by Sara Miles
By ancient tradition, June is the month of Gay Pride. My people celebrate it as the Feast of the Unclean: the feast of the unnatural and unlawful, of foreigners and whores, lepers, sissies, faggots, drag queens, bulldykes, trannies, leather daddies, butch girls, queer boys, intersexed teenagers, lesbian mothers, gay bishops and all the rest of us whose bodies and desires have long been despised as disordered, or hidden away as contaminating. It’s the thrilling festival of the unspeakable, now spoken and embodied. It’s the transforming Passover of the scary, freeing things that happen whenever God’s truth is proclaimed aloud.
But the whole idea of gay pride still makes my skin crawl. I’ve got a problem with gay pride.
Because pride is what sustains me in sin. It sustains me in the ways I distance myself from God by separating myself from others, thinking I’m better than my neighbors: those disgusting sexual perverts or those stupid fundamentalist Mormons or that obtuse Archbishop. Pride is my insistence on a private, special self. It’s my faith in my own ability to save that self. Pride is what keeps me in bondage.
Freedom springs from a completely different understanding. Back in the day, before our parades were sponsored by banks and beer companies and pandered to by politicians, nobody called it “gay pride.” It was simply “gay freedom” or “gay liberation.” Gay liberation: when you realize that love is more powerful than law. Gay liberation: when you realize that the oddest, most shamed, most stigmatized children of God are beautiful and beloved. Gay liberation: when you watch all kinds of unlikely strangers become a family, without boundaries. Gay liberation: when you understand that whoever you are, you belong to a larger body.
That sounds pretty Gospel to me. I believe it is the liberation of Christ Jesus.
And so I believe queer people, too, have a gift to offer to the Church. Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be the gift of scandal; the gift of the cross.
And this gift is not about making queer people and our allies feel better. It’s not about making the Church fair and liberal and modern. It’s so that the whole Church may truly embody the folly and the scandal of Jesus, in witness to the world.
Scandal, Jesus teaches, shows us how to see. If we look only upon what seems right, correct, familiar and lawful, we see the tiniest part of God’s handiwork. We must gaze, as Jesus gazed––foolishly and with love––upon every person who seems sick or wrong or just plain outlandish. And when we actually dare to touch that person, then a little more of God’s enormous, disturbing mission is revealed. We see how God is always at work restoring creation to wholeness. “Whoever welcomes you,” says Jesus, “welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
By welcoming the scandalous we can begin to glimpse that our ways are not God’s ways. And by willingly submitting ourselves, gay and straight, to be the scandal, and to bear it without rancor or blame, we can discover what it’s like to live in freedom, outside the law––in the liberation of the cross.
Which obligates queer people, as we become cleansed in the eyes of the world and of religious authorities, not to fall into the sin of pride; it obligates us to give up our sense of specialness and self-aggrandizing victimhood. It requires the progressive straight people who support us to stop feeling superior to their conservative brothers and sisters; to actually talk and eat with their enemies. And it requires us all to continue holding the doors of the Church open to strangers, to other people we don’t approve of or like, so that the Church can be blessed by more and more of the dirty; the foreigners and sinners and unbelievers God sends us.
A discourse about “rights” misses this point. Of course gay people, like straight people, remember how we were slaves and foreigners in Egypt. Many of us are still slaves and foreigners. And so whenever the Church talks to Pharaoh, we must always fiercely work for and demand justice, especially on behalf of the weakest among us.
But the mission of the people of God is not to claim “rights” as dispensed by the state, or by our own religious laws. We cannot give or get from any human being the “right” to receive communion, the “right” to be baptized, the “right” to accept suffering on a cross. These are not rights but free gifts from God, through the love of Christ Jesus.
And that love reveals, if we’re not too proud to see it, the Gospel. How your salvation is inextricably bound up with that of an angry, foul-mouthed atheist drag queen. How my salvation’s irreversibly connected with that of a mean-sprited Nigerian bishop or an Indiana housewife who believes gays are going to hell.
“In his flesh,” says St. Paul––who might, after all, be the patron saint of gay liberation–– “he has broken down the dividing wall between us, that he might create in himself one new humanity, through the cross.”
Our mission is to give thanks. Because liberation doesn’t depend on our individual goodness or pride. It doesn’t depend on our rights or status in the world. It comes from Christ Jesus, who restores us all into his one body: gay and straight, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.
This body suffers scandalously. It loves foolishly. And it frees us, eternally.