I have a counseling client whom I’ll call “Israel” because she’s always struggling against injustice and afraid that God’s love isn’t meant for her. Her pain inspires me to remind readers that while the “clobber passages’ of the Bible have been mis-used to shame LGBTQ people, the bottom line message of the scriptures is that God creates us, partners with us, and wants relationship with us. How we read the Bible depends on our needs, fears, and hopes. How we let others tell us what it means depends on what religious communities we were raised in. Queer theologians and Scripture scholars read the Bible with a “queer eye,” seeing in the Jewish and Christian scriptures the subtle hints that queer lives were part of the long narrative of God’s love affair with each of us.
Example: Jacob, the boy who preferred the company of the women over that of his manly brother Esau, who wrestles with God and is renamed Israel, “One who wrestles with God.”
Example: The unnamed boy carrying water through the streets of Jerusalem, whom Jesus instructs his disciples to follow to find a safe place to gather. Thing is, boys didn’t carry water; that was a female chore. What’s that about?
Example: Joseph, son of Jacob, who dressed and behaved in queer ways that enraged his brothers…in the end, Joseph saves their lives, then reveals himself to their suddenly penitent and open minds.
Example: Judith, military leader, tough as nails.
How do queer people find themselves and their birthright to live authentically in the Bible? I suggest beginning with Psalm 139, from which I’ll excerpt my favorite lines:
O Lord, You have examined me and know me…You are familiar with all my ways…
You fashioned me in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am awesomely, wondrously made;
Your work is wonderful; I know it very well. My frame was not concealed from You
when I was shaped in a hidden place; knit together in the recesses of the earth…
Everyone of us is sourced in the Sacred, brought into life with our own particular DNA, formed in a uterine environment we have no control over, born into a world unused to seeing the divine in everyone. We need, as Mr. Rogers said, to look for the helpers. I think we need to look for those unafraid to see divinity in difference, and at the same time, seeing we are all made the same, at the core of our being.
It has always been so of marginalized people everywhere. The Hebrews, enslaved for 400 years, barely knew themselves as a people. Then Moses, born a Hebrew under the Pharaoh’s order that all Hebrew male babies be put to death, has the good fortune (divine intervention?) to be raised as one of the Pharaoh’s family. He feels himself a marginalized person, for he belongs to neither his Hebrew family of birth nor his adoptive family, the slaveholders. He lives in shame. It is because of this liminal identity, this betwixt and between-ness, the crack in his identity, that Moses is able commune with God. And God tells Moses, who has a speech impediment of some kind, that Moses himself will convince the Pharaoh to let his people go to their freedom.
It is always a person of a “both/and identity,” who hears the divine calling to justice. Following a calling to be real, we all yearn to respond. For we are made to engage in our birthright, to live in the presence and care of divine love. Psalm 139 continues:
Where can I escape Your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?…If I take wing with the dawn
to come to rest on the western horizon, even there Your hand will be guiding me, Your right hand
will be holding me fast…
As we have seen by the many PRIDE festivals held around the world, even at great risk in many places, the human need to live doesn’t just mean freedom from slavery/human trafficking (sex work is what transgender people are reduced to where it’s illegal to get a job, as in Turkey). Everyone needs to be seen, known and loved as themselves. That is the truth told in the story of Moses, the man with two identities and none, who responds to a higher Voice that calls him to transcend the gap.
What is your truth? How do you yearn to be seen, known and loved as you are? Can you stay engaged with the Source of life for as long as it takes to speak from your Moses identity, from marginalization into God’s BFF and mouthpiece? You needn’t preach, you only have to live into who you are. And that’s a lot! And it’s OK to complain to God to help. It’s a relationship, remember?
(Want to know more? See a wonderful, scholarly but readable book, Torah Queeries, in my Resources section of this site.)