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Queering the world: the early church and true communities

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus gives the second of his ultimate commandments:

Love your neighbour as yourself. 

(Mark 12:31)

How familiar, how oft repeated, how beautiful. Jesus tells us to love God with all we are, the necessary extension being to love our neighbour unconditionally.

Love your neighbour as yourself. How powerfully this resonates with LGBTQA+ people. How many times have we heard the sentiment tacked on to the most cruel of judgements, the most unthinking assessments of our identities, the most bitter rejections of who we are? How tragic that such a pure message of love could be soiled when coupled with the most condescending refusals of how we feel ourselves to be.

Radical love means something different to me. As I’ve learnt about Jesus I’ve been moved to tears many times – and, often, it’s his incomprehensible subversiveness that strikes me. I’m constantly reminded of the story of the Samaritan woman, the epitome of the outsider, in John 4. There, Jesus audaciously broke through layers of stigma to reach out to her. To offer her the greatest validation of all – his love, eternal life.

Jesus disrupted the boundaries of that society. He queered what that culture said was right and proper with a higher, transcendental reality. He met her as she was – a startling image of her transformation to righteousness, afforded unconditionally by God’s love.

The radicalness of the early church preoccupies me, too. I love the book of Acts and its description of the period following the first Pentecost, its recording of a ground-shaking commonality. It tells us of a time of wonders and miracles, when the pure energy of God’s ultimate reality was glimpsed. A time that saw decisive transformations of corrupt earthly structures.

A time in which unconditional love was expressed, offered to all. As Peter says:

‘The promise is for you and for your children and all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’

(Acts 2:39)

Then he says:

‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’

(Acts 2:40)

– and they did. Those first Christians abandoned property itself, in a bold gesture of freedom from toxic economic structures. A new society based on principles of justice was established. Possessing a new conviction, ‘they gave to anyone as he had need.’ (Acts 2:45)

Rather than breaking from a ‘corrupt’ group of people, it was the failed fabric of society that this community rejected. We don’t see self-imposed isolation, but rather a moving portrait of unity:

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts

(Acts: 2:46)

The apostles and those first followers of Christ stay with me. But the radical community they created, guided by the Holy Spirit, continually inspires me – and guides how I understand what it means to be queer.

Just like the poor that were generously fed by the early church, so queer people have been marginalized, hurt, disregarded, condemned by those with power in society. Just as Jesus gave the ultimate validation – divine love – to the exemplary outcast, the Samaritan woman, so are we, the queer, reached by God. And I believe we’re invited to build a community like the early church did – that wonderful community that is, for me, the true beauty in the Church today.

The community we need to build is one made queer in our realisation of difference. A community built on the recognition that, as individuals, we’re worth something because of the unique constellation of desires, feelings and memories that make us who we are.

This worth is stable and present even as we change and grow through life. For me, God’s central to this vision – the same God that I believe is defined by an incomprehensible, unconditional love.

I pray, I yearn, earnestly, for that anointing of the Holy Spirit – that fire of love that would irrevocably burn away all the corruption of society in me. Eradicate the scripts that society has me follow and erase the legacies of oppression which guide how I judge others.

In the early church, a spirit of true Love disrupted a failed society and guided them to build a new one. To create a queered community, we’ll have to battle to overcome the persistence prejudice and privilege that define who individuals can and should be.

We need to queer those categories that we assume are normal. Even ‘straight’ is an identity that should be recognized for what it is – a unique set of preferences and choices for each individual and an identity constituted through history, not the default norm.

It can be exhausting to try and picture where we fail, who we exclude and damage because we haven’t been checked on those assumptions yet. Take asexuality, for instance – an identity and experience that conflicts with all the narratives we live with in society, scripts that position sexual relationships as the norm. I’ve only recently begun a journey of learning to understand the implications of a sexual society, to have my eyes opened to the structural privileging of sexual life. A world which can be alienating and hugely traumatic for those who don’t identity as sexual beings.

To build a queer future, we must be ready to learn from – to embrace – what hitherto seemed unimaginable. To express unconditional love, we have to disrupt the restrictive stories of the societies we live in. Like the early church, we need to work to open the world for those who are excluded. Through unconditional love for one another, we create true community – a space where we can flourish in our magnificent individualities.

I’m so grateful for the support and kindness I have in my life. I’m so sickened and chilled that it isn’t always this way. The stories of fear, isolation, and death that originate in oppression and rejection haunt us. Only by building a loving community can we escape this corruption in the world, society’s hindering of each of our potentials.

By respecting lived experience, by listening and learning from everyone’s difference, we can queer the world.

Let’s be a queer community. A space where who we are is irrelevant, yet at the same time of immense value: something to love. Let’s work hard to dream – to imagine queer utopias on this foundation of love.

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