The road is long. Arriving at the end is not easy. In the storms of our human struggle, we realize that our bodies alone cannot get us to the end. The trip is too long. What we need is a power that is outside of our ability and limitations. Certain experts and the maps they produce along the way, claim that the body is more than able to make the journey without any help. They say that our bodies are better than any force that could aid us. But, we know that this is not true. When we realize that a vehicle is needed, our trip is transformed. As we ride in our vehicle, we continue to feel the bumps and holes of the road, and daily we are reminded that the shock from these bumps would be even more treacherous, even fatal, without the aid of our vehicle. Daily, our tires fall into the holes and daily they rise up out of them. Our vehicle brings us out of the dark chasm to continue on the road toward the sun’s bright beams time after time.
The gay Christian is in the predicament of the driver. Many of the resources that are believed to contain truth attempt to expose the roadblocks and bring out the answers to gay and lesbian acceptance into the Church, but they fail at the task. The authors of these books desire to know the answers but few attempt to find them in the right place. The result is a system of questionable material. Many books being written in gay theology provide a cheap way out for those who have the advantage in society, especially in the Church. It is not actually until the person drives further that it becomes plain that the theology that he/she has picked up on the journey from such resources will not function as it should. The outward appearances are deceiving.
Freedom and true release from oppression in the Church and in the world are at the end of the road. The question is how does the Church arrive there? How can gay and straight people come to love each other in a healthy atmosphere of ecclesiastical space, putting aside past incidents of hate? Many theological books claim that the answer comes in a human container: it is in what we do that we will obtain salvation from oppression and abuse, for this system proclaims that all people have an “inner goodness.” But, what is being distributed here is suspect theology in light of Christian teaching and the Scriptures — a “Theology of glory.” This article is about a better answer — a “Theology of the Cross.” By implementing a homiletical, liturgical, hymnological and sacramental theology, it will become clear that the only possible way to reach the end of the road with an effective reply to homophobia, heterosexism and other oppression, is the Cross. The Cross is the only way by which we get to the “other side,” embodying discipleship and be willing to take risks for our fellow human being. Only when the Cross is the basis for our theology and not human agendas, can we show God’s love to the world in our actions. Oppression will come to a halt because the Cross produces a change from the hostility of universal sinfulness to the hospitality of divine grace which is ours as people of faith, both gay and straight.
The Church at the time of Martin Luther thought that it had the answer, too. Great amounts of sin had consumed the medieval world (including the Church and many of its theologians). The answer that the corrupt hierarchical Church offered was built on human solutions that put stock in greedy and idolatrous interests (sin). The selling of indulgences was an outward sign of this system of glory. While the Cross was definitely present in the ecclesiastical dogma of the Church, obvious in the celebration of the Mass alone, the Cross’ presence did not mean that there was a theology of the Cross. Instead, the system in place was one about the Cross. The theology was being fueled by human self-interest and money, signs that the Cross was in a secondary position in all arenas of the Church. This sort of theology is a “Spectator Theology.” The theology of the Cross operates on a different foundation. The Cross is at the heart of the Christian message and theological enterprise, proclaiming that all people by their very nature are sinful and in need of salvation which comes from a power outside of human ability.
Through Jesus’ death and bodily resurrection, a metamorphosis or transformation takes place. It is one of simultaneous justification and sanctification. The Word of God (Logos) is not only in the Sacraments and the sacred Scriptures, but also in the person of Jesus Christ. Both the Law and the Gospel are present in all of these forms of the Word of God. The Law convicts us of original sin and condemns us to death, but Christ’s death and resurrection raises us to new life. A theology faithful to the Word will hold the event and purpose of the Cross with its intrinsic elements of Law and Gospel high. This is theologia crucis (theology of the Cross). “In the Cross and resurrection, God is bringing about something entirely new, something that is to put an end to the old way of thinking as well as acting [which includes an acceptance of our sexual dimension, and for some people, a change from homophobia to an openness of grace and acceptance] . . . the Cross is its own system. The Cross and resurrection in itself brings about something entirely new.” [Forde, Gerhard, Where God meets Man (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1972), 34.]
In this system, the “old Adam” dies and a “new Adam” rises in Christ. This is about the freeing of human souls from the bondage of sin and with this comes the reality and knowledge that there are no degrees of sin – the homophobe is no worse than a liar or someone who cheats on his partner. The Cross is the only thing that levels the playing field so that all are in the same passenger seat with the same baggage. While the baggage may be different colors, it is all the same size.
The theologia crucis creates a mandatory focal point on Christ in liturgy and hymnody, preaching and Sacraments. Without this, the community of faith cannot teach the world about the true justice and freedom that can be found in the Word of God. When we proclaim the Cross in word, music and action, we proclaim God’s Word (Law and Gospel) as God’s justice. This answer does not originate in the mind of humans, but rather it comes from the infinite love and wisdom of God who gives us knowledge and shalom. This reality is what Christians celebrate in liturgical worship.
Christian worship (liturgy and hymns in particular) is about the Cross. Corporately, we affirm the truth that God is one God. We try to model our lives so that they reflect the Reign of God in its justice and saving power. It is because of the Cross that we turn away from worshipping ourselves and the popular culture in which we live so that God is praised and magnified on earth. The liturgies of the Church have served as a retelling and living out of the story of salvation since the time of the early Christians. While the traditional liturgies and some hymns may have been used at times as tools of oppression, that is not their original intent nor is it their real purpose. Oppression was never the purpose of the Scriptures. Under that heretical use of the Word of God, the Scriptures became texts of terror. Real Christian worship puts aside differences, including sexuality, because “in Christ there is no east or west.” Hymns and the liturgy teach us what we need to know about Christ and the Cross.
In worship, ALL of God’s children hear the story of salvation in which they are freed from sin through the Cross. We rehearse the solution to the problems that we face in the reenacting of this story. Chord after chord, word after word, gesture after gesture bathes us in a spiritual balm which brings the soothing harmony only the triune God could produce. When we die and rise daily as baptismal anamnesis, we remember the death and rising of Jesus, making God’s will clearer. “Thus you can say that the will of God for you is revealed in the fact of your baptism, or in the fact that you hear the Gospel and receive his body and blood in the sacraments.” [Forde, 36.]
It is in the act of corporate worship that we taste, smell, touch, see and hear God’s presence in the struggle of life. In this sense, we know that we are in need of the Cross, that the Cross brings shalom. Our senses die but then rise like a crocus in the springtime. In the Cross, the Word of God springs up in a natural earthly sign which contains a supernatural divine promise.
The theologian of the Cross has the valuable task and duty of returning “ad fontes” to the Cross as a source of life, justice and truth. The homilest, ordained or lay, must turn to the ancient Scriptures of the Church in order to make the justice of God plain for ALL to believe and live daily. This homiletic of Law and Gospel is consistent with the space, rites and actions in which the community of the Cross shares. Preaching the continuity and resolution of the Cross means letting the Good News transform the life of the Church, not by seeking to do the transforming on one’s own:
“Moralizing does justice neither to Law nor to the Gospel. It stirs up guilt without recognizing the depth of human sin. It utters admonitions which betray too much faith in human possibility and, therefore leaves us powerless in the end. Moralizing does justice neither to the Law nor to the Gospel. Moralizing about justice misses the radicality of God’s absolute demand and absolute judgment as revealed in the Cross. In its humanistic proclivities, moralizing about justice misses God’s absolute, radical love and mercy, which is the promise of the whole Christ event . . . True preaching of justice begins and ends with God’s absolute demand and judgment and begins and ends with God’s absolute grace and mercy. Moralizing about justice begins with an illusory belief in human potential and ends with the existential disappointment of human failure.”
[Childs, Jr., James M., “Preaching Justice: The Ethical Vocation of Word and Sacrament Ministry” in Trinity Lutheran Seminary Review (Spring/Summer 1998), pp. 5-18, ed. Donald G. Luck (Columbus: Trinity Lutheran Seminary), 9.]
The preaching of discipleship and freedom that we have because of the Cross is the spoken Word which forms a partnership with our gestures (figurae) in worship and out in the world. Our worship space, which also should proclaim the Cross, shapes our actions by stenciling our movement in a cruci-centric form. The altar and font rise above other furnishings in the worship venue because they are physical aids to participation in and being marked by the sacramental message of the Cross. They help configure the actual worship space cristo-centrically and support the Trinitarian focus of the rites of the Church. Gestures such as the “passing of the Peace” and the presider’s orans posture during the consecration of bread and wine aid us in living the Cross story daily. Many Christians find that making the sign of the Cross is also a meaningful and important part of their faith and piety.
“Think about the sign of the Cross as such a rehearsal. Over and over it comes- from the door of the church before baptism, through each morning and night at bedside, each Sunday in the assembly, then to the anointing of the body in sickness and in the end the signing of the body for burial with that same Cross. What are we rehearsing? In the cross traced over and over, we are learning the very shape of our lives, knowing or absorbing little by little how for us that cross is the weapon against evil and the victory over death.”
[Huck, Gabe, How can I keep from singing? Thoughts about liturgy for musicians (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1989), 25.]
As a result of the Theology of the Cross in all aspects of our faith, a new ethic is carried out. Now, the believer has what Sharon Welch calls an “ethic of risk.” This means that while we still remain sinful, the grace of God seeps into the depths of our souls and we become agents of that very grace. We have no choice to stay in the comfortable seat. We are called to a discipleship of “costly grace,” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, which means that because of the resurrection, we are called to be partners in change.
We are called to a life-long profession (baptismal vocation) of justice that means giving up control and letting God work through the power of the Cross. It is only through the Cross that each believer will be able to embrace an ethic of risk for his/her neighbor. Only then will all Christians love as they were first loved. The lack of this ethic may indicate a lack of the Cross in any theology, whether that be a gay church or a straight one. As a straight man, I must constantly remind myself that being a Christian does not mean sitting back and letting the chauffeur drive. Somewhere in the midst of my privileged heterosexual life, I must get up from my conformably padded seat to serve my homosexual neighbor. In order to be a theologian of the Cross and active Christian, I must extend the hand of friendship. Christian discipleship is about putting aside past prejudices and working for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God which is not about sexual orientation.
All Christians desire to know the answer to the human dilemma that we have been discussing. It is the job of the theologian of the Cross to crack the false front of real truth that has been assembled by homophobes, but the task remains also of enlightening the side which says the answer is within us. Through preaching the Word of God, right administration of the sacraments in worship, and social action through the Cross, humanity’s predicament is made naked for all to see. God’s grace provides a protective cloak which warms us up from the chill of this exposure. It makes love to us. The Cross exposes our NO and brings us to God’s YES! This YES is always the Cross; it is always resurrection. It is how we know how to love and be loved. Without the YES of the Cross, the oppression of sin and the power of the devil would have the last word but, they do not. Our risk in living the theology of the Cross always leads us to the resurrection of Easter.
Note: When “Word of God” is used in this article, it is not meant to be used in a fundamentalist or biblicistic way. Instead, the “Word of God” is the unseen substance which brings truth in our lives. I am speaking about the experience and revelation of truth and the presence of God in our lives. This is in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures not as texts of terror, but as freedom and justice. This is not a literal word for word message. But, rather a Word inspired by the Holy Spirit to free the world from the very oppression and sin which gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people throughout time have experienced. While this “Word” points to everyone’s sin, it liberates all in the person of Jesus and his death and resurrection on the Cross. The Word of God in Jesus, the Scriptures, the Sacraments and liturgical environment, contains the Gospel which resurrects the whole believing community and helps it to know better the saving presence of God. This is the Word of God.
Author of Sacred Song and the Pennsylvania Dutch, Rev. Daniel Jay Grimminger served as a musicologist at Kent State University and pastor of Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Grove City, Pa. He earned a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh.