What if Queerness Mattered? by Cari States-Codding
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
This sermon was preached at LCM|Canterbury on July 5, 2020. You can also find the video of the sermon at the bottom of this post.
As we wrap up Pride Month, the rainbows gradually get put away. The affirming messages from corporations stop, the temporary Facebook filters go away, the advertisements featuring happy same gender couples are phased out yet, under all of that, hostility bubbles. The many people who believe that queerness is antithetical to Christianity aren’t packed away with the rainbows, set away for another year in a dusty cupboard. Fortunately for all of us, queer or not, we have good ‘ol Paul to remind us that accepting our sexuality and gender is a way of moving into our wholeness and honoring God.
As Paul walks us through this missive, we learn that embracing our queerness, or by embracing our neighbors’ queerness, is a story of love and redemption. Like many of Paul’s writings, he emphasizes that the body corrupts, that flesh is sinful. Obeying only our flesh, indulging only our sinful nature, is ruinous, regardless of who we love or what our gender is. As beloved children of God, we are in a constant tug of war between our sinful nature and our desire to measure up to what God wants of us. To be enough, to be worthy. Yet, ironically, as we struggle to do this, we lapse back into our sinful nature by trying to be good enough, to be godly enough. As Paul explains, it seems to be a law that when he “wants to do what is good, evil lays close at hand”.
All of us are pulled into this quagmire of sin, of not “understanding our own actions”, of doing “the very thing” we hate, and of doing the evil we “do not want”. It is very easy to wax poetic about how awful we are, as Paul eloquently shows us in more pages than we’d really care to read. It’s easy to dismiss actions as being sin, and sin is bad, therefore actions are bad. This is the easy way out. It’s like taking a confusing or uncomfortable part of the Old Testament and dismissing and rationalizing it by saying that Jesus is the reason it’s all OK. This does us a disservice. Our “inmost self” delights in the law of God. Our soul, the very core of our being, delights in God.
The concept of having to cleave apart your body and soul, of having to rip yourself in two, of having to deny and vilify one part of your core being in order to uplift and sanctify the other, is very queer. Feeling like part of you is, by default, rooted in sin and shame and, by extension, is a cause of disgust and revulsion, is a message that millions of people hear day in and day out. A message that people, queer and not queer alike, are raised and immersed in, even if they aren’t Christian. But this message assures us that it’s OK, as long as we recognize how evil that part of us is, because Jesus. Jesus still loves these aberrations, these flaunting embodiments of sin. However, in this same passage, we hear that this isn’t the case. We hear that that isn’t right, that our humanity is not rooted in sin. By dismissing everything we do as being bad, by dismissing our very existence as being an unfortunate byproduct of sin, we dishonor our soul and, by doing so, we dishonor God. Sin is a denial of who God made you to be, a blasphemy against God’s perfect creation and slander against God’s goodness. Sin isn’t rooted in queerness. Sin is rooted in defaming God and God’s love, and in doubting how perfect of a creation we are.
As a queer individual, this struggle has shaped my life. Before I started attending church when I was nine, it was the general idea that something about me was wrong. I didn’t have the language, but I knew that something was off. That something about me, something about my very core, was wrong. When I started attending church, I didn’t necessarily understand or learn the language, but this wrongness of who I was became very clear. This idea of being unworthy of God’s love because of what I was taught was a choice, of praying to be normal, of wondering if the reason you weren’t normal was because God had already given up on you, is a hell of a way to spend your formative years. Of figuring out that the best way to deal with this aberration that is your very existence, along with dealing with some other problems, was through addiction and denial and deprivation of self. Little did I know, denying myself in this way was the actual sin, the actual insult to God. Denying a person who was and is made in God’s perfect image, is the actual sin. Even today, talking about this part of who I truly am, causes anxiety and, around some people, a sense of shame and fear. It’s an unconscious reaction, much like when you’re at the doctor and they hit your knee with that reflex hammer. In these kind of situations, the inspirational idea that knowing that I am a loved child of God can seem just that: an idea. A platitude. The sin of doubt in God and God’s love creeps in. Reflecting on Paul’s words, and having this comfort and this warning, is a source of strength. But, sometimes, even that strength can feel like using an umbrella as shelter against a cat five hurricane.
All of us are made in God’s image and all of us are reflections of God’s love and strength. Shockingly enough, even Paul is upbeat about this. In Ephesians, Paul writes that we are what God has made us, and that we have been created in Christ for good works. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, that having this weakness allows the power of Christ to dwell in us, that we are strong when we are weak. It’s the virtue in our sin, the virtue of being a valued and loved child of God, the humanity in our weakness, that caused Christ to sacrifice himself for us. All of us, regardless of identity, have been seen by God. Have been recognized, named, loved, redeemed, and called.
Being a child of God comes with responsibilities and, in this portion of Romans, Paul almost oversimplifies it. We cannot dismiss everything bad that we do as the devil made me do it. Being a called child of God isn’t an honorary title, it isn’t a get out of jail free card. Paul recognizes when he does evil, he recognizes that struggle, but it would behoove us to also recognize that redemption is a double-edged sword. Knowing what God wants, what God calls us to do and who calls us to be, and reconciling that with the constant pull of our sinful nature is a blessing and a curse. This brings up the concept that ignorance is bliss; if we didn’t know that we were loved and redeemed, we wouldn’t know that we have this responsibility to wrestle with our sinful nature. Paul tells us that Christ will rescue us from this struggle, but we must be careful to not use this as a reason to be an asshole. We still need to reconcile our sin with each other, to recognize that we hurt our siblings in Christ, intentionally and unintentionally. When we look at out queer siblings, part of recognizing their embodiment of Christ is recognizing any harm done against them. It’s not a matter of defending yourself, or trying to minimize what you did or did not do. Forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation don’t have addendums, they don’t end with “but”.
There is a thing that Paul repeats in this passage that is a slippery slope: “I”. I can, I do not, I hate. If we fall back on “I”, on ourselves, we won’t be able to live into our full potential as children of God. Yes, this means relying on God, but it also means that we need to rely on and support each other. We need to support each other, to value each other, and to see that everyone’s diversity is a strength. It’s not a footnote, it’s not another line on a diversity form. Some churches like to say that all are welcome, that queerness doesn’t matter. But what if it did? What if queerness mattered? What if we saw our queer siblings, truly saw them, and valued them and their contributions to our communities, our churches, and our families? If our queer siblings are embraced, how much stronger would the church be! What if the true sin of being queer is in how poorly our queer siblings are treated and how little they are valued?
As you scroll through your Facebook feed, or go to the store wearing a face mask only when it’s absolutely necessary because you are social distancing, take a look around. Notice that the rainbow regalia and the unicorns are now on the clearance shelf. Notice how the literal value of your queer siblings and neighbors is dependent on the time of year. Take a moment, take a breath. Talk to Paul, if you so desire. Remember your responsibility to each other, your responsibility to God but, most importantly, remember the privilege. The privilege of being called by God, and the privilege of being able to show God’s love in the world. Honor God and live into the wholeness that was created by Christ’s sacrifice. Love your neighbor, and value your neighbor. We’re all facing the same struggle with sin, and our diversity is sacred, valuable, and instrumental to living into God’s will.
Cari States-Codding is a graduate of Northern Arizona University and is now a student at United Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia. Throughout Cari's time at NAU, they were an active participant in LCM|Canterbury, and after graduation they served on our staff as program coordinator for three years.