Monday, May 4, 2015

"The First Baptized Gay Christian"

One of the stories in the lectionary readings today is the tale of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. As I read the passage it gripped me. Not so much the story and the detail but the opening sentence, actually in the reading not even a full sentence but a phrase. I just kept mulling it over and over.

“the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza (this is a wilderness road).”

It was on this road, a road linking Jerusalem and Gaza that Philip, a Jew, met a eunuch from Africa. Wow, myriads of thoughts went through my mind. I went to sleep thinking about this phrase and woke up thinking of this phrase.

There is so much contained therein. My thoughts were of unrest, fighting, killing, race, religion and sexuality.  The events in Middle East and Baltimore with the accounts and photos coming from those areas also figured. I will leave you to pause and consider all these different strands as there are too many events and they are too overwhelming to be considered in this one short blog.

In the last blog I wrote I talked of how patriarchy is alive and well. Today, I want to expand that thought. I actually prefer the term coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in 1992 (But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation), Kyriarchy.  Patriarchy is just a small part of Kyriarchy.  This word is derived from the Greek , kyrios (Lord) and archo (rule). Fiorenza used it to describe any system of domination and submission. It encompasses racism, sexism, homophobia, economic injustice and any other oppressive system.

It was to kyriarchy my mind went as I read the phrase in today’s reading. There are underlying references to race, sexuality, religion and economic systems. Today, I just want to consider one strand.

The story of the eunuch is an interesting one.  He was from the court of Queen Candace in Ethiopia. We are told he was returning home from Jerusalem where he had been to worship, but we are not told which of the many religions he was part of. Obviously, he had some interest in Judaism, as he was reading but not understanding the Jewish scriptures. The story continues that the “Holy Spirit sent Philip to join him”. I think that is also important to remember. This was a God-ordained meeting.

 Eunuchs were considered outcasts in the law (Deut. 23:1).  Although, it should be noted that attempts at integration, with conditions, were mentioned in the book of Isaiah (56).  The eunuch was reading the book of Isaiah. Sadly, like many other marginalized characters in the bible the eunuch remains unnamed. But, I think, here, in this story, is the seed of something happening which will take centuries to come to fruition. Jack Rogers says,

“Over the years, “ Black theology” has brought profound new insights about race to our understanding of the biblical texts. “Feminist theology” opened our eyes to the prominent role of women in the Bible. “Liberation theology” focused our attention and on the Bible’s liberating gospel for the poor and oppressed. Today, “Queer theology” is illuminating our understanding of the role of sexual minorities in the biblical text. In each case the theological insights of formally marginalize groups have enriched the whole church’s understanding of Scripture … Once we remove heterosexist assumptions from our reading of the biblical text a whole new world of depth and meaning emerges.” (Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality, 136)

The story of the eunuch continues with Philip explaining the scriptures, and the eunuch ultimately asking if anything “prevents” him being baptized. Philip saw nothing to prevent him, neither his race, nor his sexuality were a barrier.

John J. McNeill comments, “I like to think of this eunuch as the first baptized gay Christian” (Freedom, Glorious Freedom, 186)

Of course, this Bible story is not just about a person being converted to Christianity. It is about so much more. It is about God-ordained radical inclusiveness, where nothing prevents a person entering into God’s realm.

A final word from Jack Rogers,

The fact that the first Gentile convert to Christianity is from a sexual minority and a different race, ethnicity and nationality together form a clarion call for inclusiveness radical grace and Christian welcome to all. (Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality, 135.)