Michael Warner, in Fear of a Queer Planet, defines queer as “resistance to the regimes of the normal.” I can’t think of a better way to describe life in God. Yet we see in our examination of these two early churches, the Jerusalem church described in Acts and the Beloved Community of the Johannine literature, an attempt to focus on orthodoxy, on right belief, on a specific confession of faith. That is, there is a quick effort to define the new normal in the wake of Jesus’ death and, given that these texts were written after the fall of the temple in Jerusalem, a new reality for Judaism. As the 1st century comes to a close, we find that this new normal looks a lot like what normal had always been.
I said last week that I think that the early church got it wrong. In the Acts passage, Peter is asked by what power he healed a man. Instead of proclaiming the goodness of this miracle that can only, obviously, come from God, Peter turns it into a polemic that accuses and demands a new, specific confession of faith. A good deed is only a strategy for conversion to a particular set of beliefs.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives one commandment: love one another. Yet, in 1 John, the author insists on doctrinal purity. We are to obey God’s commandments, one of which is to love one another, but the author adds another: believe in the name of Jesus Christ. Given the context of schism and the calls for disassociation in the Johannine Epistles, one wonders if the author understands that confession of faith to be required in order for a person to be loving or lovable.
Insistence on doctrinal purity creates a defensive church, guarding the perimeter of thought and experience. It necessarily excludes people from God’s feast table. Difference is seen as a threat, as if God could be harmed by the diversity of God’s own creation. It’s a fragile faith and a fragile God held aloft by the pervasiveness of the illusion of the normal. But this perimeter is only the boundary of a particular experience, not the boundary of a boundless God.
Insistence on the purity of love erases the perimeter by expanding it infinitely. It opens up new space for new thoughts and new experiences. It invites the other (and the Other) in and draws us out into the vastness of God. It is the very vulnerability to which Jesus calls us, not solely for the sake of the other (or the Other), but for our sake as well. Every life – in fact, all that is! – proclaims the presence of God and we are saved by hearing it. If Jesus is the stone that was rejected only to become the cornerstone of the house of God, shouldn’t the marginalized, the very non-normal, be the cornerstone of our faith? It is not orthodoxy that saves us, but the queer bits in our tradition: the forgotten verse, the lost community, the suppressed symbol, the outsider that comes in to breathe new life.
We will continue this line of thought this Sunday as we discuss the story of the Ethiopian eunuch found in Acts 8.26-40. Eunuchs were excluded from the Jewish community and Roman citizenry, but were highly regarded in foreign courts. He is an outsider in more than one sense. His conversion is often heralded by Christians as the first Gentile Christian, a sign that God’s love expands beyond the Jewish community. This story provides the warrant for the very existence of Christianity as a broad phenomenon rather than a peculiar Jewish sect. Yet we ignore the other markers of his identity – race, gender, sexuality, family status – in short, his queerness – so that we can forget that God’s love embraces all of those, too.
In excluding and suppressing the queer, we impoverish ourselves and the Church. We reduce Christianity to a narrow experience that rests comfortably in the normal rather than the profoundly expansive experience of God’s love to which we are called. We obstruct the salvation of the world and turn our hearts to stone.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff.
Grace & Peace,