Today’s post is from Bondings 2.0’s Editor, Francis DeBernardo.
Today’s liturgical readings for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.
In today’s first liturgical reading, we meet Jonah, a reluctant prophet. God chose him to ask the people living in the wickedly sinful city of Nineveh to repent. Jonah didn’t want to do it, and I don’t blame him. It was a tough job, and a potentially dangerous one. But after three days in the belly of a whale, Jonah accepts his calling and journeys to Nineveh. Because of Jonah’s preaching repentance, the people change their evil ways and God saves the city.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, all prophets are initially reluctant. “Get someone else to do it,” is often their first response to God. “Not me.” God’s call to prophets is not a welcome call. It means the prophet is going to be challenged to be different from the mainstream of society. And that difference may make others uncomfortable because it means they have to think about their own lives, their perhaps limited ways of thinking, and make a choice to move out from their comfort zones and embrace a new perspective.
Because LGBTQ+ people are a minority of the population, their normal way of being appears to be strange and different to mainstream society. Because of that, they are often perceived as a challenge to others. Their existence doesn’t fit neatly into the pre-packaged views that people have about sexuality and gender. For other people to accept them often means that these people have to undergo a sort of conversion of thought about traditional categories that they thought were basic defaults of humanity and society.
When I first became involved in LGBTQ+ ministry education over 30 years ago, one of the standard ways that I would describe LGBTQ+ people to audiences who may have had limited experience meeting this community is that they were “just like everyone else.” I was trying to emphasize the humanity of LGBTQ+ people, to let outsiders know that they lives were perfectly “normal,” that they shared much in common with heterosexual and cisgender people. I still would make that claim today (though because LGBTQ+ people have achieved much greater visibility in society the need for such a description is greatly diminished.)
But over the course of my years of ministry, I began to express another truth that I came to learn: the simple presence of LGBTQ+ people can present a threatening challenge to some people. For some people, accepting LGBTQ+ folks means their ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman may have to be expanded. For some, it may mean that their beliefs about the purpose of sexual activity in a relationship require re-examinations. The presence of fully-integrated LGBTQ+ people may mean that someone’s standards of what is normal versus what is deviant must be exploded. And because sexuality and gender are such basic parts of people’s identities and the way they relate to others, such challenges can be very frightening and upsetting.
But Jesus in today’s gospel reading calls the world and its people to begin the process of the way they think about what is real in the world. “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent,” he tells the people. Jesus is calling people to give up their old ways of thinking to accept a new way of thinking, one where they will be more open to receiving the good news of the gospel—the good news that God loves everyone.
LGBTQ+ people can be challenging to our church’s traditional views about sexuality and gender. That can make people uncomfortable. It can mean giving up certainties thought to be foundational. But it also means liberating people to see the beauty of diversity, the holiness of sexual love, the gift of living authentically. It means recognizing that God can continually surprise us, and that God’s most constant call to us is always to expand our vision to try to see the world as God sees it, rich with mercy.
Because LGBTQ+ people have always been, and likely will always be, a minority of the general population, their difference from the majority will always stand out like a challenge. May our church see that challenge as a call to repent of its old ways of viewing sexuality and gender, and to be open to God’s call to continually expand any ideas which prevent people from flourishing as their true selves.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 21, 2024