By Salina Brett, More Light blog contributor
“Give me liberty, or give me … pizza.”
It’s amazing how much difference one, well-spoken word can make. The difference between pizza and death is the difference between ultimate indifference and ultimate sacrifice.
July is the month that we celebrate our nation’s independence from the oppressive rule of King George III. Over 240 years later, July 4th is now more of a mid-summer cookout and fireworks holiday than any real reflection on how well-spoken words against authority figures brought us the liberties we enjoy today.
What does liberty from oppression even feel like?
For many, this is a difficult question to answer. Some might recall what they felt like as a child counting down the minutes on their last day of a school year or as an employee on their last workday before a vacation. For others, it’s a bit more serious. It might be the day they escaped from a bad relationship, or were freed from alcohol or drugs abuse, or were released from prison. Still others have yet to feel such freedom because things like racism, poverty, and a host of other social inequalities keep them bound from reaching their fullest potential.
One freedom that I gained didn’t feel like a freedom at all. It was the day that I publicly came as transgender. Two weeks before Easter of 2017, I felt strongly led by the Spirit to attend church as my female self. John 11:38-44 was the liturgical focus that Sunday. It’s the account of Lazarus being called forth from the tomb. I had hoped my revelation would be a “one Sunday and done” calling by God … but no. I was to continue to attend church as female and later come out to my family. In December, I was called to be re-baptized, this time as Salina Astar Brett. God had (and still has) new work for me to do.
Funny thing about being a prisoner to something – it can become comfortable. Humans are creatures of routines. Once we find a routine or social norm that we can conform to, it’s much easier to go with the flow than rock the boat, even if rocking the boat might produce great benefits.
“Upset my friend, or spouse, or boss, or pastor, or governor, or president? I’ll take a slice of pizza with my Netflix, thanks!”
Liberty means that I can no longer blame someone for my inability to make choices. I now have both freedom and responsibility. I continually push my social boundaries as Salina. There are still many uncomfortable places in my life, but oh – where I experience freedom! The sweet fragrance of living an authentic life calms my spirit and releases decades of tension that were so bound in my body that I’d forgotten what “relaxed” and “joyful” really felt like.
In June, the Presbyterian (USA) general conference unanimously approved the overture for affirming persons of all gender identities and sexual orientation. HOORAY!!
This is quite a significant granting of liberty to the LGBTQIA+ community within our denomination. The next question is: “What do we do with it?”
Will congregations change their mission focus to include seeking out the LGBTQIA+ people who have spiritual needs or have been burned by the Christian Church?
Will we call transgender people into pulpits where they are a good fit for a congregation?
Will we strive to ensure our congregations include racial and LGBTQIA+ diversity?
That box of pizza looks tempting.
Will LGBTQIA+ Presbyterians now take on a greater leadership role?
A troubling trend I’ve seen within the transgender and gay community is a tendency to settle for being part of the norm. Once a transgender person completes gender-reassignment surgery and “passes” as their authentic gender, they often drop out of anything related to transgender rights and social connections. The same is often true of many in the gay community, once they’ve found their social safe-haven. Worse still, some comfortable LGBTQIA+ people use their liberty to look down upon others within the LGBTQIA+ community:
“Oh – he’s just a crossdresser.”
“Bisexual? Why don’t you just make up your mind?”
“Trans and queer people need to be their own group. They’re not part of the gay community.”
Many people have fought and sacrificed for social freedoms long after our national freedom was declared in 1776. They did not settle for being part of the norm. They knew that even though we had earned our freedom to self-govern, there was much to be accomplished to self-govern well. I believe that is still true today and to some extent more urgent than in recent years due to significant shifts in climate, demographics, and politics.
It’s my belief that the Christian Church at large needs to begin to shake off some of our Sunday morning comfort. Matthew 23 has a LOT of “Woe to you …” words from Christ to the oppressive authority of the day.
I don’t read about Christ being concerned with the same pew and same mission project and same worship music and same holiday routine. I won’t presume Christ’s mind, but I feel confident the Spirit is more likely to guide us on speaking out against environmental damage, social injustice, and strong-man governing. Our pulpits should not become any political party lobby platform, but we all should be a collective prophetic voice saying “This is right and that is wrong.” Christ and the prophets did this time and time again.
It’s my belief that LGBTQIA+ community, especially LGBTQIA+ Christians can go a step further. We need not be bound by a congregation or denomination. Think of any major Pride Day event that you’ve attended. Do you recall the energy and enthusiasm? Do you recall the topics of environmental responsibility, social dignity, and freedom to “just be me?” The vast majority of our LGBTQIA+ community espouses ideals that are very godly and moral. We can be a rainbow radiant light to those wandering in spiritual and social darkness.
Will we now seek to blend into our church congregation’s history and habits or do we challenge the “sacred cows”?
Will we make our LGBTQIA+ identity obvious to others or will we let them “figure it out in their own time?”
Will we seek to find other LGBTQIA+ Christians with whom to do good works or do we just wait and see what our congregation or denomination does first?
In 1974 the Rev. David Sindt held up a sign at the Presbyterian General Assembly. It read: “Is anyone else out there gay?” Since then, many others have voiced bold, well-spoken words for us to be open and authentic within our denomination.
Would you like a slice of pizza?