Outside Perspectives (and Gay Marriage)

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The Sacred Tribes Journal, a predominately Christian study of New Religious Movements, has posted its latest issue online. The journal, which was initially formed to provide a different approach to Christian missiology than the old-school anti-cult apologetics, can offer some interesting outsider perspectives of Pagan religions. In this latest installment you can read an examination of “vampire religion”, and two reviews of the Pagan-Christian dialogue book “Beyond the Burning Times” (check out my interview with the Pagan participant Gus diZerega). In particular, I would like to examine a portion of Gerald R. McDermott’s review of “Beyond the Burning Times”.

“I hope this is not the last book on Pagan-Christian dialogue. For the best inter-religious dialogue is based on deep respect, which means exploring the deepest differences in an atmosphere of civility. While this book does get at some of those deep differences such as monotheism, fallenness, transcendence and the uniqueness of Jesus it gives short shrift to others. For example, God’s relationship to gender is touched on but largely skirted. While diZerega says the divine is feminine, and Johnson replies that the Christian God includes the feminine, there is no concerted attention given to why the Bible presents God in largely male terms. Or why Pagans deny the normativity of heterosexuality and Christians affirm it. The underlying assumption in diZerega and even in (Christian) Petersen’s response is that sexual differences are either arbitrary or irrelevant yet Christianity has a long tradition saying quite the opposite. In an era when sexuality’s relationship to the divine is so pressing, this discussion between Pagans and Christians needs to begin.

McDermott’s critique gets right to the heart of an issue I’ve been bringing up quite a bit in the last year, the religious dimensions of the gay civil rights struggle, specifically gay marriage. Too often the debate around gay marriage is portrayed as a conservative monotheist vs secularist/liberal monotheist battle (what I affectionately call “Lefty Jesus vs Righty Jesus”), when in fact the issue is far more complex. There are faiths that have a completely different theology concerning the matter, and their voices are being drowned out amidst the shouting. Perhaps if Mr. McDermott can see that this is a conversation worth having, other Christians too will realize that their are moralities and worldviews on this issue outside of their own. Such a discussion could change how we approach the issue of marriage.

As for McDermott’s contention that Pagans “reject” heteronormativity, I must respectfully disagree. A Pagan outlook isn’t built on the binary of “either-or”, it instead embraces an ethic of “and-and”. Just as we accept the existence (and more importantly the co-existence) of numerous possible divine powers/entities, so too do we accept that there is a valid heterosexual “normalcy” and a homosexual “normalcy” (and a variety of other possible “normals”). An individual Pagan may personally dislike or disagree with homosexual marriage, but unlike the dominant monotheisms that attitude isn’t one that is founded on a core scriptural truth that all Pagans must believe in, he or she has no mandate to enforce a ban (legal or spiritual) on someone else’s marriage or belief system.

The often unsaid adjective in arguments concerning the “breakdown of the family” is “Christian” (or “Mormon”, or “Muslim”, or sometimes “Jewish”). It isn’t so much a fear that heteronormativity will be destroyed (and the “family” along with it), but the idea of a “Christonormativity” losing prominence as other faiths, ideas, and philosophies grow in stature. Clinging to their appeals to tradition or “natural law” (which, of course, ignores nature when convenient) these groups fight to reinforce their own consensus reality by denying us ours. Such an action seems madness to the polytheist, who knows that wildly different religious and cultural ideas can and should co-exist (and even borrow and blend amongst themselves over time). We can only hope that the dialogue started by “Beyond the Burning Times” (and advocated by McDermott in Sacred Tribes) spreads beyond its small group of Christian and Pagan supporters and takes on the challenge of peaceful co-existence and mutual respect.