Shibboleths, Shagging and Shalom – A Three Part Post
Part the Second – Shagging
So the whole reason I got thinking about this Shibboleth thing was because I actually wanted to talk about *Shagging. No, not in that way….
Let’s go back to the beginning. Back to Shibboleths. Because as well as all the stuff I said about how shibboleths aren’t a good thing in themselves, we haven’t even been using the “right” things as shibboleths in the first place – and at the moment, the LGBT debate/issue crystalises that. If we are going to apply any “in or out” rule, then Jesus himself laid out the criteria when he told the parable of the sheep and the goats. It’s not about belief, or theology, or a “sinners prayer”, it’s about how you treated the outsider, the marginalised, the needy. But we’ve been using issues that are simply not central to what being a disciple means – most recently, where you stand on LGBT issues and how you stand on LGBT issues. We’re using phrases like “practicing our faith” not in relation to feeding the hungry, visiting the sick or lifting the lowly, but in relation to asking to be allowed to exclude LGBT folk from marriage and LGBT Christians from fully serving God as they are called.
And in my experience, from what I see on the ‘view B’* side, the debate has been characterised by opponents of LGBT inclusion/acceptance by keeping the focus on “shagging”. My hope and prayer is that we should and will change the focus from Shagging to relationship. But I fear that some view B proponents have a vested interest in keeping the conversation about shagging and are determined to keep it there.
Why is this? I’ve asked myself that a lot, and here’s what my view on it is. (Please notice I am prefacing much of what I write/say with phrases like,”In my experience” and “In my view” and NOT stating any of this as indisputable fact – that’s the point! And is why I find the arguments of view B folk so unpalatable as they do present their side as fact, despite it being their opinion and interpretation. Sorry for the rant – but this is personal for me). Okay, back to the “why” of view B folks intentionally focussing on the “shagging” aspect of the issue.
I think a big part of it is to maintain the “Euuww” or “ick” factor – the belief that as long as we can keep talking about Anal Sex (and how apparently gross it is) then we can tap into some sort of primal revulsion and into the male fear of penetration – and we can use that revulsion and fear to help “win the argument”. (Forgetting of course that a significant percentage of straight couples engage in Anal Sex as well… are we going to police their shagging?) Honestly, this is actually happening. I’ve been in a seminar on Sexuality at a Christian Conference where, when questions were invited from the audience, one attendee (with nods of assent and murmurs of agreement from the majority of those around) insisted that the speaker strongly confirm how damaging and “gross” and unnatural Anal Sex was. The attendee started his question with the phrase “I don’t want to get personal or be disgusting, but…”, thus making it obvious (to me) that evocation of disgust was his exact motivation. No matter where you stand on the theological spectrum of the issue, Jesus calls us to many things in relation to sin and loving others, but turning a whole group of people into objects of disgust is not one of them. Oh and let’s also not forget that heterosexual shagging is also more than a little icky – if you don’t have a box of tissues by the side of your bed, you ain’t doing it right. Oh yes, we need to stop this conversation being about shagging.
And I can’t even think about he way shagging for Queer women is discussed without counting to ten. It’s dismissed as not even a real shag (defining sex as purely vaginal penetration) or simply nothing at all; it’s used as titillation for men as if an act where men and their penises are essentially irrelevant is so threatening to male power that it must be reduced to entertainment for male consumption; and it’s often met with incredulity and confusion (“how do you even do it anyway?”) betraying a basic misunderstanding of women and their physiology. *sigh*
Keeping the conversation focused on shagging also reflects where view B advocates stand on “One Flesh” theology. Because if you keep it about shagging, then you can keep going back to the argument that man and woman (husband and wife) become one flesh via the act of sex; that it is the “natural” interlocking nature of men and women’s bodies, like two jigsaw pieces, that ultimately seals the deal and completes the one flesh process. (There are implications here as well for the whole purity culture & sex before marriage question – I’ll touch on it a little here, but essentially that’s a different post. This from “God Loves Women” is a great start.) This view by its nature automatically (and deliberately?) excludes same sex shagging from forming “one flesh”. Of course there are longer arguments to be made about this, about the fact that men can essentially also interlock with one another, and the definition of female interlocking but it’s not what I want to focus on here. Suffice it to say, it’s really not as simple as view B advocates would make it. It’s unfortunate that whatever Hebrew word is used that it’s been translated as “flesh” because I believe this is one of the things that maintains the ‘physical compatibility’ argument. I’ll address this issue of one flesh in the third and final post in more detail, but let me ask one thing – is straight marriage all about shagging? No? Then why assume that LGBT relationships are? Oh yes we need to stop this conversation being only about shagging.
The thing is, it’s an insult to suggest it’s actually only shagging at all. It’s not about shagging, it’s about making love. Keeping the conversation all about shagging ensures that the issue under discussion is lust; it ensures that the underlying assumption is that LGBT folk are motivated by an excess of physical desire, and the “wrong type” of desire at that, and nothing more. And we’re supposed to not be insulted by that or react emotionally?
I’m not denying that LGBT folk are sometimes motivated by physical desire or have problems with lust, but no more or less than our heterosexual sisters and brothers. I can’t speak for every LGBT person, but I can speak for myself when I say that I have physical desire and yes (shock horror) enjoy the physical aspects of being in love and in a relationship. But that physical desire was the result of all the combined aspects of why I loved someone, it came out of the affection, friendship and love that we shared. It wasn’t the be all and end all of our relationship and I wouldn’t have wanted it to be. Nor do I want it to be for any future relationships. Oh yes, we need to stop this conversation being only about shagging.
But it’s clear from the bible that God has some very clear plans and a design for how human sexuality should operate. Isn’t it? Well, the bible isn’t clear on much except God’s love for you and me. Reading it as a flat, literal text is both unhelpful, sometimes damaging and neither God’s intention, nor the men & women he inspired. Without asking why things are the way they are, why commands, laws and prohibitions exist, we become stuck in legalism and potentially wrong and harmful modes of thinking. Thing is, I’m simply not interested in any argument that states that something is sinful or wrong, just because it is “icky” or unnatural or just because someone “says so”, even if that someone is God. If that makes me an unclean heretic, well I’m an ambidextrous, leprous, poor-sighted Queer Woman who eats Black pudding. I’m basically screwed in the eyes of the Shibboleth Gatekeepers anyway, so I’m less worried about “heresy”. The argument “because I/God/Mum say(s) so” has never washed with me and anyone who is a parent, or been in charge of children (or even adults for that matter) knows that it is their last resort argument when they can’t think of a legitimate reason.
I do think God has a reasoning behind the restrictions he gives us around sexuality and I do think he has a plan for how community and relationship should work. And in my view this is it. God’s design and purpose for human sexuality is founded in consent, commitment and co-operation, not in supposed physical compatibility. And of course none of these three things are reliant on the gender of either partner. Therefore “natural” relations, ie ones that fit into God’s plan for humanity, are ones which are consensual, committed and co-operative. And so unnatural relations are ones characterised by disimssal of or the ignoring of consent (eg Rape, Child Abuse, bestiality [children and animals by their nature cannot consent]), lack of or abandonment of commitment/faithulness (eg Adultery, Orgies, Promiscuity) and the absence of true egalitarian co-operation replaced by the abuse of power (spousal abuse, bullying, the enforcement of ‘obedience’ etc.). All these issues can happen in any relationship, whether gay or straight, black or white, in churches, in boardrooms, in schools, in danceclubs. The thing is, I really don’t think that focusing on “don’t shag the wrong person” helps any of us address these sexual/relational poisons that are choking us. But establishing and teaching a sexual ethic based on consent, faithfulness and egalitarian co-operation just might. And all these things are encompassed within the idea and principle of Shalom.
*If you’re offended by the word “shagging”, good. The discomfort you feel in the minutes of reading this is a tiny taste of the discomfort (Huge Understatement!) and hurt that LGBT folk feel at having the entirety of their relationships distilled to a sexual act motivated by lust. Sex is great, sex is a gift, sex is precious. But it’s a tiny percentage of a marriage. To make it the entire focus of the debate is simply wrong.
*View A = That all consensual, committed relationships are acceptable before God regardless of the gender of the partners and that people who are part of Same Sex relationships should be fully welcomed into Community and encouraged in using their God Given spiritual gifts in service to the church and society.
View B = That God forbids all same sex sexual activity and that same sex relationships are unnatural and sexually immoral.