A Queer Good Friday
by Sarah Ross
When I was young, my springs were dominated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No, I never had to watch the graphic scenes of The Passion of the Christ, but I did see several plays with Jesus crucified. I cried every time. I was reminded that the Easter Bunny and eggs were nice but they weren’t the point of the season. I saw countless human videos portraying the moments Christ was mocked as he dragged his cross up to Golgotha. I heard again and again that Christ died for my sins, what a glorious thing the resurrection was! I sang songs on stages for years touting God’s grace, Jesus’ sacrifice.
My dad is a pastor and teacher. I learned the ins and outs of the Passion story: Jesus’ last supper, betrayal, trial, death, resurrection, and reappearances. My parents are both incredibly well educated on the Bible, church history, and theology. I give them credit for always answering my questions and for how they’ve pushed me to learn more about myself and my faith.
Unfortunately, there are times we cannot agree, ways that cut deeper than different theories of atonement and theological squabbles. As I’m growing and experiencing life without the constant backdrop of my family, I am learning what faith looks like to me. I know that I am loved, valid, and whole in my queerness and faith, but how do I approach these holy moments of being myself for the first time?
At different ages, different parts of the Passion story have resonated with me. I’ve abandoned the extremely dramatized, death-centric elements. I don’t really like arguing with people what’s true and what’s not, how exactly it all happened and why and how it makes sense. At this point in my life I’m less concerned with nailing everything down (ouch, bad pun! Sorry, Jesus!) and more focused on how I can make sense of this tumultuous world and the hurt I and so many others have experienced at the hands of the church and Christians.
This time I am trying to go back to this foundational story. I sit here on Good Friday and try to process what I have felt and what I feel. I am trying to find where God speaks to me.
According to Matthew 27:51, when Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom, meaning no human could have torn it. This veil separated the people from the Holiest of Holies, where only the high priest could enter one day a year. In many traditions of Christianity, this is often used to symbolize how Jesus’ death made a way for us to access God freely and continuously and to have a personal relationship with God.
All people. Not some. All. Granted, there are points to be made on how that relationship happens and what counts, but what I’ve needed is that simple word: all.
That means me! That means me, in all my messes, in all my idiosyncrasies and sharp words I cannot take back. That means me, in all of my queerness.
Many Christians have shifted slightly throughout my lifetime to admit that yes, God loves everyone and that includes “the gays” but God doesn’t allow homosexuality, so neither do they by extension. You know —“love the sinner, hate the sin.”
What this approach misses so willfully is that being LGBTQ+ is not a choice. It’s not a lifestyle, not an action, and not a sin. It is inherent and evident in my being made in the image of God. I’m not cherry-picking; I’m recognizing that God’s love is bigger than we will ever realize, and I’m daring to believe that when I and so many other Christian LGBTQ+ people hear God say, “I love you and I love all of you,” we are not making it up.
One of the biggest points of the crucifixion in many tenets of Christian theology is that when Jesus died, God the Father and God the Son (Jesus) were separated for the first and only time in all history. Jesus, who had spent his whole life honoring, praising, and demonstrating God’s love, cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It was a groundbreaking, universe-changing, heaven-mourning moment.
Jesus, I think I’ve felt something like that before. Coming to terms with myself and how others consume my identity, I have often felt forsaken. I am in the process of untangling myself from the cohesive evangelical world I knew, what sometimes feels like being unwillingly separated from everything I have ever known. I am so utterly alone.
How did he do it? Even before his death, Jesus knew he was going to be alone. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus basically asked God his Father, “why me?”
I have heaved these words at God many times. Why do I have to risk losing my family and friends to be me? Why are people so cruel? Why do they hate me? Why do I have to be someone they will forever talk about in hushed tones, claiming I have fallen away? Why do I have to legitimize my faith? Why do the concepts of me as a loving, dependable pastor’s daughter and straight girl have to die?
I look back to the Passion story. In the midst of people crying for his death, of his friends abandoning him, and of the people who used his words in ways he did not mean, Jesus screamed out a sentence that would change theology.
On the cross, bleeding, crying, and mocked, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And I’m reminded: That’s the Jesus I connect to.
I could and can get very upset at the ways Christians have hurt me and people like me. After all, Christians are the people I was told from day one I was able to trust, who would care for the poor and the oppressed. How could they turn their backs on us? How could they use their message of indescribable, infinite love to inflict pain unimaginable?
I don’t blame LGBTQ+ people who leave the church or hate the church. Christianity as a religion has been used to justify ethnic cleansing, imperialism and colonialism, racism, sexism, abuse, and many other terrible things. Many LGBTQ+ people have been shunned and kicked out. Some have committed suicide. Many have lost trust forever in the institutions that once helped them.
But I can’t let go just yet. There is something about community, something about love, something about the ridiculous that pulls me back in. Call it what you want, but in this Holy Week I am finding Jesus in the parts of me that care about others even as they wound me. I do not stay in toxic situations, but neither do I write off a large portion of humanity for misunderstanding me, however intentionally.
I find God in the calm of being surrounded by other queer people, of being smothered with hugs as I sob until my lungs hurt at the thought of my family never coming to my wedding. I find God in how some people apologize and turn around, becoming supporters and workers towards justice. I find God in how I choose to keep going even when I really don’t want to.
In the end, I choose to move on. The next time people tell me I’m living in sin for living in the fullness of who God created me to be, I can look right at them and say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they say.”
**If you’re interested in learning more about how some people reconcile their faith and identity please check out this website. It’s by no means exhaustive and many LGBTQ+ people of faith have different perspectives, but it’s a good starting point.**