A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By Christopher Evans
Please Note: I owe a great deal of these thoughts to my continued practice of meditation, my spiritual director, Sr. Barbara Hazzard, the Hesed Community, and James Alison’s excellent work, "On Being Liked".
"But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer." (Mark 14:61)
Pernicious in the present debates about the place of queer folk in loving relationships in the Church is a very strident demand: “Justify yourselves.” Or perhaps better: “Justify your existence.” This demand comes from liberal and conservative, progressive and traditionalist, non-queer and queer folk alike.
Such a demand challenges us queer folk who are disciples of Christ to go on the defensive or offensive, as the case may be, and to give an account of G-d’s Holy Spirit in our lives. More often than not, in subtle and none too subtle ways, this demand places “queer” and “Christian” in an irreconcilable juxtaposition that can only see the impossibility of queer Christians as transgress and brooks no imagination of possible rupture in our present ways of relating to one another by domination. Or sees only how we queer folk can live as Christians if we remain celibate according to the biblical interpretations, ecclesial traditions, theological reasons, and human experiences of non-queer folk, who have dominated these churchly discussions to date and whose perspectives from queer perspectives do not draw on the essence of the Good News we have experienced in Christ, admit that G-d’s Good News is greater than they might imagine, or that G-d’s Good News might in fact possibly challenge their own assumptions as to how Christ will work Herself out in our lives. Or calls for us queer folk to sacrifice in the interim while our ecclesial institutions figure this all out without, of course, meeting Christ’s challenge to participate in the suffering of those asked to sacrifice and suffer by sacrificing heterosexual privileges afforded by our ecclesial institutions, so as to suffer with queer folk alongside rather than prescribe from on high. In each of these scenarios, we place our selves, non-queer and queer folk alike, at the center of the story, instead of remembering that it is the story of the Marginalized One Who Is The Center in whom we participate and have our being by His gracious gift of Self-Offering.
Ours is a time of shrinking imagination, of failed vision, of imagination that can only bear ourselves, that can only imagine our salvation by sacrificing someone else, and in such times, anything “counter”, “original”, “spare”, “strange” entering the fold threatens to undo the closed story we have told ourselves to justify ourselves and our tribe to ourselves before the world and our god. And apparently, we have in our self-justification discovered the nature and truth of all "what is" (to use Alison's phrase), and we need no longer doubt that our certainty is “past change”. (quotes from “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins)
This demand can range from the innocuous “You need to tell us your story” to the “How does your story match up with our Good News for you?”, from the “we welcome you at our table” to “we include”, from the “homosexual relationships are incompatible with Christianity” to the “You’re going to hell.”
At the heart of this demand is a model of god which is grace-challenged and so love-limited that it cannot mend the world, muchless our mistakes. And being grace-challenged and relatively loveless, must be boxed in, tightly regulated, and spoken for so as to squeeze out what little grace and love is to be had. The problem is, if we queer folk truly recognize and experience that G-d loves us as we love, we need not justify ourselves, our relationships, our sexual expressions of love in those relationships, or our existence as a part of G-d’s interconnected creation each moment mended by Love Herself. We simply are welcome in the House of G-d’s grace, G-d’s Temple of this green earth. And if we experience G-d of such boundless mercy and grace and love, even if our relationships and sexual expressions are a mistake, G-d’s love mends the rift. And this is a relief in a debate that has posited that the very fabric of creation and the very hinge o f the temporal salvation of ecclesial institutions and of our eternal salvation individually and collectively hangs on the thread of our queer relationships and sexual expressions. In such a vision, grace is unlimited, able to do a new thing, or better really, to show us that what is and what G-d sanctifies is more than we can possibly imagine in our limited theologies. The changelessness of which Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks of in "Pied Beauty" is not our certainties but of G-d’s Love toward us--Love Who will always move us beyond our self and our tribe—even Christian one(s).
Even questions such as leaving or staying in this or that ecclesial institution become irrelevant as I relax more fully into the One Who Is. Questions of giving up on this or that person or institution become irrelevant if we know that the bounty of G-d’s grace is so boundless as to include all that is. We simply need to relax into G-d’s endless bounty and become more fully that image of bountiful gift in our own lives. Questions of “leaving or staying” or “giving up or not” inevitably gets us focused again on ecclesial institutions and how other persons think we should live rather than “loving G-d with all my being and loving others as myself.” Rather than discerning G-d’s call on our own lives.
In channeling our desires in healthy ways and living out the Good News in our lives at times such as these when our ecclesial institutions are taking change hard, we queer folk must study the Scriptures and traditions, reason for ourselves, and stay centered in our experiences of G-d, seeking the essence of Christian faith not what others present. We cannot simply rely on blanket statements such as “homosexual relationships are incompatible with Christianity” that neither seek to test the veracity of this claim against our faithful queer lives, nor seek to consider how humans, especially we who are Church, might be more diverse than we can imagine so that our blanket statements fail wisdom in their infallibility. We cannot rely on pastoral sensibilities that offer the “challenge of the gospel” to us even “sensitively”, but fail to see how that “challenge” may in fact boomerang on those doing the offering.
Perhaps our committed relationships and sexual expressions of our love are “incompatible with Christianity.” At least in some of its current tribal configurations. But in our knowing and loving, our reading of Scripture as liberative and our experience of Jesus Christ as Good News, our relationships are not necessarily incompatible with G-d in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. As Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu once said, “You whites brought us the Bible; now we blacks are taking it seriously. We are involved with God to set us free from all that enslaves us and makes us less than what He intended us to be.” In kind, I must say, “You heterosexuals brought us the Good News; now we queer folk are taking it seriously. We are involved with God to set us free from all that enslaves us and makes us less than what She intended us to be.”
I am learning for myself that when I am tempted to get riled up, mouth or send off a response, be shaken and angry and despairing when someone comes along demanding that I justify myself, I need only remain silent and give no answer. I only need be attentively with that person and pass by the temptation to offer a reply. Slowly, ever so slowly, I’m learning, as I wait on G-d and remain still in the fiery Presence (my experience of G-d), that my becoming into Being Herself needs no justification. So, the next time we queer folk are asked to “tell our story”, told to justify “why we are here” one more time, asked “why do we stay?” ad infinitum, asked “why don’t we leave?”, asked “why do we live incompatibly with Christianity?”, or even told “we’re going to hell!”...take a few deep breaths...let the external demands to justify ourselves wash over us and the internal fears for self-justification simply arise within us...Smile...Remain silent...And be still and know that "I AM".
Imbibing in the overflowing Love of the One Who Is, we need not justify our existence to others or satisfy our egos with one more theologically / biblically sound reply, for in our simple relaxing into G-d, into G-d’s Holy Spirit delighting in our lives, we have found and find ourselves justified not by human works but by grace through faith in Christ. And our living out of that rich bounty in our own lives need be our only reply to interlocutors in their frightened, amazed, delighted, disgusted, angered deriding, including, searching, questioning, demanding, “This can not be!?” In the words attributed to Galileo Galilei: “Eppur si muove.” “And yet it moves.”
Please sign my guestbook and view it.
Statistics courtesy of