Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of Christian Ethics

By Kathy Rudy | Go to book overview

of church leadership, and it meant helping congregations become integrated along racial and class lines. In many middle-class white churches of the 1970s, it was believed that renewal would only happen as churches opened their doors to people who, for one reason or another, had not quite fit in before.

This recent moment of political rejuvenation in the American church is as good a place as any to begin to understand the bifurcated and contentious nature of the church, particularly its understandings of sexuality and gender, at the turn of the twenty-first century. Sandwiched between desires for suburbia on the one hand and the institutionalization and objectification of the "situation ethics" movement on the other, pockets of Christians all over the country heard the gospel message in the late sixties and early seventies as a revolutionary claim about inclusivity, community, and social action. For them, the older patterns of life -- in which white men from the middle or upper classes dominated their families, their local churches, and Christian thinking and writing itself -- were no longer adequate. From every walk of life and from every political angle, Christians across America challenged hegemony, race and class privilege, and sexism; moreover, they spoke against a church that allowed and sanctioned oppression and injustice. New voices were welcomed as fresh authorities.

However, for Christians who were relatively happy with the status quo, these new liberation theologies and movements seemed excessive, ungrounded, and unnecessary. Before the sixties, churches were growing; the American family was stable and healthy; and a national consensus existed regarding the importance of church life. Although blacks, women, and gays were regularly excluded from the ranks of church leadership, it was, in the words of one commentator, a "time of peace and prosperity when people moved to the suburbs, bought Chevrolets, went to bed early, and repopulated the Churches." 1 Although not everyone had a voice in public discourse, those who did speak for the church could at least agree on what American Christianity stood for. Thus, what some of us saw as spiritual renewal and long- needed challenges to straight, white, male hegemony, others saw as the unnecessary disruption of stability and religious consensus. By the late 1970s, Christians had become severely divided over which ideology truly embodied the gospel message.

In his Culture Wars, James Davison Hunter describes the differences between these competing factions by distinguishing "orthodoxy," which he defines as "commit-

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