How can there be a dialogue about sexuality with only men? How can there be a discussion of religious views of homosexuality with only straight men?
Good questions. Questions asked at the end of our recent Faiths in Conversation Dialogue on sexuality, marriage, and homosexuality.
These questions reveal the vast gulf between traditional religious views and those of contemporary persons, particularly in the West. The traditional view is that revelation is, as a product of God, gender neutral. It neither favors nor disfavors any particular type of person as interpreter. Traditional methods of interpretation in all three religions imagine themselves to be equally gender neutral. They are the application of a set of universal principles. These principles and their application is not determined in any way by the particularity of gendered human experiences.
On this view one could have invited a female pastor and a gay imam and their presentations would have been no different from their male or straight counterparts.
Most contemporary people would disagree with this. And many did the other evening, and quite vocally.
We are intensely aware that our personalities, our gender, our social location, our sexuality, and our individual experiences deeply affect what we see and fail to see in interpreting God’s revelation. We see all interpretation is influenced by gender, social class, sexuality, and even individual personality.
There is no truly objective interpretation of revelation, or of a religious tradition. And, going further, there is no interpretation that doesn’t either perpetuate or challenge the structures of oppression within which traditional interpretations were formed.
Thus, it is argued, any presentation of religion must absolutely have representation by women and gays, and others. Only with this representation can we fully grasp the meaning of the revealed message and avoid exploitative interpretations.
The belief that the social location of the interpreter plays an important role in determining the results of interpretation, and that interpretation perpetuates power differentials, is now so widespread that many people cannot imagine that not everyone has this understanding of reality. It seems like a truth so obvious that it need not be stated.
Just, I might add, as the older view of objective interpretation seems to those who hold it to be a truth so obvious it need not be stated.
But it does need to be stated. Within and between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity there is a fundamental disagreement over the basis upon which scripture and tradition are interpreted. And lacking agreement on the basis of interpretation there is no possible agreement on the results of interpretation.
Which is why we need dialogue, but perhaps a different kind of dialogue than that which we have pursued thus far. We need to probe further the question of who can claim access to the meaning of God’s revelation, and on what basis those claims can be judged.