Cult Thinking and Queer Thinking as Polar Opposites

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First, check out my Introduction to Queer Thinking.  It outlines how queer perspectives exhibit “non-binary” thinking.  Binary thinking is all 1 or 0, black-and-white, all-or-nothing, with no imaginable space in between.  Non-binary thinking celebrates complexity, diversity, and ambiguity that is present everywhere: in nature, in divinity, and in humanity.

Sadly, small cults (like Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, and the Branch Davidians) have arisen that take the reverse approach, having a strict approach to “truth” and “falsehood,” who’s in and who’s out, etc.  There is no place for a spectrum in their narrow worldview.  That leads to my main thesis: Cult thinking is very binary, and queer thinking is very non-binary.  As such, they are polar opposites.  (Of course, as a queer thinker, I’m not going to say that every person or organization is all one or the other.  That would be ironically contradictory!  Every institution (political, religious, and educational) has elements of both binary and non-binary thought, and no group can or should be all one or the other.  As such, this post is not out to criticize or praise any particular political party or religious organization.  But it does show the poles at both ends, and I’m expressing a preference for one end of the spectrum over the other.)

Here are some contrasts:

Cult thinking is intolerant of ambiguities and complexities.
Queer thinking thrives in ambiguities, overlaps, blurry spots, and blends.

Cult thinking maximizes expectations and obligations.
Queer thinking encourages non-conformity to expectations and obligations. (Cult thinking usually involves black and white/all or nothing dichotomies, especially whether one is “in the group” or not. To be in, you have to be all the way in, and if you are out, you are all the way out and must be avoided. This leads to high levels of conformity.)

Cult thinking has a high emphasis on recruitment, assimilation, and conformity.
Queer thinking has a high emphasis on support of the “other” as they are and loves diversity.

Cult thinking subordinates the good of the individual to the good of the group.
Queer thinking subordinates the good of the group to the good of the individual. (In queer thought, minorities should do what’s authentic and right for them, even if it makes things uncomfortable for a larger group.  I should add that queer thinking does not at all promote individualistic anarchy.  It does not promote a situation where everyone ideally should fend for themselves.  What it does do is acknowledge that in a situation that is set up for the good of a majority population, for that majority, the good of the individual and the good of the group are aligned, because the society is designed for them.  In that situation, and in that situation only, are people whose needs don’t fit the design of the society justified in finding innovative ways to meet their own peculiar needs and to be true to themselves.  Right now our social world is designed from top to bottom for straight cis people, and LGBTQ people should do what’s right for them, even though it will make things less “pretty” in the eyes of those who wish we were not there.)

In a cult, the group is narrowly focused on a living leader to whom members display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
In the queer world, there is no central authority, and we focus on diversity and celebrate a multiplicity of voices, even when they are contradictory.  We love those ambiguities!

In a cult, insight flows down the pyramid of power.
In queer organizations, insight arises upward from the lived experiences of the individuals, who are the source of knowledge about their reality. (So, even the flow of knowledge and information is backwards between queer and cult thinking.)

Cult thinking leads to isolation and death.
Queer thinking is life-giving and leads to flourishing and growth.

So in all these ways, cult thinking fortifies binaries and categories, and queer thinking dismantles binaries and categories. LGBTQ people should be proud that queer thinking is the opposite of cult thinking, because we are an especially brilliant light to the world, an important safeguard, and an essential part of the checks-and-balances of any society.

Introduction to Queer Thinking

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To put it bluntly, queer thinking has very little, if anything, to do with gay sex.  The only connection is that being gay is, for the time being, seen as something “strange” or “different,” so those who are gay must naturally think outside the box at the present time.  That will change as prejudice and misunderstanding of LGBTQ people is exposed and reduced.  (When being LGBTQ is no more a big deal than being left-handed, we will, sadly, stop being “special.”)  “Queer” just means special, unusual, peculiar, or different.  And all of those things are good!

Queer thinking is really about dismantling rigid categories, crossing boundaries, and blurring lines.  It’s about thinking in color rather than in sharp black and white.  Queer thinking withers in mutually-exclusive, confining boxes, and it flourishes in ambiguities and uncertainties.

Human psychology generally likes nice, neat, tidy categories.  The real world does not.  So often, our description and engagement of the real world likes to fit the entire complex world into our little tidy categories.  Much as Procrustes’ bed is violent to every visitor, our basic human temptations can be “violent” to the beautiful, rich diversity of the natural world.  LGBTQ people are part of that richness, and since we don’t fit people’s expectations ourselves, we more easily resonate with queer approaches to pondering the world.

The principle Natura non facit saltum (“nature does not make a leap”) has been known for a long time, and what is true of nature is true of nature’s God.  Our world has so much natural beauty. One example of how God thinks of categories is seen every day.   Two of the most beautiful things in nature are (1) the spectacularly blue sky on a sunny day, with a few cumulus clouds speckling the firmament, and (2) the cold, crystal sky in the middle of the night on a clear day, with billions of stars speckling the heavenly glory.  Both of these things are sublimely beautiful, and both were created by a priesthood-power dividing act: “And I, God, saw the light; and that light was good. And I, God, divided the light from the darkness. And I, God, called the light Day; and the darkness, I called Night; and this I did by the word of my power, and it was done as I spake; and the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Moses 2:4-5, see also Genesis 1:4-5 and Abraham 4:4-5).

Yes, God “divided” the light from the darkness, but He did not leave a clean break between the two.  He left an overlap and thus a blurring of the two, which we admire as sunset and sunrise.  Twice a day, we are reminded that God blends the categories.  God does not turn day to night like a light switch.  He creates spectacular fireworks in the sky twice a day, as an eternal reminder that the most precious, the most fleeting, and the most beautiful moments of the day are the queer ones.  Full day and full night are beautiful, but the greatest glory is where they overlap and are ambiguous.

Queer people are sunset people.  We inhabit the space between categories.  We blur people’s expectations.  I’m male, but I don’t fit everyone’s presupposition of what a male is like.  I’m Christian, but I don’t fit everyone’s presupposition of what a Christian is like.  Latter-day Saints, in fact, are a queering of Christianity.  We are a peculiar people, called to be different, chosen to be special.  LGBTQ Mormons are doubly queer, and brilliantly beautiful.  We are a peculiar people (1 Peter 2:9).

Obama and Jesus, Interrupted

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Both Jesus and Obama are high-profile figures that can grant significant requests. As such, there is a large demand for their time, attention, and concern. Large crowds frequently followed Jesus, and there were many who demanded his time, interrupted him, and pleaded with him for what they needed.  Jesus actually seems to love interrupters!  (He frequently loved interrupting injustice himself.)

Yes, there are cases where Jesus is rude to people in power and privilege. But Jesus’ ministry was to the weak, lowly, and marginalized. He had a gentle, kind, and patient approach with people who desperately needed him. He never had an inflated sense of his own importance. He never thought he was too busy or too important to be bothered. There are a number of cases where Jesus was interrupted from other things that were very important.  He took the time to tend to the needs of women especially.

I was startled to see how President Obama reacted to Jennicet Gutiérrez, a trans woman of color, who cried out for justice for LGBTQ immigrants. The crowd around her (which I assume is mostly rich, white, cis LGBs) tried to shush her and silence her. Unfortunately, Obama followed the lead of the privileged crowd and silenced her as well.

Jesus, I’m sure, would have taken a much more revolutionary approach. In fact, he shared, as a model of courage, the example of an annoying, persistent woman who achieved justice from a judge because she repeatedly bothered and inconvenienced him (Luke 18:1-8)!

Yes, Jesus was surrounded by crowds, he worked long hours tending to people, and yet he never ultimately silenced anyone who came to him in need. Some people went to dramatic, socially inappropriate means to get Jesus’ attention, and guess what — he served them anyway. It’s a model of grace to be a servant to the least powerful whether or not they jump through all the proper hoops. Many times people were desperate for access to Jesus, and either the crowds or the disciples sought to prevent them. But Jesus turned the tables and gave the ones in need his time and care.

There was a case where random people brought little children to Jesus to be touched and blessed, and the disciples turned them away (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17). The text doesn’t record how rude the people’s request was. We don’t know the social conventions of the time, but certainly the disciples in the narrative do. All we can do now is take a cue from the internal drama of the narrative. The fact that the disciples turned them away means that they found the time or manner of the request to be somehow not appropriate to merit time with Jesus. Jesus rebuked the disciples, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus blessed the children anyway, even though he might have been on his way somewhere (Matthew 19:15).

In John 8:2–11, which was likely not a part of the original text of John’s Gospel but is part of our tradition now, Jesus was busy teaching in the temple courts when he was interrupted by those who brought to him a woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn’t say, “I’m in the middle of something important.” He stopped what he was doing to save the life of a woman in need.

In Luke 19:1-10, a short guy named Zacchaeus wanted desperately to see Jesus, but he could not due the the crowds. So he climbed a tree to watch Jesus as he walked by. As he walked by, Jesus stopped and gave him his attention, and immediately invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house. Zacchaeus got more than he even asked for!

As he was leaving Jericho (or entering, according to Luke) I’m sure he was on his way somewhere important, but he stopped to heal the blind man Bartimaeus (Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43). He was a beggar, and he rudely called out from the roadside. The crowds tried to silence him and shush him, but he called out even more! Rather than ignoring him, Jesus stopped everything and called for Bartimaeus to be brought to him. Jesus asked what his request was, and upon request, Jesus healed his sight.

In the case of the woman with a hemorrhage (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56), all three Gospels record that she was healed in the middle of tending to the needs of Jairus (who ALSO randomly came up to Jesus when he was speaking to a crowd). People were pressing around Jesus on the way to Jairus’s house to heal Jairus’s daughter, and a woman with a 12-year flow of blood came up behind him to touch his clothing. She did it, as Jesus had no Secret Service agents to handle him, and her flow of blood stopped. Jesus turned and didn’t rebuke her, but blessed her for her courage, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34).

Obama responded to Jennicet Gutiérrez, telling her “You’re in my house!” Well, so what! There are cases where people bothered Jesus when he was at a private residence, and Jesus served them anyway. I can think of four examples right now.

In John 2:1-11, Jesus was “off-duty” simply enjoying himself as a guest at a wedding in Cana. He wasn’t there for ministry. When his mother insistently came to him to fix the wine malfunction, Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come” (John 2:4). Even though it wasn’t the right time or place, Jesus sensitively addressed his mother’s request anyway and turned water into wine.

Jesus really seems to have a thing for addressing the needs of women who interrupt! In addition to the woman with the hemorrhage and his mother at Cana, there’s also the Syro-phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) or the Canaanite woman (Matt 15:21-28) who has the additional status of being a Gentile, and thus not deserving of Jesus’ time. Or so we thought! Mark 7:24 records that Jesus went into a private house with his disciples and didn’t want anyone to know, because they didn’t want to be bothered. The disciples needed some well-earned rest, which Jesus promised them back in Mark 6:31. After a lot of hard work, they were resting in a private house, and this “foreign” woman came begging for Jesus to heal his daughter. The disciples told Jesus to send her away because she was annoying (Matthew 15:23). Somehow she got into the house and fell at Jesus’ feet and made a request that was not the appropriate time, place, or manner. Though Jesus made her wait, he never said “no” to her, but gave her a chance to express her persistent faith. Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and to throw it to the dogs.” Then she answered, “Yes, Lord, and even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:27–28). Jesus was very impressed with her persistence and courage, and granted her request on the spot because of her comment. He praised her faith greatly (Matthew 15:28).

A third example of an interruption in a private residence that was not only socially disruptive but also architecturally disruptive is the case of the man in Capernaum who was paralyzed (Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26). Jesus was at his home in Capernaum, and many people were gathered, and there was no more room, even at the door (Mark 2:2). He was in the middle of preaching the word to them, when all of a sudden four men who were carrying another man who was paralyzed were so desperate for access to Jesus that they tore open a hole in the roof of the house and lowered the man down the hole!! Talk about rude!! Jesus certainly didn’t pull an Obama on them. He not only healed the man physically but also forgave his sins. It turns out that when people interrupt Jesus with requests, he does even MORE than they ask!

Fourthly, the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8) also barged into a private dinner at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany.  She wasn’t even invited, but she came in while Jesus was reclining at the table. In the middle of the meal she invaded Jesus’ personal space by anointing his head (Mark and Matthew) or feet (John and Luke) with expensive perfume. People criticized her, but Jesus said, “Leave her alone.”  He commended her faith.

Not only is Jesus interrupted when he’s in a private house, but he’s also interrupted when he’s asleep (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25). He was sound asleep in a boat when a storm came. The disciples woke him up and “disrespectfully” said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?” (Mark 4:38). In response, he doesn’t ignore them, but rather he stops the storm and saves lives. Getting someone with power to save lives is more important than being timely or “respectful.”
There are many cases where Jesus is interrupted and he gently takes time out from what he’s doing to serve and help. In Mark 1:35-39 and Luke 4:42-44, he went to a solitary place to pray. Clearly he wanted to be alone, but the disciples interrupted him and told him he was needed by the people. So, he went and preached to MORE towns!

In Luke 12:13-21, one of the crowd interrupts his teaching with the request that Jesus settle an inheritance dispute. Jesus stops what he’s doing to address the issue with a parable.

There are many cases where Jesus is “rudely” interrupted by people with a desperate cause who refuse to stay silent. These are the people whom Jesus acknowledges and serves. May we all do the same.

The plight of trans people in detention centers is abominable. How can we be pro-LGBT when our trans women are being detained in men’s facilities and being abused and deprived of dignity? Also, it’s very dangerous to deport certain LGBTQ people back to those countries where they will be in danger of being killed for being LGBT. Trans people of color especially face this. It’s not very pro-LGBT to send them back to their death. This is not that different ethically than when the US sent Jewish immigrants back to their death in Nazi Germany. The stakes are so high that one not only may but must disrupt the system as usual.

I’m sure that if the gentle Christ was interrupted by a trans woman of color, he would not have silenced her.  He would not have thought that whatever he was celebrating in the moment was more important than listening to someone’s sincere plea for salvation and deliverance.

I pray that we in Christ’s Church respond to the cries of LGBTQ people the same way Jesus did.

The U.S. Constitution, Marriage Equality, and the Church: A Beautiful Harmony

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The US Constitution guarantees marriage equality for the US, the Supreme Court ruled this past Friday, June 26, 2015.

What’s interesting is that we Mormons have the world’s only scripture that declares the US Constitution to be established by God. This is significant because the US Constitution is one of the first to balance majority rule with minority rights, that is, to protect freedom of religion and freedom of conscience and to facilitate tolerance and coexistence of diversity. The Lord is speaking here, by revelation, to the persecuted Saints: “And again I say unto you, those who have been scattered by their enemies, it is my will that they should continue to importune for redress, and redemption, by the hands of those who are placed as rulers and are in authority over you — According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.” (D&C 101:76-80)

To be deeply Mormon is to be deeply pro-gay.  Maybe not according to superficial appearances, but the deepest principles of the restoration really do secure freedom, rights, liberty, and privileges to everyone in this divinely-blessed country.  In fact, the Mormon tradition has been arguing that the US Constitution supports liberty for alternative marriage structures since the 19th Century!!!

According to LDS Scriptures, God loves constitutional guarantees of minority rights, and that applies to marriage equality, too: “And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land” (D&C 98:5-6).