24 August 2009

Letter to the Christians in Queerdom

By Alex McNeill
Based on Ephesians 6:10-20

I knew when I came out that I was accepting a call to a spiritual battlefield. For the church that raised and nourished me, the church which gave me the tools to question and discern God’s will for me, the same tools which led me to understand that I was both queer* and called to ministry, was suddenly the very place I would be denied to put God’s gifts to use. I knew that part of God’s plan for me included a battle of sorts, and at the very least as a queer person called to work in the Presbyterian Church, I had a long road ahead. However, I knew that I loved this church too much to let it off the hook for discrimination or to leave it behind to sort out God’s plan for it without me. So I prepared for battle. After coming out into this realization, I had never felt so alone. I thought I knew what preparation for this battlefield would look like: a cloak of firm resolve, a shield of detached coolness, a sword of academic rebuttals of the 'texts of terror,' a breastplate of moral fortitude. My goal then was to arm myself in such a way that in meetings with my CPM no matter what was thrown at me, my armor would deflect it from touching me. I thought that my armor came from within. God had called me to this task, and it was up to me to prepare for it.

Fortunately, as my experience in my CPM, and this passage from Ephesians proves, I was not alone, nor was it up to me to craft my own armor. From a feminist perspective, the idea of Christians at battle conjures up a lot of pretty awful aspects of Christian history and patriarchal ideals of dominance and might. However, I love what the author of this letter has done to turn battle imagery on its head. As Rev. David Cameron put it in the Union PSCE blog "Join the Feast," the author of this letter "reinvents the image in a most non-militaristic way. He appropriates the common parts of armor – belt, breastplate, shield – but he assigns them uncommon values: truth, righteousness, faith. Consequently, the armor, usually a symbol of self-reliance, is transformed into a symbol of utter dependence on God."

Thank God I'm not a one woman army. I learned that in my first CPM meeting to become an inquirer. As I sat facing many in the room who on principle would never have voted to allow an openly queer person take any steps towards ministry in the Presbyterian Church, I slowly lowered my weapons of 'firm resolve' and 'detached coolness' and became radically open to the workings of the Holy Spirit. With the knowledge that God had called and prepared me for this meeting, knitting my armor since birth, I felt suddenly calm. Rather than feeling powerfully invincible, I felt the radical power of utter dependence on God to get me through it.

As Christians called to serve the Presbyterian Church but who face difficult trials, meetings, and committees for the sake of who we love or how we present to the world, I believe this text has a lot to say to us. Imagine this is a letter to the 'Christians in Queerdom.' Perhaps we are not standing against the 'wiles of the devil,' but we are in a struggle. We might walk into rooms filled with people who might not yet believe we have a valid call to ministry. We might need to have difficult conversations with family or colleagues about how we understand our calling to be to be inseparable from our sexuality. We might be wrestling with our own acceptance of how deeply God's call extends to us.

Thankfully, we are not alone. God is with us, and by creating a community for ourselves we have been working on our armor together. My armor is not a sword or a shield. It is the food coloring dyed t-shirt we made at the Presbyterian Welcome retreat, a friendship bracelet knotted by prayers for my ordination, it is the knowledge that through God, by God, and with God this journey is one of the fundamental tasks of my ministry. God has created all of us to be in community with one another so that we can repair our armor together, so that we can remind each other that God is with us, and that we are working to bring God's vision for the Church into being, on earth as it is in heaven. Together we can declare boldly the gospel of God's radical inclusion. When we walk together, pray together, and come together as a community to ready ourselves for this struggle, we are marching in the light of God, Siyahamb' ekukhanyen' kwenkhos'.

*note: I use queer as an umbrella term for all aspects of the sexual and gender diversity rainbow; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming.

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