Towards a new theology of gay marriage

Wedding Rings

In “Out and Ordained,” Brett Webb-Mitchell tells of his journey as a gay Presbyterian pastor and offers his prayers for the Church. In 2011, the Presbyterian Church formally allowed openly gay and lesbian ministers. Now, there are new challenges ahead:

Webb-Mitchell writes:

In order to become more inclusive, there are many “next steps” to be taken in righting past wrongs. For example, as more states permit LGBTQ people to wed, churches will need to craft a theology of marriage that includes LGBTQ congregants.

To this, I offer my prayer that theologians in the Presbyterian communion realize that their work is not to be done in isolation, looking mainly to the Bible and the Westminster Confession.

We live in times in which people in every religion are awakening to see their sacred texts as historically conditioned and requiring much discernment to see how their authority can be reconciled with recognition of the dignity of gays and lesbians and others.

A theology of marriage must not rest content with looking to old texts to seeing how they have been misinterpreted; we must be willing to see our knowledge of God evolving over time in the fullness of history. A theology of marriage inclusive of gays must be one which acknowledges spiritual evolution, or it will only be a stopgap, an ethnocentric adjustment made at a time when what is most needed is a worldcentric transformation.

Affirming the sacredness of gay marriage isn’t about people embracing diversity for diversity’s sake, but finding in committed same-sex partnerships a new and essential expression of the Divine Love.

That’s why the perspective I staked out in Soulfully Gay is so relevant to the future discussion about the sacramental worth or sacredness of gay marriage.

In my book I take a step beyond the “diversity for diversity’s sake” rationale offered by postmodern religionists for affirming gay marriage, staking out an argument for gay marriage based on a philosophical and spiritual anthropology (that is, a vision of human nature) which describes how understanding the proper nature of gay love is essential to understanding the nature of God’s love for creation.

Theologically, affirming gay marriage is an evolutionary step forward in humankind’s understanding of the nature of Divine Love, a gift from God for all people, not just a tiny minority. The love of Same to Same is viewed as theologically distinct from the love of Same to Other, one giving us a mirror to self-immanence and the other a reflection of self-transcendence. Heterophilia gives us a picture of how humanity loves God; homophilia gives us a picture of how God loves humanity.

Such a vision is not merely a Presbyterian theology or even a Christian vision. It’s a philosophical-spiritual statement about human nature that can be affirmed by integral Christians, integral Jews, integral Muslims, integral Buddhists, integral Hindus, and even — by looking at self-immanence and self-transcendence as biological drives situated within a general theory meta-theory of evolution — integral secular humanists.

Hallelujah! It’s gay marriage for Washington State!

Lesbian Wedding
Photo Credit: stevendamron

Today my home state of Washington becomes the seventh state in the USA to legalize same-sex marriage. I am grateful for the wisdom and discernment of Gov. Christine Gregoire and the state legislature, including many Democrats and some Republicans, who have given me and many thousands of fellow citizens equal rights on this day.

I almost didn’t vote for her in 2004 because I hated her stand against gay marriage.  I’m glad I did. What I didn’t realize then was how important it is to keep forgiving and giving our political leaders a chance to change their hearts and minds. With time and lots of work and the grace of God, miracles happen.

They made a courageous choice, for sure, but not perilously so. The governor conveniently opposed gay marriage until a few weeks ago, when polls had accumulated showing that gradually public opinion in the state turned decisively towards equal marriage rights.

I don’t know when I will get married, and can’t even be certain that such a day will arrive for me, but if it does then I know that I am free to follow my God-given path without having to experience irrational discrimination from the government. Hallelujah!

To many people with a traditional worldview, the rise of gay marriage is a terrible sign of the decay of modern culture into wickedness and perversion, proof that we have entered into a New Dark Age.

To many people with a modern worldview, the rise of gay marriage is a good sign that the liberating state, focused on individual rights, is finally becoming separated from the control of oppressive religion.

To many people with a postmodern worldview, the rise of gay marriage is a terrible sign that Queers have forsaken their rebellious, bohemian queerness with its potential to critique the bourgeois, patriarchal, and oppressive sexual institution of marriage, which really needs to be jettisoned altogether in favor of an anarchic paradise of “vive la différence!”

Let’s not kid ourselves. Parts of each of these worldviews probably lives in each of us to some degree or another, if we have listened to other people and tried to give them a fair hearing. But from an integral worldview, no one of these worldviews is adequate.

Our vision is evolutionary, inclusive, and spiritual. Gay marriage is an evolution of culture and society in all its dimensions — a sign of God and Spirit in our midst — a holy and good thing not merely because it lets gay people have hospital visitation rights but because it is an expression of the inherent dignity of gay people as equally manifestations of God.

Our view is not anti-liberal; it is pro-liberal. It is not anti-conservative; it is pro-conservative. Gay spirituality includes both conservatism and liberalism and transcends them (as I wrote in 2004).

We make room for parts of traditional, modern, and postmodern worldviews, because these views have lived within us at one time in our own development, and to hate these views in others is also to reject a part of ourselves. We allow for difference, but we do not say that all differences are okay; differences evolve ever towards our True Nature, uniquely expressed.

We celebrate a victory which brings greater justice to a minority population. Today’s victory in Washington is a victory for the human spirit, that gayness which lives in all of us, whether we are homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual … because we are all members of the Catholic Church, the Universal Sangha, the Universal Mosque, the Universal Synagogue, and the divine fellowship of humankind.

A true World Spirituality affirms the dignity of all people and will not rest in complacency so long as justice remains to be delivered for so many people around the world.


Joe Perez is an author who has published books on Gay and Bi Men’s Spirituality.

A bit about integral criticism

In a comment on his blog recently, William writes:

“Joe is [working to reshape things you object to in the existing Integral model, and I admire… that] with his STEAM project…”

And my reply in a comment box here, edited:

Hey thanks, I appreciate that, William.Just one note, though. STEAM is mainly a different acronym for AQAL (the label for Wilber’s integral theory). It’s a teaching device and memory aid. In the future, I may choose to differentiate it from AQAL if the need arises, but currently don’t seen the need. In choosing to work with my own acronym, I was also motivated by a desire to keep control of the creative direction of my work.

My criticisms of AQAL are offered from within the AQAL framework, by attempts to enhance its usefulness, completeness, and adequacy. For example, as part of my most serious critique, I have published a diagram describing my theory of “gayness,” a concept not in Wilber’s theory, and showing how it relates to the four prime drives of holons. I am building, or trying to build, within the AQAL framework. The critique of Wilber’s published model is thoroughgoing, but largely implicit. It says implicitly: “Look, here’s what was missing in Wilber’s theory, and it didn’t need to be, so here’s how I’ve enhanced it in this context.” I don’t always phrases this as “Wilber’s theory is flawed because it doesn’t explicitly mention ‘gayness’ as a holonic tenet, and therefore it needs to be replaced with STEAM,” because that sort of deny and exclude approach isn’t necessary. Nor would I say, “Wilber hasn’t demonstrated how AQAL is totally adequate to producing a solution for the gay marriage issue, so therefore the theory has no practical use.” I’ve worked to flesh out the uses of the theory and test them to see if they work. Wilber’s theory is not intended to be 100% complete or perfect. It can be supplemented, and he encourages people with more specialized knowledge and experiences to do so, and as I see it, that’s the sort of critique I have been able to offer and continue to do so. I think it’s by far the most common form of criticism in the integral community.

In contrast, others commonly take approaches to critique that are more deconstructive. Traditionalists say it’s not in the Bible, rationalists want rational proof, pluralists think it’s phallocentric, that sort of thing. In my opinion, most such critiques are first-tier (citing problems from the perspective of one specific first-tier value sphere), as opposed taking to a systematic approach. Such criticisms may be right or wrong, and they may shed light on many useful directions, but they are not working from within the integral/AQAL framework.

Will Anne Rice be excommunicated or denied communion by Roman Catholic officials?

Bestselling novelist Anne Rice’s high profile conversion to Roman Catholicism raises fascinating questions about the prognosis for progressives in a traditionalist church. It’s my understanding that Rice has converted to Roman Catholicism and she has taken public stands rejecting the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, gay marriage, birth control, and other hot button issues. She is also speaking publicly about her dissent, something that many traditionalists frown upon. Is there talk about excommunicating her or, at the very least, denying her communion? If so, does anyone have any Internet links? If not, why not, given the Church’s increasingly intolerant actions against Catholic public figures and others who dissent from the party line. I have no answers, just questions.

Worth noting briefly

It’s such a routine occurrence these days, it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. But for what it’s worth, here’s a report of a high-ranking anti-gay religious official arrested for propositioning a man for sex.

The arrested pastor, a member of the Southern Baptist executive committee, had spoken out against gay marriage and “sinful homosexual lifestyles.” His 2005 Mercedes was impounded by police.

Let’s not all cry for him at once now, okay?

Conservativism, integral, and political methodological pluralism

Matthew Dallman has recently written on conservativism and integral. Here’s the money quote:

…much of what I perceive as the integral worldview has to do with stewardship, respect for the institutions that foster development (including religious institutions and religious practice), the necessity of clear thinking and reasoned debate, and a rebirth of interest in history through a planet-centric moral lens, this all has the sounds of conservatism, to me. And it importantly suggests that “integral conservatism” isn’t quite right (as in, “integral conservatism” and “integral liberalism”, two sides of the integral coin). Rather, I see conservatism as the overall ethos of integral, within which there are preferences, dispositions, and types of variation. Integral, as I now see it, offers new kind of conservatism, one that is planet-centric, concerned for the health and development of all peoples, and is able to diagnose and see through the wads of false reasoning presented falsely in the name of “post conventional”.

CJ Smith offers some important criticism of Dallman’s post here. Like Smith, I’m not inclined to say that the word that best describes the “overall ethos of integral” is “conservative.” My impression in reading Dallman’s post is that he somehow came up with a list of attributes (respect for institutions, the need for rigorous debate, a rebirth of interest in history, etc.), proclaimed that the items on the list are important both to integral and to conservativism, and therefore concluded that the essential ethos of integral and conservativism is virtually identical. There’s some truth in there, and I certainly have no qualms with any of the items in the list as being linked to some degree with integral thinking, but it hardly proves an identity between integral and conservativism. One could just as easily come up with an alternate list of attributes and argue that integral is really liberalism or Marxism or something else entirely.

One important truth about Dallman’s point that I see is that the development of consciousness from the pluralistic stage to the integral stage involves an expansion of consciousness that frequently includes ownership of all that has been previously hidden, repressed, and denied about relativistic pluralism. For most people, this means that they may get a healthy dose of religion, conservative philosophy, and respect for the institutions of society… whether they want to, or not. And if they’re deeply ingrained in the left-leaning pluralistic variety of thinking, they’re probably going to need to take a hard right turn. (On the other hand, some rationalist-stageconservatives may find something of value in integral philosophy, and so they use its intellectual edifice to try to turn the tables on the left. However, they may be limiting their own development. They can hardly transcend that which they have not yet fully embraced. They need to take, not merely a left turn, but a U-turn.)

I have other objections to calling conservativism the guiding ethos of integral as well. As I and others have previously argued (here among other places), the essence of an integral approach to politics is something that must be described as a methodological pluralism. Practical change is supported on the basis of divergent rationales grounded in an overarching moral and spiritual framework of values, even rationales that appear to be logically incoherent and practically inconsistent. For example, it’s possible to argue for gay marriage on the basis of (1) classical liberal tolerance, (2) a positive view of gay marriage as benefiting the common good and welfare of a communitarian society, (3) supported by Bible ethics, properly understood, and (4) the common sense view that if I want it and it doesn’t hurt anybody else, I should have it. The integral approach isn’t to say that some of these arguments are right or wrong, good or bad, so much as it is to identify them when they take form, coordinate their beneficial impacts in society, and mitigate their deleterious effects. When it comes to politics, I understand integral methodological pluralism to demand tolerance for, if not outright advocacy of, a variety of different and sometimes contradictory approaches (not unlike the way some politicians skillfully address different values and use different language before different audiences).

Therefore, in light of this framework of understanding, I would respond to Dallman by saying that to specify the dominant ethos of integral in language that privileges the values of a particular first-tier value sphere (in this case, the traditionalist/rationalist set) is not a good idea, even if there are important truths that are illuminated by so doing. Why privilege, say, the notion that integral places a value on institutions as bearers of development (quite true) over say, the notion that integral places a value on transforming institutions to bring their values into harmony with worldcentric over ethnocentric concerns. Stressing the former makes integral sound conservative, while emphasizing the latter makes integral sound progressive. Perhaps this is a case where it really is important to say that integral can certainly be made out to sound very different depending on the context, and for what it’s worth that’s the curse and blessing of our predicament.

Speaking of conservativism, there’s an interesting new opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Jeffrey Hart. Hart sets forth a conservative manifesto or “my assessment of the ideas held in balance in the American Conservative Mind today.” Among these are his unusual notions of a new role for religion in the conservative mind:

Religion is an integral part of the distinctive identity of Western civilization. But this recognition is only manifest in traditional forms of religion–repeat, traditional, or intellectually and institutionally developed, not dependent upon spasms of emotion. This meant religion in its magisterial forms. What the time calls for is a recovery of the great structure of metaphysics, with the Resurrection as its fulcrum, established as history, and interpreted through Greek philosophy…

Now it would be a mistake to equate Hart’s essay with conservativism as such. But it strikes me as an important representation not of integralism or proto-integralism (as Dallman might hold), but instead as a striking alternative to integralism. In its nostalgic yearning for a discredited Thomism, and in its typically dramatic MacIntyrianfashion, it seeks to return our political discourse to premodern forms. Instead of looking at Christian revelation as of a piece with the best trans-rational revelations of all the world religions, it seeks to privilege one tradition’s mythic heritage as definitive. (It puts God in a box circumscribed by medieval metaphysics updated for the times, presumably with a papal imprimatur.)

Hart’s is a sort of thinking that can be quite intellectually rigorous. But no thank you. Integral provides an alternative to this sort of conservativism, a world philosophy grounded in spiritual evolution and the mystical core of the world’s wisdom traditions. Our worldviews can probably benefit greatly from mutual dialogue. And in the spirit of integral methodological pluralism, there’s no reason why we should not encourage conservative neo-Thomists to pursue their quixotic quest for a new metaphysics based on Christ’s resurrection. The Thomists’ work in developing a new metaphysics could have salutary consequences that they, and we, cannot anticipate in advance.

It would be foolish to try to deny that Spirit could be expressing itself among conservatives, even when their ideas sometimes strike some of us as off base. But let’s be very careful when defining the integral ethos in sweeping generalizations. To tie the emerging philosophy too closely to conservativism or any other intellectual or political movement is inaccurate, unwise and unnecessary.