The Christmas season is a difficult time of year for me. I am always bothered by our culture’s egregious forms of commercialism – and its either lack of, or its anemic recognition of other forms of religious holidays like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and the celebration of the winter solstice during this season.
Over the years, as I learned how other cultures celebrated their various forms of religious expression during this time of year, as well as learned that the underlying message of Jesus was the embrace and celebration of human difference and diversity – the less and less I have come to like this holiday season.
Too often we see the glitz and glamour that this holiday brings, and we have totally missed its spiritual message. I truly believe if American Christians stayed more focused on the message and teachings of Jesus, many LGBT people would not have the annual angst of searching fora home for the holidays.
Until the fourth century C.E., when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, Christians were despised as much in those days as many despise LGBT people today. As a matter of fact, to be called a Christian was considered a religious epithet, and it subjected Christians to ridicule, hate crimes and Christian-bashing in much of the same way as us queers are treated today.
Just as LGBT people transformed the pejorative term “queer” into a positive word of self-reference, Christians transformed the word “Christian” into one of self-reverence.
Having known this history, I found calling myself a queer Christian, neither blasphemous nor an oxymoron. Both are tied to the unending struggle of human acceptance, just at different times along the human timeline.
Religion has become a peculiar institution in the theater of human life. Although its Latin root religio means “to bind,” it has served as a legitimate power in binding people’s shared hatred.
For example, I come out of a black religious tradition born of struggle for human acceptance. When slave masters gave my ancestors the Bible, their intent was not to make us better Christians, but instead better slaves. The Bible, at least according to slave owners, was the legitimate sanction for American slavery.
However, my ancestors took this authoritative text that was meant to aid them in acclimating to their life of servitude, and turned it into an incendiary text that not only fomented slave revolts and abolitionists movements, but also the nation’s civil rights movement. The Bible told African Americans how to do what must be done. And, in so doing, Nat Turner revolted against slavery, and Harriet Tubman conducted a railroad to get out of it.
My ancestors expanded not only the understanding of what it meant to be human, but also the parameters of what it meant to be a Christian.
Having known this history, I found calling myself a queer African-American Christian to my community neither less black nor less Christian. For all are tied, as my community ought to know, to the unending struggle of human acceptance, but at different times along the human timeline.
Jesus’ birth comes at a difficult time along the human timeline. Viewed as a religious threat to conservative Jews because of his iconoclastic views, the practice of Jewish Law, and viewed as a political threat to the Roman government, simply because he was a Jew, Jesus was nailed to a cross at Calvary because of the struggle for human acceptance on the human time line.
Although Christmas is mostly thought of in terms of feasting and celebrating, Jesus, birth – like his death – was born of struggle, and that struggle was to be accepted. Similarly, when I think of the birth of Jesus, one of the themes that looms large for me is LGBT people and homelessness.
Why homelessness? Because many of us, myself included, do not really have a home to go to where we can sit at the family table and be fully out – or if out, fully accepted. As with Mary and Joseph during the time of Jesus’ birth, we travel from inn to inn to only find there is no room.
In Luke 2:6-7 it states “While they were there the time came for [Mary] to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son – her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Our birth, as individuals and as a LGBT movement, mirrors that of Jesus. It comes at a time where there is neither room nor tolerance for us at a difficult time along the human timeline. As we gear up for this holiday season let us enjoy the time. But let us not forget the struggle that has gone before us, and the work we must continue to do with our LGBT communities and our straight allies.
Let us make home, if not with biological family, then certainly with beloved friends.
To Christians and non-Christians alike, let us find home for the holidays.
Rev. Irene Monroe can be reached at her online blog at www.irenemonroe.com/home.