Well, it finally happened. Sunday, 15 October 2017, was the first time I walked out of a church while worship was in progress, leaving just after the sermon and before Communion. I’d had enough.
The Gospel lesson was Matthew 22:1-14, which ends with an improperly attired wedding guest being bound and cast into the utter darkness. I was really curious to see how the preacher was going to address this, as it seemed the message was, “Only the worthy are welcome.” Essentially, street people were called into the wedding, but there was one who wasn’t wearing a fine wedding robe. For this, the King cast him out. Wait … what? A street person didn’t have finery to wear and for that he was bound and cast out? Seriously, Jesus, WTF?
The preacher made it seem obvious this happened because this particular guest shunned the wedding robe he had been given. Yet, nowhere in these verses was there any mention of robes being handed out at the door. I even double-checked in my Oxford Annotated Bible when I got home, and there weren’t any notes about this being the custom of the time. Now, I’m sure this might seem like an opportunity for those who’ve had the privilege of biblical education to say, “It wouldn’t need to be in the text as it was the custom at that time. By not donning the robe, the guest was insulting the King.” I really don’t care if this custom was common knowledge in the Mediterranean world of the first century. That was 2,000 years ago and half a world away. If we insist on using ancient texts for written by and for a culture vastly different than our own, deeper explanations in our copies of these texts are vital. Relying on preachers takes to explain these things the scholarship away from the laity. This is classism and elitism in the Church.
The preacher had a chance to explain these details and why it seemed like Jesus was being an elitist ass. The preacher opted not to do this, but instead said it served as a warning to us, the Gentiles, to not disrespect or challenge well-established religious traditions and customs.
I am transgender. I am queer (bisexual or pansexual, depending on how one defines the prefixes “bi” and “pan”). Well-established religious traditions hold that I am an affront to the Lord God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and the well-established customs range anywhere from condescending pity to acts of physical (and sexual) violence. I will challenge authority where and when I will, including religious authority. If the “leaves on the tree of life” really “are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2), then that includes those of us who are the heretics, those with the strength of spirit to stand against authority. Doing so is not Pharisee-like on our part. Defending the traditions and customs: that’s the work of the Pharisees.
And reminding us of our “baptismal promises,” including those made for us by our parents? I am not in any way bound by the promises made by others, including the promises my parents made at my first baptism, a ritual of their choosing in a faith tradition of their choosing when they gave me a name of their choosing. Those promises were for my parents, not me. I made my own promises on 24 November 2013, when I was baptized into a faith tradition of my own choosing with a name of my choosing. The promises I made were not the same as the promises the preacher referenced in his sermon. Again, assumptions were made. Don’t ask me to live up to your baptismal promises. Mine were very different. And for those tempted to ask: I did not write my own baptismal rite. Rev. Dr. Penny Nixon wrote it. I wrote the testimony I gave prior to my baptism.
The preacher went on to ask why we aren’t living up to Christ’s call. This is particularly painful for me because I didn’t qualify for the necessary financial aid to complete my seminary course of study. He is well aware of this fact. He calls us out without bothering to call out the denominations that require a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from an accredited seminary, a degree that takes a vast amount of money to obtain. This is classism and elitism, again, in the Church.
The preacher also went on to say there’s a little bit of Pharisee in all of us, as we all think we’re better than the next person in some way. Ex-fucking-cuse you? My sense of self-importance is so weak, I need medications to keep myself alive. Being trans means that I’m assured constantly that all the world is better than me. This is classism and ableism in the Church.
This preacher and his church are focused on Christian mysticism, and he criticized my emphasis on practical theology in my #TDoR2016 sermon. And yet there he was, preaching practical theology after warning us to not challenge religious traditions and customs. It was finally too much for me. I’m an adversarial and a practical theologian. I have no need for mysticism. Salvation, eternal life after death—so what?
We need salvation in the here and now, from the hardships of this life. We need life before death, here and now. It should simply be assumed that there are persons of all economic classes in the congregation, and less access to economic privilege means less access to education. Speak plainly. It should be simply assumed that there are persons with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses afflicting our senses of self-worth in the congregation. Speak not to us of the sins of our vainglory.
Mysticism is for those who aren’t struggling to survive.
Amen, and Blessed Be.