Pope Benedict, leader of the Catholic church is on a roll; fulfilling last years new year’s resolution of becoming an avid tweeter (@pontifex feel free to tweet to him regarding your thoughts) and this week making 2013’s resolution early dedicating it to gay couples worldwide. In two separate addresses Pope Benedict re-vowed to make “traditional family values” a major focus of the year for Catholicism in the face of gains by marriage equality advances in the U.S. and Europe. In his yearly World Day of Peace address he specifically named gay marriage, along with abortion and euthanasia, a threat to world peace. Most recently in an address to the Vatican bureaucracy, he enfolded gender identity into his call to spiritual arms, “When freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God.”
I know… not a huge surprise that these comments are coming from one of the most homophobic religious leaders of our time. However, I find it a tad off basis to make the claim that Christianity has roots in “traditional family values” of a man, a woman and a child and the impetus being that is what we should model our own lives after today. The prototype of the Christian family has been anything but what the pope is calling for; it is merely a recent invention. It wasn’t until 1215 AD that marriage was taken on by the Church as a sacrament with a system of belief around it. Prior to the Early Church, marriage was simply a civil institution mainly for the distribution of property (the patriarchal historical implications can be taken up in another post) and the church didn’t find more theological weight to it than it would to any other sale or trade.
We can determine diverse experiences of family just by looking at the Christian “first family” which is what many Catholics and Protestants declare as the model for contemporary families to look like today; all those that do not fit the mold are “abominations” and “threats to world peace.” In fact, the story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus speaks even more to a widened experience of family that many LGBTQ families convey and bravely live each and every day.
Baby Jesus, who Christians believe was born as hope for the world, was not conceived by the missionary position but by a donor and/or surrogate. Like many LGBTQ folk there was no room in the inn for this queer family to find shelter, comfort and support; the Christ child was born in a stable, hidden and behind closed doors (or closets). Mary or Joseph’s family didn’t come and take pictures of the baby, their families never show up in the text, however like many LGBTQ persons, family of choice step in where families of origin do not play a major role. This holy extended family is made up of shepherds, angels, and kings who come to bring celebratory congratulations! Additionally, to some theologians, the notion that God would reveal more about God’s identity through Jesus is somewhat of a coming out process of the Holy. More regarding queer theology to come in future posts.
While the holy family might be something the Pope aims to co-opt for hate, those of us who believe in a broader vision of hope will not let him get away with it. The nativity story and our stories are much deeper than the surface level understanding of faith and family that he assumes and preaches about. While he chooses to highlight LGBTQ families as the anti-thesis of peace, there are LGBTQ families adopting children (often from violent circumstances) and providing them a home with as much room “in the inn” as is needed for that child to know they are loved. While the Pope grasps onto archaic definitions of family, there are LGBTQ persons (whether single or partnered) that are broadening our horizons of what “family” means, much like what the nativity story did for the definition of the divine in relation to humanity. While the Pope calls for a spiritual declaration of war against LGBTQ families, individuals and their allies, there are LGBTQ Christians (yes, even Catholics) who are informed by their faith to bravely reclaim a religious tradition that often spews hate through those most afraid of losing misappropriated power.
While this baseless, unfounded rhetoric is harmful and can feel heavily charged, we as LGBTQ individuals and families can find deeper meaning in the nativity story that the Pope and others can’t quite grasp. We live this hope every day of our lives; that for many of us is informed by our faith and a deeper understanding of “family values” than some unmarried, homophobic, man who has probably never met a person who identifies as anything but straight can offer us. This story of the nativity must be historically accurate and contemporarily modeled for Pope Benedict, and whether you believe it to be factual or not, LGBTQ folk know the deeper moral of the story regarding family to be true because we are living it.
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BC is a Texan transplant to the city of Chicago, moving here to attend theology school. She has a great love for a good glass of wine, great books, meaningful conversations, her family, dance parties, and crime shows. Her great hope in this life is that LGBTQ stories will be equally heard and valued, and she believes that religious/spiritual experience and dialogue is one of many ways to work towards such a reality. BC is a pastor by trade but a mystical religious mutt in spirit, hoping to soak up as many understandings of hope each person has to offer.