In this article, I examine how US evangelical opposition to LGBT rights stems from a unique understanding of sexuality and the person. As my respondents explained to me in over sixteen months of field research, evangelical rejection of LGBT individuals and practices is rooted not simply in prejudice but also in a culturally specific notion of personhood that requires Christian bodies to orient themselves to the divine. In evangelical Christianity, the body, along with its capacity to feel and communicate, is understood as a porous vessel receptive to communication with God. In contrast to a dominant idea that sexual orientations shape individual identities, sexuality within this religious world instead facilitates the movement of moral forces across individual bodies and geographic scales. Sexual desires and sexual acts are broadly understood in evangelical cosmology as communicative mediums for supernatural forces. This understanding of sexuality as a central component of moral agency shapes widespread practices of ostracism of people who identify as LGBT within evangelicalism and often leads to anti‐LGBT political positions. Claiming an LGBT identity is seen as making one a distinct kind of person incommensurate with evangelical porosity.
Abstract: In 2012 the Bologna chapter of We Are Church, a group of lay liberal Catholics who lobby the Vatican to adopt a more progressive position on various issues, including homosexuality, sought to pursue a dialogue with the city’s LGBTQ community. The relative success of those conversations depended upon We Are Church persuading their anticlerical interlocutors, whose antipathy toward the Vatican runs deep, that they were an entirely different entity to the Catholic “hierarchy.” But in prevailing in this endeavor, they created a further obstacle for themselves: the more convincingly they distinguished themselves from orthodox Catholicism, the less convincing was their eponymous declaration of “We Are Church”; the further they traveled toward the positions held by their LGBTQ activist counterparts, the more likely they were to be dismissed as unrepresentative of Catholicism, and thus irrelevant. Thus in this case ethics across borders depends not only upon finding affinities and sustaining differences but also upon finding affinities over how to sustain differences. Similarly, I suggest that debates in anthropology surrounding radical difference may benefit from attending to the ways in which such difference itself can be the subject of agreement or disagreement.
Sumerau, J. Edward, Irene Padavic, and Douglas P. Schrock. 2015. “Little Girls Unwilling to do What’s Best for Them”: Resurrecting Patriarchy in an LGBT Christian Church. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 44(3): 306-334.
Abstract: This paper examines how a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Christians resurrected patriarchal patterns of gender inequality in their local church. On the basis of more than 450 hours of fieldwork, we analyze how a group of lesbian and gay members collaborated with a new pastor to transform an egalitarian, inclusive, and democratic organization into one characterized by the elevation of men and the subordination of women via restricting leadership to men, instituting a gendered division of labor, and discrediting women dissidents. In so doing, the pastor and his supporters, regardless of their intentions, collaboratively reproduced patriarchal practices that facilitated the subordination of women. We conclude by suggesting that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between gains for LGBT organizations and gains for women, and we outline implications for understanding how retrenchment from egalitarian practice can undo gender-equality gains.