Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Honesty and realism from Rev. Flunder

Last spring I heard the Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder speak at a forum on same-gender marriage. She is the longtime pastor at City of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco, a teacher, preacher and theologian, and one very impressive woman.

So I picked up her little book, Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. There's a lot there. I recommend it. I want to highlight here a few of her themes.

Flunder brings her African-American Pentecostal heritage (she calls herself "Metho-Bapti-Costal") to engaging with all kinds of outsiders. The Bible is important to her tradition, but she teaches wrestling with it.

A woman minister, a SGL [same-gender-loving] person, the progeny of slaves cannot be a biblical literalist. ...My position is best explained by a response from an unnamed slave who, when she was told that the Bible said she was to be a slave, answered, "Not my Bible; I tore dat page out!"

And here's a tidbit that casts a different light on the struggles within churches over marrying same gender couples.

How should the church respond to families that do not fit the acceptable social norms? ...The Christian church had a similar dilemma two hundred years ago when it sought to determine how to justify the inclusion of slave families that did not fit... The issue was how could the church receive them "in good standing" when some of the married slaves had both their current spouses and another spouse and often other children on another plantation. This was due in large part to the ability of the slave master to sell slaves away at will. ...How could the church make their marriages sacred and make them accountable to their vows if their master could force them in and out of their marriages? One church, the Welsh Neck Baptist Church of South Carolina, decided that to grant membership to the slave couples was "less evil" than excommunicating them. ...

Flunder calls this "forward-looking." I think I'd call this caring realism, an instance of upholding human connection and compassion over legalism. The real question is why does this seem unexpected good sense to find in a church?

Flunder knows that for folks on the edge, relating to churches risks further marginalization. Here's her advice:

People seeking community support should go where that support is evident. Vote with your feet. Abuse is free on the street; there is no point seeking it out and joining it. We join faith communities to be strengthened and nurtured and to have an opportunity to serve. When this goals are no longer attainable, we should look elsewhere.

And Flunder unflinchingly demands that churches in her tradition cop to the complexities of gender identities.

It is disingenuous when the African American faith community perpetuates the cycle of oppression and particularly gender oppression by marginalizing the transgender community. The trans community makes us tell the truth about the blurred gender lines that have always existed ... We have always had manly women and womanly men in our community who often did not identify as SGL [same gender loving] people.

...There were roles in the church for "softer" men, such as the usher board, the choir, the pulpit, or working with small children. These men often adored their wives while some wives spent most of their time with another female friend. There were roles for stronger women such as jail ministers, foreign missionaries, and trustees. People found their way into roles that complemented their gender identification. For some men and women, sex, gender, and sexual orientation came together in a male or female package, but for most there were points of identification on both sides of the gender line and in real life most people cross back and forth with great fluidity.

You don't have to have belonged to Flunder's tradition to make that observation; any experience of a broad community is likely to have included similar realities, if we'd only look at them. She makes me wonder how much of our belief that gender roles reflect solid actualities requires willfully choosing not to look at what is located right in front of us.

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