• Stephen Oliver B-M

The queer and the cross

Updated: May 31, 2018

An 'auto-da-fé' - the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates during the Inquisition

On a Megabus returning to Liverpool, the person next to me introduced himself as a true believer in the Bible. He was a Levitical Christian, one that literally thought that queers should be stoned, or at least executed in an equivalent manner.

Our current Pope believes in treating queers nicely but at the heart of it, queers are repudiated. It is rather like not being anti-semitic but leaving the damnation of Jews to hell as an open possibility. It is an advance on crucifying Jews as at the auto da fé, an 'act of the faith' in the time of the Inquisition, but at the root of it, the confusion and contradiction as to the meaning of the cross continues and its implications for how we live, especially in our attitudes to queers.

That Jesus was a Jew and a queer gives us pause for thought, both about crucifying queers, literally or figuratively, and reason to reflect more on what St. Paul meant by the scandal of the cross. By queers, here, I include not just people who are LGBTQIA+ but all the morally or socially questionable people such as ex-convicts, the 'unworthy' poor, Travellers, and the intentionally or unintentionally ex-communicated, conservative or liberal.

The following is adapted from an essay I wrote 30 years ago, describing my idea of evangelism in an application to become an American Baptist Church [ABC] minister. I did not have the word ‘queer’ in my vocabulary then, but concern for the queer (all those marginalised by traditional Church) is present throughout).

'The old self is characterised as alienated from its true self, from others and from God. One way this broken self or heart manifests itself is by dividing the world into in-groups and out-groups, the bad and the good, us and them, the queer and the non-queer. The cross tells us that God embraces the whole world and that his love creates hearts big enough to embrace the whole globe. The capacity to break out of the limitations placed upon us by our walls and to transcend the illusion of our in-group lies, takes a lot of working at. Simply to say ‘Grace, grace' achieves little. However a faith community that can work at this and be all-inclusive and all-embracing is a redemptive force.
'The fallen self is characterised by its need for rule ethics. Though this is very understandable, it is in the long run destructive and illusory. God at the cross shows us that we are called to an ethic of understanding (the old Temple curtain was torn from the ground up), of feeling with people where they are and of responding in any situation with the creative spirit of love. The person who obeys God is essentially an empathising person. This style of non-judgmentalism is incredibly liberating and compelling, and gets to the heart of what ethics is all about. It is threatening to moralists, but Christianity is not a morality but about a transforming spirit.
'The old self is also characterised by cynicism or simple hard-heartedness. The cross reveals, however, the passionate bleeding heart of God. A Christian concern for justice arises out of this compassion. It drives people to act and to live lives of justice. The injustice against women, the evils of straight men in their commodification of women’s sexuality for purposes of property and keeping the world ‘a man’s world’; the homophobia that arises when their heterosexuality is profoundly threatened by queer men who embrace the feminine as part of their humanity; these must be protested, struggled against and overcome. The world’s lies that justify our indifference or cynical withdrawal are hard to see through, as with the ideological attacks on the poor in the interests of the rich. We do not hide behind the Biblical verses that seem to justify such injustice but as a community act out of the compassion of God.
'Egotism is a cruel prison that is hard even for Christians who bow to grace to get out of, yet not to be set free is our ultimate tragedy. Our need to play God, to play to the gallery, to pretend we are not vulnerable and generally play pretend all the way round is a game we desperately need to break out of - we need to come out of the closet of pretend even when the world is punishing to those that have the courage to be ‘simply’ human. At the cross we see God wholly human. We are called to be transparently pure in this sense. Grace, in other words, sets us free to live out of this vulnerability. A faith community that can offer this freedom is highly contagious!
'The cross is a celebration of people despite our cruelties. It demands unconditional forgiveness. It offers us a humility and a contrite heart that loudly communicates Christian liberation. We set people free for the future and free them from the fear of failure - indeed teach this as essential for growth in love. The role of the Church is then to help us grow in a journey of faith in love, helps build us up in its freedom and unconditional acceptance. It does not force square pegs into round holes - it takes us where we are - queers and all.
'The cross communicates God’s infinite patience. The gospel is thus radically non-violent and cannot permit any kind of manipulation as in violating people’s feelings. This spirit of non-violation applies in every aspect of our lives, as in respect for people’s conscience, but most particularly in our sexuality and feelings of gender. In "taking up the Cross of Jesus" we show unconditional love, the power of grace to evaporate the hate and hurt to make way for resurrection healing.
'Lack of depth, inability to see beyond the surface, no soul or faith to see beyond the present is characteristic of our unredeemed state. The cross looks plain stupid. Guns, crooked politicians and money control the world! It takes faith if only the size of a mustard seed to stand up and be counted to bring the power of the Spirit, the power of the cross, the power of grace to transform lives and build up a redemptive Christian Church. The day of the beloved community will come, "the kingdom of God" will come, and queer people will not be at its periphery but in its heart.
'The cross communicates the mystery of love - that God treasures us absolutely - in the grandeur of our flesh, its weakness and its glory, the image in which the divine is to be found present with us. Our human tragedy is that we cannot see this, or seeing it, still puts Bible texts, Church rules, money and status as more important. The task of a missionary Church is to restore the priorities of the community of faith to glory in "the epiphany of love-in-flesh", queer or not!'

Where is the loving spirit in the Church that embraces the whole world - queer and non-queer? Where is the loving spirit of understanding? Where is the spirit of justice for the queer, the poor and social outsiders? Where is the loving spirit of unconditional love, the spirit that sets people’s hearts free to love without fear of being violated? Where is the faith that enables us to ‘walk on the waters’ of love? Once people experience a faith community with such a spirit, we will have genuine Church growth - not a phoney growth inspired by the advertising or entertainment industry, a faith in an inversion of the cross, an upside down cross. Here is the true scandal of the cross. It is not that pagans, Jews and Gentiles reject it but that the traditional Church, as shown in its treatment of the queer community, proclaims not a Good News but a Bad News - a way to wiggle out of the Lord’s Prayer - 'Thy Will be done on Earth as in Heaven'. Far from taking up the cross of Jesus, its message of the cross is a cop-out, a way to run from the challenge of the cross with its offer of redemptive grace on Earth, the grace of ‘eternal life’ in the here and now.

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