“When people say that we need to be changed, they separate body from mind and ignore God-given authenticity”.
Throughout the queering the lectionary series, many of the texts that I will consider don’t have out LGBTQ+ characters or clear implications for LGBTQ+ people. And yet many LGBTQ+ people find things in these texts which resonate with our lived experience. Everyone does it. When we read any literature, including scripture, we look for those quotes, themes or experiences which resonate with our own lives or the lives of those close to us. In this series, I will share some of my thoughts on lectionary readings today. I am not asserting definitive, provable, academic truths. Nor am I suggesting that my understandings are infallible or unchanging. I am definitely not claiming univocity with all LGBTQ+ people. Far from it. Rather, I am attempting to capture one particular interpretation, from my particular experiences and understandings, from this particular moment in time, to show just one way that each reading might be queered. Further, queering is not simply about introducing LGBTQ+ lenses – although that is one of my main aims in this series. Rather, queering disrupts conventional, traditional or normative interpretations or assumptions and asks the reader, how might we read this differently?
When Jesus speaks his truth in a religious setting, religious leaders claim that he is ill and his family seek to hide him away, perhaps even to change him. The religious leaders claim that he has been taken over by demons. This resonates with the experiences of many LGBTQ+ people in faith based settings. In 2018, the National LGBT Survey found that over 50% of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ was offered or conducted by a faith organisation. In other words, over 50% of LGBTQ+ people who have been treated as if there is something wrong with them that needs to be hidden or changed have experienced this abusive behaviour in the very spaces in which they should be safe to be themselves – faith spaces. This doesn’t only apply to LGBTQ+ people, though. Voices from across intersections suggest that most minoritised or stigmatised identity groups have experienced abuse or ill-treatment in religious context.
Jesus explains his identity to his detractors. He uses sophisticated logic to help them to understand who he is, and why he is speaking up. And yet, even this is not enough. His family try, once again, to take him away. The people listening to him, those who are presumably interested in what he has to say, tell him that his family are looking for him. And he replies “Who are my mothers and brothers?” At that moment, Jesus creates a chosen family. A family based on those who believe him when he claims his identity. A family who will support him no matter the persecution they may experience as a result. A family of allies who are willing to take the oppression and ridicule that Jesus experiences on themselves in order to do the right thing.
Many LGBTQ+ people struggle with the way in which many church services focus on ‘traditional families’. We struggle with language that reinforces the heteronormative family norm of a loving, married, mother and father, with obedient children. Many of us have/ have had complex relationships with our parents and have experienced trauma in our birth families. Many of us have been criticised or disowned. Many of us will not form normative families of our own. Many of us will not be parents, by choice or otherwise. And yet, many LGBTQ+ people have amazing experiences of chosen families like the one that Jesus describes. We surround ourselves with people who ‘get it’, people who don’t criticise us or try to change us. And these chosen families can change the world, even if only for one person. I wonder who your kin, your chosen family, are?
Jesus’s birth family tried to restrain him and constrain him. Breaking free, Jesus looks around him at those who choose to see and honour his identity and says. “Here is my kin”. May it be so for us. Amen.
Reading with an inclusive lens:
As we explore ‘Queering the Lectionary’, one of the areas of learning is inclusivity. You may not wish to focus, in worship leading or Bible study, entirely on the topics introduced in this resource. Nevertheless, you should consider inclusivity every time that you speak in church, especially if you are speaking ‘from the pulpit’. Each week, I will suggest some micro-aggressions (little hurts that can build up to cause great harm) that some LGBTQ+ people might experience when listening to people speaking about these texts.
This week’s micro-aggressions:
- Family focus: Many people focus on Jesus’s birth family when preaching on this reading. Often we even apologise for them – ‘Oh well, it must have been difficult for them… How were they supposed to understand’… For people who have experienced harm or complexity in familial relationships this might feel like we are saying ‘Oh well, it must have been difficult for your family…’ etc. In reality, the reading is bookended by Jesus’s birth family, but focuses more on the judgements and actions of institutional religion.
- Not taking responsibility: It’s not Jesus’s family who suggest that he is possessed, it is religious leaders. This is an opportunity to apologise for all of the times that religion has viewed diversity as illness or evil. Say sorry, and explain how you will do better.
- The ‘demon’ issue: Any reading that involves demons can be tricky to handle. There are issues around how we respond to mental health, so-called ‘conversion therapy’ and healing. Many people simply avoid these readings. Another approach might be to deal with them head on, to explicitly say that mental health difficulties/differences and neurodiversity should never be understood as possession, that ‘conversion therapy’ is wrong, and that healing should focus on reconciliation and restoration, rather than replace science and medicine.
Reading with a queer lens:
Another area of learning is how we might apply a queer lens to each week’s readings. You may wish to focus, in worship leading or Bible study, on queering the text. Each week, I will draw out some topics that you may wish to consider:
- Visibility: Here, people are reacting to Jesus standing up and being visibly, audibly different from the norm. Are there similar results when people do likewise today?
- ‘Conversion therapy’: The reactions of religious leaders and Jesus’s family, here, can be seen as a desire to ‘change’ Jesus back to the ‘accepted norm’. Could this have been possible? What harm might have been done? An opportunity to speak out against conversion therapy.
- Chosen family/kin: Here we have a clear example of Jesus creating a chosen family, based on identity, belief, and practice rather than bloodlines and family trees. How might you support the idea of chosen family in your context, rather than focussing on birth family?
One of the limitations in this resource is it’s focus on the Gospel. I am the first to admit that, as someone with a ministry that regularly involves speaking outside of the Christian ‘bubble’, it feels easier to focus on Jesus. Nevertheless, making connections between the Gospel and other readings in the lectionary can help when drawing out queering themes. Each week, I will point to text from other lectionary readings that connect to the possibilities which I raise above:
In Psalm 130, the Psalmist writes, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O God.’ How might Psalms of lament help us to respond to the pain caused by the enforcing of norms?