By Jeff Walton (@JeffreyHWalton)
(Note: this is the first in a series of articles covering the 2013 meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies that met March 21-23 at Seattle Pacific University).
The largest and most prominent academic society within the Pentecostal tradition should be open to the promotion of homosexual, transgender and intersex “realities” as faithful representations of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, according to an address given by the society president.
Society for Pentecostal Studies President Paul Alexander’s address was suffused with liberation theology themes in which he denounced “white racing,” “male sexing” and urged gathered Pentecostal academics to accept “LGBTQI realities” in their churches and seminaries. Alexander also outlined his vision for an essentially interreligious society open to non-Christian members and leaders and unbound to any historic “capital-P” Pentecostalism.
Central to Alexander’s address was a liberation theology reading of the Exodus that portrayed both oppressive Biblical Egypt and later freed Israelites inhabiting the Promised Land as “the construct of Whiteness.” The Palmer Seminary professor described whiteness as a “super-ordination that subordinates the other.”
Alexander, who is a licensed Assemblies of God minister, cited inspiration by mujerista (feminist Latina) theologians, among others. He declared “we’ve been raced by a system” and argued that a “collective confession and repentance” was needed to redress “systemic and ingrained violence that has been such a consistent part of the American experience.”
Alexander argued for deconstruction of norms within Pentecostalism: “All manifestations of lighter skin privilege and silent conflations of whiteness with superiority and the norm must be openly challenged and dismantled.” Alexander applied this liberationist hermeneutic to various issues, claiming manifestations of “whiteness” within Pentecostalism included male privilege, acceptance of violence in war, and boundaries regarding doctrine and sexual ethics.
In his address to the society, Alexander noted that some Christians who are “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex” are also Pentecostals and Charismatics, urging that the society should openly discuss “our diversity of perspectives” without “fear of reprisal.”
“Some of these LGBTIQ — and whatever other letters come along – Pentecostals attend Pentecostal universities and seminaries and worship in Pentecostal churches,” Alexander stated. “Some Pentecostal churches believe that homosexuality is a sin and oppose civil and human rights for LGBTIQ people. And some do not. Some members of SPS think homosexuality is a sin and some members of SPS think homosexuality is not a sin and want to work against heteronormativity and heterosexism.”
The SPS president left little doubt that he was among those in the latter category, detouring into a scolding about how an SPS member who presented a controversial paper on sexuality at the 2012 annual meeting experienced difficulties with her denominational officials after her presentation was brought to their attention.
Charging that SPS was not “a place where anyone uses fear to limit discourse or argument” Alexander revealed that the incident inspired the SPS executive committee to consider adopting a civility statement and alleged that informing the leadership of the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies of Canada of the academic work of feminist theologian Pamela Holmes constituted bullying. As the SPS president argued society scholars should be welcome to research and write about sexuality “in whatever ways they prefer” a “no bullying” advertisement was flashed on the screen behind him. [IRD’s Julia Polese reported on Holmes’ presentation from 2012 that can be viewed here.]
Alexander asserted that “pentecostalisms” and SPS members had a diversity of hermeneutical methods and understandings of scripture and tradition.
“We do not even agree on the Trinity or the lack thereof,” the SPS president noted, in a nod to Oneness Pentecostals who have been invited to join the society. “I am hopeful that we can thrive as a society even as we argue civility and charitably about Biblical, theological, ethical, historical, philosophical, practical, ecumenical, missional and cultural perspectives regarding LGBTQI realities both within and beyond the pentecostalisms we experience and study. SPS should continue to be an open space for the presentation of research and argumentation regarding the many issues of sexualities, of faithings, of genderings and of racings.”
Way Down in Egypt Land
Quoting theologian George E. “Tink” Tinker of United Methodist Iliff School of Theology that “white American Christians need a liberation theology of their own to free them from the denial of their own past,” Alexander proceeded to offer his liberation reading of the Exodus.
Alexander identified Pharaoh and his son as the “sexed-as-male raced-as-white coercive voice and structures of whiteness.” Arguing that Pharaoh’s “whiteness” was irredeemable, Alexander charged it is a construct “that must be exited completely so that it can deconstruct into nothingness.”
“All white male constructs must die,” Alexander flatly stated, adding with a smile “and I’m a pacifist saying this, that’s crazy!”
Describing the son of Pharaoh as “the white Jesus” and “the only begotten son of empire,” Alexander interpreted that “the white Jesus must die if humanity is to be delivered from oppression and live in the Promised Land.” In the plague that killed Egypt’s firstborn sons, Alexander explained that “the construct of a white Jesus will die at the hand of God.”
The Assemblies of God minister then transferred the designation of “whiteness” to the “resurrected white male in the conquest of Canaan.”
“In the Exodus, God kills the son of whiteness and the white male drowns in the sea,” Alexander read. “In the subsequent conquest of Canaan led by the first Yeshua [Joshua], God kills the indigenous on behalf of this resurrected yet unnamed whiteness operating through Joshua. Just when it seems possible that whiteness has been exited, the coercive voice and structures are at it again. Exiting it and entering the Promised Land with the conquering Yeshua and the conquering God still does not yield the world beyond whiteness that humanity needs. Theories, methodologies and theologies raced by whiteness while in Egypt enter into a pseudo-promised land where the Canaanites are utterly destroyed because they are raced non-white.”
Declaring “we have to find another Yeshua” Alexander proposed looking to a “Cannanite Jewish Yeshua hermeneutic” that embraced faith in “Joshua the Christ” rather than “Joshua the conqueror.”
“I propose an intertextual reading of Yeshua the conqueror in which a Canaanite, Jewish Yeshua of the first century critiques the conquest of his namesake: a post-white liberation exodus from whiteness that imagines a world where liberation does not lead to conquest. Yeshua contra Yeshua, with the second Yeshua following the lead of the Hebrew midwives in disobeying God’s commands to the former Yeshua which was ‘you must utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.’”
Alexander offered an unorthodox interpretation Christ’s interaction with the Canaanite woman in Matthew Chapter 15 who seeks healing for her demon possessed daughter, charging that she did not come to worship Jesus, but to challenge him.
“The Canaanite woman’s reframing of the dog-bread metaphor elicited the transformation in Jesus that he needed to escape the confines of whiteness,” Alexander asserted. “He suffered the humiliation of the Canaanite woman and learned deeper obedience to God’s will.”
The SPS president seemed to deny Christ’s sinless nature, proposing that “in recognizing her humility and challenge, Jesus exited whiteness.”
“The story says that her daughter was healed that very hour,” Alexander noted. “Jesus was also healed from that hour.”