I am a pastor who is a straight ally, and I occupy queer spaces. (My thanks to Susan Shaw for her incisive article published earlier this month offering instructions to us straight allies who planned to attend Pride Festivals and march in Pride parades for LGBTQ Pride month.)
Our church’s six-word spiritual mantra that identifies who we are and guides our vision is “Embrace Everyone. Inspire Life. Create More.” We believe in “acceptance without exception,” and we take seriously the radical hospitality inspired by Jesus that propels us toward God’s wide and all-inclusive welcome.
Last year, our church participated in Boulder Pridefest for the first time. We waved our rainbow flags in solidarity, and we met new friends and community partners. Leave it to a child, my daughter, to sum up our experience with a touch of theological brevity: “Daddy, everyone is being so fun and nice and rainbow-y!”
“We have been stuck in shame-based theologies and culturally-entrenched hierarchies of sexual privilege.”
Pride month is indeed an opportune time for us straight allies and “rainbow-y” churches to examine our privileges and to paint an alternative theological vision of what author Patrick Cheng calls the Rainbow Christ, in which he weaves together issues of race, sexuality and spirituality. One of the primary themes of a rainbow is multiplicity – signaling multiple colors, perspectives and a diversity of people. The same goes for Christ, who is a symbol painted by multiple Gospels and who speaks across the boundaries of race, sexuality and cultures.
As we celebrate this month the rainbow beauty of LGBTQ people in the full splendor of their humanity, let it be a time for churches, even “rainbow-y” ones, to repent of the ways we have betrayed the full humanity of Christ.
We have historically done so through our condemnation, abuse and exclusion of our LGBTQ siblings from the full life of the church just for being who they were born to be. When it comes to honoring the sacredness of our LGBTQ siblings’ sexualities, we have often been guilty of painting Christ using monochrome colors of exclusivity, narrowness and fear rather than the vibrant colors of inclusivity, expansion and love. It is past time for the church to embrace the Rainbow Christ.
Sexuality and gender identity have been placed in false binaries that keep us from appreciating that sexual identities exist in multiplicity, just as the Rainbow Christ exists in multiplicity in the form of the “least of these,” according to Matthew 25. The Christ who calls us to find what is holiest in the “least of these” is the one who says we will find Christ in the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and the sick. These bodies are all held within the body of Christ, a vision which surely calls us to honor and embrace those bodies today who are sexually or racially despised, afflicted and oppressed in our churches and families.
Now more than ever, LGBTQ sons and daughters and brothers and sisters are summoning the courage to come out to their parents, family and friends. At recent speaking events, author and activist Glennon Doyle has shared a story about an attendee at one of her talks. The woman asked, “My granddaughter is now my grandson, and my niece went to homecoming with a boy last year, and this year she’s going with a girl. And now you’re gay. I don’t mean any offense at all. I just came here tonight to ask, ‘Why is everybody so gay all of the sudden?’”
“It is past time to stop this gay-condemning madness, and it is past time for the church to lead the way.”
Doyle’s response is theologically poignant: “I think everyone is scared gayness is contagious. I don’t think gayness in contagious. But I’m absolutely positive that freedom is contagious.”
Freedom ought to be contagious in the church, too. If our spiritual messages in the name of Christ aren’t freeing all people from what Cheng calls the “yoke of slavery” to the codes of conduct that are imposed by a dominant community, our message is not as broad and liberating as the Christ who came to set people free from oppressive social and political systems. After all, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1, NIV).
Last week in Boulder, widely known to be a bastion of liberalism, anti-gay haters descended on downtown and protested such Christ-loving freedom by bearing signs with messages like “Jesus died for hell deserving sinners” and cupping their hands around their mouths to shout, “Jesus is your only hope!”
These wearisome demonstrations – largely propagated by Roman Catholic doctrine, the Southern Baptist Convention and conservative evangelicals – are not only anti-gay; they are anti-love. They promote and perpetuate embarrassing stereotypes of a homophobic, judgmental and hostile Christianity. They show forth a contemptible caricature of Christ rather than the compassionate character of God.
To these demonstrators and even to Christian people of goodwill and charitable spiritual conscience who still fall short of a conviction for full and unconditional welcome of our LGBTQ spiritual siblings, a question of life and death remains: How many more of our LGBTQ youth and gay and lesbian young adults in America must die before you’ll change your mind (or let your heart be changed by Christ)?
Suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide rates are three times higher among LGBTQ teenagers compared to heterosexual teenagers. Alarmingly, these statistics increase for those who come from rejecting families. As some of these teenagers become gay and lesbian young adults, and for whom religion is highly important, researchers report that 38 percent are more likely to have had recent suicidal thoughts.
This emerging correlation between faith communities that are non-affirming and an increase in suicidal thoughts and suicide in gay youth should alone be enough to take LGBTQ people off of the “sinners list.” The lives of our children and young adults literally depend on it.
It is past time to stop this gay-condemning madness, and it is past time for the church to lead the way. It is past time to stop using a few cherry-picked Bible verses to discriminate against sexual minorities and those in loving, same-sex relationships. To use the Bible to abuse the vulnerable and to demean and dehumanize those who are culturally scapegoated as “different” or “other” is an outright betrayal of the spirit of Christ.
“There are life-and-death consequences to biblical interpretation.”
There are life-and-death consequences to biblical interpretation. The ethical imperatives of those interpretations must be at least as compassionate and wise as the Christ for whom they speak. Too long we have been stuck in shame-based theologies and culturally entrenched hierarchies of sexual privilege that tempt us to love the Bible more than we love the Christ of the Bible.
In his book, A Lens of Love: Reading the Bible in Its World for Our World, Jonathan Walton, author, religious scholar and new dean of Wake Forest University School of Divinity, writes about St. Paul’s view of the oneness of the body of Christ:
Elevation of the moral mind means transcending the body. In applying this concept to life in Christ, Paul came to believe that any cultural distinction that might frustrate the full inclusion of anyone into the household of God ought to be rejected…. Any social marker, including those that created hierarchies of privilege, worked against Paul’s community-building efforts.
If we are to truly build the beloved community, if we are to be rainbow-y people and communities that embody Jesus’ vision of the kin-dom of God, it is past time for us to embrace the multiplicity and full spectrum of the rainbow Christ who shines in the brilliant color of a universal language anyone can understand: love.
The wisdom of Scripture teaches that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). When it comes to embracing the brilliant colors of sexual orientations and gender identities in the bright rainbow of humanity, let us straight allies and rainbow-y churches and families who love their kids like Christ more than they care about doctrines about Christ lead the way.
It’s past time.