BRADY ALEXANDER is a writer with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a contributing editor of Miracle Monocle, a fiction editor at the tiny journal, and an intern at Exposition Review. Their work is published in The White Squirrel, Miracle Monocle, and ThinkIR, and they’re looking for an agent for their novel/novella, Þ.
My name is Brady Alexander. I’m a Christian, and I’m queer.
I grew up going to a Southern Baptist church. I was taught that LGBT people live in sin, and that homosexuals will not enter the kingdom of God.
I believed that.
Despite going to public school, I was living in ignorance. I told my gay friends, as I thought I was supposed to, that they lived in sin. That they were on a crash course with destruction.
Through therapy, I realize now that I was just a kid. Through self-compassion, I’ve forgiven myself. And later, I came to realize that I’m queer.
I know a lot of us here today are queer Christians, and feel not only alienated from our communities, but also by our very sacred text. And while it’s hardly explicit, I want to share two beautiful, loving, queer Bible stories with you.
If one is looking for a long-term, committed, same-sex relationship the Bible celebrates, we can look to Ruth and Naomi. After her husband dies, Naomi tells Ruth, her daughter-in-law, to leave her behind and find herself a husband. But Ruth never gave up on her. She didn’t ever leave Naomi’s side. The Bible says, instead, Ruth “clung” to Naomi: “Do not press me to leave you, or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God” (Ruth 1:16, NRSV).
If those words sound familiar, it’s because we use them in our marriage vows.
They’re some of the most gorgeous lines the Bible has to say.
Not only that, but the word for “clung” is the past-tense version of the Hebrew word for “cling,” the same in Hebrew as it is in English, a very interesting word used in the book of Genesis as well. There, it describes the relationship of Adam and Eve, like in this passage: “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:22-24, NRSV).
This passage is describing the creation of a new family. Ruth and Naomi do the same. They cling to one another, and in doing so, in feeling love for one another, they create a new family. And they are family, in part, through their physical intimacy: remember, Genesis describes each couple specifically becoming “one flesh.” That one flesh is dearly loved by God.
And, Ruth and Naomi’s love isn’t the only homosexual relationship depicted with compassion. I turn our attention to the books of Samuel, to the love between David and Jonathan.
Jonathan was King Saul’s son, the prince of Israel and heir to a paranoid and violent father. David, Jesse’s son, would go on to be the king of Israel and Judah, a beloved figure in Judaism and, like Ruth, an ancestor of Jesus. Their love is among the most passionate and immediate within the Bible. When Jonathan dies, David laments, “your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (1 Samuel 1:26, NRSV).
Of course, it’s possible that David and Jonathan love each other as friends. And this is the more standard Christian reading, after all. But that to me, just reeks of Achilles and Patroclus.
Let’s read more of the Bible to decide. First Samuel 1 through 5:
“When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as his own soul. 4 Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing and gave it to David and his armor and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved” (NRSV).
Theologian and Methodist minister Ted Jennings has this to say on the matter: “As we have noticed, the attraction of Jonathan to David begins almost immediately as Saul is delighted in his new companion. This attraction is given extravagant expression. In the first place it appears to be love at first sight. We are told: ‘When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David’ (1 Sam 18:1). Is it something David has said? Not likely. For what David has said to Saul is merely ‘I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite’ (17:58). It is not something David has said. Instead, the reader's gaze has twice been directed to David's extraordinary beauty” (Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic narrative in the literature of ancient Israel, p. 25, 2005).
That certainly reads queer to me.
And the wonderful thing is, they all approved. All the people, even the servants of Saul, approved. How wonderful is that.
Only one person in the story doesn’t: and that’s Saul.
Saul, jealous of David’s popularity, later tries to kill him. He tries to gore him with his spear, and plots against him all throughout the books of Samuel. When Jonathan stands up to Saul on David’s behalf, Saul attacks his son through shaming him. The Bible says: “Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, “You son of a rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?!” —grave insults for the culture at the time (1 Samuel 20:30, NRSV).
As a queer Christian, it’s impossible for me to read this without thinking of the elders at that church I went to as a kid. Controlling, and afraid. Fathers oppressing their sons. Mothers oppressing their daughters.
These aren’t, of course, unbiased readings of the Bible. I read them very queerly, after all. I read them backwards, with Christ’s messages of love and peace baked in from minute one. I read them knowing that my readings will affect others, and that creating new, more healthy readings gives people the option to accept themselves within the Bible’s leaves.
Reading the Bible tells us more about ourselves and what we want from our own culture than it does about the cultures who wrote these words. And what I care about, as a Christian, is whether or not we’re walking with Christ’s teachings. Are we loving our neighbor as ourselves, as Jonathan loved David? Are we loving God with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our souls, with all our strengths, as Ruth and Naomi did? Are we emulating Christ, or are we emulating the oppressors of the Bible? Saul, Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar, Pilate. Treating some people as second class citizens with stripped-back rights at best, and as defects who are better to be tortured than accepted as they are at worst, are incompatible with Christ’s unending love and liberation.
If you preach love the sinner, hate the sin about my queerness, then you’re living in sin, not me. My love is not my sin, and you do not love me if you hate something this core to who and what I am. I am Brady Alexander. I am Christian. I am queer. And nothing anyone can do will stop God from loving me and blessing all the love I emanate. It will continue.
If you are a queer Christian, and your church doesn’t accept you, know that you, emphatically, deserve better. There are many churches who will love you just the way you are.
All of us, continue to speak out against oppression and intolerance. It is not okay, not in secular societies, and not in Christian ones.
And finally, I want us to forgive these people who continue to oppress us. Never to allow them power, and never to allow them to corrupt our children's hearts with hatred, but to still, after everything they’ve done to us and to our neighbors, forgive them as Jesus forgives us. Especially if they’re still young.
I used to walk the path of ignorance, including many terrible, violent ideas like homophobia. And it was love that helped me grow beyond that ignorance. And it was love that helped me realize that I’m queer. And it was love that helps me to forgive myself when I look back upon those days at the old Southern Baptist church in shame. And love will win, so long as we will fight for it.
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