Dear Church, You Are Queer

Dear Church, You Are Queer June 14, 2019
Cover Image- LoveArts

The Church is Queer

A defiant yet definitive statement, boldly proclaimed by Lenny Duncan, pastor and author of Dear Church; a Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. A statement that I believe should be echoed throughout all avenues and social applications.

What is “Queer”?

To be queer is to be beautifully unorthodox. To be queer is to deconstruct all of the societal norms and definitions that force us to choose box A or box B, or rather, to opt for a binary choice only. In my humble opinion, to be queer is to be bold, courageous, and truly liberated.

Planned Parenthood offers this definition for queer:

Queer is a word that describes sexual and gender identities other than straight and cisgender. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people may all identify with the word queer.

Before I dig in, I would like to pose a question, a question that came to mind as I was reading Duncan’s refreshing perspective. A question that requires some chewing and heavy reflection.

If the Church is queer and always has been, how do we teach the Church to love itself again after two thousand years of self-loathing? Pastor Lenny Duncan has a few ideas on how to remedy such a problem. But first, Pastor Duncan’s compelling and confronting words are necessary to introduce this idea.

Dear Church, you are queer. It’s OK. So am I. I’m not a particularly “out” queer person. I’m in a heteronormative marriage (I’m a cis-gender man married to a cisgender woman), so my queerness is less visible than the queerness of others. I am a queer person of color who has incarceration in his past, is covered in ink, and is not known for keeping my opinions to myself, yet I’ve only come out to my wife and a number of friends… After the systemic racism I have experienced firsthand in this church, I didn’t want to add homophobia to the mix.

A Long, Queer History

The intersectionality of race and sexual identity within the Church has a long history. A history that for many of us within the Church circles, has been intentionally ignored or altogether whitewashed.

The story of queer folks in this church started long before…It started before Luther. Before even Paul was a Christian, the evangelist Philip met a eunuch from Ethiopia and baptized him (Acts 8:26-40). The story of queer folks in the church is the story of the Holy Spirit leading one of the early church’s most prominent disciples to baptize a queer person of color- a person who was studying scripture already, which meant he was already part of the Jewish tradition or at least exploring it.

After Philip tells the eunuch what that very passage of Scripture is about, Philip delivers to him the Good News of Jesus. The eunuch then asks Philip a question- a question that Duncan has the answer to.

“What is to keep me from being baptized right now?” That is the question the eunuch asks Philip. That is the question queer Christians have been asking the church for two thousand years. What is to keep me from being allowed to enter the gates of the kingdom?

The answer is us, Church. We are the reason. We are the bar that has kept grace hostage. We are Pontius Pilate washing our hands and denying any culpability in the harm of our fellow believers. We have continued to act this way as believers for reasons having nothing to do with what queer people are doing in their bedrooms or how they express love in the world.

Philip offers no hesitation. He does not ask the eunuch to declare that his lifestyle is a sin. He does not ask the eunuch if he is willing to deny himself his own “sinful nature”. He baptizes him in the name of Jesus, and the eunuch went on rejoicing.

The Church has discriminated against the Ecclesia that Jesus had intended us to be. The Church has divided us. The Church has tried to wash its hands of every social issue that calls into question its own accountability and perpetuity.

Sex and Church

Particularly, the Church drafted and promoted a sex-negative culture in the first century, and the Church has been doing so ever since. The Church mounted an attack against our sexual identity- dividing the unity that our sexual identity provides when integrated with spiritual identity in Christ. Duncan expounds further:

The reason we are so afraid to admit the church is queer has everything to do with our theology of sex. The leaders of the church have failed you. We have made sex dirty and have reduced human wholeness and love to the physical act of sex. We no longer see our sexuality as God given and therefor good. We have adopted a view of sex handed to us by Paul­­-a man who thought the apocalypse was imminent and who urged celibacy in preparation for that event. We have a puritan view of sex, as if pleasure and the flesh are evil. Yet we worship a God who was physically resurrected- flesh and blood.

Duncan deserves a standing ovation for his observation of the bad theology of sex that the Church has perpetuated. Sex- and most specifically, our sexuality- are divine gifts from God. Denying this truth is denying all that God created us to be.

Sex is part of the original design of the cosmos. We have done what humans have always done; we’ve taken what God has given us as a pure gift, and we’ve made it profane. When I make love to my partner, God smiles. When you make love to your partner, God smiles. It is right and holy.

We don’t like to think about God and sex. I get that. I have been in the same boat. I used to try my hardest to keep the velvet curtain up- you know, the one that shields God from seeing all the things I do with my partner at night. But God delights in our pleasure- in all pleasure.

Shame and Church

Unfortunately, the Church has only sought to shame sex. To curtain it off and make it justifiable only between a married man and woman. If sex isn’t binary, if sex doesn’t include “natural” partners; the Church diminishes the holiness of that love by relegating it to heresy.

A rather radical proposition offered by Duncan depends on creating a healthier and more accepting theology of sex. Sex isn’t bad. For too long we have made the one act that brings forth life a regiment reserved only for opposing sexes, so long as they are joined in holy matrimony. We have got to stop limiting the parameters of love and sex. Sex isn’t just for making babies and it isn’t just for cisgender couples.

Dear Church, if we were having more life-giving and fulfilling sex, and more fulfilling love lives outside of sex, I bet we wouldn’t be so obsessed with what everyone else is doing and not doing in their bedroom… I’m going to talk about sex from the pulpit. I’m going to do everything in my limited sphere of power to remove the stigma and the shame. And I’m going to make my church a place where it’s safe to say, “Hey y’all, women like sex, and that’s OK, too.” Sex isn’t designed only for men’s pleasure, nor are women here just to please men.

I applaud Duncan for such a riveting and radical promise. There are so many necessary voices leading the charge with creating a shameless view of sex for our society and our church. Lenny Duncan’s voice is one of them.

Inclusion is Imperative

Dear Church, the numbers don’t lie. The Church is on the decline. Thousands are leaving their churches behind forcing more and more doors closed. If the Church wants salvation, it must move toward inclusion, toward Jesus.

Queer inclusion means that we are becoming more Christ-like, not the other way around, LGBTQIA inclusion is exactly what Jesus is doing. Jesus proves over and over again that who we think is the outside is actually the insider.
The narrative that by welcoming LGBTQIA siblings- and waking up to the reality of the kingdom of God- we are following the “ways of the world” is heresy. The ways of the world are to hold these folks down. The ways of the world are to devalue their worth. The ways of the world are to lynch them for loving us and to hang them from a tree, to outcast them, to treat them as if they have no worth and to force assimilation on them. As a black queer man in this church, I have seen it time and time again.

Dear Church 

You are queer, and that’s how God made you. It’s time to embrace that, along with everyone who is in Christ (which is literally, everyone). Jesus comes to us in every connection and every interaction.

The good news is this: the church is queer, and it always has been. You will not be able to divest yourself of your own body, Church.

About Lenny Duncan

Lenny Duncan is pastor of Jehu’s Table, a church in the heart of Brooklyn. Formerly incarcerated, formerly homeless, and formerly unchurched, Duncan is now a sought-after speaker and writer on topics of racial justice and the role of the church in the twenty-first century. His documentary film, Do Black Churches Matter in the ELCA, was released in 2017.

Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US

By Lenny Duncan

Publication date: July 2, 2019

From Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by Lenny Duncan copyright © 2019 Fortress Press. Reproduced by permission.

This book is packed with so much information that I will be offering this as a series. Stay tuned. Part 2 will be published soon!

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Danielle Kingstrom

    We are all culturally conditioned, are we not? So, why would Paul be any different given the times.
    I don’t wonder about such statements such as “this is not primarily about LGBT. something bigger is at stake.” I have never once wondered about that. Maybe I didn’t get the memo?

  • soter phile

    Was Jesus culturally conditioned?

    Jesus didn’t hesitate to overthrow extra-canonical traditions yet simultaneously defended the Word as transcendent (Mk.7:10-13). And look closely: he even acknowledges human authorship there (“Moses wrote…”) but calls it the “Word of God.”

    Jesus doesn’t see God’s Word as lost in cultural conditioning… and neither does Paul.

    And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thess.2:13)

  • Danielle Kingstrom

    Then prove me wrong.

  • Danielle Kingstrom

    It sounds like a disagreement of interpretation.
    “Progressives say” means nothing to me. I thought this commentary was on what you want to say, not what others say…

  • soter phile

    So you believe Jesus was culturally conditioned?
    To be clear: not just incorporating cultural terminology & illustrations, but rather actively limited by his context?

    If so, doesn’t that jettison most of his teaching – as well as the central tenets of the faith?

  • Well, if you consider the way in which Jesus delivered his parables, and how he intentionally selected particular lessons for particular groups of people, one would have to surmise that it was delivered in such a way that it was culturally appropriate and relevant. Otherwise, how would Jesus have known how to direct the crowds in the way he did? He grew up in his culture, didn’t he? I can’t imagine how Jesus was not conditioned in some manner, specifically by the context of what he experienced.
    Otherwise, why the detailed theology dedicated to discerning all the different relationships Jesus had with others?
    Otherwise, why all the detailed theology dedicated to understanding the culture and the times of Jesus’ ministry?

  • Jesse H

    Everyone is imago Dei, but only believers in Christ are in Christ. Eph 2:13 with Eph. 2:8-9

  • 1 John 4:7-9 : Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not know love, does not know God, because God is love.
    And isn’t knowing therefore believing?
    If I know something, then I must believe it in order to know it, right?

    I don’t believe God is a god of exclusion. All are in Christ, as Paul wrote.
    Colossians 3:11- “Here there is no Gentile or Jew…but Christ is all, and in all.”
    To me that says : There is no atheist or believer, Christ is all, and in all.

    Romans tells us there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. So, not even belief, to my understanding.
    God does not depend on us to believe in God, rather, God’s belief in us is enough.
    Sometimes, some people just like the idea of setting themselves apart from others as more superior because they verbally proclaim that “Jesus is Lord”. But that doesn’t mean that only those who believe it have received God’s love.
    Remember, God’s love rains down on the righteous and unrighteous…

  • Jesse H

    I appreciate your fervency, and you are right that there is a sense where all God’s creatures are His. The closer one is to love, the closer one is to God. But you know that you are cherry-picking verses and leaving out larger contexts. In the very same books you quote we have 1John 5:11-12, where only the person who has the Son has life, and v.13 shows that believing on Jesus is having eternal life. This is a distinction since not all believe on Jesus.

    And Colossians is written to those who have faith in Jesus Christ, Col 1:4, Romans says the same, 1:8,16.

    I will stand with you in saying that God shows His love to everyone in many ways, that we are all God’s offspring, Acts 17, that in God we live and move and have our being. And the person who believes in Jesus isn’t innately superior to anyone. We can’t claim superiority when the only difference is faith, which is not related to intelligence, strength or any metric of superiority.

    But we have to leave out far too many texts to say that there is no difference between believing or not. Gen. 15:6 John 3:16, 3:36, 5:24, 6:47, 11:25-26, 20:30-31, Acts 4:12, 16:31, Romans 1:16 6:23, Eph. 2:8-9, 1Pet2:7-10, the list just goes on and on.

  • William Paul Young (author of The Shack) once stated this:
    “If Luther and Calvin were right in declaring that forgiveness precedes confession and repentance, then it would also mean that forgiveness also precedes belief.”

    I cannot shake that idea since having heard those words. And I did my digging to try and prove it false before I was willing to accept it. Because, at the time, in my mind, that said to me that no matter what, I was already forgiven. Which means I was already accepted.
    Which means there is NOTHING I have to do to earn God’s love.
    But of course that is true!

    You and I are both cherry-picking. Let’s not pretend we are not. I won’t deny that. That’s what rather fascinating about the Bible, we tend to perform more of an eisegesis rather than an exegesis of our reading.
    And perhaps we are both doing that. But perhaps, this time, for the sake of creating a challenge for you to grow, I am not the one that is necessarily “wrong”.
    Further from that, what if neither of us are wrong, and in the end we create for ourselves our own heaven (or hell) depending upon how much we are willing to forgive ourselves.

    I will stay with my belief that ALL are in Christ. I am not risking thinking I have any authority in excluding anyone else in such a way that always includes only myself.
    For all that I do know, which is certainly not enough, I do know that love means inclusion, both in feeling and action, and anything that excludes cannot be love.

    I appreciate your perspective, but it’s similar to one that I used to hold and I would prefer to not go backwards in my progression and evolution of belief.

  • Jesse H

    First off, Young radically misunderstands Calvin and Luther, and Young is not a theologian, nor is he really a scholar. He’s a popular writer, and I appreciated the Shack and how it fleshes out God’s love, but Young is just wrong about this. We have justification, sanctification, glorification and deep theological themes about positional righteousness and practical righteousness.

    I think I understand the motivations behind how you are interpreting Scripture. You want to emphasize God’s love for everyone. But the entire Christian tradition has recognized that we have twin truths operating, and this is always true even in how we relate to our children. Our children are loved by us simply because they are ours, we will always love them. But this doesn’t mean that everything they do is correct and right and lovable. They can’t escape the identity they have as our children, but they can certainly displease us.

    And this is also how God shows His love. On one hand all participate in the love of God based on imago Dei. But this doesn’t mean everyone is equally pleasing to God in our actions. Of course not, our actions matter. But what God has done is send His Son who died for everyone and our sins truly are forgiven if we believe in Jesus. Faith in Christ positions us in Christ because none of our actions make us perfectly holy.

    Love does mean inclusion, but love cannot be separated from truth. Is it loving to punish our children when they do wrong? Is it loving to jail criminals who consistently show an inability to love others? Love doesn’t walk alone, it also must walk with truth and justice.

    You say you don’t want to walk backwards. You don’t want to change your beliefs about belief. You don’t believe God can be loving if only those who believe have eternal life. But it seems you are really minimizing God’s love if He isn’t also holy and just. A love without holiness doesn’t work.

  • You have you opinions, I have mine. Thanks for your contribution and your perspective. Be sure to subscribe!

  • Jesse H

    I always enjoy reading different perspectives. Thanks for the pleasant dialogue. But as you know truth has to be more than opinions. If truth is true, that means not all perspectives are correct.

  • I don’t disagree with you on that. I look forward to more challenges from you. Thank you!