Rounding the corner of the Boston Common, my face glistening with sweat as I marched under the warmth of a hot and persistent sun, I stared out into the crowds of people who were lining the streets; these were spirited people who had gathered to watch, to cheer, and to support those of us participating in Boston’s annual Pride parade.
In this year’s parade, I had the special opportunity to march with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, whose many member churches are undoubtedly some of the most outspokenly prophetic and compassionate voices in all of Christendom, especially as concerns the spiritual health, well-being, and flourishing of LGBTQIA persons. And I was in good company, too.
Marching no more than a few hundred feet ahead of me was the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the current bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire and the first ever non-celibate, openly gay man elected to embody this sacred, spiritual leadership role in the Episcopal Church. Indeed, here is a man who, by virtue of his own existence, critical self-honesty, and selfless courage, has opened doors and created possibilities for so many people, not least myself.
As a graduate student of theology, I have found that my greatest challenge is not writing the multiple twenty-page research papers at the semester’s end or completing the 600 pages of assigned weekly readings (on a good week!), but rather it is to bring what I learn at school into conversation with people’s actual lived experience. Towards that end, I use coffee as a point of departure for theological reflection and casual conversation.
In my experiences of meeting with queer folk my age over coffee, I have found the number of LGBTQIA persons who do not believe in the existence of God to be stunning. I frequently ask myself the following question, which currently fuels my theological reflection: “What is going on such that queer young adults – or queer people in general – are turned off by the idea of God?” While this is not the case with all queer persons, many that I have met with find the idea that one can be both queer and Christian simply laughable, if not insane. Moreover, many have been wounded by the Christian Church and, for whatever reason, are weary to ever again place their trust in a body that has historically exerted its power and authority over sexual minorities.
And quite frankly, I don’t blame them. The messages of bigotry and hatred that pour from some pulpits are searing and scaring – for life. The thin and narrow method used to distill a universal ethic of human sexuality from sacred scripture (which is authored by culturally conditioned human hands and is prone to contradict itself in many places) prevents the flourishing of queer persons as human beings who, in most cases, are charged erotically and who very much desire intimacy with another. Still yet, for many queer persons, coming to terms with their sexuality amidst the contentious currents in Christianity initiates a wrestling match with theodicy, that is, with the problem of evil. In the Glee episode, “Grilled Cheesus,” Kurt Hummel sums up this tragic dilemma quite well:
“The reason I don’t think very much of churches is because most churches don’t think very much of gay people… God is kind of a jerk, isn’t he? I mean, he makes me gay and then he has his followers going around telling me it’s something that I chose. As if someone would choose to be mocked every single day of their life.”
At the risk of falling prey to sweeping generalizations, I mean to say that certain outspoken Christians of the religious right, by their ignorant and myopic views of God, human sexuality and theology, wrongfully perpetuate a message of hatred and bigotry when they exclude queer persons from full participation in the life of the Christian Church. And, in some extreme cases, self-identified Christians blaspheme when they condone measures of violence to be taken against queer persons.
It is these falsely righteous and purportedly pious folks who, contrary to their convictions, are actually working to disprove the existence of God by their errant actions. Unfortunately, because their message is so radically eyebrow-raising, these Christians have hijacked the conversation on Sunday mornings and, to date, have perpetuated the lack of faith that so many of my queer peers have.
But I will no longer allow this message to ring out at an ear-splitting decibel. And if you are a self-identified queer Christian reading this, neither should you. The time has come for Christians of all denominations — especially those of us who identify as queer — to turn up the volume on the gospel message of radical love and inclusivity. Truly, it is our responsibility to take back a Church that, in many cases, is on the wrong side of history. This is our Church, broken though it may be. This is our family, divided though it is.
“Proud. Queer. Christian.,” read the poster that I held firmly as I marched in the company of many bold and brave souls who have committed their lives to loving and living the gospel message. Three words. An entire lifetime in the making. Poster in hand and sunglasses on, I waved at the many people who had gathered to support us. As I walked past the energetic crowds, I felt an aura of vibrancy wash over me that I understood to be the Holy Spirit.
Yes, I am queer, I am Christian, and I am proud that these two interwoven identities are intrinsic to who I am as a human being. I turned to a new friend who is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church and said, “I appreciate that these people are clapping, but I’ve done nothing to deserve this.” To which she promptly responded, “Oh, yes you did! You defied the odds and did the unthinkable. You are who you are; you dared to be different.”
While marching, I made it a point to look at the gathered people on the sides of the streets in the eye. The response from the crowd was overwhelming. People clapped, cheered, and blew kisses. One woman mouthed to me, “wow!” Undoubtedly, some were cheering because they support love in its many multi-faceted manifestations. For others, however, it was a bold and daring witness that God is love and that God calls us to love. And as such, God empowers us to love and to love as we have been created.
So, I am queer and I am a Christian. I do not see either as antithetical or mutually exclusive dimensions of the fullest expression of my personhood. And neither should anyone else. In these trying and tumultuous times, the wounds and scars that LGBTQIA persons must bear are exacerbated by organized religion’s attempt to control how and what people think about the very core of their personhood. And yet, at our very core, we are agents of free will. Part of that great gift of free will – mediated by God’s grace – is that our faith can move mountains that were once seemingly immovable. And the mountain of incredulity can be moved, I am certain, by a powerful, dynamic faith that, if only held together by a string, draws its strength from the power of the resurrection of Jesus.
I pray that the faith of those queer folks I encounter will one day be restored. Until then, the God of mercy and compassion calls us to love one another. May the love that we embody as queer persons work with the Holy Spirit to restore and renew the Christian Church so that all may feel welcomed, affirmed and loved at God’s table always and forever. And so, we march on. Happy Pride, everyone!
CMJ graduated in 2011 from Loyola University Chicago is currently a graduate student at Boston College pursuing the master of theological studies degree. When he is not in school, he is at his office – a.k.a the coffee shop, where many prophetic conversations and ideas have been sketched out on napkins (made from recycled paper, of course). Having recently completed his first 5K, Chet’s next goal is to complete a 10K. While he grows wistful when he recalls the many fond memories he made in Chicago, Chet has fallen madly in love with the city of Boston including the local New England clam chowdah.