Come Out, Queer Prophets!

by Rev . Dr. Cody J. Sanders

Coming out just doesn’t hold the same intrigue for me anymore. The act is neither filled with the trepidation of earlier years or the sense of boldness it carried in the years after the trepidation subsided.

Coming out sometimes serves as a tool for liberation—oftentimes quite successfully.

Resisting the shackles of silence and the imposition of invisibility, it works to make hidden lives visible and enable the practices of political activism that have become central to many movements for equality. 

But Darnell Moore helpfully troubles the notion of coming out, asking, “Are LGBTQ individuals symboled as the presumed ‘other’ in the ‘coming out’/‘closet’ paradigm whose sense of self and identity and behaviors are always defined in relation to the normative heterosexual? If so, might ‘coming out’ be understood as a practice that is, itself, heteronormative?”

This National Coming Out Day, as I reflect on a dawning era of greater rights, protections, and inclusions for LGBTQ people, I am convicted by Moore’s warning about the heteronormativity upheld by this metaphor. But metaphors that have been useful in the past can be hard to shed.

So I wonder, if we are still to ‘come out,’ then come out as what?

I believe the time has come for more LGBTQ people to come out as queer teachers and prophets—inviting our churches and communities to reflect upon the lessons our lives have to offer. That’s what my new book, Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow: What All Christians Can Learn from LGBTQ Lives, is all about—the lessons that ALL Christians can learn from the history and life experiences of LGBTQ people. 

For LGBTQ people, coming out as queer prophets and teachers to our churches means viewing our own lives through a different lens. While it often seems expedient to simply do our best at “fitting in” to the heteronormative expectations of our social and ecclesial settings—in order to gain rights, inclusion, acceptance, etc.—we have more to offer the world than our best heterosexual impersonations. Our lives, collective histories, and experiences are unique sources of knowledge and wisdom we must continually learn to live into.

Queer theologian Elizabeth Stuart argues, “The space of the marginalized is often a space where imagination can flourish outside the restricting dictates of the mainstream.” In order to experience the growth this flourishing imagination has to offer our congregations, we must begin to look carefully, attentively, and appreciatively at the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons who have, for too long, been forcefully kept at the margins of church and society. We must ask, “What practices of relationship, what configurations of community, and what forms of religious faithfulness have become life-enhancing—even salvific—for queer people marginalized in church and society?” 

To be sure, coming out as queer teachers and prophets makes a challenging claim upon the communities and churches within which we come out.

Queer lessons may be difficult for churches to learn, at first. They are lessons churches are not used to learning from those we too often purport to teach. Indeed, churches have been trying to “teach” queer people lessons about our lives for far too long. And queer people have often ended up worse off for the lessons we’ve been asked to learn. Learning to learn queer lessons can, indeed, be a disturbing process for churches. 

Coming out as queer teachers and prophets invites churches into a transition of posture away from the suspicious scrutiny that normally forms the questions asked about queer lives—serving to define the boundaries of marriage, communal belonging, Christian faithfulness, or civil rights. This shifting posture, instead, moves our churches toward an attitude of compassionate curiosity. From this posture, our churches and communities of faith can begin forming different questions about our lives—questions not formed from fear or the need to maintain boundaries, but questions about what embodiments of human difference and varied experiences of life can teach us all, enriching our communities of faith through the lessons we learn. 

Queer Lessons serves as a fresh pathway into old conversations about sexuality and faith. In it, I explore questions like these:

  • What have queer people learned about the formation of relationships—despite widespread lack of family, community, or church support—that we would all benefit from learning?
  • What can congregations learn from the example of queer people who have cultivated rich, life-giving expressions of community at the margins of church and society?
  • What can our congregations learn from the examples of queer people who maintain strong faith commitments amid widespread rejection by churches?
  • What can churches learn from the many and varied Christian practices of “love” experienced—and sometimes endured—by queer people, some of which don’t seem so “loving” to the intended recipients?
  • What can churches learn from queer experiences about religious contributions to violence against different “Others” and what can be done to reduce this violence?
  • What can we all learn about the potential of forgiveness as a tool for peace and justice in addressing social conditions of injustice and violence?

Queer Lessons is a starting place for dialogue on these questions, but it is certainly not an exhaustive reply. In order to live into the fullness of the lessons that LGBTQ lives have to teach, more and more of us must continue to come out—not simply as LGBTQ—but as queer prophets and teachers for churches in need of the lessons our lives have to offer.

Related Articles: Honoring Queer Experiences Of GodQueer Voices: The Role Of The Outsider

Photo via flickr user David Goehring

Comments (2)

Michael Disciple

What does the article mean by
What does the article mean by queer “prophets”? Prophecy, by definition, is the prediction of divine events, inspired & supported by scripture. Prophets focus on the revelation of the coming of our Lord and His Kingdom. If we redefine prophecy, then doesn’t it turn the focus off of Christ and onto the self?

Diane D'Angelo

This is just great — I’ve
This is just great — I’ve been thinking along the same lines for a couple of years now. The church has much to learn LGBTQ people. Just as it’s time to for our culture to move beyond the minstrel show that was “Will & Grace,” it’s time for faith communities to stop patting themselves on the back for “accepting” gay people and rub up against the realities and the lessons of gay lives.

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