Once you were not a people…

Once you were not a people, and now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10, NIV)

It might seem vaguely narcissistic, but last night I watched a video of myself reading poetry at a recent conference called Act Like Men? It was an interesting experience because I felt moved by the same moments watching that caught me by surprise while presenting.

Once such moment was when I read aloud the first half of the verse above, as I tried to explain in poetry why I was grateful for the Pride Movement as a Christian theologian who is gay. I saw and felt my voice break and tears come to my eyes again while watching. I believe this is because I still sense that in that moment, I was telling the truth, which, as I’ve admitted in other writings, “is not, I fear, straight-forward.”

I have trouble explaining how GLBTQ* Christians are a tribe. Moderator Nancy Wilson of Metropolitan Community Churches calls us a “trans-tribal tribe.” But I think I can explain by analogy to how disabled people are often treated in law, as “disabled persons.” Although the designation “person” is a profound dignity, it is also a way of atomizing experiences. In other words, if the law says “disabled persons” rather than “disabled people,” there is a tendency to look exclusively at cases rather than examine whether or not the broader system is creating or exacerbating the problems that laws about accessibility-accommodation are supposed to address.

In like manner, Christian pastors and theologians, especially of a conservative hue, are willing to talk about “homosexual persons” because they are willing to acknowledge that individuals need ad hoc pastoral care. But speaking of homosexual (or even queer!) persons allows the Church (whether institutional or mystical) to side-step much larger issues about whether an entire people are being well served or not, oppressed or not, equipped or not, celebrated or not.

I realise that it is counter-intuitive for some, but here is the gentle challenge I bring today from my own life and that of my people: we queers take solace in this verse and others of like spirit in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Why? Because, despite all the things that the Church does or doesn’t do to and for us, we often have a sense of breakthrough, of solidarity, of “now [having] received mercy” when those around us told us there was none for us to have.

Thanks be to God! Selah.

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