At Art Share L.A. on April 12, I listened to dozens of college-aged Christian women and men "bleed through poetry," as they described it, expressing the dehumanizing dynamics of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia in Christian institutions that have driven them away from their communities of faith -- topics I anticipate hearing again on April 15 at the LGBTQ student event Art of Discovery, held in a Citrus College parking lot in Azusa, though most of the students present will be from a neighboring Christian university.
One by one, for almost three hours of tears, rage, and sometimes laughter, the young Christian poets this weekend testified to the pain of being driven out of the Body of Christ for who they are, even for whom they love or hope to love one day. Their anger reminded me of the moment in the 1989 film Romero when a wealthy and powerful supporter of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero angrily blames liberation theologians for the kidnapping of his politician son-in-law, crying, "The church is a whore. She'll spread her legs to the highest bidder." However, Romero's whole life, including his preaching and writing, witnessed a powerful counter-response, an envisioning of the Christian community as the resurrected (though deeply wounded) and faithful Body of Christ: "The church must be incarnated in the people who fight for freedom, who defend them, and who share in their persecution. You who have suffered are the church."
The Bible too describes God's people collectively as a whore, comparing believers to the prostitute wife of the Hebrew prophet Hosea. In the biblical book named after him, Hosea rebukes the community of faith as divided both from God and from each other, specifically because of their meanness, their ignorance of God's unconditional grace: "The Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land" (Hosea 4:1). In particular, he condemns religious leaders for contributing to the internal strife of the people of God by constant preoccupation with other people's sins, sowing such hatred in the house of God that it corrupts not only the community but "themselves" (Hosea 9:7-9). Through this prophet, God condemns these false-hearted priests and prophets: "Let no one contend, let none accuse, for with you is my contention. ... I reject you from being a priest to me," for feeding "on the sin of my people ... greedy for their iniquity," and thus forsaking the Lord (Hosea 10:2, 4:4-10). God reviles these religious leaders for their "love shame" rather than the glory of God that is reflected when we live with kindness, grace, and faithfulness (Hosea 4:18). The prophet laments that instead of nurturing our covenant with God and each other with Godly love, those who sow division and hatred in religious community "utter mere words" and "empty oaths," sowing "judgment" that "springs up like poisonous weeds" instead of bearing the fruits of faith (Hosea 10:4). Even so, he assures his divided people that God will never let go of us.
Why, then, are our religious communities today divided by "the gay issue"? God seems to give us a clear answer through this little prophetic book: "You have plowed iniquity, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies. ... [T]herefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people" (Hosea 10:13-14). When we forget that without exception, people of faith are, as God describes us to Hosea, "all adulterers," we lie to ourselves (Hosea 7:4). As God warns Hosea, religious pride can only produce the weakest, most unstable love for God and other believers, a faith that is nothing but "a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away" (Hosea 4:4). In contrast, however, the love that God expresses to us and desires from us and among us in return is "steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6). God wants to "redeem" us, but we "speak lies against" God, rebelling against God's gracious love, and "devise evil ... like a treacherous bow" with the "insolence" of our tongues, thus breaking God's covenant (Hosea 7:13-16, 8:1). Yet Hosea assures us that God promises even the most unworthy of us who fail to love unwaveringly and graciously like God, "I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know [Me]" (Hosea 2:19-20).
To those of us cast out, rejected by the self-proclaimed people of God, God's promises to Hosea are words we need to hear and seldom do in the church: "I will have pity on Not pitied, and I will say to Not my people, 'You are my people,'" and they shall say, "You are my God" (Hosea 2:23). Prophetically proclaiming this promise again, we remind each other that no matter how many of us have been scattered abroad, no matter how isolated we have been from each other by being cast out of the community of faith, God has already promised, "The number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' it shall be said to them, 'Sons of the living God,'" and they "shall be gathered together" (Hosea 1:10-11). So we gather in queer agape and queer koinonia, in cast-out places -- warehouses, tiny apartments, safe houses, parking lots. We discover and share our voices, lifting each other up, witnessing what it means to be the wounded, resurrected Body of Christ together.
How can we all experience this faithful covenant with God and this sense of unity in our faith communities, even those who have sown hate and lies till now? Hosea tells us, "By the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God" (Hosea 12:6). As God told Hosea, it is not too late: If we humbly seek God by embracing righteousness and nurturing steadfast love instead of sowing hate and judgment, God has promised to "come and rain salvation upon" us communally (Hosea 10:12). In an Aug. 6, 1977, homily, Romero likewise preached, "The Church can be the Church only as long as it goes on being the Body of Christ. ... It is the church's duty in history to lend its voice to Christ so that He may speak, its feet so that He may walk today's world, its hands to build the reign of God." As Romero taught us in his life and words, this salvation is not just some speculative, otherworldly, delayed afterlife gratification that we merely hope for but is here and now a present reality that God promises to the hate-corrupted faith community: "I will heal their faithlessness, I will love them freely" (Hosea 14:4).
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that Art of Discovery takes place Aug. 15. The correct date is April 15. This post has been updated accordingly.