The Malpractice of “Love”

Every LGBT person knows Josh Pacheco, the high school student who committed suicide last week in Fenton, Michigan. “Not every queer person grew up being pushed into lockers and teased at school like Josh. Not every queer person contemplates suicide,” writes Rev. Cody J. Sanders. “But the effects of insult and hatred that write themselves onto our bodies mark the life of every queer person. Every one of us is familiar with the kind of violence that psychiatrist Marie-France Hirigoyen so aptly calls ‘stalking the soul.’”

What does a robust understanding of justice for LGBT people look like, one that understands the fundamental inequality of growing up with marks of insult and hatred written onto soul and body? What is the malpractice of “love” we see in far too many communities of faith?

Understanding Trauma

In “Queer Suicide and the Malpractice of ‘Love’,” Sanders says that we have not spent enough time understanding the underlying violence that leads some LGBT people to take their lives.

Violence against queer people runs much deeper than physical bullying, verbal harassment, or even hate-crime murder. It is a violence that takes place at the level of the psyche, the soul—at the very level at which our sense of “self” is constructed within our relation to society.

It is a type of violence that cannot be assessed by examining bruises. Violence against queer people in any form is an ideologically aggravated, theologically intensified violence—legitimated by a discourse about queer people that is already embedded in the lives of both attacker and victim.

Insults like “fag,” often combined with physical assault, name the queer self as sick, sinful, or an object of disgust and derision—images that swirl in social consciousness long before blows are brought to bear upon a queer body.

These social-theological discourses not only make queer bodies eligible for attack; they also provide material out of which queer people come to construct a sense of “self.”

The Malpractice of “Love”

Against the backdrop of trauma, Sanders explains the malpractice of “love” we often witness in communities of faith toward LGBT people.

By ministerial malpractice, I mean the negligent attitudes of clergy and congregations concerning the violence being enacted upon queer lives—not just the violence of bullying, but the persistent injury to the bodies, psyches, and souls of queer people.

By ministerial malpractice, I mean the youth minister who invites representatives of “ex-gay” ministries to speak to teenagers because these “practices of love” are theologically responsible, despite evidence of their destructive power.

By ministerial malpractice, I mean the pastor who knows the realities of violence enacted upon queer lives and is deeply concerned, but who, nevertheless, avoids any mention of sexuality in the pulpit so as not to upset parishioners.

By ministerial malpractice, I mean the theological scholar who prevaricates in public when asked about concerns of justice for queer lives—not even out of a sense of personal conviction on the matter, but in order to protect a public career: speaking invitations, book deals.

By ministerial malpractice, I mean the congregation that skirts around open discussions of queer affirmation, inclusion, and justice because they don’t want to become a “gay church” or (more liberally) they don’t want to be “defined by that one issue.”

Is your community of faith the “silent type” or the “vocal type”?

But then there is the love that is more “accommodating” to queer lives. In churches, it comes in two types: The “silent type” (e.g., “We love everyone here and all are welcome… We don’t need to get into the specifics.”). And there is the “vocal type” that seeks more overtly to accommodate queer people into the structures of privilege already enjoyed by straight folks (e.g., marriage, church leadership, organizational visibility, ordination, etc.).

Accommodation is sometimes helpful, for sure, but perhaps perhaps we will dream up a vision of love that is supported by a robust understanding of justice, concerned not only with the wider distribution of privileges but also with the more fundamental inequality of some having to grow up with the marks of insult and hatred being written onto their bodies.

The full article is available at Religion Dispatches.