“If and when you're dying, given the chance, would you turn away from your gay lifestyle so that you can make it to heaven?”
The question comes up often. Whether it be because I am from the south and I have friends and family who are concerned about my spiritual life, or because I have been recently experiencing a lot of health concerns. I have a healthy relationship with thinking about my impending death. I think it helps recenter myself, my goals, and my perspective. I journal about it. I have pages upon pages where I have written about it extensively for months. And given that we are still in the Easter season per the Christian Calendar, thinking about the crucifixion, the resurrection, and all that is to come, death has resurfaced to the forefront of my mind.
Last month, I was at work and had a guest come into the store during a slow hour looking to see if anyone could make some adjustments on her glasses. In case you were wondering, I used to be a pretty fabulous optician, if I say so myself. Since I was the only one in the optical, as my coworker was on lunch, I happily took her glasses to the back room to make the adjustments. As I was manipulating the frame to be more fitted, she began to ask me questions like, “Where are you from?” She knew I wasn’t from the west coast because of my southern charm. When she found out that I was new to California, she inquired as to whether or not I had a home church. I explained to her that I was still looking. She immediately invited me to her church, which was United Methodist. After telling me a little about her church, I said, “The UMC just had a tough special conference.” As I handed the glasses back to the guest for her to try on, she quickly went into a rant about the “buffoonery" of the entire conference and how “The LGBT’s shouldn’t be allowed in any church unless they change their ways and become normal people.” As the words were flying recklessly out of her mouth, I smiled and asked her if her glasses were okay. She affirmed that the glasses did indeed fit and then she noticed a handmade ring I was wearing. She was "awestruck by its beauty" and asked me if I made it, to which I replied, “Actually my boyfriend did." She said the ring was pretty, thanked me for helping her, and as she walked away from the optical she said she was "going to be praying for me" after she had left.
Jesus didn't die to change my gay lifestyle. Jesus didn’t die to change anyone’s lifestyle. Jesus didn’t die to change. If Jesus died to change everything then Jesus’ death was nothing shy of a transaction. The God of scripture is not a transactional God. Rather, the God of scripture is a relational God, one who chose to become embodied in the flesh and bones of Jesus, moving vulnerably towards humanity, identifying with them and their suffering, and even when humanity chose to use Christ as a scapegoat for political power and gain, God in Christ chose mercy, forgiveness, and love. Christ didn’t come to change us. Christ came to invite us into the mutual participatory act of reconciliation.
Christ chose humanity, the ones who followed him, questioned him, and murdered him. Christ chose all of us. In this choosing, Christ offers a new way to be in relationship with the God of scripture.
For generations upon generations, humanity functioned as if God was more like the Greek god Zeus who needed a sacrifice to be pleased. Humanity functioned this way so much that sacrifice became a normal way of living. As this system of sacrifice became established like a well oiled machine, it became clear that anyone who did not follow the societal norms and expectations was to be sacrificed, whether that be socially or physically.
For far too long, some christians have built and exclaimed a theology that posits itself in a transactional view of God. For far too long, this transactional theology has been used to dress up the fact that the “white" body of Christ (who was actually brown) was beaten, bruised, and ultimately murdered by humanity so that we could once again have a sacrifice to please a god who is apparently angry with us. For far too long, this narrative has led humanity to believe that we can separate ourselves from those who are different from what is considered “normal", that being heteronormative cishet white men. And if you aren’t white, well you better at least be straight or male, or else you have more than one strike against you.
Just as the Lepers of Jesus’ day, who were considered to be the lowest of lows, who were not allowed to enter into the city, and if they did they were required to yell unclean for everyone to hear -- LGBT+ persons, according to some, shouldn’t be allowed to experience God, much less anything else, unless they change and become “normal". But guess what? It was all those marginalized, not so normal, pushed to the edges of society, people that Christ broke bread and shared his life with.
This transactional, consumeristic, sacrificial view of god is nothing short of being born of lies.
Jesus’ death is not an invitation for me to become “normal” as defined by those whose hold places of power and authority. Jesus’ death is not an invitation for me to become straight. Rather, Jesus’ death and resurrection are an invitation for me to live fully and authentically into my queerness. Jesus’ death and resurrection are an invitation for all of us to live both fully and authentically in relationship with one another.
Some would argue and say “Well God can do miracles!” “God can do anything if you have enough faith!” I wholeheartedly believe and confess both. However, I have a few qualms with the implications that are found behind these sayings. First, God is not a genie. That’s the Zeus god. God is not going to grant our wish just because we ask for it or worship God enough. That’s one sided, and the God of scripture is not interested in one sided relationship. Second, God can do anything! Yes, but what if God doesn’t? It’s automatically assumed that if we cannot see evidence of a miraculous thing happening in someone’s life, that they either don’t have faith or that God is absent from them. This not only is harmful because it blames the person, but it also creates a ton of needless shame. This is not good news.
Plus, when Jesus performed miracles, yes people got healed, but if our theology stops there then we are shortsighted. Jesus’ miracles were not just about healing individual persons, but were also about brining those outcast from the community/society back into its fold. Why? Because Christ knew that we were better together.
The ancient Israelites and near eastern cultures started from a point that viewed god as an angry deity wanting to take vengeance out on all peoples. They viewed that their relationship with god was somehow broken. Because of this their actions flowed from their beliefs. Today, a lot of Christians still use the language, “god is a wrathful god” to justify their sacrificial rituals of scapegoating and exclusion disguised as a theology of god’s wrath for those who are not deemed “normal” or worthy, so they don’t have to take responsibility or action when the lives of those deemed unworthy are being threatened, or literally killed.
When Jesus entered the picture, the narrative changes. All those who are not welcome, now have a place of belonging. All those who are considered “sinners”, Jesus calls brother, sister, mother, father. Jesus offers all people the opportunity to transform their starting point of an angry god to the starting point of a relational God who unconditionally chooses mercy, forgiveness, and love. A God who chooses relationship, above all else.
The 3rd century theologian and apologist, Irenaeus, says, “The glory of God is human beings fully alive.” The context of this statement was couched within the understanding that human beings are not fully alive, not fully made whole, not set right unless they were in right relationship with God, others, and self. I become fully human as I learn to love my neighbor as they are. I become fully human as I learn to love myself, the self that God uniquely created. God made human beings with relationship in mind. Why? Because, God in God's self is the essence of unequivocal, unmovable, and unconditional love filled relationship.
It is this essence, this being, this movement, that all of us “normal” and not so “normal” human beings are made in the image of. And to be humans fully alive, we must recognize the God that is in us, is in all our neighbors, is in all of humanity and our vast diversity. God is in all of creation. The death of Christ is not about changing the world and making people assimilate into the idea of "being normal." The death of Christ, his murder, is an opportunity for us to see that being in authentic and vulnerable relationship with those around us is risky. The death of Christ is about us being reconciled to God and one another. It’s hard. And with perseverance, it doesn’t make anything normal. Rather, the death of Christ is a promise that all broken forms of relationship will be made new. Now, this is good news!
So if you hear that I am on the death bed and I am breathing my last breath, please know that it is my hope and desire to die an authentic and vulnerable death by owning the story I have lived. I will die in the comfort of God’s everlasting embrace. And No, I won’t be repenting from my gay “lifestyle."