Jun6SunCelebrating a decade of LGBTQ2SIA+ inclusion in the ELCIC June 6, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
Dearly and Queerly Beloved, 10 years ago, in 2011,
the ELCIC at National Convention adopted the Human Sexuality Statement which permitted the local option for same-sex marriages and ordination of queer clergy,
and allowed churches to welcome LGBT folx.
However, it was not a cakewalk to get to that point.
In the decade that led up to the 2011 vote, there were failed attempts to pass pro-queer legislation, there was a lot of divisive conflict,
Much hurt, and a legacy of the loss of seminary endorsements, calls, and faith communities,
with pastors and churches disciplined for their refusal to remain closeted, or for calling LGBT clergy.
The cover story of the most recent edition of the Canada Lutheran is dedicated to celebrating 10 years of inclusion,
and includes many personal reflections by “out” Lutherans.
One of the most poignant quotes was by Finn B. (him) who wrote: “there is a dangerous yet common narrative that being trans means that you are rejecting the way that God made you.
It was never a thought that I had until I started coming out to the people in my life.
I had never considered [that] staying closeted [would be] honouring myself or that my truth could be going against God’s will for me.
I am a child of God. This is me.
How could this possibly be wrong?
Everyone is made perfectly in God’s image and I was made trans.”
Finn’s statement names two truths that are important:
the idea of God’s unconditional love which transcends all boundaries
and is wider and broader than we can imagine,
and the fact that we are made in God’s image,
and that all the Creator has made is good,
and thus so are humans in all their diversity,
of race, size, hair colour, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.
So for this sermon, with a claim that “God’s family is queer”,
it’s important to start with a definition of the word queer.
A fantastic book I read last week called
“Queer theologies: the basics by Chris Greenough ()” states:
What is queer?
One of the earlier definitions of queer meant strange or odd.
But the term was also later used in the form of homophobic verbal use. This insult was later reclaimed, and was used to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other individuals who identify as non-normative in terms of their gender or sexuality.
Non-normative does not mean non-normal.
Non-normative is an important catch-all term used to refer to people whose self-identifications and/or sexualities do not align with traditional and dominant ideas of gender and sex.” (p.3)
However, “due to its historical use as a derogatory term,
Queer is not embraced or used by all members of the community” (CL)
To preach a sermon on queer topics,
one can use what’s called queer theology.
Now queer theology doesn’t just deal with practical applications in church-land about sexual orientation or gender identity,
such as justifying the ordination of practicing gay clergy,
and denouncing the evils of conversion therapy,
But queer theology also looks beyond sexuality by using a different and innovative lens to look critically at Scripture.
It acknowledges that the history of Biblical interpretation has been largely patriarchal and heteronormative (the assumption that everyone is straight).
(P.5) Queer theologies “examine how Christianity has been constructed throughout history and ask questions about what voices and experiences have been excluded.
This destabilizes the structures of power which have been tied up in the religion.
Theology is tied up with power, as there are authority structures within church organizations that have developed teachings or biblical interpretations which have had enormous influence in society and culture. Queer theologies interrogate this power.”
So reading “Queer” challenges the quote “normal” interpretation of texts,
Queer removes binary thinking and presumptions,
the idea that things can only be categorized into only two camps,
like light-dark, male-female, or left- right,
Queer exposes and disrupts power relations or hierarchies.
Because queer culture and theory comes from the margins of power,
it is aware that (P22) because heterosexuality is dominant in culture,
its power is invisible, and can be more sneakily used for oppression.
Queer theology also acknowledges intersectionality,
in that some groups reading the Bible will have multiple identities,
such as trans-black or cis-straight-white from a developing country,
and these further inform power structures and hierarchy.
For example, it is much easier for a cis-gay man to get a call in the church than for a trans woman of colour.
“Queer readings of the Bible make traditional readings unstable”. Because “(p.84) Queering is a critique that …deconstructs homophobic and heterosexist political theology that … excludes. [ .…]
Queering imaginatively reconstructs theology, spirituality and church practices in new, inclusive configurations.”
In other words: Queer Bible reading and queer theology is transformative and liberating.
Like liberation and feminist theology, it treats texts with suspicion, particularly “the presumed heterosexuality of the biblical characters and their relationships.”
(P.114) “Queer retellings disrupt the assumption that all characters are heterosexual and cisgender.
Alternative tellings are then possible.
“Queer approaches in Biblical studies breathe fresh air into texts saturated in patriarchy, misogyny, and negativity towards same-sex relationships and transgender lives.”
One Biblical text that can be queerly retold is from our Gospel reading.
In the first few chapters of the Gospel of Mark we hear the story of a 30-year old unmarried man who hangs out with a lot of other men and forms an outcast crew.
He goes to the marginalized and heals and helps them and restores them to community: the paralytics, the disdained tax collectors, the shunned lepers, and those with unclean spirits, the mentally ill.
In Chapter 3 we hear of his return to his hometown of Nazareth,
where he is mobbed by a crowd of poor outsiders needing his help and seeking words of comfort and consolation.
He is causing a ruckus with the political-religious establishment.
When his family hear that he is back in town,
they go out to restrain him since people were saying
“he has gone out of his mind”.
His family is ashamed of how he is living,
cavorting with prostitutes and unclean undesirables,
saying things that just shouldn’t be mentioned.
The scribes intensify the accusation that he is possessed by Beelzebul, the Lord of the Flies.
After Jesus proves their point ridiculous,
His mother Mary and his brothers come standing outside the house and send to him and call him, because they can’t or won’t come near to him because of all the unclean people surrounding him.
The crowd passes on the message:
“your mother, brother and sisters are outside asking for you.”
And Jesus asks:
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
Looking at those around him
He continues: “here are my mother and my brothers.
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”!
Now a few points about this reading:
The fact that Jesus is being accused of demonic possession (which in the ancient world was characterized by insanity) is not a mild insult,
Actually it is deadly business.
If you are demon-possed, you are shunned by your community, cast off, pushed to the margins of the towns, left to forage like a wild creature in caves, losing your home, your family, your belongings, your sense of community.
Here we can hear echoes of the shunning of the mentally ill
as well as of those who come out as non cis-straight.
Another very queer fact is the absence of Jesus’ father.
Normally in patriarchal Jewish society, the father as head of the family would be present in this important intervention.
His family was definitely also was not normal.
According to Da Silva (p.120) “the idea of queer community is based in multiple friendship networks, such as “families we choose”.
When Jesus says :“here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”,
He is claiming that while biological family life is good, serving God’s Kingdom is better, and he chooses a new non-biological family as a model for Christian relationships.
For those who have been thrown out of their biological families,
there is a second chance with a substitute social family!
And so there is a great inversion here…
the biological family which was the insider, the powerful unit, is cast out, and the outsiders are brought in.
Those who do God’s will are true insiders! They are God’s Queer Family!
I find this is very significant.
For far too long the Church has elevated the hetero-patriarchal monogamous family as the pinnacle of excellence
and denigrated all other forms of family.
The peer pressure of perfection, keeping up with the Jones’,
of the married couple, never divorced, 3 kids, a dog and a minivan-
why should it be exalted at expense of other household forms,
especially when Jesus comes out with such a bold statement on the nature of true family?
Not to say that the traditional nuclear family isn’t good,
but there shouldn’t be a hierarchy,
but an equality amongst different forms of family.
All kinds of family have their good, their bad and their ugly.
So as we ponder this queer reading of Jesus’ family,
where does that leave us today?
We need to remind ourselves that (P52 Stuart)”
“through baptism in Christ maleness and femaleness and gay and straight are categories that dissolve before the throne of grace where only the garment of baptism remains.”
We need to listen to LGBT community, amplify their voices,
and speak up on their behalf.
For example, the Federal Bill C-6 to criminalize conversion therapy is in its 3rd reading in the House of Parliament.
Write your support to your MP!
Many LGBT folx ask of churches whether they are truly welcome there.
This is a legitimate question since even seemingly welcoming ones just aren’t.
There are 3 other churches within a stones’ throw of St. Matthews,
yet none of them have a Pride flag on their church sign.
Here at St. Matthews,
We affirmed the ELCIC Sexuality Statement at our congregational meeting in June 2014.
This affirmation allowed for Deacon Scott’s call in 2019.
Clear words can lead to concrete results.
Perhaps it’s time for the next step of an explicit welcoming statement.
Most statements are too vague but “specific words of invitation will reassure those who need it most…so all feel safe and accepted”.
One of the key indicators for liberal Christians under 50 seeking a worshipping community is a clear statement of welcome towards the LGBT community.
A recent US poll shows 20% of young adults 18-34 self-identifying as LGBT+
Queer and trans people have always been among us.
Perhaps at this 10-year mark,
we could seize an anniversary opportunity to join the 5% of ELCIC Congregations openly affirming our queer siblings.
Members of “god’s queer family”, whether straight or non-normative in any way, remember God calls you “my child, the beloved one with whom I am well pleased.”