by Rev. Paul Perez, Michigan Conference UMC Associate Director for Mission and Ministry
My assignment was to write about “3 ways Jesus life and ministry support LBGTQIA inclusion.”
As a Mexican-American, straight, cisgender man, I can’t really deliver on that assignment on my own. I need to follow the lead and learn from the wisdom of my LBGTQIA Christian siblings. I will turn to three LBGTQIA theologians, Marcella Althaus-Reid, Patrick Cheng, and M Barclay, and their understandings of Jesus Christ; their queer Christologies.
Jesus’ life and ministry was scandalous
Marcella Althaus-Reid, the late Latin American bisexual theologian, describes Jesus as engaging in “systemic deviance.” Jesus’ life and ministry, from her perspective, scandalously challenges and subverts the either/or binary thinking that provides the foundation for standard, heterosexual theology. Althaus-Ried is especially concerned about how the predetermined binary categories of male/female, straight/gay, and rich/poor close off possibilities and relationships. She appeals to a Bi/Christ “who is neither this not that, a Christ who embraces and shoes life as a fluid, changing, outside the reductionist patterns which confront people with irrelevant options.” The Bi/Christ, for Althaus-Reid, can be a young lesbian holding her partner after being locked out from the church, the companion of a gay, homeless man, a transgender person facing persecution and violence.
Althaus-Ried challenges Christians to be provocative, daring, deviant, indecent in their witness and fidelity to the scandalous gospel of Jesus Christ. For United Methodists this is a return to our roots. Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, did the “more vile thing” when he abandoned the safety of the parish pulpit for the dangerous indignity of preaching in the field and town square.
I find this convicting; for too long I played it safe in my leadership as a United Methodist clergyperson when it came to justice for my LBGTQIA siblings. I danced around it in my preaching and teaching, didn’t show up as an ally, and failed to work for meaningful systemic change. Why? Honestly, it was to remain safe in my privilege as a straight, cisgender clergyperson, because I bought into the moderate myth of being a leader “for all people,” it was in order to be seen as respectable and descent by folks who paid the bills.
Courage, risk, creativity; these are the gospel virtues Jesus, by way of Althaus-Reid, is calling Christians and churches who are committed to liberation. Living in this fluid and changing space is one of the many gifts LBGTQIA Christians offer the church. The church needs this gift and leadership, it needs LBGTQIA Christians to be fully included in the life of the church and fully liberated to be bring their whole selves.
Jesus’ life and ministry creates new communities
Writing from his experience as a Queer Asian Pacific American, Patrick Cheng reflects on the pain and fragmentation he often experiences between his ethnic and queer identities. Experiencing estrangement and, at times, out-right rejection from the Asian Pacific Americans or the LBGTQ community, Cheng finds redemption and reconciliation in Jesus’ words from the cross to Mary and the Beloved Disciple: “Mother behold your son, Son behold your mother.” He sees Jesus creating a new set of relationships that reconciles ethnic ( represented by Mary) and queer (represented by the Beloved Disciple) communities. Cheng describes the realization of this dream as a redemptive struggle, connecting it to the Jesus’ struggle with the forces of fragmentation and oppression throughout his life and ministry and, most intensely, on the cross.
Jesus’ life and ministry, by way of Cheng, offers a hopeful vision of healing communities marked by real struggle. Fragmentation is something we all face just by living in a highly polarized and divisive moment in US history. Many of us may experience double rejection by the various communities, relationship, and identities, not sure where we belong. There is a very real struggle with renewed and intensified forces of racism, white supremacy, nationalism. All of us are in need of a healing community.
For growing congregations who find themselves welcoming young people, people of color, and LBGTQIA people; fragmentation manifests in all sorts of ways. Sometimes long-time (in most United Methodist congregations this means older, white, straight, cisgender members) feel displaced by newer members. Sometimes newer members feel shut out and excluded from key parts of congregational life. Congregations struggle with the entangled forces of ageism, racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism that continue to fragment our lives and communities.
Jesus is at work in these moments, inviting each and every “Mary” and “Beloved Disciple” to recognize kinship in each other and enter into the struggle of realizing new, inclusive, liberating communities of love and grace.
Jesus’ life and ministry puts God’s love into practice
M Barclay is a white, trans, UM Deacon. They founded a non-profit, enfleshed, to assist Christian leaders and communities grow in their commitment to liberation for LBGTQIA people. Enfleshed offers anti-racist, LBGTQ affirming, feminist liturgies, curriculum, and retreat. Barclay’s work is grounded, theologically, in God who took on flesh in Jesus and continues to take on flesh in our daily lives.
Barclay’s focus on an embodied, enfleshed faith is a reminder of the practical side of Christianity; the constant round of reflection and practice. Commitment to inclusion and liberation must be put into practice. An efleshed and embodied faith that puts God’s liberating love in practice leans into the nitty-gritty of our daily lives. It invites preachers and poets to create new liturgies and rituals with words and images reflecting the beautiful spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities. It pushes forward on honest conversations about oppression, racism, and white supremacy that make people squirm. It invites new ways of living together, healing each other, engaging conflict, organizing for change.
Full inclusion and liberation of LBGTQIA people in the life of churches cannot remain just an idea, floating as a theoretical welcoming statement, church council resolution, or well-crafted policy. It has to be enacted, embodied, enfleshed, and put into practice in the real, every day, messy, awkward realities of life.
Scandalous ministry that flaunts convention, dreams of kinship and community that heals instead of divides, full inclusion and love put into practice – this is the legacy, the vision Jesus, the queer Christ, offers the church today.
Whatever your perspective, we hope this starts a conversation. Feel free to reach out to us through Director of Communications, Sam Garrett, firstname.lastname@example.org, and thanks in advance for your help.