A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Content warnings: mentions of suicide, conversion therapy, trauma related to LGBTQ+ identities, slavery, genocide and cultural erasure

Dear reader,

I wrote this a few months ago, on the road home from a college fellowship’s spring break conference. There were very few LGBTQ+ people there. None of us were openly out. We read the Gospel of Mark and talked a lot about topics like the crucifixion, gratitude, personal sacrifice. I came back feeling stolen from and bled dry. I carried that feeling with me as I read from Scripture and wrote this piece.

This piece centers my anger, as a queer woman of color in evangelical spaces. It may be hard to read; revisiting it months later I know there is so much more to faith than God’s wrath. But I take this as a reminder that there are no shortcuts to reconciliation — that justice and honest anger are as central to the gospel as love and grace. So the anger in this piece is honest, although it is not my full narrative. I hope you will read it as both truthful and incomplete. I can thrive and love my communities deeply, as can you, and still continue to demand atonement for suffering.

In love,
Cathy

~~~

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

This year has been hard. Over 26 transgender women were murdered in 2018. Azusa Pacific University has been wrestling, on and off, with a ban on LGBTQ+ relationships. The Trump Administration is attempting to redefine the term “transgender,” in a move that strips people of vital legal and health protections. The United Methodist Church hardened its stance against queer leadership and same-sex marriage. The movie “Boy Erased” about conversion therapy, and corresponding podcast “Unerased” were released. Over the past year, I’ve had at least one conversation every day with an LGBTQ+ identifying person about their trauma within the church.

I use the word “trauma” intentionally, knowing that for some this may wound, offend, provoke ridicule. Is it really necessary to go that far?

But LGBTQ+ people have been suffering, often silently, for a long time within the church body.

You may not understand how it feels to have a trusted voice pray over you that God might erase your capacity to love. I’ve received those prayers, multiple times, unsolicited. You may not understand the dulled pain of hearing the word “abomination” over and over. You may not understand the tremendous weight of hearing yourself equated with sex trafficking and genocide, as one of the modern world’s worst sins. You may not understand how to decode the shifting gaze and sudden discomfort of a small group member who no longer trusts you. You may not understand how it feels to try and pour into a community that cannot love you back. You may not understand the suffocation of being asked to participate in “respectful dialogue” or “loving disagreement” when your LGBTQ+ friends are silently contemplating suicide. You may not understand the excruciation of watching friends break down over their partners and the parts of themselves they are asked to deny. You may not understand how it feels to smile, nod, and try to function when you have just seen someone give up in front of you. You may not understand how it feels, breath by breath, to lose feeling and swallow your body numb.

What happens when the church is the source of suffering? When your faith community is not a place of comfort or resilience, but the root of your pain?  Does God call us to walk silently in our pain and the hypocrisy of our communities – or is God indignant alongside us? I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ response to injustice in the temple of Jerusalem:

“Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money chargers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:15-17)
In the Christianity I am familiar with, Jesus is a force of sacrificial love – we seldom talk about the depth of his anger. But I am struck by this image of a Jesus swept up by fury, overturning tables, interrupting daily life, wreaking havoc in even the most sacred of worship spaces. The temple at Jerusalem was highly segregated, with Gentiles and women excluded from the innermost holy spaces. Jesus’ response – his “teaching” – is to suddenly, viscerally tear these structures down. I am struck by the physicality of his anger – God themselves moved to destruction. A sudden upheaval of the temple’s conventions, in response to unrecognized pain.

As an LGBTQ+ person from an evangelical context, I am also used to stories of God’s wrath being directed against me. I think of God’s judgment against the “wicked,” the “abominations,” on the earth. What I am not used to is God’s anger as a response to injustice. Yet it is sprinkled all over the old and new testaments – in the flood story, the plagues on Egypt, the prophecies of Amos and Ezekiel and Isaiah, Jesus’ protest in the synagogue. These are stories of God’s wrath in response to human injustice and the oppression of groups and communities.

We are too quick to make our faith about healing and personal love. The evangelical culture is rooted in love, an oppressive love, a love that demands forgiveness before it has atoned for its own sins. People are asked to forgive the church before the redressing of wrongs – a haphazard and superficial sort of reconciling. There is no room for sacred anger in the church spaces I’ve walked in, or a proper response to injustice.

I am tired of swallowing my anger over the unseen pain of the people around me. I think to the writings of African-American and South African Christian leaders who responded in righteous anger to racial oppression. I think back to Martin Luther King Jr.: “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear?” I think of Yolanda Pierce writing in the context of slave uprisings, about a “prophetic rage, the righteous anger that is a necessary response to structural injustice.” Or Desmond Tutu’s words to a post-apartheid South Africa: “Forgiveness doesn’t mean trying to paper over the cracks. Forgiveness means that both the wronged and the culprits of those wrongs acknowledge that something happened. There is necessarily a measure of confrontation.”

I am tired of seeing my LGBTQ+ friends hurt. I am tired of hearing that these are simply the circumstances God is calling us to endure, that these experiences are a “blessed burden” or a “gift from God.” There is nothing blessed about injustice. I am tired of my anger being seen as too divisive, too controversial, too unbiblical. Sometimes anger is the Biblical response, the prophetic response, and I am ready to embrace it.

When I feel anger, I think back to God’s words against Egypt: “Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites” (Exodus 7:4). I think to Ezekiel: “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? … I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” Or Amos: “The Lord roars from Zion / and thunders from Jerusalem; / the pastures of the shepherds dry up, / and the top of Carmel withers” (Amos 1:2).

I think about moments of God’s wrath, and why my Christian siblings are unwilling to enter into this anger with me.

I think they are afraid to admit that the American church is no longer the misfit band of persecuted disciples in the early days of the church, but that it has become like the Pharisees and chief priests. I think they are afraid to confront Christianity’s centuries of horrific sin: the mass genocide and cultural erasure of indigenous nations, the use of scripture to defend colonization and slavery, the suffocation of LGBTQ+ people. I think they are afraid to face the truth, and afraid to claim the responsibility it places in their hands.

But God has always cared for the marginalized, and calls their followers to do the same. And scripture is flowing with powerful responses to injustice: the cunning of Esther, the wrath of Amos, the artistry of Ezekiel, the leadership of Nehemiah, the radical love of Jesus. God gifts us with models to follow as we navigate our anger, and promises that we do not speak or act in vain:

“‘I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them.’” (Ezekiel 34:26-27)


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