Words || Emma Jackson
For me, being queer and Christian is not a difficult thing. I grew up with a knowledge of a God that is all-encompassing love with a strong passion for disruption, and that definitively includes queer people. But I also know this not always a common experience.
Nightcliff Uniting Church, where I grew up, doesn’t really look or feel like a traditional church building. There’s no spire, or cross, or even pews. The walls aren’t walls, they are banks of louvres with no fly-screen to let the breeze in – an essential feature for hot, humid Darwin.
Outside the windows on one side there was an arid carpark. You may think I’m exaggerating by describing a carpark like a desert, but I promise I am not. This carpark was hot, red dirt that would burn your feet if you didn’t run across quickly enough on your way to the playground after Sunday morning worship. The most wonderful thing about that carpark is that it is now a community garden. Careful cultivation of the dry dirt, constant watering, and a bunch of chickens transformed the barren into a place of beauty and bounty. Water is transformative, just like God, when in the hands of a community that endeavours to change the world around them for the better, and I knew this intimately from the moment I was born.
My church community actively welcomed and advocated for those who our society sees as broken or worth less than (straight, white, male) others. I remember when I was young, there was a lesbian couple who worshipped with us for a few years, and one Sunday morning they stood up in front of our old Yamaha electric piano and thanked our congregation for being so accepting of them. Little me was somewhat confused as I didn’t quite see what the fuss was over; God loved everyone, and loved all the best bits, and a clearly happy and loving relationship was obviously a best bit.
But for a long time, I kept my activity in the queer community separate from my faith, because I came to know how much hurt the church has caused the queer community. And it was hard for me to confront my own relationship with God and the Bible. One of the most common questions I would be asked wasn’t just about why I thought God loved me, but about how I could think that being gay was okay when the Bible says it is an ‘abomination’ (Leviticus 18:22).
Queer Christians need to be constantly on the defense, with prepared and in-depth critical and contextual Bible readings that justify why they believe in a God that accepts homosexuality. Queer Christians are all familiar with the verses that condemn homosexuality in a way that prepares us to defend our existence at any moment. My first experience with being able to quote a Bible verse off the top of my head was quoting Romans 1 to explain why it doesn’t invalidate my identity. And that makes me angry. I couldn’t have a favourite verse about love or justice or any of the reasons I am a Christian. I had to learn to quote the Bible to defend myself.
In some ways, it reminds me of conversations in other communities, including the wider queer community, about how the responsibility for educating others about our worth as humans should not entirely fall to us. Many people who ask provocative questions are often waiting for us to stumble while explaining why we matter so they can use our lapses in articulation as ‘evidence’ for why they are right to invalidate us. But then, if we refuse to rise to the bait, we also give them the evidence they want. I wanted to avoid this cycle of defense, so I avoided the reading the Bible altogether.
It was only recently that I began reading the Bible again, and I think I avoided in-depth engagement with the Bible for so long because I was scared of what might happen. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to reconcile the explicit meaning of Leviticus with what I know to be true about God’s acceptance of my identity, so it took me a long time to (metaphorically) look God in the face and challenge Her on the topic. And honestly, my overwhelming impression was not the ‘message’ itself but the fact that I was not able to encounter them on my own terms. Being told my whole life that I was supposed to think God hated me because the Bible said so prevented me from finding God for myself in the word.
Reading through the infamous story about God’s anger towards Sodom in Genesis 19, which many people interpret as God smiting a town due to men engaging in homosexual intercourse, I was instead struck by a passage in the previous chapter. Genesis 18: 20-32 shows Abraham arguing with God, defending the innocent within the city that God intended to punish, and not just disagreeing with God, but actively arguing. So, the chapter before one of the verses used to isolate queer people is a passage where one of most influential prophets challenges God about ethical behaviour. I resonated more with this God, one that listens to Her people and is in constant dialogue with us, and I never would have found this if I only read the Bible so that I could defend myself. And for those interested, many contemporary readings of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah identify the sin of the cities to be the attempted rape of some angels, not the act of homosexual sex itself.
The church has a habit of telling us how us to read the Bible when it comes to controversial topics, but making definitive statements about the true meaning of the Bible can ignore the invitation that is extended to us by God. God encourages us to challenge the word, and in doing so our own faith.
I’ve sat next to queer family members through sermons where I know the priest considers our identity to be a sin to confess, but unable to do or say anything in that moment because other members of our family present agreed with the priest. I have had people on this university campus walk away from me as soon as I say I am a queer-affirming Christian. But I feel ready for that now. Allowing myself to read the Bible in a new way has prepared me for the conversations where I defend myself in a way that rote-learning critical analysis never did. In this way, my queerness comes first. I am ready to face off with God about my identity and challenge the ethics of the treatment of queer people. Basing my faith from the premise that God loves my queerness has allowed me to look beyond the words on the page into what God is calling me to do through those words. Queering the Bible can be transformative for Christianity, just like everything, it’s a little better if its a little more queer.
If you would like further resources about Christian Queer Theology, queergrace.com is a good place to begin.
Emma Jackson is part of Christian Students Uniting on campus. Christian Students Uniting can be contacted on Facebook through CSU at MQ or MacSync as Christian Students Uniting.