Counting The Costs – Queer Christianity
By Rhiannon Y Orizaga
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up your possessions.” (Luke 14:25-33).
I want to share something personal here. Because I feel called to do so. I think there are things harder to give up than material possessions- things like privilege, and acceptance, and feeling certain that you can be welcomed and belong to a community. I think there are times when, as a Christian, it strikes me particularly that there are costs associated with following Jesus.
It’s been about a year since the Lord began to convict me of my feelings of ambivalence towards the LGBTQ community. What I mean is, I have always been passionate about issues of social justice, and sharing the GOOD NEWS with everyone, regardless of what my pastor or peers might say. Unfortunately, in the last few years, along with some amazing spiritual growth I had a phase of weakness where I pushed that stuff to the side. I think it was necessary, because after all, you can only be so many things and learn so many things at one time. But last fall I know God was calling me out of that phase, and into a new season, where I would embrace once more my commitment to being an ally and a real missionary. He called me through the Queer Resource Center. At the time I began volunteering, I knew I was there to learn. Beyond what the staff and community could teach me, I knew God had a reason for putting me there.
At this point I should mention that I study Roman/Late Antique sexuality & gender. In case you aren’t familiar with the basics, we’re talking about a world where everyone takes it for granted that EVERYONE has bisexual interests/attractions. There is no such concept as “heterosexual” or “homosexual” in the world Jesus and His disciples grew up in. If you didn’t know, now you do. Specializing in this time period has informed the way I think about human sexuality; I kind of take it for granted that anyone can be attracted to anyone by nature, but that modern nurture facilitates an easy alignment with one of the two extremes of sexual interest.
Back to my story. I wanted to learn. I wanted to see what it is that I, as a Christian, have missed when I pretend that these issues aren’t central to my culture, and therefore my spiritual responsibility. Did I count the cost? I can’t say for sure I always had a clear sense of what it would cost me- as if I were building a tower, something that I, as a historian and not an architect, have only the vaguest second-hand information about. Having lived a more or less hetero-normative existence I was -and probably still am- pretty much in the dark about the LGBTQ experience.
Not so long after I started volunteering, I met this girl. I won’t name names. I will say that the first time I saw her (1) I was struck by her grace and her gentle spirit, qualities I have never possessed, and (2) God told me that this was someone from whom I would learn a lot. Naturally that made me even more interested in her. I found myself falling for a woman, for the first time in my life. There had been celebrity crushes, and I’d kissed girls, and I’d even had a crush on a girl once, in high school, but never was I really both emotionally and physically attracted to another woman. This woman made me want to count the cost.
What are the costs of being a Christian, and caring about someone of the same sex? Well, first you have all the costs associated with liking someone of the opposite sex- fear of rejection, actual rejection, complication, emotional pain, self-doubt, your parents wondering what you see in them, wanting your friends to approve, etc. But then you have all these other costs. Like, dear God, don’t let me fuck this up. Don’t let me be one more Christian who hurts this person. And, maybe, hopefully not, but maybe, you lose some friends. Your Christian brothers and sisters disapprove. They not only disapprove, but they offer to pray for you- and not in a I-hope-it-works-out way, in a I-hope-you-outgrow-this way, or worse I-hope-you-don’t-go-to-hell. I am certain that some of the people who offered to pray for me would say their intentions were good, and I am equally certain that they were not good, but based in prejudice, and a refusal to count the cost.
The cost of faith in Jesus is that we are not allowed to remain static. We must love God with ALL our heart, soul, and mind, allowing Him to shape them. Jesus warns against confusing human tradition with the Law, and the ways in which we become ensnared by our reasoning and our refusal to listen to the Holy Spirit:
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines….. Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” (Mark 7:6-8, 14-15).
What I experienced when I came out as queer (I identify as pansexual now) was that people who had known me as a serious Jesus-worshipper began to withdraw from me, or enforce a sort of “DADT” policy, or question my commitment to God. Let me abundantly clear: BEING PANSEXUAL IS A PART OF ME. BEING A CHRISTIAN IS ALL OF ME. The only reason I “came out” as you might call it, is that it became abundantly clear to me how absurd it was not to. I am secure in my identity, because I find my identity in Christ Jesus. Having built my house on the Rock, it makes no sense to go into a closet in it and hide.
I don’t have a typical coming-out story (praise Jesus!); I didn’t spend years pretending to be straight. I was straight, until I wasn’t. I met this girl and started asking myself, could I love another woman? Could I build a life with another woman? Could I be fulfilled with another woman? The answer was, it depends on the woman. Just like when I was “straight,” it depended on the man in question. Thanks be to Jesus, and His love and grace, I never had to hide and pretend. I kept my mouth shut for a few months, because I was rethinking some things I thought I knew about myself.
All of this may seem really too frank and confessional. But why? I’ve noticed that when you’re a girl, and you like a guy, you’re free to talk about him to your friends. And when you like a girl, some people would rather just not hear about it. And if the situation gets any more complicated (as it did), some people will flat out shun you. But the Lord is good. And He will see you through to the end of your building project, even if your own mother has a problem with it. The things you give up- the privilege, the acceptance of people who place limitations on the love they have for their neighbors, and the illusion that the grass is greener on the other side, are costs you may not have factored in to your calculations. But when you look at what’s been accomplished in your own heart, mind, and soul- and you realize that this tower, too, is built on the Rock, no matter what anyone else thinks- you can’t help but be glad for it, whatever the cost.
I am coping with loss- of friends, of trust and respect from a religious community, of parental approval/understanding, of the delusion that girls are easier to talk to than guys, and of someone who, despite everything, I still think is worth the cost, and am thankful to for making me see that. (God was faithful to His promise that I would learn from her- too bad He didn’t say much else about it). But I am still standing, on my same two beautiful-because-they-bring-good-news feet.
Rhiannon Y. Orizaga, age 27, Christian for about 13 of those years (since 1997), graduate student at Portland State University, don’t really know what else to say.