Stone Throwers anyone? reflections on queers suffering persecution within Christianity
BY Erika Gisela Abad
What if…God knows our needs and knows all about the injustices queer people suffer, but won’t do anything until we start praying earnestly about it?
A former roommate from my co-op days, often said that God is in the struggle, considering the multitude of ways we approached living the gospel outside of traditional Catholic means. Pissed, frustrated with university administration as well as the human limitation we were expected to live up to in our work, we found ourselves disgruntled by the overabundance of work and the indifference of many who surrounded us. This past year I saw how overextension and self-dehumanization through imposed martyrdom, limited community as the process of our work went against combating internalized oppression that had been the foundation of our purpose. This current place of contemplation and introspection is as hungry as Jesus was after forty days in the desert. It is a place of wondering how to get back to the basics after a few years of doing what was right as defined by repressive systems—even at the attempts at resisting them.
When asked to write about suffering, I have to start with the dreams and conversations I had had with God as a child, shortly after I was confirmed. I was a preteen at the time, recognizing I was curious to loving beyond assigned gender, worried because of the sin I had been taught it was. What did I know in that regard? Often times, in the morning light, I asked God to give me purpose even if it meant losing love I had dreamt of. I would make deals with God that I would live the life I wanted for me in dreams, in fiction, in my writing, if that meant I could serve a greater purpose in the world. After the manifestation of these visions, dreams and conversations with God, it is important to revisit the sense and wonder of God’s spirit with us through the examination of critique of the imposed expectation of suffering.
Faith inspires us to do a great deal. It inspires charity, generosity and humility. Sometimes, if we are not careful in seeing past what is asked (by literal reading of the text and doctrines as well as the material world’s demands), then we become ‘weekender’s’ and suffer more greatly than we can ever imagine. Sometimes the charity we give or receive is grounded in limiting what we give and take based on others’ human limitations. Here are some examples:
I have seen many cry and not touched them. I have seen many fall apart in front of me and be denied that form of compassion. I have denied myself expressing it, consenting to a God of silence, repression and control instead of looking at God and Christ as continuous resisters. Seeing God as punisher accounts, often times, for frustrated silence. One person may explain, this pain is mine alone to endure and I do not want to share it. Another, for being having been rejected will say, I cannot ask for it, I may even claim I don’t need it, but if you deny it to yourself to me, I will project others’ rejections of me on you and blame you for it.
The work we do to make our daily bread may be different than the Work we are called to do for God. The distinction, often times, is ground for conflict. God is in the struggle to love unapologetically, even if/when that love is unwanted. Sometimes, the magnitude of compassion and grace of which we are capable is limited by the work we have to do, even as it hinders our greater Work. Our human limitations often inform us that making daily bread requires suffering, where God the punisher comes in to our midst, straining us from prayer, contemplation and undying faith that God provides. God the punisher, the King is the focus of such surrender to systemic repression, exploitation that tempts us to shy away from fulfilling our spiritual needs in fulfilling God’s purpose for us. There is one God, however, for those in power who indirectly ask us to endure suffering, there is the temptation to use God and the church as justification for enduring inhumane treatment. The distinction lies in how we are expected to endure and bear a great deal of pain, carry crosses like Jesus not approach loving and being who are as another form of resurrection. Being queer and believing who we are is not enough to call for the Church or any love us as God’s children is going against what God is calling us to do. Treating our social affliction as sin and the process by which we are being called to share it insignificant reifies barriers to God’s love in our lives and in who we can be for any community in which we participate. It is a denial of the hope and faith and love in how we serve because who inspires our spirit does not cater to a doctrine that often times is misconstrued to see uninhibited emotions as sin.
Mary Magdalene’s gospel states that Jesus told her sin is the marriage between our souls and something material that is ‘unnatural.’ The desire to go against who we are, who we are called to be outside of rules, laws, as Jesus had been, is such an act of adultery. What does that have to do with suffering? We suffer when we take on more than we can, but also when we impose on ourselves an existence and forms of expression that are not ours—that is as much pushing ourselves to be something we aren’t as well as allowing our environment to impede us from following God as the Spirit calls us each to do, often differently. That also means internalizing the false truths others impose on our communities for the sake of silencing us, that we may internalize our afflictions and see us as serpents—the un-human that is keeping humanity paradise. Original sin is not particular to certain groups; expecting us or any to carry the brunt of it is what keeps us from fully embracing God’s grace.
The Stone the Builders Rejected
Jesus’ way of loving and his teachings were the reasons he was persecuted. He engaged with the untouchables and the unwanted, extending to them God’s truth and the promise of salvation. Despite the many times he had been rejected, he becomes the cornerstone for God’s new reign on earth. He is not the first, though, scripture has many rejected who are later recognized as the salvation of a people. The examples of Moses, Joseph, Jesus, among many other prophets, demonstrate to us the ways in which that those who are most rejected become the cornerstone of the (r)evolution of the community that rejects them. Jesus was condemned for the sake the state, much like queers silence ourselves for the institutions—families, work, church, queer communities—that seek to condemn us. Assigning time and value to the persecution we suffer at the hands of these institutions denies compassion to both the persecuted and the persecutor. The persecuted crumble under our fingers and the resurrection promised to all of us, the possibility of heaven on earth becomes that much more difficult.
For some of us, we spend our lives rejecting our unconventional form of desire to then, when we fully accept who we are, have it become the foundation of who we are. Sometimes that certainty worries our families as Jesus speaking at the temple at the age of twelve had(Luke 2:42-51). He was doing God’s work and yet, somehow incited anxiety in his parents’ heart because he could not be found. Accepting who we are and the work we are meant to do, at times, comes at such a cost, appearing lost to our families when the acceptance and self-acknowledgement of who we are is in and of itself divine, despite social persecution that will come as a result.
I said queer persecute each other as well for a variety of reasons. There are individuals who identify as queer, lesbian, gay, omni-,pan- and/or bisexual who believe because of their processes of self-fulfillment and security, as well as reading all the ‘right’ books, participating in various forms of rites of passage, that they can disseminate wisdom, much like the Pharisees Jesus encountered, like the religious leaders who tell many of us to endure our suffering for we will reap our rewards in heaven (Matt 5:12; 6:1 and Luke 6:23). Again the persecution of the prophets of Jesus’ past are referenced, because they may have lain certain groundwork for the children of God, but so long as humanity continues to exist, there will be more ways to worship God and follow God’s calling for all.
The work of contemporary radical/liberation theologians, however, call that heaven be brought to earth. We should not wait until death to receive it because it is in our power and our calling to resist participation and consent to oppression—whether our own or others. This may be one of the reasons heaven belongs to children (Matt 19:12-14). Children’s trust has yet to be tainted by the demands of the earth and by the limitations we impose on ourselves as a result of negative experiences and contentions with institutions of power bound by tradition, social expectation and economic stability. How else to grapple and contend with definitions and purposes of sex as well as gender.
Queers, because the way we love and express that divine and most sacred gift in all our varied complexities, are blamed and scapegoated for the criminality of sexuality. Part of the criminality are the narrow interpretations of what sexuality can offer a person and what is the intention of the act, relationship, and drive behind it. In the blog post on why queers pray, it was stated that the way we live can be a form of prayer—something I had almost forgotten—every act we can be such if we allow our faith in Christ to be that strong. If we allow ourselves to be that intentional.
Who without sin can throw the first stone—aren’t enough being thrown?
The arguments regarding who and how we love, whatever lines imposed on us that we cross, is driven by a hunger for human connection that transcends definitions, impositions, rules made for containment. Such transcendence, in this world, is difficult when our lives are continuously grounded in material conditions. The most complex material reality is what comes out of us. When we persecute the persecuted, when we threw stones and accept the stones thrown at us for our imperfections, sin is not forgiven, rather receiving God’s grace becomes more difficult (John 8:7). Sometimes we are tempted to throw stones as a result of the scars we still harbor from the ones thrown at us. How else to describe this presumed inevitability of suffering? At times, out of humility, guilt and shame for being who we are, we throw them at ourselves for each day of silence we live because of the definition of ‘sin’ imposed in our lives. In this way, we treat ourselves as Eve and Adam treated the serpent for tempting them; we become resentful of caring for our kin as Cain had grown; any distance we put between ourselves and God in an attempt to bring us closer according to another’s relationship, by meditating our relationship with God through others, we lose God. That, despite any rules of any systems, regulations and or institutions, is the greatest source of our suffering.
Undoubtedly, there is much we can learn from the struggles of others and the struggle to listen to God. Such lessons are especially significant in a world where we are defined by our socialization, by the expectations of others. The negotiation of means and ends—putting aside the unwanted aspects of who we are in our daily quest to serve God—will cause us fall short. Still, that does not mean God does not love us nor that God is not with us during our momentary lapses. For the queer Christian, it is often more difficult to find grace because fighting for who we are often feels like we’re pressuring others. It is my frustration with queers and with straight individuals who fail to comprehend the commonality of our quest for human dignity. Our kinship gets lost when we begin to believe asking for heaven on earth is a political ploy and that hope for tomorrow without acting on it is enough. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20), which calls some of us to defend our participation and respect in Christian institutions.
If there is something to learn from communities whose ancestors were persecuted in the name of the institution of Christianity, it is this: not all of them consented to the idea that heaven could not be achieved on earth. Christ died for our sins so that we would not have to suffer for our imperfections. Christ neither wanted us to suffer political persecution as he and his followers had then. They did suffer—not because they refused to believe in who they are nor in the power of God, but because their faith was marked as dangerous, as dissident, even as they prayed in private, in secret to save their lives. Not because they were ashamed but because they knew what it would cost. And their commitment, their loyalty, in part, sparked a revolution that now has believers in Christ as one of the largest global populations—despite our continued disagreements on how the process of conversion and commitment. The apostles and Christ suffered not because they consented to their persecution but more so because it was a sin against God and who they were as a people to not believe in who they believed in, to not be moved by the Spirit, much like the Spirit moves some of us to seek human companionship in our own gender or regardless of gender.
Daughter of Hispano-Caribbean immigrants, born and raised Roman Catholic in the United States. Despite various attempts at conversion and agnosticism, remains Catholic. Student of life, politics, all but dissertation in American Studies. Currently spends time attending daily mass, reflecting over scripture and writing and reading for her dissertation.