A few weeks ago, I was part of a conversation among some LGBTQ Christian activists in which my friend Vivian Taylor said, “I view this work as entirely spiritual and also as deeply political.”
For many people, the adjectives “spiritual” and “political” are opposites. But for me and for thousands of other people of faith who are working for justice in the arenas of sexuality, race, class, and gender, those words are necessarily linked to describe our work. We know that our political struggles have deep spiritual roots. For Christians, those roots are in Jesus’ life and ministry with people on the margins.
I went to Episcopal Divinity School in 2008 and earned my Master’s in Divinity in 2010. During those 2 years, I learned to practice both/and thinking, a hallmark of Anglican theology. I learned to examine my white privilege and to recognize colonialism, systemic racism, and the dangerous effects of patriarchy. And I learned about the “hermeneutic of suspicion,” a method of interpretation that looks beyond the words on the page. I learned to ask questions of biblical texts: Whose voice is missing here? What cultural forces are in play? What might be the author’s purpose in writing or speaking? These ways of thinking theologically naturally made their way from the classroom into the rest of my life. The spiritual and the political merged.
Episcopal Divinity School Chapel at left
My seminary classmates and I called it the EDS effect, although it happens to most seminarians at progressive institutions. We questioned everything. We couldn’t go out dancing without critiquing the lyrics of the music we heard. We couldn’t go to a gay pride parade without noticing how gender binaries and roles were reinforced even in the queer community. We couldn’t read pop fiction without critiquing how immigrants and minorities were portrayed.
We learned the truth that oppression is insidious and that we all participate in oppressive systems to varying degrees. One of our Episcopal prayers of confession sums it up by proclaiming, “We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.”
I’m grateful for my progressive theological education and for the cultivation of a healthy hermeneutic of suspicion. It helps me to ask good questions and to bring a very practical theology to bear on events like the trial of George Zimmerman, the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA , and Senator Wendy Davis’ courageous filibuster in the Texas State House
The Zimmerman trial has opened up important discussions about race and our legal system. This is good – and – there are hundreds of kids of color who die from gun violence every day. My hermeneutic of suspicion causes me to wonder why we haven’t had these conversations before.
The Supreme Court decision on DOMA is a clear victory for marriage equality activists – and – I’m aware that there are many in the queer community for whom other issues like violence and poverty are far more important than marriage. The largely white, middle class, lesbian and gay voices in our community have dominated both the conversation and the resources. My hermeneutic of suspicion leads me to the conclusion that those with power and privilege get attention and action on their issues before those who have less power and privilege.
In Texas, Senator Wendy Davis heroically filibustered for 13 hours to hold off SB5, which would have resulted in the closing of most of Texas’ abortion clinics, only to see the same legislation passed in another special session of the Texas legislature. And – there is now an energized base of pro-woman, pro-choice activists who will likely influence the outcome of 2014 elections in that state. Practicing both/and thinking reminds me that there is hope even in defeat.
At times, I despair of the state of the world. The steps backward for women and people of color threaten to overshadow the steps forward for gays and lesbians. In the queer community, we are not yet good at paying attention to the people we have forced to the margins. And – as a Christian, I can’t give up. Our task is both spiritual and political as we are called to live in hope, to believe in abundance and to work for justice. People of faith who are entirely spiritual and deeply political have changed the world, and we must continue.