterns in addition to marriage or even instead of marriage? What would it mean to de-center and de-institutionalize not only heterosexuality, but also marriage, the primary institution that undergirds heteronormativity?

I agree with Mary Hunt and other feminist marriage critics that the ethical agenda should be relational justice for all families and relational justice in all families. In a pluralistic society, people of faith and good will should be concerned about more than the vitality of the marital family. At the opening of the twenty-first century, we must draw a larger picture of love, commitment, and family with ample room for same-sex partnerships, one-parent households, extended families, blended families, and other relational configurations, including plural relationships. Because the strength of family as a cross-cultural institution is its adaptability, we should be focusing not on family or relational form, but rather on things that truly matter: protecting the dignity and wellbeing of all persons; insisting on the qualities of mutual respect, non-violence, and care in every relationship; sharing power and goods fairly; and making sure that every family receives the support and resources necessary for its members to thrive. Not marriage, but relational justice as a component of a more comprehensive social and economic justice should be our moral vision.

While it is true that winning (or beginning to win) the freedom to marry for those unjustly denied this right is a good and worthwhile pursuit, it’s also true that gaining equal marriage rights is not unambiguously good. The inclusion of gay men and lesbians within the ranks of married couples may be beneficial for those who can elect this newly available option, but it may also further entrench the hegemony of state-sanctioned marriage and strengthen the “special rights” accorded to the marital family, to the detriment of other relational patterns. If so, then same-sex marriage would not have a broadly transformative effect, especially if it continues to privilege the married, devalue the unmarried, and reinforce current patterns of social and economic inequities. Yes, expanding marriage rights will do some good, but it will not accomplish what truly needs doing: to promote a more complex, more demanding, and ultimately more liberating justice agenda that aims, in Mary Hunt’s words, at “relational justice for all rather than legal remedy for a few.”

Stated differently, a comprehensive justice requires of us more than adding queer families to the mix and stirring. Inclusion is good; transformation is better. Expanding the circle is necessary, but not sufficient as a change strategy. More challenging is to dig deeper and transform the cultural assumptions and power dynamics that place so many at disadvantage while granting others unearned privileges. Marriage equality matters, but only within a comprehensive justice framework that confronts not only sexual and gender oppression, but also white racism, economic exploitation, and cultural elitism. Moving in the direction of greater relational justice will mean queering our communities, such that all persons, whether partnered or not, and all families, whether state licensed, church blessed, or not, are guaranteed the resources necessary for flourishing. A social justice framework for thinking about marriage and the common good is urgently needed to highlight the fact that the quality of our marriages, partnerships, and other social relations rises and falls in relation to prevailing social, economic, and cultural conditions and their relative fairness. The personal is not only personal; it’s also political, economic, and cultural.

The church, because it has an explicit mandate to pursue compassion and justice in all things personal and political, may make a significant contribution in education and advocacy for relational justice, but only if it can deal constructively with three hotly contested matters: the sex question, the assimilation question, and the question of how best to name the crisis in marriage and family.

First, the sex question: Marriage is about many things, including economics and property, reproduction and childrearing, care giving and community responsibilities. It is also about the regulation of sex. Sex is an occasion for great cultural anxiety, given how sexual mores have been so thoroughly influenced by Christian sex-negativity. This sexnegativity is reinforced by sexual fundamentalism, the notion that the only morally acceptable sex is heterosexual, marital, and procreative. Those abiding by this standard believe that they have a moral duty to police others and keep them under control. Respectable people are those who marry, restrain their sexuality, and settle down, thereby establishing their credentials as responsible adults. In contrast, gay men and lesbians are, by definition, “out of control” because we reside outside the marriage zone. Queerness has become cultural code for a generalized immorality and sexual immaturity, again because gay sex is not marital and, therefore, not properly constrained.

Advocates of same-sex marriage have, by and large, dodged the sex question and not dealt forthrightly with the sexual ethics question, including what makes sex holy and good. Instead, they have tried to make their case for equal marriage rights by downplaying sex. Often they seek to normalize gay men and lesbians by de-sexualizing homosexuality. Their constant message is that gayness is a non-threatening difference similar to left-handedness and eye color. Moreover, they insist that same-sex couples are not really interested in altering the institution of marriage, but only in joining the ranks of the “happily conjoined,” thereby reinforcing rather than upsetting the status quo. Playing down sexual difference and sanitizing gay sex are efforts to reduce the threat that gay identity and culture pose to dominant norms. According to this strategy, safety and access to basic rights, including the right to marry, require making queerness invisible. In the process, the prevailing norms and structures of compulsory heterosexuality go unchallenged. The moral problem becomes mystified, once again, as the “problem” of homosexuality and whether a minoritized group of outsiders can ever properly qualify to gain access to majority-insiders’ privileges by becoming “like them.” Defined this way, the solution to injustice is for gay men and lesbians to conform, as best we can, to heterosexist norms or at least not flaunt being too happily deviant. Take, for example, William Eskridge, a gay legal scholar, who defends the legal right to marry for same-sex couples, but in buttressing his case, relies on sex-negative and homophobic arguments. His book, subtitled “From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment,” suggests that even in the midst of an HIV/AIDS pandemic, gay men have been “more sexually venturesome” than others and, therefore, are “more in need of civilizing.” His argument in favor of marriage rights is that “same-sex marriage could be a particularly useful commitment device for gay and bisexual men.“11 If marriage becomes the normative expectation among gay men, he argues, gay male cruising and experimentation with multiple anonymous sex partners will give way “to a more lesbianlike interest in commitment. Since 1981 and probably earlier, gays were civilizing themselves,” he continues. “Part of our self-civilization has been an insistence on the right to marry.”

To argue that marriage is a necessary social control mechanism to tame men’s sexuality only reinforces the sex-negativity already so much in evidence among social conservatives. To argue, as Eskridge does, that “same-sex marriage civilizes gay men by making them more like lesbians” presumes, first of all, that women are not really interested in sex or sexual pleasure, but instead concerned only with intimacy and making relational commitments. Moreover, marriage’s primary purpose becomes sexual control, this time of gay men. In the process, sexual fundamentalism is never critiqued, much less debunked.

If some marriage advocates have adopted a strategy of either de-sexualizing homosexuality or of safely containing homoeroticism within marriage, an alternative, more risky, but in the long term more productive change strategy is to launch an enthusiastic, non-apologetic defense of gay and lesbian sex (and, more generally, of healthy eroticism), spell out a principled critique of heterosexist norms, and reformulate a sexual ethic no longer based on heterosexual marriage as normative. On this score, a non-reconstructed Christian tradition will hardly be helpful. The conventional Christian approach does not offer a positive ethic of sex. Rather, it promulgates a highly restrictive moral code aimed at controlling and containing sex within strictly defined marital boundaries.

The prevailing Christian code—celibacy for singles, sex only in marriage—is no longer adequate, if it ever was, for at least three reasons. First, this code is fear-based, punitive, disrespectful of human personhood, and aimed at control rather than empowerment of persons. Second, the Christian marriage ethic is not sufficiently discerning of the varieties of responsible sexuality, including among singles and samegender loving people. Third, it is not sufficiently discriminating in naming ethical violations even within marriage and has been way too silent about sexual coercion and domestic abuse. A reframing of Christian ethics is needed to realistically address the diversity of human sexualities and place the focus not on the “sin of sex,” but on the use and misuse of power, the dignity of persons, and the moral quality of their interactions.

In my judgment, the renewal of Christian sexual ethics depends on de-centering both heterosexuality and marriage and re-centering the ethical focus on justice-love as the central expectation for all sexual and social relating. This justice-love standard calls for egalitarian intimate relationships whether these are marital or not. What matters is not the sex or gender expression of the partners or their marital status, but whether the relationship exhibits mutual respect and care, a fair sharing of power and pleasure, ongoing efforts to maintain health and prevent transmission of disease, and, in those cases where it applies, avoiding unintended pregnancy. This justice-centered ethical framework also gives pride of place to pleasure as a moral resource and guide. It also defends the freedom of sexually active adults not to marry, without penalty or prejudice.

About the assimilation question: Some queer-identified marriage critics worry that the current push to acquire marriage rights reflects how (at least some) gay men and lesbians are seeking status and safety by mimicking heterosexuals. Of course, that’s happening in some places, but it can be fairly argued that something far more interesting and potentially transformative is also under way. Considerable evidence suggests that the majority heterosexual culture is coming to resemble gay culture with its gender flexibility, experimentation with family forms, and celebration of the pleasures of nonprocreative sex. “Contrary to popular belief, and even some gay rights rhetoric,” Michael Bronski writes, “gay people have not been patterning their lives on the structures of heterosexuality; rather, the opposite has occurred. Heterosexuals who have increasingly been rejecting traditional structures of sexuality and gender have been reorganizing in ways pioneered by gay men and lesbians.” This process may be thought of as reverse assimilation. The lesson, Bronski suggests, may be that “Only when those in the dominant culture realize that they are better off acting like gay people will the world change and be a better, safer, and more pleasurable place for everyone.”

The Religious Right with its notorious “straight agenda” is hardly enthusiastic about queering the church or world. LBGT people, singles, and cohabitating heterosexual couples are all morally suspect as “displaced persons” outside the marital system, but it is precisely our marginality that grants us a measure of freedom to invent alternative ways of creating intimate partnership and family. “Banished from the privileges of marriage,” Alison Solomon writes, “we have been spared its imperatives,” including its gender rigidity, its preoccupation with the couple in isolation from the community, and procreative duty. The pressing question is not whether same-sex couples should marry, but whether any couple should seek a state license for their intimate relationship.

The Religious Right, fearful that this precious freedom from marriage and its mandates may catch on, has launched a “traditional family values” campaign in order to depict queerness - that is, life outside procreative marriage - as dangerous, difficult, tragic, and pitiable. By targeting LGBT people for condemnation, this campaign is clearly aimed at keeping same-sex couples out of the marital “inner circle,” but their primary target audience is the heterosexual cultural majority. Focus on the Family and other organizations certainly want to keep the likes of me outside marriage, but their primary agenda is keeping heterosexual couples pinned into a hierarchical sex/gender system that also naturalizes race and class inequities as divinely sanctioned. Gay bashing sends a signal, to gays and straights alike, that any deviance from patriarchal norms will be subject to ridicule, violence, and even death. Such threats are highly effective in dissuading people from giving credence to, much less acting on, the intoxicating notions of sexual freedom, gender flexibility, and bodily self-determination.

One way to break the marriage debate “logjam” would be for heterosexual couples to begin living and acting more like their LBGT counterparts. Acting in solidarity to rebuild community might well require heterosexually married couples to renounce their marital privilege. After all, why shouldn’t heterosexual couples be satisfied with having only the more limited legal options of domestic partnerships and civil unions? Shouldn’t it be enough for different-sex couples to receive a blessing of their relationships from their religious tradition? Why should anyone, gay or non-gay, seek the state’s licensing or authorization for their intimate relations?

Along these lines, I’ve been impressed by the change initiated by a United Church of Christ congregation in northern New England. This church has been involved for more than a dozen years in the Open and Affirming movement, advocating the full and equal participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life and leadership of the church. A few years ago, when reviewing their policies regarding the use of the church building for weddings and other public functions, the congregation decided to discontinue authorizing marriage ceremonies altogether. Instead, in the church they permit only covenant or union ceremonies for couples, whether same-sex or different-sex. If a couple wishes to marry civilly and has that option, they are encouraged to enter into that legal contract at city hall, but for the purposes of what happens at church, only a witnessing to and blessing of their covenant-making is offered, with no double standards according to the gender of the covenanting partners. This approach does not rule out state licensing of intimate partnerships, nor does it demarcate the word marriage as “state only” or “religion only,” but it offers a creative strategy for gaining greater clarity of purpose and role.

About naming the crisis in marriage and family, the feminist and queer justice movements struggle to make explicit the connections between people’s personal pain and turmoil in their daily lives and how sexism, racism, and poverty undermine personal well-being and community coherence, especially for those without social power. What is undermining family life for the vast majority in the U.S. and elsewhere is not same-sex love or same-sex partnerships, not even marriage equality, but rather advanced capitalism’s erosion of social and economic security and the destruction of communities, as well as the earth, for the purpose of maximizing wealth for a few.

Under conditions of capitalist modernity, a cultural sea change has taken place, loosening social obligations to neighbors and strangers and eroding communal ties of affiliation and connection. In the process, people have increasingly turned to private relationships, primarily marriage and family, for identity, support, and fulfillment. However, here is a large caveat: intimate, romantic relationships, even enduring ones, are no substitute for a richly textured community life. As historian Stephanie Coontz writes, “It has only been in the last century that Americans have put all their emotional eggs in the basket of coupled love. Because of this change, many of us have found joys in marriage that our great-great-grandparents never did. But we have also neglected our other relationships, placing too many burdens on a fragile institution and making social life poorer in the process.” The consequence, Coontz points out, is that “as Americans lose the wider face-to-face ties that build social trust, they become more dependent on romantic relationships for intimacy and deep communication, and more vulnerable to isolation if a relationship breaks down.”

So what’s the solution? Again, Coontz is helpful: “We should raise our expectations for, and commitment to, other relationships [in addition to marriage and family], especially since so many people now live so much of their lives outside marriage. Paradoxically, we can strengthen our marriages the most,” Coontz writes, “by not expecting them to be our sole refuge from the pressures of the modern work force. Instead we need to restructure both work and social life so that we can reach out and build ties with others, including people who are single or divorced.“17 In other words, we must refuse to reinforce privatized marriage as “you and me against the world,” but rather help each other connect more strongly to our communities and empower each other to participate in, and contribute to, the broader social world.

In the midst of this cultural crisis, the challenge to people of faith is to hold onto a much larger gift than families, valuable as these may be. Our calling is to embrace and revitalize community and celebrate how our lives are utterly social and deeply, deeply intertwined. Our mutual dependence is a gift from God. As Carter Heyward has expressed the matter: “‘We are the boat. We are the sea. I sail in you. You sail in me.’ This is the truth of our lives, and it is the essence of our goodness.”

In terms of both care-giving and prophetic social witness, we must also pay close attention to the stresses mounting on almost every household. During the past twentyfive years, beginning with the Reagan revolution and its dismantling of the liberal welfare state, corporate capitalism has demanded that taxes on the rich be drastically cut and social spending radically curtailed. With the morally callous demands for privatization and deregulation (meaning: little if any public accountability or responsibility), neoliberal economic policies have undermined—destroyed is not too strong a word—the common good and steadily pushed economic and social responsibility away from employers and government and onto private households. The mounting personal and communal strains have pushed millions beyond the breaking point, especially the poor and racially marginalized.

Neo-liberalism’s ideology of radical individualism has cultivated a gross cultural lie in too many hearts and minds: that whether a person or a community sinks or swims, it’s up to that person or community alone. Success belongs to the individual alone. If you fail, no one will come to your aid, especially if you’re poor, non-white, and non- English speaking. (Think New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, think Darfur, and think Cleveland, Ohio.) As one example of the erosion of social solidarity, consider how care for the most vulnerable among us - children, the frail elderly, and people living with cognitive, emotional, and physical disabilities—is no longer defined as the community’s responsibility, but rather has shifted steadily onto the shoulders of mostly women, typically unpaid women at home or privately employed, often poorly-paid immigrant women of color. As Lisa Duggan and Richard Kim observe, “In this context, household stability [and household security have] become a life-and-death issue.”

In the midst of this cultural crisis, the Right has cruelly played the race card and the sex/gender card, again and again, to scapegoat vulnerable groups and divert attention from the real source of our cultural woes, runaway capitalism and the collapse of democracy. If faith communities have hope to offer, it will only be by encouraging us to name and resist this social and economic madness. To put it bluntly, our credibility, ethically and spiritually speaking, utterly depends on our willingness to resist capitalist plutocracy and our efforts to dismantle Christian patriarchalism while we seek to embody a truly liberating spirituality of justice.

One of my favorite authors, Flannery O’Connor, has quipped, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you odd.” Celebrating our common humanity requires making an odd, decisively queer turn toward radical equality and plunging in together to rebuild a vibrant, just, and wildly inclusive social order. Rather than embrace a more modest marriage equality agenda, tonight I’ve encouraged us to embrace a larger, more disruptive queer agenda. The queer agenda has never been only about sex or even sexual justice, but rather remains a persistent, unwavering demand for a comprehensive renewal of life-in-community. The change we desire, deep down, is not mere inclusion, but rather spiritual, moral, political, economic, and cultural transformation, from the grassroots upwards and from our bedrooms to far beyond.

This progressive agenda reflects our desire for right relation not only in our families, but on our streets and throughout our institutions. But I’d go further. Turning queer is also a spiritual pathway for remaining loyal to God, who, as these things go, is also rather odd: passionate about justice, no respecter of social rank or status, and forever graciously at work “making all things new.” Let us give thanks, then, for this conflict about marriage equality and relational justice and instead of running the other way, let’s throw caution to the wind and enjoy taking the plunge together toward more and more justice-love.

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I also wish for “spiritual, moral, political, economic, and cultural transformation.”  But I want that transformation to take place because of the Grace of God active in all people’s lives through their personal faith in Jesus Christ and their acceptance of him as Savior and Lord - not because of political or religious activism. 

I find it odd that this address, at a theological seminary, did not once mention Jesus or even Christ.  It does not mention or quote Scripture.  This is not theology, but political activism. 

We can only attain true “spiritual, moral, political, economic, and cultural transformation” when we “die daily to sin” and are reborn through Jesus Christ. 

Phil Snyder

[1] Posted by Philip Snyder on 12-01-2008 at 10:10 AM • top

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

[2] Posted by Warden Ben on 12-01-2008 at 10:12 AM • top

Turning queer is also a spiritual pathway for remaining loyal to God,


[3] Posted by oscewicee on 12-01-2008 at 10:16 AM • top

Pardon me while I make a mad dash to the barf bucket!

[4] Posted by Cennydd on 12-01-2008 at 10:21 AM • top

I agree with Cennydd #4, I almost lost my Thanksgiving dinner.

“...wildly inclusive social order…”

Sounds like any orgy of inclusiveness.

[5] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 12-01-2008 at 10:41 AM • top

The conventional Christian approach does not offer a positive ethic of sex. Rather, it promulgates a highly restrictive moral code aimed at controlling and containing sex within strictly defined marital boundaries.

One phenomenon here in the Mississippi Delta is for the mother’s current live-in boyfriend to keep the refrigerator in his bedroom so that the daughters must yield sexual favors for access to the food.  These girls would be far less likely to be abused by their biologic fathers, even in a common law marriage, than by a series of live-in boyfriends.  A highly restrictive moral code aimed at controlling sex within marriage, even a patriarchal marriage, would be far superior to the current state. 
I imagine Ellison would also blame capitalism and racism for this situation.  Partly to atone for the sins of slavery and racism, the federal government has poured millions of dollars into the Delta.  I don’t know if this family would be better off or not under a different form of government, but I do know an extra check in the mail would buy more crystal meth for the mother and the live-in.

[6] Posted by Jill Woodliff on 12-01-2008 at 10:43 AM • top

Bp Tom Shaw has made a holy vow to defend the sacraments, and Ellison is actively trying to destroy the sacrament of marriage.  It will be interesting to see whether Bp Shaw bans him from any further speaking in the diocese of Massachusetts.

[7] Posted by Jill Woodliff on 12-01-2008 at 10:47 AM • top

Folks in these parts often refer to that place as The Bangor Theological Cemetery.
A Pre-Civil War school, Joshua Chamberlain was a grad.  Revently moved from their
digs with its wonderful old building to take residence on a nearby college campus.
Last I knew they had about 16 full time students.  Most,  if not all, are female libs.
4-5 years ago I went to their bookstore.  The book most prominently displayed was
“Earth in the Balance” by noted theological expert, Algore.

[8] Posted by Old Soldier on 12-01-2008 at 10:48 AM • top

The pb could have written this.  It is apparent she believes every word of it.  Sadly.

This social politics approach is why tec will become a non issue.  No focus on Christ Jesus and the revealed Word of God.

[9] Posted by cbates on 12-01-2008 at 10:51 AM • top

And my coffee was tasting so good until I read this! What is so astonishing to me is that there really are people like this in the world. I always have to wonder just how much they got tossed in the air, whirled around like human airplanes by their parents as young children in order to get so twisted in their thinking and doing.

[10] Posted by TLDillon on 12-01-2008 at 11:18 AM • top

I found it interesting that the Episcopal Church is ranked third in religious affiliation in the student body. The only mention of Christ in the school’s mission statement is in the context of the United Church of Christ and in christian ministries.

It’s time to give up following the Peter Principle and return to St. Peter’s principles.

[11] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 12-01-2008 at 11:23 AM • top

One of my favorite authors, Flannery O’Connor, has quipped, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you odd.” Celebrating our common humanity requires making an odd, decisively queer turn toward radical equality and plunging in together to rebuild a vibrant, just, and wildly inclusive social order.

I too like and admire Flannery O’Connor.  In her day, the words, “odd,” and, “queer,” were roughly synonyms, but no longer. 

Much of O’Connor’s non-fiction is straightforward apologetics for orthodox Roman Catholicism.  Her fiction is about sin and redemption.  She did indeed believe in inclusivity—that we are universally fallen, that we universally are in the same predicament as people we don’t much like, that we are universally invited to the wedding feast, that we universally can only be redeemed by Jesus Christ, that we universally resist grace because grace changes us and it hurts to change. 

O’Connor possessed an uncanny ear for Southern dialect and a harrowing understanding of human pettiness.  And she surely was an odd person, sometimes referring to herself as a “Hillbilly Thomist.”  She said she fell asleep most nights reading Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. 

No intellectally honest student of Flannery O’Connor could quote her to support this manifesto.

[12] Posted by Rick H. on 12-01-2008 at 11:26 AM • top


You know, if it were something airborne or in the water, then you would have to conclude that we would all (or at least the overwhelming majority of us) be as loony, or as illogical, as this writer, so that explanation is ruled out. Is there a difference in suppliers of sacramental wine or of wafers that could explain it? Or it could be the use of different fabrics for vestments, although I doubt that Almy, or any of their competitors, supplies solely to reasserting parishes and some other firm to reappraising ones, or vice versa.

You know, this is so puzzling it can only be legitimately described as odd, peculiar, or perhaps queer (in the unhijacked and non-euphemistic sense of the word, and taking back the language is off-topic, so I won’t allow myself to get started on that).

Blessings and regards,
Martial Artist

[13] Posted by Militaris Artifex on 12-01-2008 at 11:28 AM • top

Indeed, Rick O.P. Makes you wonder if Dr. Ellison has ever read O’Connor. I think she would surprise him a lot more than he would surprise her.

[14] Posted by oscewicee on 12-01-2008 at 11:30 AM • top

The transformation called for by Mr. Ellison is nothing short of the total abrogation of 4,000 years of civilation.  I supppose this isn’t too great of a price to allow for pansexual houseplaying.  If so, we owe the denizens of those “cities of the plain” an apology.

[15] Posted by aterry on 12-01-2008 at 11:33 AM • top

If you literally belive Sodom and Gemorah we destroyed for this kind of culture you might consider moving.  And if you don’t believe- well you might still consider it.  The only question is where would we go?  Welcome to the tribulation.

Yes, I need a barf bag as well.  I think Jill’s story ruined my coffee more than the queer lecture.  Anyone got a nice cave to rent? 

If I ever give up reading StandFirm it will be to miss these stories.  Lord have mercy.

[16] Posted by Elizabeth on 12-01-2008 at 11:34 AM • top

That’s why my default response to this sort of thing is Revelation 22:20.  The only escape is into Jesus’ arms.

[17] Posted by Warden Ben on 12-01-2008 at 11:40 AM • top

It should also be noted that Episcopal News Service promoted this event.

[18] Posted by Jill Woodliff on 12-01-2008 at 11:49 AM • top

“Bangor” seminary!? Is this a joke?  I realize that comedic art has actually become life lately in sophisticated theological circles, instead of merely imitating it, but this one is beyond the pale (or at least it would have been before they moved the pale).

[19] Posted by Daniel on 12-01-2008 at 11:59 AM • top

“The pb could have written this.  It is apparent she believes every word of it.  Sadly.
[9] Posted by cbates”

And you know this because?  “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”


[20] Posted by jimB on 12-01-2008 at 11:59 AM • top

It’s amazing what conclusions one can reach when allowed to deploy specious arguments and untruths…

The problem is not, as Focus on the Family insists, the devaluation of marriage in this culture, but rather the over-valuation of marriage as a marker for social status and as the exclusive conduit for allocating social and economic benefits, from health care to inheritance rights.

(emphasis added)
Say what?

A person can leave his estate to his cat. What is there in the inheritance statutes that makes marriage the exclusive conduit for inheritance rights? At the outside, there may be State probate laws that govern the disposition of assets left intestate. The solution is easy: get a napkin and write a will.

And since when is health care dependent on being married? We know that emergency rooms can’t deny care to people in the country illegally; or who are uninsured? Where is health care being denied based on marital status?

Patriarchal marriage is unethical…

So is cannibalism. So what? This observation might have some relevance if “patriarchal marriage” was practiced in Western societies. Since it isn’t, it isn’t.

Marriage traditionalists say that a valid marriage requires gender difference, but the sub-text is gender inequality, with a dominant male and submissive female. Think of the Southern Baptist Convention’s invitation for wives to submit graciously to their husband’s leadership.

Dr. Ellison is ignoring, and it must be willfully, the rest of the Biblical admonition, that husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the Church. He further makes the error of assuming that “different” requires a hierarchy. And this is simply not true: think apples and oranges. Different. But can they be ranked against each other?

[21] Posted by Ameryx on 12-01-2008 at 12:03 PM • top

Jill Woodliff #6,
Do you have a link for this disturbing story?

[22] Posted by perpetuaofcarthage on 12-01-2008 at 12:14 PM • top

Based on her public stances, her non public refusal to do anything about the ssb’ings and marriages going on in tec- without GC approval, and after a study of her direct quotes, interviews and “sermons”- though in the last instance I believe it is a travesty to call her talks to parishes a “sermon” as there is little to no reference to the Bible or to Christ and she rarely utters the name “Jesus Christ”.

No false witness on my part.  Facts and her personal stance is well documented.

Should you care to read some of her direct quotes and those of her cohorts there are many in the Remain Faithful position paper. You can find it on our website at  We would encourage all faithful orthodox Christians to join us- there is no charge to be a member.

[23] Posted by cbates on 12-01-2008 at 12:28 PM • top

This guy is full of prunes.  There is no evidence to substantiate the wisdom and efficacy of his ungodly musings.  Rather, he does not mention the liklihood outcome of emotional imbalance, disease, physical injury and early death, not to mention the spiritual problems and consequences mentioned in Scripture.

Holy Marriage, with its legalistic constraints, like the Sabbath, was made for the benefit of humanity…not for its own sake. 

Our best and healthiest choice (supported by honest research) is to respect the design (each human body is uniquely and ingeniously designed) revere the designer and His instruction manual, The Bible.

[24] Posted by Theodora on 12-01-2008 at 12:31 PM • top

I do not think that Mr Ellis would want to live in the world he thinks he wants.  It would be a lot more like the Mississippi Delta than an upper-middle-class, all in good taste sex party.  When society removed the taboos on unwed motherhood with Aid to Families with Dependent Children (which required any man in the house to move out to be eligible for benefits)and with the Free Love of the 60’s, we got an overwhelming flood of single-mother households, almost all in poverty.  Human beings, left to their own devices, do not naturally have good sense and will make astonishingly stupid decisions unless constrained by some outside source.

It is hard to believe that he gets paid to advocate the destruction of society.

[25] Posted by AnglicanXn on 12-01-2008 at 12:32 PM • top

Notice how he does not discuss sexual procreation and children except as a throw away in one paragraph of this whole diatribe?

We will be successful in responding to this garbage if we insist on discussing:
1)  procreation as the unique aspect of heterosexual sex for which marriage was devised and
2) children as the intended beneficiaries of the social regulation of marriage.

[26] Posted by perpetuaofcarthage on 12-01-2008 at 12:41 PM • top

...a gay partnered Presbyterian minister and professor of Christian ethics at Bangor Theological seminary.

Hmmm…maybe a seminary best avoided if you really love Christ?  I think this guy might end up in the “double millstone” category…holy cow is he off base…I wonder if he can even SPELL “Bible” or “Scripture”...argh.

Jesus I pray you will open his eyes.

[27] Posted by B. Hunter on 12-01-2008 at 12:58 PM • top

One caveat.  Episcopal <strike>What The Hell Does The Word</strike> Divinity <strike>Even Mean, Anyway?</strike> School is the radical leftist fringe of the Episcopal Organization’s radical leftist fringe.  <strike>EWTHDTW</strike>D<strike>EMA?</strike> was, after all, the home of the transgendered sock puppet(sure wish I could access my old site and link to my post about that but I can’t).

[28] Posted by Christopher Johnson on 12-01-2008 at 01:41 PM • top

1928 PB loyalist, #22, my husband is the president of the ministerial association in our small town.  A local social worker recently recounted this to him.  The first time she saw a refrigerator in the bedroom, she wondered if it might be due to laziness.  Now she recognizes it as a red flag.
If you’d like to do something to help, I think the Delta Boys & Girls Club is a worthwhile charity.  After years of effort, we finally have one started in our hometown, but it is strapped for cash.  They have tutors help the children do their homework, followed by structured activities.

[29] Posted by Jill Woodliff on 12-01-2008 at 02:06 PM • top

I believe that the only morally acceptable sex is heterosexual, marital, and (generally) reproductive. However, I have no inclination to regulate or police the moral behavior of other people at all.  That’s how I was raised, and I know plenty of heterosexual people who feel the same way.  The whole notion of gays—that anyone who does not accept them as normal is some type of bigoted fundamentalist—is one more serious error that they are involved in.

[30] Posted by GB on 12-01-2008 at 02:22 PM • top

Since Dr. Ellison lives as he doesin the comparative luxury of the western world, well isolated from the issues he so blithely assumes will be instantly rectified by his touted “transformation” of society. A dose of reality and the realization that while the US is currently the richest nation on Earth, that state will not mitigate the abject poverty and the very real issues of life that the rest of the world struggles with. He is the very incarnation of the churchman who tells his poor cousin to “go forth, be warmed and filled” as he tottles around in his BMW, selects from a fine array of comestibles at the favorite upscale (but socially conscious) restaurant, and then snuggles down next to his current partner in a warm and lightly scented bed. There is no force guaranteed to undermine wealth as poverty, and there is not enough money in all the western world to mitigate world poverty and need, to a level commesurate with our current livestyles here in the middle-class west. But these self-entitled champions of theoretical social justice have no basis for comparison, nor experience in real poverty to measure their intended results. In short they have no real grasp of reality, but are willing to drive their nightmare out of the goodness of their own hearts.

[31] Posted by masternav on 12-01-2008 at 03:07 PM • top

A great formula for the total destruction of the human race. What a maroon. New England glandular sexual nontheos-ology never ceases to impress. eh?

[32] Posted by Anglican Paplist on 12-01-2008 at 03:48 PM • top

What a waste of air when he could have simply said “we want to have sex with whomever, whenever, wherever and for whatever reason we want and we want you all to put a great big “Jesus Loves You” smiley on our whoredom.  And for gosh sakes don’t give this plain girl a dog turd wrapped in silk and expect me to think the damn thing is a pearl of great price.

[33] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 12-01-2008 at 04:31 PM • top

The Radical Progressive Episcopal Free Unitarian Universalist Church of the What’s Happening Now has already made great strides in feminizing the clergy; now the “queer eye” is set on society as a whole.  I see it as the Great Eye of Sauron except this one has just a touch of mascara, eye shadow and not even a hint of a crow’s foot, thank you very much!

[34] Posted by Sacerdotal451 on 12-01-2008 at 05:07 PM • top

Ellison is working for one thing, not emancipating people from anything harmful, but oppressing people, most especially the young into sexual bondage. He promotes what is mental, physical and spiritual sickness.

[35] Posted by mari on 12-01-2008 at 06:10 PM • top

John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

[36] Posted by helpmelord on 12-01-2008 at 09:46 PM • top

Marriage traditionalists say that a valid marriage requires gender difference, but the sub-text is gender inequality, with a dominant male and submissive female.

What a load of codswallop. As we say in parts of England. The New Testament teaches absolute and eternal ontological equality of all men and all women, and this-worldly and temporary relational hierarchy within marriage. In this schema I have lived happily and with honour for over forty-six years. The ‘subtext’ is love in accordance with our biological natures.

[37] Posted by Dr. Priscilla Turner on 12-01-2008 at 10:30 PM • top

Thank you, bretheren and sistren for your insights.  I stand by my post (#15)..  Saints, we MUST pray, fast, contend, and work our fingers to nubs against this agenda.  We’re faced up against principalities and powers that are bent on not only destroying an historic expression of the faith, but western culture as we know it.

[38] Posted by aterry on 12-01-2008 at 10:39 PM • top

They are so full of it.. “dominant male.. submissive female”, they lean heavily on stereotypes, yet what they demand is that all be submissive, to their narrow minded point of view. There’s no true diversity or tolerance, not a whit of it in any of them. They can’t even debate on the subject, because they know their arguments don’t hold up to scrutiny. They rely upon their ability to indoctrinate children, to twist them into easily manipulated and controlled dupes.

My late husband and I would have been married 25 years, if he’d lived one month longer. He was a quiet, easy going man, he didn’t even like to discipline our daughter. He worked hard, a good and loving husband and a caring father. I certainly was never, and still to this day have never been “submissive”. We were united in our love, but marriage is still hard work. Both of my pairs of grandparents were much the same way.

[39] Posted by mari on 12-01-2008 at 10:52 PM • top

I believe what Flannery O’Connor was inferring was that those who commit to what God wants are often at odds with what the secular world, or the cultural powers that be promote. Here is something O’Connor wrote on truth”

But I can never agree with you that the Incarnation, or any truth, has to satisfy emotionally to be right (and I would not agree that for the natural man the Incarnation does not satisfy emotionally). It does not satisfy emotionally for the person brought up under many forms of false intellectual discipline such as 19th century mechanism, for instance. Leaving the Incarnation aside, the very notion of God’s existence is not emotionally satisfactory anymore for great numbers of people, which does not mean that God ceases to exist. M. Sartre finds God emotionally unsatisfactory in the extreme, as do most of my friends of less stature than he. The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing and downright repulsive.

…There is a question whether faith can or is supposed to be emotionally satisfying. I must say that the thought of everyone lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me. I believe that we are ultimately directed Godward but that this journey is often impeded by emotion. I don’t think you are a jellyfish. But I suspect you of being a Romantic.

Letter to “A.”, September 6, 1955

[40] Posted by mari on 12-02-2008 at 07:10 AM • top

Come on, Paula… tell us how you really feel!  wink

[41] Posted by Greg Griffith on 12-02-2008 at 08:05 AM • top

And there you have it. 

Wildly inclusive, indeed.  Hmmm.  That would look great on some TEC websites, you know?  Right under the little rainbow flag:  “St. Paul’s is a wildly inclusive parish.”

God have mercy on us all.

[42] Posted by GoodMissMurphy on 12-02-2008 at 08:18 AM • top

#40 I agree with you. This is what I thought when I first saw the quote.  Christians are called to be “odd,” that is, at odds with the world and the culture—NOT to be queer.

[43] Posted by Ann Castro on 12-02-2008 at 09:29 AM • top

Announcing this as a “Goal” is about as much of a surprise as the Fed’s announcement yesterday that we have been in a Recession for the past year. To quote another Southern Philosopher, “surprise, surprise, surprise”!

[44] Posted by RMBruton on 12-02-2008 at 09:42 AM • top

#37   Dr. Turner, on America’s farms, we refer to this as a “load of roadapples.”  If you’ve ever been on a farm with horses, I’m sure that you understand.

[45] Posted by Cennydd on 12-02-2008 at 09:56 AM • top

Mari in #40 - Thanks so much for that great quote!  I suspect that Ellis took the only sentence O’Connor wrote that could possibly support his position - and the only reason he could use it is that he was able to twist it.  What a writer she was!  And how conversant with the estate of our hearts apart from Grace.

[46] Posted by AnglicanXn on 12-02-2008 at 10:17 AM • top

Pure evil,this is one of the most insane and wicked things I have ever read, and that is saying alot. I loath people like this clown who in their safe,clean, bubble of privledge propose crap like this. I live in the inner city and grew up there too, and I know what sexual chaos is, and I know this is slavery and anarchy of the worst kind. This cretin proposes taking away every meaningful safe guard children have; and no it won’t work out in the utopian way he thinks, it will be a hellish carnival of down market,perversions cruelty and excessive, along the lines of what we already have,times ten. This is the moral and social eqivalent of a cyanicde smoothie. I gotta say,if this is where the west is, I see God using Islam,to scourge us, like he used the Assyrians and Babylonians. No culture this sick,has any hope. This rant is a pure,undistilled vision and taste of hell.

[47] Posted by Anglo-Catholic-Jihadi on 12-02-2008 at 10:24 AM • top

Greg,  I do feel the cretin is a spiritual toxin and should be affixed with a very large warning label.  Two minutes in a room with him and I would be dialing
1-800-DemonBgone.  Because under my humorous contempt for his holding auditions for the Fornication Follies is my very real conviction that such beliefs do not have a completely human author. 

PS If he came anywhere near my grandson I would probably go into full tilt mother bear boogie.

[48] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 12-02-2008 at 10:32 AM • top

# 45 please do not insult road apples by such a comparison.  After all road apples do serve very useful purposes.  As any gardener can atest.  They also come from a very fine animal.  Neither can be said about the author of that mental ejaculation.

[49] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 12-02-2008 at 10:37 AM • top

It would not be terribly surprising to me, if under all this queer talk, lurked a darker appetite already expressed in his desire to indoctrinate children.  I know that’s a slippery slope but we’ve seen all this before ... with Alfred Kinsey, who used “research” statistics intentionally gathered from pedophiles and even a NAZI mad scientist (none of whose young Polish subjects survived the concentration camp)in the attempt to prove that children are sexual beings just like adults.  Any sane parent would immediately recognize this for what it is.  Tests for sustained orgasm in toddlers?  How do you suppose they got those statistics and who do you suppose interpreted them?  I suppose Alfred Kinsey is in a particularly nasty corner of hell and good riddance of this Un-man.  Look into the claims of a one-time fellow of the Kinsey Institute, Dr. Judith Reisman, regarding all this.  Here is more on Kinsey

[50] Posted by monologistos on 12-02-2008 at 04:56 PM • top

Underlying all of this is the Marxist ideology of eroding the family and marriage, the isolation of people, including children, with the eradication of the rights of the individual. The majority of people, including children are considered resources, their worth being what they can be used for.. anyone who has read about what was shown of the former USSR after the Berlin wall fell, knows that prostitution, including that of children was rampant. These people do NOT value human rights.

[51] Posted by mari on 12-02-2008 at 05:15 PM • top

Apparently, all these vices were rampant in Berlin before WWII as well.

[52] Posted by monologistos on 12-02-2008 at 05:44 PM • top

It’s obvious that God has left this man to pursue the evil desires of his heart.  And his children have suffered and continue to suffer for it - they have both evidently chosen homosexual lifestyles.  Terribly sad.

Jesus - open the eyes of this man and his children to the sin they are in.  Amen.

[53] Posted by B. Hunter on 12-02-2008 at 05:44 PM • top

If they did indeed choose to be gay ... something gays tend to deny. I may be that some families inculcate by some means a fundamental distrust of the opposite sex such that that children are too damaged to take up a normal healthy sexuality.

[54] Posted by monologistos on 12-02-2008 at 06:11 PM • top

Jill, #7, it’s at least the second time that Ellison has spoken in Shaw’s diocese.  He was the keynote speaker at a Province I Clergy Convocation there several years ago.  I see the perverted-drivel party line hasn’t changed a bit.

[55] Posted by Passing By on 12-02-2008 at 09:39 PM • top

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