January 18, 2015

Navigating Difference

             My colleague Julie Kilmer, theologian and ethicist, and I are in Myanmar for a consultation with Myanmar Institute of Theology.  We are here under the auspices of the Arcus Foundation, which advocates for the concerns of sexual minorities.  We are seeking to learn how churches find resources to offer pastoral care and education to families who have LGBT members.

            This exploration not only concerns churches and persons in Myanmar, but those who immigrate to the US, where the hyper-sexualized culture becomes a great challenge.  How can Central assist in cultural assimilation, especially in navigating this radical difference?  Of course, American churches are still learning how to practice hospitality in this area, and we need such attentiveness, also.
At dinner last evening, one of the professors put it bluntly:
“We don’t talk about that here.”  By “that,” he was referring to the presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, who are known to be part of every ethnicity, every culture.  It is understandable that such conversation be more sub rosa in a land where homosexuality is still illegal.

The church cannot be silent as countries and governments wrestle with finding ways to make space for those who do not fit the rather binary categories we prefer. Yesterday the news reported that neighboring country Thailand is preparing for a constitutional amendment that will recognize a “third gender,” referring to those persons who seek sexual reassignment because of the lack of fit between one’s sense of identity and one’s body.  Of course, US news is buzzing about the Supreme Court taking on the rights of same-sex couples.

Many faithful Christians are engaging this issue with new insight gleaned from careful biblical study, contemporary social science, medical/biological perspectives, and ethnographic studies.  We are learning that simple etiological arguments that call for condemnation of all sexual “irregularities” cannot withstand critical engagement.  Besides, there is the human reality of violence, oppression, and shunning for those who articulate their difference.   

In this coming week, we will be doing fieldwork as we explore with professors, students, Baptist leaders, and NGO’s who advocate for sexual minorities, the shifting ground here.  Our task is not to impose “solutions” for this culture, shaped by Buddhist patriarchal asceticism, is far different from the social landscape at home.

Yet, common questions emerge about justice, welcome, protection under the law, and human dignity.  We will conduct our study and conversation with respect and empathy as we learn more about the state of the issue here.  Imposing a North American interpretive framework would be disrespectful; ignoring a pastoral issue would be irresponsible.  I trust we will navigate the theological and cultural waters with care and discernment.  I also trust that we can move the discussion forward, both here and at home.

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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