“The church has no problem telling lies if it works to advance their political ambitions, and we see now the extent of Christian nationalist desire for a theocracy rooted in white supremacist, patriarchal values which have nothing to do with the gospel and everything to do with power,” Susan Shaw told supporters of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists Sept. 11.
Shaw, professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University and a regular BNG columnist, gave the annual AWAB lecture, presented this year at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. At a reception after, AWAB celebrated its 50th birthday.
The lies inspired by Christian nationalism extend to lies about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, said Shaw, who is married to a woman. She called herself “an out lesbian, rabble-rousing feminist, ordained Baptist, woke, social justice activist.”
“I don’t think those of us who believe in a God of love exemplified in the life of Jesus can just sit idly by and let these lies be told.”
“There’s an awful lot of lies about us being told at the foot of the Cross,” she declared. “I don’t think those of us who believe in a God of love exemplified in the life of Jesus can just sit idly by and let these lies be told. If we don’t speak, we’re complicit. And believe me, the irony of giving this talk in Texas has not escaped me.”
She added: “The Trump years unleashed the willingness of many who call themselves Christian to lie about all manner of things if it meant achieving their goals, one of which seems to be the eradication of queer people, especially if they’re people of color, poor, old, disabled and disenfranchised.”
She named 10 lies conservative Christians tell about the LGBTQ community but quipped: “There’s nothing more dangerous to lies and liars than an old lesbian feminist with tenure who’s got nothing to lose.”
Lie No. 1: “The Bible says.”
While plenty of preachers declare the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, “it doesn’t,” Shaw asserted.
“We cannot read the five biblical texts that make up the ‘clobber passages” many Christians use to club queer folks over the head as if they were written in standard American English to a 21st century audience. If we read these passages within their historical context, understanding who wrote them and to whom, we find very different interpretive possibilities. … Nothing in the Bible addresses what we now understand as queer sexualities. The Bible does, however, have a lot to say about bearing false witness and mistreating your neighbors.”
Lie No. 2: “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.”
“This statement suggests that somehow sexuality is merely a behavior that is separate from identity. It’s something queer folks do, not who we are,” she said. “This statement pretends people can parse out ‘homosexual behavior’ and hate it without somehow hating the people enacting the behavior.
“I don’t do queer. I am queer.”
“Our sexuality, however, isn’t just behavior; it is a core piece of identity. I don’t do queer. I am queer. Queerness isn’t like a jacket I can take off and put in the clothes closet bin because I don’t want to wear it anymore. I can no more not be queer than I cannot be white or brown-eyed or without a musical bone in my body.”
Lie No. 3: “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
“This lie rests on this misconception that the Bible is history, that its stories literally happened, and that those stories provide templates for how we are to live our lives,” said Shaw, who earned a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Biblical writers were not historians; they would have had no concept of writing history as we understand it. They were trying to convey a theological message to their communities through the means, traditions, devices and context of their times.
“The story of Adam and Eve isn’t prescriptive for human sexuality. It’s a story that tries to explain the origins of a lot of things, like why snakes slither on the ground, but it doesn’t mandate how all humans are supposed to be. Besides that, God created an awful lot of Adams and Steves in the animal world where same sex behaviors are quite common, among more than 1,500 species, as a matter of fact, from starfish to primates.”
Lie No. 4: “It’s a choice.”
“People do not wake up one morning and go, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to become queer today,’” Shaw said. “Sexuality is complicated, but the science shows that one thing is clear — it’s not a simple choice. We don’t suggest that straight people have chosen heterosexuality.”
Lie No. 5: “We have to protect the children.”
This statement is based in ignorance of facts, she said. “Gay men are not more likely to molest children. In fact, most men who abuse children are heterosexual. A child is at much greater risk of being molested by a straight priest or pastor than a drag queen.”
“A child is at much greater risk of being molested by a straight priest or pastor than a drag queen.”
Further, children cannot be “turned” queer as some evangelicals fear, she continued. “Children are not in danger of becoming queer if they read books about co-parenting male penguins or Heather’s two mommies. They are in danger of becoming more open-minded and accepting, and I think that’s the real fear of many anti-queer activists — their children might not be as bigoted as they are.”
Here she also gave a discourse on the current furor over drag queens.
“Attacking drag queens reading to children serves as a convenient strategy to let the political and religious right avoid looking at their own house,” she countered. “The right uses fears about gender and sexuality to enlist new followers and to distract from their own current scandals, including clergy abuse and insurrection. It seems it’s much easier to play on old stereotypes about predatory gay men than to address the beams in their own eyes.”
And in a line that drew affirmation from the audience, she said Christ’s incarnation — God coming to earth in human form — “is a kind of drag, isn’t it? At the center of our faith is a story of God taking on, performing, humanity and thereby redeeming humanity.”
This may be hard to see, she said, because Americans in particular have made gender a command performance.
“There’s no immutable biological reason women should wear dresses, paint their nails, carry purses and wear pantyhose. Nor is there any inborn requirement that men get to have all the pockets, have pant sizes that take waist measurement and height into account, or don’t have to shave their legs. So desperate are we to reinforce this illusion of gender that we distinguish fashion by which side of the shirt buttons are on, we charge women and men different prices for dry cleaning said shirts, and we have gender-segregated bowling.”
“So desperate are we to reinforce this illusion of gender that we distinguish fashion by which side of the shirt buttons are on.”
What’s threatening is that “drag queens upset all of that,” she said. “So does the gospel, really.”
Lie No. 6: “We can cure it or cast it out.”
It is “impossible to pray the gay away,” Shaw said. “There is no demon of homosexuality to cast out, and all the anointing, shouting and praying over someone in the world won’t change their sexuality. It may make them more vulnerable to depression and suicide, but it won’t make them straight or cisgender.”
Lie No. 7: “Homosexuals have an agenda.”
Conservatives claim gays and lesbians and transgender people “are coming for your children,” she recounted.
“If queers have anything approaching an agenda, it’s for us to be allowed to live in peace. In a heterosexist society, we have had to organize to advocate for our basic human rights — including simply the right to live at all, the right to work at our chosen professions, the right to love whom we love and marry that person if we want, the right to use the bathroom that makes sense to us, and the right to bodily autonomy and integrity.
“If queers have an agenda for children, it’s that they be safe from people who would shame them, prevent them from being who they are, and drive them to depression and suicide.”
Lie No. 8: “Queers recruit.”
“Queer folks do not go out looking for unsuspecting straight people to lure into the queer life,” she said. “Most queer people are like me — born to straight parents and raised in straight culture. We’re queer because we’re queer, not because we were recruited.”
Likewise, when kids grow up “knowing more about queerness,” they are not being recruited, she said. They are learning not to live in shame.
Lie No. 9: “Queer people are unhappy.”
“If you believe the rhetoric of the Right, you’d think queer people are all miserable, pitiable creatures as a result of their sinful behavior,” Shaw said. “Yes, some of us are depressed and suicidal, but that’s because of the shame, stigma and rejection of society, not because we’re queer. A lot of us are really happy, and, out of necessity, queers have created cultures that are vibrant, celebratory, joyful, colorful, inclusive and absolutely fabulous.”
“If you believe the rhetoric of the Right, you’d think queer people are all miserable, pitiable creatures as a result of their sinful behavior.”
The Religious Right needs to tell lies about queer unhappiness “because to recognize the possibility of queer happiness would undermine their claims about sin, abomination and God’s judgment.”
Lie No. 10: “If we need to jail them, beat them, torture them, or kill them, well, that’s just the price of God’s kingdom.”
She quoted Tim LaHaye, co-author of the “Left Behind” books: Capital punishment for homosexuals “may seem ‘cruel and inhuman treatment’ by today’s standards, but our leniency has caused today’s widespread problems. This is not to suggest that Christians advocate the death penalty for today’s homosexuals, but I do have a question that needs consideration. Who is really being cruel and inhuman — those whose leniency allows homosexuality to spread to millions of victims who would not otherwise have been enticed into this sad and lonely lifestyle, or those who practiced Old Testament capital punishment?”
She further cited the draconian laws recently adopted in Uganda and comments by various Baptist pastors in America, including Dillon Awes of Stedfast Baptist Church in Fort Worth, who last year said gay people should be “lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head.”
To counter these 10 lies, the rest of the Christian world must speak truth, Shaw said.
She cited three big themes:
- “We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re made in God’s image.”
- “In the resurrection, God affirmed Jesus’ ‘coming out.”’
- “There is a Baptist case to be made for LGBTQ inclusion.”
The Bible teaches all people are made in God’s image and that “God encompasses all genders within God’s being,” she explained. “To be made in God’s image is to express the full continuum of genders, not a binary.”
“To be made in God’s image is to express the full continuum of genders, not a binary.”
In his death and resurrection, Jesus rejected the injustices and prejudices of the dominant culture, Shaw continued. “He was a threat to empire because his loyalty to God outweighed his loyalty to Caesar. Jesus died because he was queer — he refused normalcy, he rejected the social heirarchies of colonizer and colonized, he rejected the gender and sexual economies of his day, he disrupted essential categories of identity, he taught love over power, and he was killed for it.”
Likewise, conservative Christians today find the stories of queer Christians “indecent,” she said, “because we are not supposed to tell them. They expose the lies and constraints of heteronormativity. We are supposed to be invisible, silent, dead. Our stories are resurrection stories because we are not meant to survive.”
Baptist, of all people, should find solidarity with marginalized queer Christians, Shaw said. “If as Baptists we truly believe God speaks to each of us individually, we have to make room for a diversity of voices, experiences, beliefs and lives. We each have our own small piece of the puzzle that’s limited by our social location — our place in the world, our intersectional identity, our specific experiences. But that piece of the puzzle is also essential because no one else lives in that social location, and so we each have something to bring to the table, and we all need to hear and understand everyone else’s piece of the puzzle.”
She added: “Baptists are a messy people, and so is God’s community. And that is very queer.”
She urged those hearing her lecture to work to stop the lies being told about LGBTQ people in churches.
“In your churches, tell truths,” she said. “It may cost you something — members, offerings, protests. But don’t settle for the cheap grace Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned us about that asks nothing of us. Authentic discipleship is costly.”