He may not have called it LGBT Pride, but Jesus wanted to celebrate who we are



Todd WhitleyLike many folks, I have read much of the Bible hundreds of times, particularly the gospel texts in the New Testament — the recollections about the life and activities of Jesus on earth. Now, the religious values I was raised with convinced me early on that there was no room in any of these writings for a little gay boy like me; yet curiously, the gospels contain zero condemnation from Jesus regarding same-gender-loving or gender-variant folks.

I have spent the past two years at a progressive Christian seminary in Berkeley, Calif. There, I have poured through these sacred texts backward and forward and listened to seasoned Biblical scholars, social anthropologists, and queer theologians discuss the “clobber” texts, analyze the social locations of writers and ancient peoples, and explain the customs at the time these texts were written.

And more assuredly than ever, I know that all the scriptures used to condemn trans, gender non-conforming and gay and lesbian people have been warped and perverted to mean things they were never meant to convey, representing situations that in no way reflect who we are today.

Secretly, though, I have always longed to discover some fragment of a scroll, some writing, that contains words of Jesus himself affirming us outright so I can say to the Robert Jeffresses of the world, “See! When Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself, he really did mean all of us!”

But there is no such writing.

Or is there?

Not until today had I realized that Jesus actually references Pride — you know, the feeling and the occasion where queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people proclaim and celebrate the uniqueness of their createdness.
Ok well, not literally. But I offer this verse for your consideration:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your [God] in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14–16)

When I read this verse earlier in the week, I heard it anew, as if with fresh ears. You see, I have long heard grumblings against the celebration of Pride (“Why do they have to celebrate being gay and throw it in our faces?!”) and its designation in the month of June — you know what I mean, the mantra of the “Well we don’t have a Straight Pride” folks. Yet once I emancipated myself from the bondage of socio-religious-imposed heteronormativity and gender performance, it did not take me long to understand why queer people finally burst into a 51-block march, dubbed the “Christopher Street Liberation Day”47 years ago this month.

One cannot, it seems, actually be proud until you have first been liberated. Jesus, above all, knew this, and I believe he was also thinking about us when he said it!

And Pride — the month, the parade, the march, the feeling — is first and foremost about liberating yourself, about refusing to any longer hide your beautiful, God-created light beneath any bushel or behind any closet door.

If we indeed believe that each human being is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah proclaims, then it is easy to read the prophet Jesus’ words beyond evangelizing others to first being true to your authentic self and embracing your own light within.

My friends, regardless of who you love or how you express your gender — and particularly those of you who are a part of the rainbow family — be proud of who you are created to be and let your light shine boldly and fabulously! In this way — whether at a Pride parade or march, during Pride month, or all year-long — you are living out the words of Jesus to let your light shine so that the world has no doubt that the God who created the rainbow also created the children of the rainbow.

So let that light shine, glitter or sparkle, my family! And trust that if Jesus were around today, he would be marching alongside us, letting his light shine, and singing with us the words of a modern prophet, Sylvester, as an ode to our creator:

Oh you make me feel mighty real
You make me feel mighty real
Make me feel mighty real
Make me feel mighty real
Make me feel mighty real
Make me feel mighty real
I feel real
I feel real
I feel real
I feel real

Local activist Todd Whitley will return this fall to Pacific School of Religion for his third year as a masters of divinity student studying sexuality and religion and spirituality and social change. He is a member of Cathedral of Hope UCC, is a father of four and grandfather of two, and will marry his partner Miguel Atkins this July. He blogs at thetoddwhitley.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 16, 2017.