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Human sexuality — bridging the gap

24 June 2009

My post today is part of a larger initiative of more than 50 bloggers all sharing their thoughts on how to ‘bridge the gap’. You can check out the other links at

I’m still wondering why I’m participating in this synchroblog, since I don’t really have anthing coherent to say, but since I have agreed to say something, here are some random scattered thoughts.

The announcement of the synchroblog said Bridging The Gap: Announcing the BTG Synchroblog!!!:

The culture wars surrounding the topic of homosexuality have sucked up tremendous resources, have left devastated casualties in their wake, and continue to perpetuate polarization and enmity – most clearly seen in the divide between the Christian community and the gay community. The diversity and divisiveness surrounding gay issues is staggering. Even the above statement needs to be unpacked. The sense of polarization is not simply between the Christian community and the gay community as if both of those communities were completely monolithic and mutually exclusive. Rather, we see fractures within the Christian community and disagreements within the gay community. In the midst of this wasteland are gay Christians – a diverse group of people too – who often find very little safe harbour on either side of the divide.

I’ve been aware of the culture wars, cyberspace has been full of them. Many of the Christian newsgroups are filled with nothing else. But these culture wars seem to be predominantly Western, or between The West and The Rest.

Looking at the announcement of the synchroblog above, I also wonder about the term “community”, as in “Christian community” and “gay community”. As for the first, I don’t think one can speak of “the Christian community”; there is no such thing. Christianity is divided into thousands of denominations. And I also wonder what “the gay community” means. Does the word “gay” refer only to people who have “come out” as homosexual, and identify with a particular gay subculture that is sufficiently cohesive to be called a “community”? Does that mean that all gay people are homosexual, but that not all homosexual people are gay? Are we talking about sexuality or cultural groupings here? The term “culture wars” suggests the latter; but if that is the case the approach one takes to such things is different from that which one takes to questions of sexuality.

A fortnight ago I went to the Amahoro Gathering at Hekpoort, about 40 miles west of Pretoria. About 250 people gathered from various countries in Africa and there were a few from other countries as well.

“Amahoro” is a word in Rwandan languages meaning “peace”, and I think it was chosen to represent the rebuilding needed in that country following the horrific genocidal strife that took place there 15 years ago. The Amahoro gathering was billed as “empowering emerging leaders”, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been there at all, not really being a leader, and at my age I’m submerging rather than emerging.

Much of it was about what it means to be Christian in a postmodern and postcolonial world. I won’t say much about it here — I’ve blogged about that in other posts, with pictures. But it was useful, because words like “postcolonial” have often been bandied about and I wasn’t too sure what they meant, and I think I now have a better idea.

For some of the younger people there it was a lifechanging experience, and if you’re interested in reading about it there are links to some of the blog posts about it here

One of the things that seemed to come to the fore, in discussions at the conference and in some of the blog posts afterwards, was the question of identity.

And it strikes me that there are very different approaches to this question in different places, and in different places in cyberspace. In these blog posts (mostly by white South Africans) identity seems to be seen in broad cultural terms. One of them, Nic Paton, asks, in effect, “Should I identify myself as African or European, as Postmodern or as Postcolonial?”

There are several Christian newsgroups on Usenet, and to judge from discussions there, entirely different questions are being asked. Identity seems to be constructed in terms of sexual orientation, or in the USA, in terms of politics — am I heterosexual or homosexual? Am I Democrat or Republican. In the UK it seems to be in ethnic terms — am I British or English or European? The increase in support for the fascist British National Party in the recent European elections makes this look more important.

The following snipped from a discussion that took place in the alt.usage.english newsgroup illustrates one aspect of this. It was part of the discussion of the language and usage in a current British “Big Brother” TV series:

In article ,
Peter Duncanson (BrE) wrote:
>I’ve just read this in a forum:> It does seem odd that so many are either gay or bisexual. Only a
> small percentage of the population is gay or bisexual,

I wonder what evidence the (webforum) writer has for this. He/she/it
seems to assume a discrete classification of individuals that is not
supported by the evidence of history or modern society. (Repeat after
me: “‘Sexual orientation’ is an invention of modern Western European


That might be a theme that deserves more exploration.

Certainly, from what I’ve observed in blogs and electronic forums like Usenet, the Anglican Communion is tearing itself apart over questions of sexual orientation, and that last statement — “‘Sexual orientation’ is an invention of modern Western European culture.” could go some way to explaining it.

At least part of the debate within the Anglican Communion (at least the part that I’ve seen in the blogosphere and on Usenet) seems to stem from cultural imperialism. Africans who accept the Western cultural narrative are seen as good, and others as bad, and some of the rhetoric used to describe them could come straight from the jingoistic imperialism of the late Victorian era.

Electronic communication has made it easier to talk to people around the world, and people talk of the world becoming a global village, but I’m not so sure. As long as we ignored each other, we got along OK. There was stuff that other people do and think that we really don’t want to know, and perhaps we’d get along better if we didn’t know.

But it’s too late to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube. Electronic communications are here to stay, at least until we’ve run out of resources to generate enough electricity. So how do we “bridge the gap”? Perhaps we could start by asking what the gap is. Is it a cultural gap? And if so, what are the cultures between which there is a gap? And what makes those cultures tick?

Oh, and, for what it’s worth, here is something I wrote about one of my gay friends.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 June 2009 1:46 pm

    Thanks for participating and allowing some who are westo-centric in this conversation to glimpse that there are other realities and contexts to consider – from which we could learn much and perhaps remember to break out of our glass house.

    I agree with the limitations of using the word ‘community’ in referring to either those connected with Jesus and/or connected with sexuality….. still searching for better, concise ways to be descriptive.

    For any regular readers here – would invite you to take a peek at the other blog posts – now up to nearly 70 ….. from quite diverse viewpoints.

  2. 25 June 2009 5:53 am

    I think I’m going to be busy for a while with this initiative and come away with yet another blog post when this is all done!

    Wow! a lot said here and difficult to chew on but I’m committed to give what you’re saying some thought.

    However, Wendy has broken things down a bit and and so I would agree with her when she commented on the other realities and context.

    I can say the same with my background as being a an Aboriginal woman. There is certainly a work of bridging that needs to be done between Aboriginal people/the church/ and Caucasian folks, there was that culture war and genocide that took place among my own people.

    Again, it’s perhaps that we don’t do to well in community with people who are different from us. In the past it was centered upon the color of a person’s skin and today it’s about the person’s sexual orientation for lack of better words.

  3. jayhuck permalink
    25 June 2009 7:00 am

    “Sexual orientation’ is an invention of modern Western European culture.”

    In some ways yes and in some ways no! I see Western European culture as giving a label to something that has always existed.

    • 25 June 2009 1:52 pm

      That’s quite possible, but after our recent discussions about postcolonialism at the Amahoro Gathering, I’d like to investigate a bit further. One of the speakers mentioned Edward Said’s book Orientalism, which was about how Western European culture invented the Orient. From that to “orientation” is just a matter of a suffix, then put “sexual” in front of it and Bob’s your auntie.

      No seriously, I think there may be something in it. I must get Said’s book.

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