John the Baptist’s Inherently Queer Mission

Sr. Jane Aseltyne, IHM

Today’s post is from guest contributor Sr. Jane Aseltyne, IHM. Sr. Jane, is in first vows with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan. She holds MA in Systematic Theology and Spirituality from the Catholic Theological Union at Chicago. Her master’s thesis entitled, “Beyond the Binary: Expanding Understandings of the Imago Dei,” seeks to develop a more inclusive understanding of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, particularly concerning gender and sexual orientation. 

Today’s liturgical readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent can be found here.

A few months ago, I was invited to be a part of a new endeavor at my parish, St. James Wabash, in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. The invitation to co-lead an LGBTQIA+ ministry at the parish came as a welcome surprise. I was excited that my parish was willing to step out of its comfort zone and begin something so needed, but I was also hesitant, wondering how the congregation would receive the ministry.

The first Sunday that the ministry was announced, my co-leader and I stood in front of our parish community and invited those who identify as queer and allies to join us at a meeting to talk about our journeys. I was nervous but trusted that the Spirit would guide us.

We didn’t have a hard and fast agenda for our first meeting. The goal was to get a sense of the existing needs in the parish surrounding LGBTQIA+ issues. At that first gathering, I was delighted by the number of people who attended and that our conversation revealed the many and varied ways we each navigated being queer or allies in a church that does not always easily accept the experiences and lives of queer persons.

Reflecting on that meeting through the lens of today’s liturgical readings, I found myself going back to John the Baptist and his experience of proclaiming the coming of “one greater than he.” John is often portrayed as a bit “out there.” Mark names the kind of clothes he wears and the food he eats to show us that John was not like other people. He wears clothes made of camel hair, eats locusts and wild honey, and spends his days in the wilderness crying out about a coming savior. From what we can ascertain from Mark, we get the sense that John was on the fringes of the dominant community.

Applying a queer lens to today’s gospel, we might say that the mission of John the Baptist is inherently queer (this is not to say anything about his sexual orientation, which we will never know). According to theologian Patrick Cheng, queering means pushing beyond the binary, challenging the status quo, and turning authority on its head. Was that not exactly what John was doing? He urged people to repent, challenged the powers that be, and lived a life that made people question themselves and reflect on their actions in new ways. By applying the concept of queering to what John is doing, we allow ourselves to enter into his mission and experience it more fully.

When we look at John’s life through this lens, we see him as someone brave and courageous who believed so passionately in Jesus’ redeeming mission that he was willing to give his life for it. He preached urgency. He knew his time was limited, and he knew that people around him needed to reorient their lives and attitudes to make way for the coming of Jesus.

If we take in today’s LGBTQIA+ landscape in our church and world, we see justice advocates championing the cause for full inclusion and acceptance. A few that come to mind are Craig Ford, Bryan Massingale, Jim Martin, and Yunuen Trujillo, all who have written and spoken extensively on queer matters in the church. Catholic organizations like New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA provide resources and bring a corporate voice to LGBTQIA+ concerns. Like John, these people and organizations (and many more) have put themselves in positions of being criticized and misunderstood because they give voice to a community that is consistently marginalized within our church and world.

When I think of those attending our parish’s monthly support group, I see everyday people showing up to do the work. In their own way, they are acting bravely and courageously for the sake of love and inclusion. Their stories resonate with me: the struggle to be heard, to be known, to be seen, stories of hope and resilience—the commitment to continuing to show up even when it’s hard.

As we continue our Advent journey, let’s remember that it is a season of longing and mystery. It’s a time for us to remember that Christ came into the world as it was, and we must engage the world today as it is and not shy away. Let John’s urgency speak to you about how you can act on behalf of the most marginalized, awaiting the day when “kindness and truth shall meet, and justice and peace shall kiss.” There is no perfect moment. The time is now. May our lives proclaim Jesus’ liberating mission with urgency.

Sr. Jane Aseltyne, IHM, December 10, 2023

2 replies
  1. Rebecca White
    Rebecca White says:

    Thank you, Jane, for this great article! Your last words touched me deeply and give me hope! “There is no perfect moment. The time is now. May our lives proclaim Jesus’ liberating mission and urgency.” It is a message to send us forth! My gratitude.

  2. John
    John says:

    Thanks for the interesting article. What was John the Baptist up to, what was his mission in this place in time where the “religious leaders” were painting God into a corner by establishing rules they devised to show belief as well as increase their personal wealth and celebrity status. John’s role was to reach out to the poor, the outcast and the searcher with the message of salvation from a Messiah that proclaimed loving God and people was key and that belief in Jesus as one’s Savior was all that was needed to be saved. Jesus said in Mark 12:30-31 that one is to love God with all your heart and that the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.

    That is the mission, the change in society and the charge to the world. Think how different our world would be if we truly believed that message and practiced that message rather than what people tell us to believe, which is usually what brings them notoriety and wealth. Like the religious leaders in the time of Jesus, it was all about them and not about the people. The radical message of the time was that it was all about God, a God that would send His son to live a perfect life on this earth, be unjustly convicted and killed for our sins so that we may be saved to love God and love people. Read the book of John if you truly want to live a radical lifestyle and change the world.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *