Coming Out While Staying in: Struggles and Celebrations of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals in the Church
by: Leanne McCall Tigert
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Speaking silence, who cares?
I have chosen to air some silences in the church’s closet, it is to create
room for open dialogue on Christian normalisations and how these normalisations
disempower particular groups of Christians. I intimate that silence is the
act in which particular members of the church are disempowered, an act that
must be counteracted by questioning who tells us what to know. From this
viewpoint, the core of silence is that we cannot have silence in the church
unless there are those who silence others.
Who is authorised to speak in the Christian church? It is clear enough that in most churches only preachers speak during the duration of a sermon. The silent congregation receive spiritual knowledge that has been authorised by the church leadership. Indeed, the sermon is sanctioned from above (church leaders) and not from below (the congregation) and then transmitted using a top-bottom approach. This hierarchical act is perfected with church rules, rituals and practices that the congregation accept in obedience. Some rules, particularly unwritten rules, ensure that ‘boat-rockers’ do not question what a select few of the church offer to the larger congregation. This then is the plan of silence.
Within the plan of silence, are other silences! Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered (LGBT) people have come out as it were to break the silence about their sexuality. Most Christian churches would rather they did not. Some of the LGBT people are not Christians, others are. Most Christian churches would rather they were not. Is it even worth mentioning that some of the LGBT people are Christian leaders? Most Christian churches would rather that such a question was not raised. While this is not beyond belief, there is an insinuation of silence. Clearly, church leaders view heterosexuality as the normative Christian sexuality. In the end, ‘non-heterosexuals’ become silenced and therefore subjugated whether they are Christians or not.
There are some other silences – specifically, the silencing of women sometimes referred to as the ‘weaker vessels’. I can and I will read silence in the silent female metaphor of God even when it is evident that the Bible has ascribed God with feminine qualities such as gentleness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, tender concern and care. A silent female metaphor of God sends a potentially powerful message that female qualities and interests are silenced in the church. By and large, the dominant male metaphor of God is in many ways about the kinds of knowledge that are accepted as true in the church. If we accept that unwritten rules in the church have historically favoured men, it follows that male knowledge has provided a ground for Christian knowledge.
I argue that the un-silencing of ‘non-males’ and ‘non-heterosexuals’ lies in the hands of the church leaders that have been authorised to speak and as a result are listened to. The authority to speak grants these church leaders the power to select and interpret biblical knowledge in a way that can either empower or silence particular members of society. Indeed, if one understands that church leaders have drawn on some biblical knowledge to fight class and racial prejudice, the same cannot be said for the fight against gender and sexuality prejudice. Clearly biblical knowledge has power and church leaders must know that they have in their hands the power to silence or un-silence their members.
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