Revised Common Lectionary Reading: 2 Timothy 4:1-5
For me, this is one of my favourite texts in the New Testament; I’m also tempted to hate it, because it is one of my personal texts of terror.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
Though I acknowledge that the Pastoral Epistles were probably not written by the historical Paul, I always appreciated that traditionally, Timothy was understood as a young pastor as young as 20, whose congregation was very difficult. Along comes “Paul” to urge his young charge to be faithful to the Gospel.
When I spend time with people in “progressive” mainline churches, I wonder if we proclaim the same message that the earliest Christians did–how much time to we spend persistently convincing, rebuking, and encouraging each other with the utmost patience? The idea that we should convince someone of the truth of the Gospel, never mind rebuke someone because of unchristlike behaviour or doctrinal error, seems very uncomfortable in a cultural context that prizes pluralism.
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
This is the part, except for the last sentence, that makes this reading a “text of terror” for me (and, I imagine, many other queer Christians). You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard Christians use the second half of this reading to say: People who believe that they can be faithful Christians while being in sexually active same-gender/sex relationships are “gathering to themselves teachers to suit their unbiblical and perverse desires.” They believe myths about sexual orientation and gender that are not true.
I often wonder if people who say such things ever stop to consider that they may be equally guilty of the same procedures, not only about queerness but about many other areas in which they have not examined their privilege. For myself, the Gospel writ large is a much more interesting conversation than the much smaller debate about sexual morality; however, as someone who is theologically convicted that faithful queer relationships are part of God’s provision for joy and goodness in the world, I need to “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of” someone who proclaims God’s good news, and “carry out [my] ministry fully.”
I know that I often fail, and I often feel an unfair level of scrutiny from those who do not agree with me. But I remember something my hero Peter Gomes said when the voices in his world said that he couldn’t be Black, gay, and Christian: “I offer my life as evidence to the contrary.” I would like to think that we queer Christians will be able to offer something serious and joyful to the Church and the world about the Good News we share: Messiah Jesus will put right everything and everyone, the living and the dead.