Queer Tongues of Fire
I remember being taught by the Evangelical church that the world and worldliness were evil things. Things that were “of this world” were in complete opposition to God. I was taught that my Queerness was akin to worldliness and that my Queerness was akin to evil and it was something that I needed to resist and fight against. I was taught that “culture” was evil and perpetuated things like having an LGBTQ lifestyle; whatever that means. Media was evil, people who weren’t Christians were probably going to hell, sex is evil, wanting to have sex is evil, people who do not profess a love for Jesus were evil––and I should utilize all of my strength, prayers, and energy battling against these dark forces in my actions and mind because Christianity was the only thing recognized as worthy before God. Christian people were the only people who God truly blessed and saved.
I remember thinking at many points that there is something very wrong with this. This is the exact opposite of what the biblical text speaks to and antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus. I often witnessed Christians easily align with what they would deem as worldliness. It also does not take a rocket scientist to realize that the people that are being addressed when it comes to “worldliness” in the biblical text are, for the most part, Christians. I started placing the pieces together in my mind, and what I was seeing, what I witnessed, were Christians happily taking part in worldliness while demonizing others. Christian denominations are happily aligned with worldly enterprises like nationalism, capitalism, gender binaries, racist structures, and shaping culture. Christian denominations benefit from these structures and its what keeps it actively moving.
I never imagined the day when I would realize that the enterprise and machine of Christianity has become the very thing that we are warned against in Scripture. It is the very thing that we are told to resist and subvert. And yet, I call myself a Christian. I am one of those who believes that this movement of Jesus has been degraded under the heels of power hungry men who evoke the name of Jesus to justify their own “worldliness” and to cause harm and oppression upon others; upon us; upon Queer/Trans and POC; upon the marginalized, the hurting, the poor. They even evoke the name of Jesus to justify the destruction of the earth and God’s creation.
I still call myself a Christian because I believe that we are the rightful heirs of God’s kindom and we are the ones called in helping to make heaven manifest on earth through our fierceness, our love, our community––these actions are Holy Resistance.
The subject of this week’s lectionary is Pentecost. Pentecost is a day of Holy Disruption, of beginnings, and belonging. It is the time when the children of God are empowered by the element of fire––the power of the Holy Spirit to repossess what is ours according to Jesus. It is a day where God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is poured over all of the people of God in their rich diversity. Pentecost is an act of subversion toward empire, toward worldliness, and we are its active and living vessels called forth by love of humanity to resist.
In the lectionary, the story of the Tower of Babel of Genesis 11 is oddly paired with the story of Pentecost in Acts. To paraphrase quickly this story on its surface appears to be about a people building a tower up to the heavens. Poor scholarship tells us that God changes the unified language of these people, thwarting their purpose, which subsequently scatters them and is the cause for diversity. Poor scholarship links Genesis 11 to Acts as a means of explaining how human diversity came into being.
Historical-Critical and literary critical work on Genesis 11 paints a different picture. Genesis and the Torah were most likely written during the period of Israelite exile under Babylonian rule; sometime after 586 BCE. The Israelites temple in the Northern Kingdom in Jerusalem had been demolished, many of the Israelite people were brutally slaughtered, they are held captive in a land that is not their own and they are in a severe time of crisis. This crisis is the catalyst for putting their faith and story into writing. This is why the Tower of Babel story matters because it is a negative and subversive critique of empire and power, specifically the Babylonian Empire. Those in power are trying to make a name for themselves and attempting to elevate themselves in a position that is equal to the gods by building a tower into the heavens. This is in deep contrast to the juxtaposed story of Abraham, where God is the one who makes Abraham’s name great and makes Sarah the Mother of the nations.
The Israelites use the Tower of Babel story to paint a negative view of empire and alliance with empire. For the Israelites, empire and culture, the “worldliness” of their time stands in opposition to their God. And the builders of Babel are scattered by God as if to make reparation for the Israelites who were scattered in the Diaspora caused by Babylonian subjugation.
Fast forward to Acts; this is a story that gathers together the scattered children of God, the Queer, the Trans,the Agnostic, the marginalized, Brown people, Black people, Asian people, poor people, the widowed, the orphan, the sex-worker, and the disabled––those of us who have lived under the bootheels of empire, of capitalism, racism, homophobia, stratification, and poverty. In Acts, they are all together in one place, hiding for their lives against the empire who seeks to destroy them as their leader, Christ, was.
But what the empire does not realize is that Christ is already victorious over death and destruction. And in this moment Jesus opens a spiritual watershed and drenches all the peoples with the Divine feminine Holy Spirit. This Spirit delivered to us by God affirms that God themselves is a mixture of all of the beauty made manifest in humanity. This is both God’s Queerness and our otherworldliness. This is our belonging to each other in community as well as to Jesus.
This recognition of each other in our marginalization, our Queerness, and in our belongingness to God is the first step we take against empire. Having seen, we cannot unsee what we know is true. And Pentecost is as simple and as powerful as recognizing each other in our diverse identities, as God does, and validating one another in love in the multiple ways that love’s language is made manifest.
Homogenization and imperial dominance is the action in the Tower of Babel story that Yahweh thwarts. We can easily envision these stories up against our current narrative of American imperialism, colonization, and domination. Acts 2 allows us to see our modern political landscape as well. It allows us to re-envision and respond to Christ’s call of inclusion, humility, diversity and love made manifest on earth. The Spirit enables and empowers diversity and multicultural manifestations of the Imago Dei. Pentecost is a way for us to examine ways in which Genesis 11 exists today and shows us, as Christ followers, the way to disengage with imperialism and subvert it through inclusive love.
Diverse love and inclusive community, our recognition of each other and validation of one another, are the actions of Pentecost. They are the things that dismantles oppressive systems which work to destroy us. But, since we have all received the Holy Spirit, let us go into this day, this week, and this Pride month empowered in our Queerness remembering that each of us belongs to God––and that God’s Queerness made manifest in us is taking oppression down, piece by piece, every single time we love ourselves and love one another.
Grace and peace,
Co-Executive Director, Brave Commons