“He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.” (John 1:8 HCSB)
John was sent to talk to people. To wash them in the river and get them ready. Ready for what? The radically life-changing grace and forgiveness that Jesus was bringing into the world. Folks needed to be looking in a new direction before they could really see Jesus. John had a lot of work to do.
And we have a lot to do also. As Queer Christians, we also are called to tell people about the Light. (Lk 24:45-48, Matt 28:18-20) But who do we tell? Well, no matter if I hold my Bible upside down or right-side up, I can’t find anywhere in Scripture that tells us we’re to spend our time preaching to the heterosexual folks already in church. And no word study has ever led me to the conclusion that we have some strange derivative of the Good News that begins and ends with, “God created us just as we are. We are not junk, we are part of the Genesis 1:31 summation of things that are very good.”
Certainly, that’s a part of it. I will never dismiss the scholarship that laid the liberation ground work for the LGB community. (The trans related stuff is still growing.) Parsing out words, intent, and historical context is crucial to the recovery of any community’s Scripture presence. And the work has probably saved a lot of lives. I know it saved my sanity as a youngster.
But that can’t be all of the Good News our community hears from us. It would be the same thing as having John 1:6-9 be the only part of John’s gospel anyone was ever given! While it’s both beautifully written and needed background, how frustrated would you be? At first I’m sure you would have a lot of questions. You might expend a lot of energy trying to get answers. But eventually, conflicting opinions and lack of resources would probably wear you down a bit. Then, once you realized that these opinions were the only ones you were going to hear? Well, you’d probably shrug your shoulders and give up. And giving up on something important can leave a shadow on a person’s heart.
I have come to believe, over the past 4 years, that we need to disengage from the heterosexual/traditionally gendered church community that wants us to explain ourselves. It doesn’t matter if they are screaming that we have no right to exist, or are straight/cisgendered allies, asking us to come and talk to their congregation as they go through their “welcoming and affirming” curriculum. The allies can rent a movie or go to an event. As for the rabid screamers, they won’t be satisfied with or have a change of heart because of anything we say. Any change within them comes from God, nowhere else.
Besides, there’s something even I didn’t see until about four years ago. While we’re going toe to toe with the screamers, our backs are turned to our community. And instead of washing people in the river and getting them ready like John was, we let them wander near the bank, fall in and drown. They drown because we can’t see them. And we can’t see them because we’re busy yelling back and forth with someone whose mind can only truly be changed by the God who makes a way out of no way.
Some of you might be thinking: So what the ^*%# do we do then? Just let them walk all over us and our community? Who else is going to stand up against them? Um, what I learned about four years ago is that most of the community is not listening. These folks have been tuned out. Yes, they are still causing pain, even to the people who claim to not even hear them anymore. But think about it: we’ve been yelling, publishing papers, and going toe to toe since the early ’80s. Has it ever stopped them?
What we do now is take a lesson from John.
Reading further into Chapter 1, we find John doing what he was sent to do. He was at the Jordan in Bethany (John 1:28) baptizing people. He was tending to his people in the way he had been called to. And then, of course, some nosy religious professionals come snaking around to see what he’s up to. They’ve got some Official Question for John to answer.
And how John responds can be instructive for us as queer people of faith.
John answered their questions, but never stopped what he was doing. Read further into the first chapter of John. He writes no lengthy tomes about how they ought to know he is not the Messiah nor Elijah. John never agrees to debate about who they think he is versus who he knows he is. Instead, he is all about the terse one word answers while he keeps doing what will feed the people and prepare them.
I also think he knows they’re not serious. And how can he tell? The same reason we should be able to: they’re not asking questions about what he’s doing, they want to know about him. Well, not really about him, actually. They just want him to pick one of the limited options they can conceive of for his identity. Just like straight, gay, or celibate, they want to know: Messiah, Elijah, or Prophet?
And, like us, John has an identity and mission that makes those labels completely deficient. At least the way the religious professionals use them.
“John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.”
(John 1:8, New Believer’s New Testament, NLT)
We have to recognize that about ourselves: God has given us a name and a calling that makes the labels religious professionals want to hang us with completely deficient and useless. And it’s not by staying for one more debate or writing one more book that we will point the way to the Light for our communities. It’s by refusing to engage with the people who want us to serve their agenda. By doing that, we ourselves can turn around and look in a new direction. It’s much easier to show the Light to others when you’re actually looking at it.
It’s not our job to answer straight people’s questions, or use up our last breath on right wing radicals who will never listen. We were not put on this Earth to dance for the folks in charge. Our people are hurting and dying. They have real questions about God, and deep pain that’s been with them their whole journey. Someone I love very much wondered aloud last week why God abandoned them during their transition. I think I did a really sucky job of answering the question.
But if someone close to me has this kind of pain, why should I care that Joel Osteen thinks that I’m doing the “not best” thing in God’s eyes?
I had a friend who’s long since passed. I first met “God’s Glorious Gadfly” Rev. Howard Warren, when I was 19 years old. I was crying because the idea of “winning this battle” and changing their minds about us seemed hopeless. He said something that struck me as radical then and now. When we talked we were only talking about homophobia. But do feel free to expand it to include transgender oppression as well. I’m going to share it with you as a way to wrap this article up:
“Honey, homophobia is a heterosexual disease. It’s their sickness, not ours. We can’t win, or fix them, or *grin* cure them. That’s not our job. That’s for them to do. Our job … your job is to spend the time binding up wounds and healing people in our community. That way, when God clears the path to the table, our people will be healthy enough to sit down as equals.”
Rest in peace, Rev. Warren.
Michigan native Lincoln Rose relocated to Seattle in the mid-2000’s, where he pursued religious studies and became active in the local community as a member of Trans Lives Matter, the Trans Jail Policy Group and Emerald City MCC Seattle.