Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The gifts LGBTQIA+ people bring to the church

Below is my column in today's issue of the Grand Haven Tribune

During Pride Month on my “Christian MythBusters” podcast and WGHN radio spot, I’ve been talking about the relationship between Christianity and the LGBTQIA+ community. The last episode in that series is one I’d like to share with you today, in this column.

I’m writing this because it is something that often gets overlooked in discussions surrounding the place of LGBTQIA+ persons in the church: the gifts that the individuals of this community can bring to the church – indeed, the gifts that many of them already bring.

When meeting with one of the same-sex couples at my church back when they first joined, they shared some of their story with church in the past. It broke my heart. I then told them that not only would they be welcome here, but that I was excited to see the gifts I knew they would bring, how they would bless us. They expressed surprise at this response – because the best they’d ever gotten from the church was being tolerated. They’d never been celebrated.

In an essay called “The Body’s Grace” by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, he talks about the gifts that same-sex couples can bring to the church. He notes that for far too long the church has often treated sexual intimacy as only good when it is for procreation. The Roman Catholic Church today still treats the desire to procreate as an essential component of the sexual act between a married couple.

The problem with this view, from Archbishop William’s perspective, is that it depends on a strained reading of the biblical text. In the Hebrew Bible, for example, when the mother of the yet-to-be born prophet Samuel weeps because she doesn’t think she can have children, her husband responds by asking if he, as her husband, is not more than 10 children. In the passionate Song of Solomon, both the partners in the relationship clearly delight in sexual intimacy using some pretty strong and descriptive language that doesn’t have a lot to do with making babies.

In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul talk about marriage and sexual intimacy, but neither uses procreation as the rational or functional justification. Indeed, Paul’s emphasis in both First Corinthians and in Ephesians is the partner willingly giving herself or himself to their beloved, that this is the richness of the sexual relationship.

Williams suggests that this giving yourself to the other, this mutual delight, could be described as “entering the body’s grace.” And he then wonders if “we are afraid of facing the reality of same-sex love because it compels us to think through the processes of bodily desire and delight in their own right.” That is, Williams is suggesting that one of the gifts same-sex couples bring to the church is that they can help straight couples understand marriage and sex better – because their relationships as same-sex couples are not founded upon procreation in the same way, but instead on a mutual delight in the other.

I’d also suggest that the commitments I’ve witnessed in same-sex marriages can be instructive for straight marriages in the church. Many same-sex couples have faced significant adversity in their own lives and that has helped them build a rock-solid commitment and trust in one another – and I have a feeling they could teach straight couples how do to that better.

Many LGBTQIA+ people also know what it feels like to be rejected by your church, even by your own family. In response, they have built rich communities and friendships, places where the lack of blood relationship does not preclude deep commitment and trust. They can teach straight and cisgender people in the church who have experienced rejection from their own families or churches how to move forward, how to forge lasting relationships in other ways.

And it’s not only gay and lesbian individuals and couples who have wisdom and gifts to bring. Bisexual, queer and questioning individuals can help us better understand that sexuality isn’t a black and white question, but that it is a spectrum of attraction that functions differently in each individual. Pansexual people love people for who they are, regardless of their gender, a truth that has its own richness. Asexual people find delight in many other places in life and lack the desire (even the sometimes obsession for sex) that others have.

And people with different gender identities, whether transgender or intersex, have much to teach us about the biology and spirituality of gender. They are often invisible, many times even violently pushed to the side or hidden from view, but they are also a part of God’s created order – worthy of love, celebration and inclusion. They have much to teach cisgender people.

So, I’ll hope you’ll take these final days of Pride Month as an opportunity to learn, to make new friends, to grow in your own understanding of sexuality and gender identity. And I hope that churches that are not affirming will wrestle with these questions once more. Because, let me just say, as the pastor of an affirming church, by not having LGBTQIA+ people publicly affirmed in your pews – wow, you are missing out on some absolutely amazing and godly people in your own congregation.

The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at www.sjegh.com.

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