I am queer.
I suspect you are too.
Why? Well, among other things, the Bible tells me so. Which is not true. And yet is true enough. Jesus, never one to comfort the powerful or those who thought they had the answers, boiled all of the commandments down to two. Simply, his fierce response was:
- Love God.
- Love your neighbor (as yourself).
That covered it. That covers it.
The whole darn world. Everyone one you meet. Everyone you don’t meet. Everyone who has lived. Everyone alive. We are all neighbors.
Some neighbors are queer. I don’t mean odd or weird. I mean gay. I mean lesbian. I mean, using that mouthful of letters, those who are LGBTQ. Or, as the Bible never said, homosexuals. I believe every human who has ever lived and who will ever live, is on various spectrums. One of those spectrums involves, to use remarkably inadequate language, gender identity.
We are not just male and female.
We are not just gay and straight.
We are not just insiders and outsiders.
We are not just sinners and not sinners.
We are not just good or evil.
We are neighbors.
All of us.
I was born in the year the American Psychiatric Association (APA) first declared that homosexuality was a mental health issue. It was deemed “a sociopathic personality disturbance.” That conclusion appeared in 1952’s inaugural Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka, the DSM-1).
In 1973, the APA revised its professional mind. Homosexuality was not an illness. Whew. Everything changed for the better!
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Around 1980, in the first congregation I served—seven years after the APA said homosexuality was “normal” and 111 years after the word homosexual first appeared (more on that later), and eleven years after the Stonewall riots (nothing on that later, but please look it up), and nearly forty years before President Trump announced that transgendered neighbors weren’t welcome in the almighty American military—the gentleman who was that church’s treasurer told me he’d leave worship if I mentioned “accepting homosexuality” in a sermon.
He thought queers were sinners. Love the sinner, but hate the sin. You remember that old, old trope that, oops, too many folks still use? He figured the church’s business was condemning rather than welcoming homosexuals.
But he and I kept talking. He remained the treasurer. He remained a person conflicted with what he should or should not believe. He was raised to view homosexuals as . . . bad? I don’t think we ever came to any agreement. And yet talking matters. Walking out, and walking back in matters. Regardless of his beliefs, and his anguish over what it meant to sin, or to be a sinner, he also entrusted his son to me. His kid was involved in youth groups, and hit the trail with me on church backpacks. I have no idea if that man ever changed his mind or heart.
With many controversial issues, it seems they will always divide us. Want to talk about abortion? Want to talk about Christianity—well, certain interpretations of Christianity—being the singular way to “salvation?” On we debate. On we point fingers. On we create insiders and outsiders.
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Homosexual did not exist until 1869*, when Hungarian journalist Karl-Maria Kertbeny concocted the word and printed it in a pamphlet. If your Bible uses “homosexual,” it’s a modern translation that is, at best, misleading. Nothing in the Bible condemns homosexuality, or loving same gender relationships. Zip. Zilch. Nada. However, if you fervently disagree with me, it’s possible you’ll point to one of those handful of remarkably trivial verses that [really don’t] support the claim of condemnation.
Why don’t you interpret those hundred or so Greek and Hebrew words from thousands of year ago your way and only your way. I’ll do the same. We’ll have fun not hearing each other.
But Jesus affirmed only marriage between a man and woman, Larry! Hmmm? How about if we discuss what marriage was like, and how women were treated, during Jesus’ time?
Let’s duke it out!
Who is my neighbor? Jesus asked, spoiling our cruel, prideful, faithless arguments.
After over four decades in ministry, which went by lickety-split, let me tell you the little that I believe based on what I have witnessed. I have married men and women, women and women, and men and men. Some got divorces. Some are still married. Every lovely, flawed, wonderful, foolish, dimwitted, divinely-loved person I’ve known in the churches I served was more alike than not. Everyone is a neighbor. That’s where it begins. That’s where it ends.
I recall, for a youth group meeting, inviting a panel of homosexuals to share about themselves. This was the mid-1970s. We got parental permission. It was a safe, non-threatening environment.
Some Q&A. Some learning. Some trusting.
The queers arrived. They talked. The kids listened.
I also listened and learned. The only lesbian on the panel, with a soft voice and frequent smile, casually mentioned she had to read a book before the lights went out at bedtime. Maybe a few sentences. Maybe, if a twisty mystery, she’d keep reading chapter after chapter.
I can’t go to sleep without reading.
Did that make me weird? Or queer?
It was one of the first times truth smacked me on the side of my stubborn noggin: the labels and categories we arrogant humans wield as weapons seemed petty and pathetic. Everyone is unique and special and loved, loved, loved by God. And yet we’re also all more alike than not . . .
Neighbors, Jesus said.
*I’ve seen different dates, along with various spellings of Kertbeny’s name (and other minor details). But what has been consistent is that the word/concept homosexual is relatively recent.
Note: I am, with some final essays over the next weeks, bringing these weekly faith musings to a close. For an explanation, see #1: And Yet.