It was this time three years ago that I was at the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Durham. A movie short that I had written and helped to produce was having its premiere in the Tarheel State and I was anxious to see how it was received. I love going to this festival because you get to see lots and lots of LGBT-themed films of all kinds, the hosts are really nice and attentive to the filmmakers and its just an overall good time.
But on that visit, I saw something I didn't like.
There was an African-American man, accompanied by some white teenagers, standing outside on the sidewalk to the Carolina Theatre. Megaphone in hand and donning his "Jesus Saves" T-Shirt, he was pelting the movie goers with a message of "Repent!! Repent your abomination of man lying with man and woman lying with woman!!"
People strode passed him. Some threw comments back at him. But what I noticed was that the faces of the people headed into the theatre were hardened. No doubt this was a reflection of what must have been in their hearts.
How many times has a gay person had to listen to someone in a "Jesus Saves" shirt screaming at them to "Repent!!"? What an irony to say that Jesus "saves" while telling someone they will burn in Hell? Jesus can save, but it would help if his supposed fan club would stop nailing him to the cross!
Sunday's gospel lesson was, of course, the same one I heard that weekend in Durham at St. Philip's Church. And it was as poignant then as it is now.
We begin with Jesus defending the disciples for eating with 'unclean hands' by noting that it isn't what goes in the mouth that defiles the person but what comes out. From there, Jesus goes off to Tyre and Sidon where he encounters (in Matthew's version of the story) a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were the antithesis of all things good and righteous for the Israelites. After all, God had promised Abraham that he would basically conquer Canaan and establish the nations of Israel. So, here is this woman (already a bit of 'eww' factor) and then she is a Canaanite (way beyond just 'eww') and she has the audacity to call out to Jesus... even noting that he is a Son of David... and asks for healing for her daughter. At first, Jesus dismisses her noting that he came to feed the children of Israel and not the dogs. But she persists and tells him, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Her boldness in stating her right to his attention is rewarded, and he praises her for her faith and the daughter is healed.
In the queer ear: wow! There's a LOT here.
"What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart and this is what defiles." If a man wears a T-shirt to identify himself as a Christian, but then speaks an anti-Christ message of hell and damnation upon you "others", he is reflecting what is truly in his heart. And his heart does not belong to Christ if he believes that Christ doesn't love LGBT people unless they "repent" of their LGBTness. A queer person can no more repent their sexual orientation or gender identity than a Mexican can repent of her ethnicity.
There is also the next scene with the Canaanite Woman. Jesus, who has said it isn't what goes in that defiles but what goes out, encounters the challenge of being met by an "other" of his time. And he calls her a dog. How many times has a gay person sat in the pews of a church and heard words from the pulpit about loving the neighbor, welcoming the stranger, do unto others... only to find that for the priest or pastor, there is an exclusionary clause in that "welcome". All are welcome... except for LGBT people. In some quarters, LGBT people are treated, as Bishop Barbara Harris describes, "the half-assed baptized."
This is why the Canaanite Woman stands for me, and many of us other 'others', as the beautiful representation of standing up for one's self in the face of resistance and discrimination. Rather than accept the slur, she lays it back at Jesus' feet by noting that even she is worthy of the crumbs that fall from the master's table. She has established that she has the utmost respect for him, but she refuses the dismissal. Many of us of the queer persuasion have had to make a similar courageous stand. We bring our whole selves into the sanctuary and will not hide who we are or attempt to "pass" as straight because we know that when Jesus died and rose from the dead, it was for "all", and not just the chosen few. This is why I think queer Christians are some of the most faith-filled members of Christendom. Despite human sinful attempts to block us from the grace of God, we have persisted and prevailed.
My hope is that anyone who has ever felt wronged by the people of God will take another look at what is actually in Scripture and not the warped and perverted versions screamed into a megaphone on a street corner. Take a chance on reading what Christ was teaching. It is a message of Love beyond measure that even the Canaanite woman could claim as her own.