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TESTING THE FAITH: Homosexual S&M part of Christianity?

TESTING THE FAITH: Homosexual S&M part of Christianity?
Religion 'scholars' ponder 'leather' as foundation for 'spiritual identity'



An annual convention of American religion scholars from prominent institutions will feature sessions favorable toward sadomasochism, transvestism, transsexualism and polyamory – participation in multiple sexual relationships.

One paper scheduled to be presented interprets a passage in the book of Jeremiah "through the lens" of a sadomasochistic encounter between God and a man.

The presentations offered at the American Academy of Religion's 2004 Annual Meeting in San Antonio next month demonstrates that "bringing male homosexual behavior into the mainstream produces a slippery slope" that serves only to destroy basic societal norms rather than tame risky behavior, says Robert A. J. Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Two workshops on the sexual themes are being offered by the Gay Men's Issues in Religion Group at the meeting, scheduled for Nov. 20-23.

"One wonders what is next for the Gay Men's group at AAR – the promotion of incest, 'pedosexuality' and bestiality?" Gagnon asked in a written critique. "There is certainly little or nothing in the presenters' theology that would lead away from such ultimate absurdities."

Founded in 1909, the American Academy of Religion is the U.S. national umbrella organization for professors of religion, including church historians, theologians, ethicists and scholars in world religions. More than 7,500 scholars are expected to gather to share research and collaborate on projects.

Workshops will include a session with the theme "Power and Submission, Pain and Pleasure: The Religious Dynamics of Sadomasochism."

Another session presents arguments for transvestism and transsexualism in Christian theology.

At last year's meeting, the group presented a session titled "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing: Varied Views on Polyamory."

An abstract on the "Power and Submission" session says "sadomasochistic or bondage/dominance practice (sometimes also referred to as 'leather sexuality') ... offers a particularly potent location for reflecting on gay men's issues in religion."

A paper submitted for the session by Justin Tanis of Metropolitan Community Church is titled "Ecstatic Communion: The Spiritual Dimensions of Leathersexuality."

"This paper will ... look briefly at the ways in which leather is a foundation for personal and spiritual identity formation, creating a lens through which the rest of life is viewed. ... All of this based within the framework of a belief in the rights of individuals to erotic self-determination with other consenting adults, rather than apologetics for those practices and lives."

Another paper, by Thomas V. Peterson of Alfred University, titled "S/M Rituals in Gay Men's Leather Communities: Initiation, Power Exchange, and Subversion," uses "S/M rituals within the gay men's leather community to explore how ritual may subvert cultural icons of violence by eroticizing power."

"Those who exercise power and acquiesce to it in leather rituals meet as respected equals and negotiate the limitations of power according to mutual desires," the abstract of Peterson's paper says.

Ken Stone of Chicago Theological Seminary says a passage from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 20, verses 7-18, "can be construed more usefully as a kind of ritual S/M encounter between the male deity Yahweh and his male devotee."

"This possibility provides a lens with which to interpret both other passages in the book of Jeremiah and the dynamics of power and submission in religious experience," says the abstract to the paper, which is titled "'You Seduced Me, You Overpowered Me, and You Prevailed': Religious Experience and Homoerotic Sadomasochism in Jeremiah."

Timothy R. Koch of New Life Metropolitan Community Church offers a paper titled "Choice, Shame, and Power in the Construction of Sadomasochistic Theologies."

Essentially, Koch argues "sadomasochistic interactions" enable homosexual men to transcend "shamelessness."

"One of the constitutive elements of sado-masochistic interactions is the removal of the masochist’s choices, making it possible for both masochist and sadist to proceed in a spiritually powerful state of relative shamelessness," says the summary of Koch's paper. "These axes of choice, shame, and spiritual power are especially relevant to the experiences of gay men."

Julianne Buenting of Chicago Theological Seminary offers a paper titled "Oh, Daddy! God, Dominance/Submission, and Christian Sacramentality and Spirituality"

Buenting's piece "explores BDSM (bondage/dominance, sadomasochism) as potentially transformative encounter in relation to themes of trust and surrender, suffering and pleasure, self-shattering and self-donation found in Christian sacramentality and mystical spirituality ... ."

Finally, Kent Brintnall of Emory University presents "Rend(er)ing God's Flesh: The Body of Christ, Spectacles of Pain, and Trajectories of Desire."

"This paper substantiates the claim ... that sado-masochistic homoerotic desire is part of what makes the spectacle of the crucifixion attractive and desirable."

'Queer theology'

The Sunday session of the Gay Men's Issues in Religion Group devotes time to transvestitism.

Katharine Baker of Vanderbilt University offers a paper on The Transvestite Christ: Hedwig and the Angry Inch Perform Queer Theology."

"In the rock musical Hedwig & The Angry Inch, Hedwig, the protagonist, re-signifies his identity through gender-bending transvestism and doctrine-deconstructing re-appropriation of Christian theology. This essay documents his evolution in the terms of Bourdieu, Butler and Queer Theology."

In a session at last year's meeting, Chicago Theological Seminary's Buenting offered "(Marriage) Queered: Proposing Polyfidelity As Christian Theo-Praxis."

"Lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) political advocacy ... have reflected the unexamined assumption that monogamy is the sole and ideal pattern for Christian sexual relationships. This paper troubles that assumption. ... I conclude by proposing polyfidelity as a queer Christian sexual theo-praxis of marriage."

Gagnon commented that at least the writer is honest, acknowledging a "'queer' theology and praxis leads to a view of 'polyfidelity' over monogamy as a new Christian model for marriage."

"Since the notion of monogamy, one partner, is predicated on the notion of the two sexes, the eradication of any significance to sexual differentiation obliterates the model of marriage as a covenant restricted to two persons," Gagnon says. "Evidently for the presenter, fidelity has nothing to do with sexual exclusiveness."

In another paper presented last year, Robert E. Goss of Webster University, in "Proleptic Sexual Love: God's Promiscuity Reflected in Christian Polyamory," argued "Christian religious communities, with their erotic and polyamorous relationships, symbolize the breadth of God’s inclusive and promiscuous love."

Jay E. Johnson of Richmond, Calif., wrote in "Trinitarian Tango: Divine Perichoretic Fecundity in Polyamorous Relations" that "Christian traditions abruptly stop short of applying this Trinitarian logic to human sexuality."

"It is well worth asking whether polyamorous sexual relations reflect the 'imago Dei' – indeed, the 'imago Trinitate' – better than the dyadic model of romantic love, commonly constructed as the Christian ideal."

No understanding

Gagnon says these sessions present no understanding "of the notion of structural prerequisites to sexual relationships. Eroticism and sexual intercourse is nothing more than greater intimacy. The conclusion following from the premise is inevitable: Then intimacy with one's parents and children should be ever open to the 'logical' progression of sexual intimacy. For sexual intimacy is for the presenters merely more love. Spread it around."

"Jesus' view of the relationship of love and sexual intercourse was obviously very different," Gagnon said. "For while Jesus expanded the definition of love to embrace everyone he narrowed the definition of acceptable sexual intimacy to embrace only one person of the other sex for life."

He asks: "Who is missing something here? Jesus or the Gay Men's group at AAR?"

The AAR says it has received support from a number of foundations, including the Lilly Endowment Inc., the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Booth Ferris Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.


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