‘Seriously, this is the queerest church I’ve ever known!’
This was undoubtedly an unreserved compliment, coming as it did from an LGBTQ+ activist. It was said last night at revive. It was also a challenge that we do more than accept our queerness; that we embrace it, celebrate it, publicly declare it.
Queerness here is not exclusively about sexuality or gender identity; it is, as they say, a state of mind. Last night we were reflecting on what God has been saying to us over the 24 weeks since we decided to pray together about our future. One of the queerest things about revive is how allergic we are to success, fame and power. As we started to talk about what we felt God was asking us to do collectively, it seemed so important that whatever we do, it be independent of revive and have not even a whiff of empire about it.
And not queer as in weird (although it’s that too). Queer as in a self-conscious swimming against the flow of normality, fully embracing the conflict, ostracisation and adventure that this entails. Jesus was so, so queer.
The gospel is queer: the religious find themselves judged and the unclean ones are welcomed to the party. No one gets what they ‘deserve’. As Bono puts it,
…at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
Now this isn’t exactly what we were talking about last night, but it’s relevant, because really what we were circling around most of the evening but scared to say out loud is this, ‘Is God calling us to be publicly queer? To offer that upside-down welcome that celebrates the returning scoundrel son and leaves the faithful son feeling resentful and indignant?
Queerness invites scapegoating. To be different is to draw unnecessary attention to oneself. ‘Why are you being different? Why are you causing trouble? Do you think you’re special? Well take it from us, you’re not so special, you’re heading for a fall. And if you don’t fall, we will try to trip you.’
Having been to a few Steampunk Markets in my time, I know how uncomfortable queerness can be when you’re straight. Here is the best Edwardian getup I could muster, but I was without goggles so even when I tried to be weird, I just couldn’t quite fit in. However, my steampunk friends welcomed my efforts at welcome/acclimatisation, and I got an amazing insight into the powerful sense of community that is generated when the freaks and geeks come together in safe space. The outsiders become insiders…
Is God calling us to be queer? I believe so. And not just in our disavowal of so many of the accoutrements of church: power, structure, ‘leadership’, unity through rational assent of approved doctrine. Many of us feel excluded from mainstream church because of these values and others. But can we go the next step and find ways to welcome those who feel excluded by the church because of their sexuality or gender identity? Those who are in effect doubly queer? Can we use our experience of finding ‘home’ in revive to offer ‘home’ to those who have the experience of the church door shutting in their face? Sometimes literally.
I believe we can. As was made very clear last night, this is not about a project, about an individual or a group being sent off to ‘do church for the gays.’ This is about our whole community embracing a call to radical hospitality. It means moving on from being a recovery community for ex-Christian followers of Jesus in order to make space for those who need the gospel just as much as us but hear only that they are not included.
It feels appropriate to finish by quoting Pink Floyd, through whom God spoke to me a couple of years ago. This is our gospel:
Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!