Our history always begins with the barren, with Sarah (Gen. 11:30), with Rebekah (Gen. 25:21), with Rachel (29:31), and with Elizabeth (Luke 1:7). Among those, always as good as dead (Heb. 11:12), the wondrous gift is given. The inability to bear is a curious thing and we know that for all our science the reasons most often are historical, symbolic, and interpersonal. It is often news — good news, doxology — which brings the new energy to effect and the new future to birth. (Walter Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination, p. 76)
Professor Brueggeman was not addressing gay and lesbian Christians when he wrote the above, but when this gay Christian read it, it stopped my eyes and made me re-read these words over and over.
How often does the church condemn us simply because our sexual attraction does not lead to reproduction? How often do they call our loves barren, imply that our lives are fruitless?
These questions rang in my head as I re-read Brueggemann’s words again. A new question then formed.
What if the Holy Spirit were calling us to a new fecundity, a new way of pro- creating, perhaps re-creating the church?
I admit that I am more about questions here than answers. I’m trying to catch a vision, but so far it eludes me. Maybe it’s already taking place and the vision is trying to catch me.
Consider this. Go to just about any web search engine and look for “gay Christian” and you’ll bring up site after site of individual and organization websites devoted to proclaiming God’s love and acceptance of the homosexual. You’ll find denominational organizations, from Eastern Orthodox to Charismatic, all trying to find ways to convince their brothers and sisters in Christ that God is not concerned with sexual orientation, but with the knowledge and love of Christ.
The cynic in me cannot help but point out that some of these organizations may represent a small number of people. After all, all it takes to run a web site is the know- how and a server account. These sites, however, seem to reflect what the newspapers tell us. Just about any denomination on just about any given day may appear in a headline as that body struggles with gay folk in their pews and pulpits. Some denominations are silent on the topic, officially stating only that they will not tolerate homosexual clergy, but they’re only fooling themselves, only ignoring the reality of real lives in their midsts.
Something, it seems to me, is happening in the Body of Christ and we who are gay are in the thick of it.
There is something in human nature that likes categories and walls. Are you a member of this family? This tribe? This nation? This race? Do you belong to this denomination? This club? This tax bracket?
Our churches, made up as they are of humans, reflect this nature. There are congregations that are in-bred to the point that each Sunday is a family reunion. There are wealthy “country club” congregations and, across town, congregations made up of the folk who clean their country clubs. It has long been said that Sunday morning is the most racially segregated hour of the week. I’d be lying if I said I did not battle racism in my heart, nurtured by years of growing up in a small Texas town, but I’d also be kidding myself if I said I would feel entirely at home at any church that didn’t reflect my German, Lutheran heritage. As I write this, I am remembering the words of friends and acquaintances who have joined the Lutheran Church because of our theology or doctrines, but feel as if they’ll never fit in because they are not of German or Scandinavian descent.
These walls are some of our biggest sins and I sit here, guilty as anyone.
Throughout the stories of the Bible, however, we hear again and again the admonition to welcome the stranger, to make a place for the foreigner. As we, the people of God, have failed repeatedly at this directive, I wonder if God isn’t raising up a new challenge for the church. As we continue to raise up walls of race or social status, could God be raising a new sign with all these queer Christian groups?
Queer? Yes. Yes there is an aspect of us that is “different” and “other,” but it is an otherness that springs from every family, race, and nation. We come from every religion, denomination, class and status group.
We are the other that is part of the whole same.
I am not, by nature, a confrontational person. I tend to avoid conflict where I can. As I began my coming out process, however, I was suddenly confronted with the fact that my very existence in the church was an affront to the institution. My mere being was a conflict for the one place I’ve always called home. It was a very curious thing that suddenly I, who had always gone to church faithfully, was a threat just because I’d found peace with my sexuality.
It is a powerful thing, being gay, and it is a power bestowed upon us by the very ones who fear us the most.
This status of being part of the whole while still being different, however, is a two edged sword. With my coming out and becoming hyper sensitive to all the places that I was not welcome, I had to start examining my own walls and categories. I have to learn some productive ways to struggle with my own prejudices against transvestites and transsexuals, my fear of the homeless people I encounter almost daily, my discomfort with the wealthy. We cannot talk about wanting to be accepted if we are not confronting the boundaries of our own comfort zones.
Still, possessing the power of the outcast who arises in the midst of the insiders, we are in a position where it behooves us to ask some serious questions and brainstorm some answers. (You will note that I do not offer answers here.)
How might we, as the ones called non-productive and barren, the ones who are already as good as dead, bring new life into the church? How can we live lives actively pointing to the Good News “which brings the new energy to effect and the new future to birth”?
Central Texas native Neil Ellis Orts grew up on a farm on the Lee/Bastrop county line. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Texas State University, a master’s of divinity from Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary arts from Columbia College Chicago. He has published fiction and arts writing, including the 2004 novel Hidden Gifts. He also makes short performance pieces and has presented them in Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta.