People’s Lives Are At Stake

revrobin2-023Robin: This past Saturday, I facilitated a workshop with 14 people at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. I had a great time, and they did, too, I think, focusing on the topic, “Sexuality and Spirituality: An Introduction.”

We learned, we shared, we laughed, some of us even cried—all in an atmosphere of openness where people talked about sex and spirit in a variety of ways. We agreed to convene again for more.

As the instigator of all this, and the designated teacher of the day (although most everyone in the room taught the rest of us something as the day unfolded), I came away floating with joy.

Then I came home and read newspapers from the previous few days, and realized how much of an anomaly this time had been.  And during Sunday morning worship, Rev. Cathy Alexander mentioned the workshop in glowing terms, and encouraged others to join the next one because, as she said, “It’s okay to talk about sex in church.” Her comment was met with silence (and this congregation is rarely silent).

The political climate in our country right now is not very open to talking candidly about sex, and certainly not to connect sex and spirit in positive ways. If you read the Republican platform adopted last week in Cleveland you realize that for that group, sex—other than heterosexual monogamous sex, presumably in the missionary positon—is wrong. Even evil.

And this attitude—including demanding a roll-back of legal same-sex

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http://queerty-prodweb.s3.amazonaws.com/content/docs//2016/07/cleveland-craigslist-m4m.jpg

marriages—comes across clearly even as male escorts/sex workers in Cleveland report a marked upsurge in demand, and female ones a decline (see here for news report). The males reporting this trend among delegates indicated that most of the men were married, and appeared to be first-timers.

At the convention, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump drew cheers for speaking about a “dark time” in the United States, a time of economic, military, and social decline. At the same time, he appears unwilling to speak about sexual trends in this negative way—in some ways seeming to tell us what a great lover he is, not only with three wives but other women as well—even as many of his allies among more conservative Christian clergy and others are speaking about the horrors of addiction to pornography and masturbation. We don’t know how many of them were active with the men of Cleveland, but if history is any guide, at least some of these campaigners are leading double lives.

Neither that nor Trump’s reticence provide me any comfort, because I feel sure that if he needs to come down hard (pun initially unintended but as I thought about it more, it seemed apt) against sexual “sins” to keep his supporters happy, he will do so. And they will cheer.

We are in a difficult time. I fear that an agenda of openness to things like sex and sexuality, that society has for long tried to keep locked up, will result in harsh outcomes for many advocates for change, and, more importantly and alarmingly, a tightening of the social grip for control on everyone.

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https://i.ytimg.com/vi/k1paQiWFhfo/maxresdefault.jpg

I want to believe that much of the pushback by Republicans and others is in response to gains made—not only the sea shift in marriage law, but also growing public acceptance of the change, not to mention the rapid rise of positive discussion of transgender people (not that real change in law and practice has kept up with this seeming shift), and a willingness in some circles to begin conversations about polyamory and other sexual practices far from what has been the mainstream. And I believe that is a big part of the cause.  Social gains by any group nearly always result in push back by others.

But this trend is linked to many other factors as well. Perceptions, and reality, of economic decline for industrial workers, and the belief (mostly incorrect) that their situation is driven by a flood of immigrants is a key piece: Thus, the cheers for building a wall and “sending them home.” We have many people who do not see gains by others in society as something to cheer about. Instead, they see conspiracies to deny them dignity and the living conditions they used to enjoy.

This includes those who are sure that African Americans are to blame,BLM_Letterhead getting “special privilege” through affirmative action policies and practices, while others of them simultaneously are breaking the law and getting shot or imprisoned as they deserve. These are the people for whom the Black Lives Matter movement feels like a threat, because they want to assert that their lives matter, indeed they say, “All Lives Matter,” as if those in BLM movement, and their supporters (like me), do not believe that, too.

And then there is the rise of a woman to be President—coming on top of two terms by a Black man. Many of these people, including it seems Donald Trump, do not believe he was ever or now is legitimately the President (illegitimacy, they might say, being rampant among African Americans), and now we have “that woman,” who needs to be locked up or hung. Whatever you may think of Hillary Clinton as a candidate or President, I trust you can admit that the language of the chants aimed at her at the Republican National Convention crossed the line of civil political discourse in our nation.

Mangus Hirschfeld
Mangus Hirschfeld

This is the environment in which many of us are attempting to broaden and deepen the discourse around sexuality. I begin to have glimmers about how Magnus Hirschfeld and others felt in the latter years of Weimar Germany as the Nazis and others rose to power (don’t know about Hirschfeld? Click here).

Before anyone thinks I am calling Trump a Nazi, or even a fascist, let me be clear. This is a lot bigger than one man, no matter what the size of his wannabe presidential penis. At the same time, I am interested in any evidence of insecurity by either Hitler or Mussolini about their respective male organs–it is clear to me that all share some basic insecurity.

Nor am I claiming that our modest project of seeking to change the church from sex-negative to sex-positive ranks, so far, anywhere close to all that Hirschfeld did.

But I am saying that the effort to open up our social system to the beauty and joy and sacredness of sexuality faces a daunting challenge, not only because for so long the church has kept it locked up in judgments of sin and ugliness but also in the face of rightwing efforts, often led and validated by religious leaders, to clamp down on any social change in the areas of sex, race, ethnicity, and gender/gender identity and expression.

That makes our work all the more necessary, no matter what they say. People’s lives are at stake.

Malachi GrennellMalachi: The political climate is terrifying.

On the heels of the Republican National Convention (RNC), many are confused as to how we got to where we are. I think many of us could not fathom the possibility that Donald Trump would become the presidential nominee for the Republican Party. Certainly not; someone will step in and knock it off, and we would all breathe a little easier, laughing at the absurdity of “President Trump.” And yet here we are.

Recently, NPR published an interesting article about the concept of “echo chambers” on our social media pages. The idea is that the internet has a learning algorithm that keeps track of what we engage with, what we click on, what we’re interested in, and then shows us media and advertisements based on our interests. The unfortunate byproduct of this algorithm is that our perspective and worldview is constantly reinforced to the point that many people believe that their perspective is the general population’s perspective.

What does any of this have to do with sexuality or bodies or spirituality?

Image of protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
Image of protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland

Just this: we saw an explosion of advertisements during the RNC in Cleveland seeking male escorts for men. We saw an explosion of Craigslist ads during the RNC seeking discrete, one-night male hookups for men attending the RNC. (see here and here)

I wonder what the echo chambers for members and delegates of the RNC look like. I don’t have to wonder too hard; I can imagine fairly easily based on the (frankly, alarming) language used on primetime television at the convention. And from there, it is not a difficult leap to understand where this overwhelming desire for male sex came from.

The unfortunate truth is, we are surrounded by opinions that agree with us. We select friends that hold similar perspectives, and the internet selects media that is most likely to appeal to our values. How, then, do we facilitate a conversation about sex and sexuality in this climate? How do we facilitate open dialogue about sex and bodies and gender and things that are difficult and push us in such a polarized climate?

I am afraid of the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency. I am afraid for my family and my safety. But I am also afraid that the many, many steps we’ve taken to move forward as faith communities and people will be pushed back until we are further away from our goals than when we started. Although I certainly moan and groan about how far we yet have to

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http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/faithwithwisdom/files/2011/06/love-makes-a-family-t-shirts_design.png

come as a culture and society, the reality is

  • Sodomy is no longer illegal
  • Interracial marriage is no longer illegal
  • Same-sex marriage is no longer illegal
  • Women (although still facing extreme prejudices and difficulties) are more empowered than ever
  • Families are much more fluid and able to be defined in a myriad of ways
  • There is significantly more visibility for trans people to speak about unique issues facing us every day

The world we live in is far from perfect. But we are slowly coming to enjoy more and more freedoms and we grow stronger in our love and support of one another.

Under a Donald Trump presidency, I worry that our bodies will become criminalized. Not even necessarily for gender, but for not meeting the white standards of beauty that surround us. Women fired for being “too fat.” Women belittled for refusing sexual advances. I can’t imagine the fate of trans people under a Donald Trump presidency, but I guarantee it isn’t pretty (just look at his running mate!).

This is not a man who holds sex as sacred, but one who has been accused of rape on multiple occasions. How do we begin to have a conversation about the holiness, the sacredness, the equality of sex when we are discussing a man who treats sex as a weapon?

This isn’t just about Trump, but about the movement that has come out of

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http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/behold/2014/05/3.jpg.CROP.cq5dam_web_1280_1280_jpeg.jpg

the woodwork. A movement that seeks to homogenize the United States to look, think, and act in the ways they do. This is not a movement welcoming diverse thoughts and experiences and ideas, but one that has a prescription for how to do things “the right way.” And in the midst of that, we see people unable to live their sexual selves authentically, seeking instead to quietly solicit gay men in an effort to get their sexual needs met without compromising their public values.

Please don’t get me wrong: I see absolutely nothing wrong with utilizing the services of sex workers and the sex industry. I do, however, recognize the hypocrisy in presenting the most anti-LGBT platform in the history it the party while behaving differently behind closed doors. I see hypocrisy when states passing the most oppressive anti-LGBT laws are also among the highest consumers of gay porn (see here and here). But more than hypocrisy, I see a movement that does not allow freedom of thought or diversity of expression.

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http://www.catholicismusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEXUAL-REV2.jpg

Those of us who believe in the power of sexual revolution must continue to speak. We must continue to share our truths and become radically committed to living our full, true, authentic selves. Because if there is not space for members of the Republican caucus to deviate from the platform, there will not be space for the rest of us- the non-monogamous people, the non-binary trans people, the kinky people, the progressive people, the people actively working to fight oppression in our communities.

We must speak, for our voices are the strongest tools we have. We must speak out loud, pray out loud, fuck out loud, live out loud our beliefs, get outside of our own echo chambers, and create help create the space for vastness of the image of God to be seen- not because we all project the same image, but because we express the immense diversity of God.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? How are you feeling about the political/social climate in the U.S. right now? What are some ways you respond to it to keep you from despair, and to help resist it? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.

Is Your Body a Wholly Presence?

The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality . . . we give thanks for the ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

At the recent MCC General Conference in Victoria, BC, Canada, Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache and Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos co-hosted a workshop, “Hooking Up: Frank Talk About Sex and Spirit.”

Rev. Dr. Thomas Bohache
Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache

Five panelists shared for about eight minutes each on particular topics. They were Rev. Miller Hoffman on sex talk and ministry to survivors of sexual abuse, Rev. Victoria Burson on issues that sex talk might raise in the black church setting, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline on aging and how we might talk sex cross-generationally, Rev. Kate Rowley Harford on how body imagery and shame impact sex talk, and Rev Dr. Edgard Francisco Danielsen-Morales on talking polyamory.

Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos
Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos

The workshop was well attended, discussion was lively, and there was considerable energy in the room. The session ended with Tom and Kharma leading the assemblage in the liturgy we reprint below (with permission of the author, Tom Bohache).

 

TOM
Source of Love
Savior of Wholeness
Sustainer of Passion

KHARMA
We thank you for this time of sharing, of questioning, of seeking.
Help us to live into all of who you have created us to be.

TOM
Teach us to expand our comfort zones and to deal gently with one another as we do so.
Hear us now as we offer our very selves to you.
The response is “Bless them, O God.”

KHARMA
We offer to you our sexualities.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our spirits.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our minds and our intellect.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our bodies in all their beauty and in all of what we see as flaws, in our abilities and our limitations.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our heads–our eyes with which we behold your creation, our noses through which we smell what arouses us, our ears with which we hear endearments and sighs and moans, our mouths with which we kiss and lick and bite and suck.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our hands and our feet, with which we seek out and caress objects of our delight.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our breasts and our buttocks, our nipples and our armpits.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our vaginas and clitorises and labia, our clits and cunts, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our penises and testicles, our cocks and balls, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our sex toys and our erotic costumes, our slings and our harnesses, our gels and our lubricants.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our lovemaking and our self-pleasuring.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you all of who we are, even as we are still discovering the fullness of who we are and are becoming in you.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
Now dismiss us with your blessing, God of Pleasure and Power. Carry us forth from this place to be all of who you have created us to be, and more.

To which your people say…AMEN!

Robin: This is not an ordinary liturgy. I can hear people commend Tom’s candor while saying there is no way they can share it during worship at their church.

revrobin2-023Of course, it contains terms we do not ordinarily use in church—not only clinical language for body parts but also “street language” as well. But is that all that is troubling? How often do we so clearly pray, and give thanks, for our bodies? And when was the last time we raised up our sexualities, our spirits, and our minds and intellect in prayer?

And maybe we are even surprised to pray to expand our comfort zones?

Admittedly, this liturgy was not offered on a Sunday morning, but instead was shared during a workshop where all participants knew the topic would be sex and sexuality as well as spirit and spirituality. It was a self-selected group.

I suspect most people present felt safe participating in the liturgy as a blessing on our time together and an encouragement to go forth and be as open as possible. Some of us, certainly me and several of my fellow panelists, even felt celebratory. How wonderful to speak this language in a religious setting!

However, I may be imaging this, but it seemed to be that I heard a few intakes of breath as we heard parts of the prayer (we did not have copies to read along), and it seemed to be that in a few instances the responding voices were softer. Although my eyes were closed, I had the sense several people left (of course, I could be wrong, and it could have been for other reasons).

disciplesonthejourney.org
disciplesonthejourney.org

I encourage you to read it aloud, not just read it silently. It would be even better if you could share the reading of it with another person, or persons, perhaps even so you could simply hear all the requests and then respond as suggested, “All: Bless them, O God.” Liturgy, like poetry, is meant to be spoken and heard to achieve its full impact and meaning. We need to hear this one especially, to be able to really feel it in our bodies.

love is free weheartit com
weheartit.com

If this liturgy feels beyond what you can use, can you adapt it, modify or eliminate some of the terms so you and your community can pray for our sexualities?  How far do you feel you could go? Could you name some sexualities and sexual practices? Could you go beyond different-sex sex (heterosexuality) and same-sex sex (homosexuality)? Could you mention polyamory (multiple-partner sex) or BDSM (known by many specific names, such as bondage/domination or sado-masochistic sex)? If you feel you can’t mention these non-mainstream sexualities, could you at least use a phrase, such as “all other ways of loving” that would acknowledge that they are options beyond hetero- and homo-sexuality? Would that be a way to begin engaging people? Would someone ask what you meant by that, and would you be comfortable giving examples?

Also, I did notice that there was no mention of gender here, except indirectly in the mention of body parts. And those body parts do not necessarily correspond to gender—there are transgender men (male-centered persons) with vaginas/cunts and transgender women (female-centered persons) with penises/cocks. I think it might be helpful to acknowledge some of this as well.

human-body-combinations_f wired com
wired.com

The liturgy is not about gender, of course, or race, but it might be useful to incorporate some language that recognizes that sexual practices are affected by communities of which we are a part, and even those from which we may be absent. The power of genderism and racism is real everywhere, including in the bedroom (or wherever we have sex).

Malachi and I are trying to open dialogue with religious people about sex, bodies and spirit, especially Christians because that is our context and the context in which we see such great resistance to sex talk–and certainly not only exploring but even admitting there is connection between our sexualities and spiritualities.

This liturgy makes that claim of connection by assuming it, and praying from that location without question or condition. That is why we asked Tom if we could publish it here. We believe it is a good place from which to start, if not in your whole church, then perhaps in a small group, or even just by yourself.

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

Think what God might do for you and the people in your community, even in your family, if you gave thanks every day for the genitals and/or the sexualities and/or the heads, eyes, ears, noses, etc., of all—naming them—and asked God’s blessing that all be used to promote love and peace, joy and harmony, growth and justice. And then maybe you will feel willing to risk sharing this with another, and another, and they too share, and over a time you have a community engaged in praying for real about our bodies, our sexualities, our embodied spiritualities.

That is a revolution, as it will be a revelation for many. And we will be better for it, better citizens and better worshippers, and perhaps most important, better children/beloveds of our God who never denies us love and gives us limitless ways to receive and share it.

Malachi:   Although I wasn’t able to attend MCC’s General Conference (and thus not able to attend the paneled discussion Robin referenced), I am grateful to have the opportunity to read and reflect on the liturgy presented.

Malachi GrennellThe truth is, it can be hard to fathom something like this being read in a place of public worship. It can be difficult to imagine people sitting in church, murmuring in unison, “Bless them, O God” as each call and offering is presented. Perhaps a child fussing in the background, someone waving a fan through this blistering summer heat, the rustle of clothes and a periodic cough punctuating an otherwise still sanctuary as we hear each affirmation and call to blessing and respond in kind.

Yeah, I can’t really picture it either.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We can’t picture such conversations, such language, such call-and-responses happening in our churches. It makes our skin itch a little. It’s uncomfortable, and we’re not even the ones saying the “hard” words. We’re just the ones responding, “Bless them, O God.”

It seems a bit…ostentatious, doesn’t it? And in fairness, the group with whom this was recited is a self-selected group, comprised of individuals who chose and consented to participate in a paneled discussion on sex and spirituality. They had a sense, perhaps, of what they were walking into and were (hopefully) mentally prepared for such conversations.

the2seasons.com
the2seasons.com

Liturgies like this remind me of the books we hide on the back of our bookshelves when our parents come to visit. Copies of “The Whole Lesbian Sex Book” get pushed under our beds, frantically trying to make the house presentable. Or perhaps that copy of “The Best Gay Erotica” is always hidden in the drawer of our bedside tables, taken out for a bit of “motivational” reading, and placed back in its hiding place.

We hide these liturgies. We read them, hear them, and feel a blush rise to our cheeks. “Did they really just say that?” we think. We want to put it away and not think too much about it (or, at least, not get caught thinking too much about it). It feels embarrassing and we’re not sure why. And we get so caught up on the language and the words, the audacity of saying such things in public that we often miss what is being said.

Celebrate our bodies. Celebrate the capacity for our bodies to feel pleasure. Some sexual, yes, but think of small, non-sexual bodily pleasures: getting a haircut, getting a massage, having a pedicure, giving a hug. Things that make us feel connected to one another. We give thanks for community, for being in shared worship space together. When we say, “We give thanks for this community of people,” we are not just talking about the people present but about our body’s capacity to experience joy.

buzzfeed.com
buzzfeed.com

That is the piece that I think we so often miss in our worship and liturgies. We are not only grateful for the opportunity to be in relationship with one another, but we are also happy for the experience in our bodies, the feelings of pleasure and excitement and joy when we connect with another person. That is part of the celebration! We feel good when we are connected in community. We feel good when we are connected with another person. We feel good when we have intimate encounters with one another, when we experience pleasure in our bodies. In the case of this liturgy, this call and response, this context, the focus is on the pleasure we experience as sexual beings. But even if this particular liturgy is not one that we would feel comfortable reading word-for-word in a worship setting, the broader meaning is an important step on the journey to full love, acceptance, and celebration of our sexual selves: the idea that we must celebrate ourselves, body, mind, and spirit.

So how do we translate this liturgy in a way that is more appropriate for a worship setting (as opposed to a workshop where sex is specifically the focus)? We are capable of celebrating our bodies as the vessels through which we do God’s work. We can celebrate our hands and feet, our eyes and ears and lips and tongues, our backs and legs, our genitals and buttocks, our shoulders and armpits, our noses and stomachs. When folded into the entirety of celebrating our bodies, those words which blatantly speak to sexuality are incorporated as part of our bodies: not omitted, but not the focus, either.

pinterest
pinterest

We can celebrate our minds: creative and logical, thoughtful and contemplative, erotic and playful, analytical and relaxed.

We can celebrate our spirituality: encompassing and vibrant, the ethos and eros of our being, present in our every word and action.

We celebrate the totality of who we are- not focusing on one aspect, but not ignoring any aspects either. Our sexuality, while vital and crucial to who we are, while important to celebrate in and of itself, is all too often wrapped up in a lack of capacity to celebrate ourselves outright.

It goes beyond simply celebrating these aspects of self in the abstraction, though. It also calls us into conscious awareness of each part of ourselves as we give thanks and celebrate our bodies. Take a moment in reading to focus awareness on each body part. Focus on your feet for a moment, and take the time to be consciously aware of how they feel. Are they tired from working? Are the strong? Numb from poor circulation? How about your legs? Your arms? Your genitals? Your ears? How does each aspect of your body feel as you give thanks and celebrate it? And then, as a unit, the different pieces working together: how does your body feel?

You can do the same with your mind. Are you anxious? Distracted? Calm? Struggling with mental health? Quiet and focused? How is your connection between your mind and your body? (E.g. is your mind racing but your body is still? Or are they reflections of one another; calm mind, calm body?)

newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com
newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com

And the spirit… how is your spirit? Is it aching or joyful (or both)? Weary or rejuvenated?

We cannot simply give thanks for these aspects of who we are in abstraction. This liturgy (and ones like it) call us to be fully, wholly present in our bodies, minds, and spirits as we celebrate and give thanks- not just for each individual piece, but for ourselves as an integrated whole.

We are all- each of us- made in the image of God. The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality, and we give thanks for the many ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits. Thanks be to God!

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? How do you feel about liturgies focused on bodies, on sex? What are some ways we can help open the dialogue about sex and spirituality through worship and small groups? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.

 

Sex and Church: Connected or Disconnected?

Let’s help the church learn to celebrate erotic love and the bodies which make it possible.. . . .

revrobin2-023Robin: It’s not easy to talk about sex, at least to do so in thoughtful, positive ways that don’t involve judging others or making jokes to mask our discomfort.

That dis-ease was my experience at the 26th General Conference of Metropolitan Community Churches just concluded in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. By my count, out of 31 workshops of 90 minutes each, there were two on sex, one on transgender issues, and one on HIV/AIDS issues. Out of 29 “pop topics,” 25 minutes in length, there were two on trans concerns and one on body tattoos. There also was one plenary session (out of four) about two hours in length, on transgender concerns.  This means 13% of the workshops were on sex- and gender-relatedemerge topics (and only six percent directly on sex), and 10% of “pop topics” focused on gender and body issues (none on sex), and 25% of plenary sessions were on gender and body concerns.

I experienced one exception: during the opening plenary, when keynote speaker Ani Zonnefeld from Muslims for Progressive Values challenged MCC to live out a vision of promoting values of love, justice and peace. In a panel discussion following her powerful message, my new friend from Italy, Mario Bonfanti, spoke clearly on two occasions about the BDSM relationship at the center of his life. I wanted to jump for joy—just to hear someone talk about sex, and especially a non-mainstream sex practice, not as a problem but as a gift!! BRAVO!!!!

Of course, I am not dismissing the value of the other workshops and pop topics and plenaries on a wide variety of topics.  But I am saying we don’t talk much about sex, at least out in the open in organized, planned ways.

I am told sex was a main topic at early MCC conferences—because, in part at least, sex is why MCC came into existence. From what elders tell me, people were truly glad to be together with other people of faith to talk about sex, about ethics and practices and safety AND fun, too. I doubt anyone can honestly contend that sex is no longer an issue needing attention. The reduction in emphasis may well be due to the fact that over the years we have become more accepted by mainstream churches. It’s not easy to be different when you want the approval of others.

Prior Lake Robin
Yes, it’s me at Prior Lake, just north of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

I also experienced a lack of interest in a related topic raised by me. About a week prior to the conference, I posted on various Facebook MCC-related pages an invitation to join me on Wednesday afternoon (the time designated by the organizers for “time off,” no formal conference programs were planned) at a clothing optional lake not far outside Victoria. Four people expressed interest, three saying they hoped to attend. I posted two more times, to give updates on the plans and to be encouraging.

One more person expressed interest; however, ultimately I went alone. I had a wonderful time, so I am not complaining about the lack of company, but I am struck by the numbers of people who spoke to me after Wednesday, asking me if I enjoyed the adventure. I cannot read their minds but I do note that only a couple of people posted a “like” on Facebook, while the bulk of people spoke to me privately. I think it is reasonable to interpret this as indicative, at least for some, of a reluctance to be publicly identified with nudity or potential nudity.

youtube.com
youtube.com

I can honestly say that I worry a bit that I will be identified as a outlier, as a “crackpot” even, for being so public about my liking for nudity, insisting on the central place of sex and bodies in spiritual living,not to mention writing this blog with Malachi each week, discussing a wide variety of sex practices and even revealing considerable personal information. But I refuse to go back into the “sex is only private” closet. And I believe church communities need to pay lots more attention to sex and sexuality, and bodies, too. I want my church to be sex- and body-positive because I want us to fully human, engaging God everywhere God meets us—and that surely includes in our bodies and our sex and sexuality.

That is the point of this blog—bringing together openly and in positive ways sex, bodies and spirit—and it is the mission of monthly online hour-long sessions devoted to the topic as well.

These monthly conversations were begun last November by Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos and Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache as a way of continuing the dialogue begun in October through a three-day online webinar “Who Are We Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit” sponsored by the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development.

The webinar was a wonderful collection of paper and panel presentations, online conversations, and sidebar text dialogue while others spoke. There was much honest sharing about personal lives, ideas, and anxieties.

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The monthly conversations have been good, but not well attended. There is a new plan to make them more attractive, especially to clergy. Beginning in August, each hour of participation will be counted for CEU credit for clergy license renewal! This means there will still be conversation, but each hour will feature a major presentation on a topic of interest. The topics will be announced in advance so participants can plan their attendance.

And even more exciting to Malachi and me, we have been asked to provide the course offerings each month. This means that we intend to orient at least some of our weekly postings on this blog toward the topic of the month, as a way to help participants be well oriented to the class.

It’s not too late for the MCC movement—begun because men who sleep with men and women who sleep with women (exclusively or as part of bisexual living), and drag queens and transgender people and other sex- or gender-non-conforming and Q/queer people wanted safe spaces in which to worship the God of their understanding—to claim our call, our mission, to not only provide a safe haven for all these fabulous children of God but also to celebrate that wondrous diversity and teach the rest of the larger church about the beauty and joy and divinity of sex in all its manifestations, even including heterosexual monogamy (too many Christians and others can’t even bring themselves to like that!).

It’s a tall order, but somebody has to do it. I’m ready, and I hope you will join me, Malachi, and others as we help the church learn to celebrate erotic love and the bodies which make it possible.

 

Malachi GrennellMalachi: I’ve been a part of Metropolitan Community Church since I was a child (about 8 years old). MCC, in many ways, is my church home… although, like many childhood homes, we find that home much changed from when we left it. Thus is my experience at MCC. I left the church I had grown up in in Richmond, and stopped attending any place of worship for a while. When I moved to North Carolina to live with my mom (who is also MCC clergy), I returned to MCC via the church plant that she had facilitated.

I loved being back in MCC again. It has always been a place that I felt at home and comfortable, and I love hearing my mother preach. But as an adult, the experience of being back in church was a different one. I wasn’t sure if the difference was my age, the location, or being the child of the pastor, but I found that there was something missing from the experience of a predominantly queer church.

Growing up in MCC, I heard my fair share of lewd comments and ill-concealed euphemisms (children truly are smarter than we give them

Carlos McKnight of Washington, waves a flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Carlos McKnight of Washington, waves a flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

credit for). These comments were often jokes across the table at a diner down the street where people would congregate after church for lunch, or over the dinner table when my parents would have friends from church over for dinner. There was certainly no shame or hiding sexuality at that point- 20 years ago, we were still fighting for our right to exist (even more so than we do now), and we spent so much time hiding who we were at work and around our families that the thought of maintaining any kind of façade around our friends was too exhausting to fathom.

The sexuality of queer people was threatening to non-queer people. Thus, many people-particularly gay men- spent so much time trying to project a demeanor that was devoid of sexuality (lesbians were just simply not allowed to have a sexuality… after all, “how do two women have sex, anyway?”)

MCC was a sanctuary. It was a place where we could stop pretending- stop pretending to be non-sexual (read: non-threatening) and celebrate and embrace the vast beauty of who we are. It was a sanctuary beyond just the religious meaning, and broader than the bar scene (after all, MCC was a place for those who were recovering addicts to congregate without the fear of relapse).

And once upon a time, we didn’t fear it. We were outcasts in so many waysawareness-ribbon_HIV that we “let our hair down” a bit when we went to church. We were whole people, authentic and real. We did workshops on safer sex practices. We talked about the risks of STI infection in a real way (rather than a theoretical or hypothetical way). People shared stories that included aspects of sexuality. Some were told in a comical way, some in a heartbreaking way, some in matter-of-fact way, but there was space for it.

Granted, my experience with sexuality in MCC is partially skewed because so much of it occurred in the presence of my parents. I recall one story in which the minister at the time, Rev. Gill Storey, asked my mother if she had talked to me about condoms yet. My mother burst into tears at the thought of her child and the word “condoms” in the same sentence. So, certainly, I appreciate that my perspective is often filtered through the lens of navigating space with my parents (who, progressive as they may be, still struggled to speak openly about sex and sexuality with me for much of my life).

But perhaps that makes the contrast that much stronger: even in a space where I was sheltered from certain conversations and explicit references to sex, I was still aware of it. It was still a part of my understanding and experience of navigating my own journey and growing experience as I hit puberty. It was a church member who encouraged me to masturbate and be comfortable with my own body before trying to be sexual with another person. It was a church member who taught me about the importance of gloves and dental dams as forms of protection when engaging in sex with

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bodies that were assigned female at birth. It was a church member who taught me how to put on a condom.

I do not see that MCC in the denominations any longer. While I see many beautiful things about MCC, I do not see the radical inclusion of our whole selves- bodies, minds, and spirits- in our services any more. I remember an outcry in the church when Rev. Robin- when speaking the chant lifted up by the queens at Stonewall- said the phrase “pubic hair” behind the pulpit. I didn’t know what was so bad about pubic hair, but clearly, it wasn’t something that we were supposed to talk about.

We no longer have to hide our identities in the same ways we used to. We are accepted in more churches, allowed to be out in more workplaces, allowed to marry and claim our partnerships on our taxes, get health insurance and survivor benefits. It’s an incredible step forward for the LGBTQ communities, and I am glad that these advancements have happened. But I wonder if we stopped viewing our churches as sanctuaries for the whole of ourselves because the canister of our lives is less pressurized elsewhere. We’re only hiding a little now, instead of everything that we are, and we have worked so hard to get here that we don’t want to risk jeopardizing it by being too “out there.”

And yet, I wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by removing the sex from our sanctuaries. It feels less “out there,” sure. But we also lose people who might otherwise be interested in coming to MCC… we lose young people who are looking for authentic conversations about sex and sexuality. People like me. People who struggle to find relevance in MCC because we don’t fit in those spaces.

I have, over time, stopped going to MCC for many reasons, but the largest

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among them is that I don’t find that there is room for me to be my whole self- my polyamorous, kinky self- in most MCC spaces. I can be trans (mostly… the ambiguity of my gender presentation can still be a tricky thing sometimes) and I can be queer (or, at least, my partner can appear to have a similar gender presentation to me), but the rest of me doesn’t fit. I leave my sexuality at the door when I walk into a church now, and that never used to be what MCC was about. Because that space should be a sanctuary, not a closet.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? How do you feel about discussions of sex in church? What are some ways we can help open the dialogue? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.

Finding Sanctuary: Reminders of God through BDSM

by Malachi Grennell

Malachi GrennellLast week, Robin wrote a wonderful solo piece around the challenges and joys of sexuality and aging while I was away at a retreat for people engaged with the BDSM community. This week, while Robin is away at Metropolitan Community Church’s General Conference in Victoria, British Columbia, I get the opportunity to share some of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences from not one, but two different events that I had the opportunity to attend.

“BDSM” is an acronym that stands for “Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission, Sadism & Masochism.” BDSM is a more familiar term to most people, but I often tend to simply use “kink,” which describes the larger umbrella of alternate sexual lifestyles (of which BDSM is a part).

BDSM_acronymLike many different types of communities, the kink community is comprised of both private and public aspects: there are those who engage in kinky sex privately, but leave it “in the bedroom,” while others form networks, present and/or attend classes, go to public dungeon spaces, and attend large conferences and events.

I don’t want to turn this writing into a workshop-style piece, but I do think it’s important to give some context. I can imagine- and remember my own impressions before attending an event- that it might appear that a 5-day kink retreat would simply be a massive orgy, full of whips and chains and a lot of leather, where showing up is considered consent and people do whatever they want.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, except for the leather. There’s a decent amount of leather around, and it’s glorious.

The truth is, the 5-day retreat is held at a remote campground where they

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take people’s privacy very seriously. The days are filled up with classes from educators across the country (and sometimes, from around the world) to teach things like rope bondage safety and flogging techniques and navigating non-monogamy (or, sometimes, navigating monogamy within the kink scene). The evenings are full of events where people can try something out if they haven’t experienced it (and want to), or sit and talk to other people, or even go swimming in the pool or have a dance party. The space is both clothing-optional and sex-positive, which just means that people can be as (un)dressed as they feel comfortable and are allowed to have sex in most places (with a few exceptions, such as places where food is served).

It’s not a massive orgy (although orgies do happen). It’s a community- a group of people who share a common interest- in this case, that happens to be an alternative sexual lifestyle. It’s almost guaranteed that every person will see something they like and hadn’t thought of, as well as see something that is an immediate turn-off. The mantra in the kink community is “Your Kink Is Not My Kink and That’s Ok.” It’s a diverse group of people ranging in age, experience, interests, skill levels, sexualities, identities, and backgrounds.

The truth is, whenever I start writing about kink, it always feels a little overwhelming because there are so many places I want to go. I want to talk about rape culture and what kink has taught me about consent. I want to write about intersectionality and the ways in which kink allows for important, powerful social analysis (and the ways in which the community sometimes falls short of those analysis). I want to write about my experience as a trans person navigating a clothing-optional space. I want to write about the ways in which I have learned to tackle difficult (and sometimes dark) desires in safe, healthy ways. I want to write about catharsis and about navigating trauma and dealing with frustration.

I want to write about everything, and I think that would take a book (or two).

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http://www.challies.com/sites/all/files/03-30-Lewis.jpg

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We get the camp we need, not necessarily the camp we want.” And she’s right: every event has provided me with important lessons that I needed to learn, even if it’s not necessarily what I wanted to be learning…even if I thought I learned them last time. It’s also worth noting that we cannot get what we want unless we ask for it… two lessons that emerged from kink camp, but are not unfamiliar: I have been wrestling with these throughout my journey with Christian faith.

But these parallels exist. We know, so often, that God provides what we need- the lessons we need, the experiences we need, the people we need- although, at times, it doesn’t exactly match up with what we want (or think we want). Kink camp is much the same way. I spent much of this camp in a caretaking role, ensuring the people that I care about were safe, protected, able to be vulnerable, had a place to decompress. Caretaking is something I have a complicated relationship with, and it’s not necessarily how I wanted to spend my camp… but I do think it’s what I needed to do.

Also, please don’t get me wrong- I had a blast. I had fun, I did all sorts of things, and truly honored the vulnerability and difficulties that friends were going through, and felt humbled that they reached out to me.

I was also reminded that we cannot get what we want unless we ask for it… which not only reminds me prayer, but reminds me that we must participate in our own miracles. I have a difficult time asking for what I want sometimes, and yet I was reminded that I cannot get what I want if I am not willing to ask for it. The juxtaposition between having friends need care and finding their own voices for articulating what they want and need against my own hesitancy to not “be a burden” on others was a powerful experience to have… and has given me lots to think on as I continue to settle back in to daily, clothes-wearing life.

I mentioned that I had the opportunity to attend two events. The first was the planned, 5-day camping retreat. The second was an impromptu trip to a hotel conference where a friend was coordinating overnight security and asked me to come help out. The second event was significantly different from the first event (zoning laws impacted the amount of nudity that is allowed, as well as restricted specific types of sex allowed in public spaces), but I enjoyed the event immensely and was reminded how important it is that we give back to community.

People come to these events for a myriad of reasons, but often it is to find

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support and comfort with like-minded people. Much like church, many of us are looking to find support and validation for who we are. Once we have integrated ourselves into that community, we then become a part of sustaining it.

I met many folks at the hotel conference for whom it was their first event, and they were overwhelmed with how accepted and comfortable they felt in that space. As a person who was there to ensure that everyone was safe and comfortable, as well as help make the event run smoothly, it reminded me that someone did this for me at my first event. When we reach a certain point of interaction within community, we become part of sustaining and supporting that community through whatever roles speak to us. Whether that’s a church or a kink event, it was a reminder that we are a part of shaping the communities of which we are a part.

It has been a full, exciting week and a half and I’m certainly still processing many of the individual experiences of both events. The big-picture resonance, however, is something that feels familiar. It’s about community and support. It’s about validation and confirmation. It’s about safety and reclaiming our identities. It is, in so many ways, about sanctuary.

 

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think? What are some of your thoughts, feelings, assumptions, or discomforts with BDSM? How do you feel about the synthesis of kink and faith? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.