The first drag show I attended was late one Saturday night. As a pastor, I’m usually at home on Saturday nights finalizing my sermon and trying to rest, but this night was different. I had become friends with a few of the performers, and I knew some of my parishioners were going to be there, too, so, even though it didn’t start until about 10:00, I wanted to be there. It was campy, colorful, loud and more than a little bawdy. In other words, I loved it.
Before the show began, a woman came up to me and exclaimed: “I know who you are! I’m Susie, and I’m definitely going to your church tomorrow morning!”
A friend of Susie’s is a member of our church and had been inviting her to visit for some time. Susie, openly gay and a single mother of two, was skeptical about walking into any church building, especially one with “Baptist” in its name. I guess the sight of the pastor at a drag show, along with my official church T-shirt stating that we are “the church your mother warned you about,” reassured her our fellowship would be a safe, loving and healthy community for her family. They did visit the next morning and have become beloved members of our church.
According to Frederick Buechner, the birth of Jesus to a poor, insignificant young mother and father, in a manger, surrounded by fresh animal dung, is a reminder that there is no place, time or people too lowly, insignificant, worldly or sinful, that holiness is not permeating them too. As Buechner puts it, it is “just where we least expect to find God, that God comes most fully.”
About once a month or so, our church skips out on our rented space and gathers instead to sing, pray, listen and share a meal together at a local tavern. Sunday morning worship happens in a bar. Occasionally, we are even able to schedule our service so that it is followed by a drag brunch. Miss Trinity Devine, the queen who organizes the brunch, has led readings and prayers in our service. Her very name reminds me that our friendship is absolutely providential.
“My friend loves God, and he knows God loves him, deeply.”
I’ve been getting to know the young man behind the queen. He grew up in church and still identifies as a Christian, in spite of how other self-identified Christians have treated him and the larger LGBTQ community. My friend loves God, and he knows God loves him, deeply. He credits prayer and his faith in Christ with carrying him through some difficult times. He chose the name Trinity Devine (spelling intentional) not to be sacrilegious, but because of its deep spiritual meaning for him.
He and I have talked about the sheer joy and wonder of drag shows. One of the great rewards as a performer, he says, is noticing the sparks of hope and love in the eyes of others, and the happiness and uncontrollable laughter. This minister can bear witness: the smiles and joy are genuine and, thank God, contagious.
I set out to write a more fun, light-hearted reflection about Christmas and drag queens, “don we now our gay apparel, fa-la-la-la-la-la,” and all that. I began jotting down notes and scribbling out the first draft. Then, the hate-filled rampage at Club Q in Colorado Springs happened.
It is a horrible reminder that too many of my siblings in the Christian faith still are not able (or sinfully refuse) to accept that the antithesis to the gospel of Jesus is not the presence of the LGBTQ community, but rather our preferences for fear, hatred and corrupt power. Preaching paranoia and exclusion from our pulpits and politicking on an imaginary “war” against Christmas only pours more fuel on the raging flames.
“It is exactly in those very places we are most certain we’d never find God that God in Christ Jesus appears most fully.”
Again, as Buechner says, Christmas means there is no place so insignificant or “less than” that holiness is not present there too; in fact, it is exactly in those very places we are most certain we’d never find God that God in Christ Jesus appears most fully.
The scandal of “Emmanuel” (God with us) is that it is true not just for the “good folks” in pews on Sunday mornings, but for single gay mothers named Susie, drag queens named Trinity, all our transgender family and friends, and all the LGBTQ spaces (such as bars) who make room for them because so many churches have turned them away. The Bible is clear: God is especially with them.
My prayer this season is that God will open the hearts inside our church buildings to the wild and mischievous movement of the Holy Spirit, and that we will begin tearing down our walls to make more “room in the inn” for others (and therefore, for Christ).
And, if you haven’t already, may you be surprised this Christmas by the heavenly joy of meeting Jesus … in a drag queen.
Bert Montgomery serves as pastor at University Baptist Church in Starkville, Miss. He also teaches religion and sociology courses at Mississippi State University and has authored five books. This reflection was originally written for the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists’ newsletter.
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