Adapted from the remarks I gave at the first-ever LGBTQ Pride event in Rochester, NH
When I was in high school, friends wondered at my participation in a faith that they saw as exclusionary. Specifically: how could a queer person participate in a religion that excluded gays? I didn’t understand, then; I was lucky, in my particular congregation, to be loved and accepted without question. But many of my friends, brought up in other churches felt excluded. Their experiences ranged from the micro-aggressions of not seeing themselves reflected in expectations or biblical storytelling, to the trauma of having to sit through sermons in which they were condemned, as though by God Almighty. For often, the voice of the pastor may as well be the voice of God. Of this I am very aware today, as I stand before you in my collar. I am aware that there will be those among you who cringe inwardly at seeing me; who expect the judgment that many associate with this particular garb.
Yet today, I wear it deliberately, with all its weighty baggage, in the hopes that some of that weight might add a little authority, a little extra meaning, to what I would say to you today.
Churches around the world have done, and continue to do, great harm to the queer community. Churches commit and condone violence; churches force individuals into damaging “reparative” therapies; churches encourage parents to disown their children; churches shun and isolate people until they doubt the very value of their lives. And all of it on the basis of seven whole verses of our long and complicated bible.
Certainly, not all churches would condemn you. But those of us who love you, just as you are – who affirm you and your relationships – have not been clear enough, loud enough, open enough to make you feel safe. Many of us still make mistakes regularly, and all the good intentions in the world do not make those mistakes less painful. We have a lot of work yet to do to live into our attempts at real, honest love.
Human beings are really good at building walls, at putting up barriers between groups – black and white, gay and straight, cis and trans, rich and poor – and we’re even better at justifying them, often in the name of morality, which is a subtle way of saying God. Because if we believe another group is lazy, criminal, perverted, or dangerous, then we can believe that they’re unworthy, in God’s eyes as well as our own, and we can feel comfortable within our exclusionary walls knowing that “they” are on the other side.
The thing is, as a wise person said recently: every time you draw a line every time you build a wall to exclude people, Jesus ends up on the other side of it. Jesus, who hung out on the margins of his society with those deemed unworthy and dangerous; Jesus saw them, saw God in them, and loved them for exactly who they were.
Jesus, who walked this earth as a living reminder that God loves the world – that whole John 3:16 thing we see on signs at football games, forgetting how radical that claim is; forgetting that the first real example of God’s love for the whole world was embodied by someone even the disciples hesitated to approach, someone on the outside of their walls.
This I know: God doesn’t care about the walls we put up, for God cannot be contained within those walls, no matter what we want to believe. God cannot be contained within our learned judgments of sexuality, or gender identity, or gender expression.
This I know: you are made in God’s image. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Asexual, Trans, Genderfluid, Genderqueer: you are blessed and beautiful. You are worthy and beloved. Your lives are valuable, your relationships are valuable, your love is valuable; far more valuable than any walls that have ever excluded you.
So today, I call upon the church to come out here, to meet Jesus, right here at Pride, because this is exactly where he would hang out. I call upon the church to learn something from you who have gathered here today: something about creating community. Something about love. I call upon the church to learn from you that love cannot be contained within walls; that love does not commit or condone violence; that love does not shun or exclude; that love always wins.
Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy is pastor at First Church Congregational in Rochester, NH. She blogs athttp://www.sermonizing.wordpress.com
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