January 13, 2018
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September 21, 2015
Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!
This past spring, members of the Alliance of Baptists made their way to one another in Atlanta, GA for the group’s annual convocation. The theme for the gathering “We’ve A Story to Hear from the Nations” played off the words of the old, colonially-driven hymn. As we sought to “hear” instead of “tell,” I had the profound privilege of facilitating a panel discussion focusing on the realities of LGBTQ lives across the globe. Joining that panel discussion were advocates from Cuba, Brazil, and the United States who shared with us both their expertise and experience as theologians, pastors, scholars, and practitioners. I offer my introductory words for reflection.
Today, we’ve gathered to listen to one another about what we are seeing, experiencing, hearing, and imagining in our communities and spaces across the globe. Joining us are three advocates and fellow listeners who will share with us what they have seen and known in each of their contexts and communities. Three words frame our time together: borders, boundaries, and blessings. These words often determine for us and for one another who we are, who we think we are, who we are not, and who we think we are not.
Borders mark nations and regions and states and identities for us. They apparently tell us who we are, where we are allowed to go, what we are to prioritize and believe and value most and even who we are to trust, love, despise, and ignore. They mark our ideologies in the world. It is important to pay attention to the ways that borders shape and challenge LGBTQ lives.
Boundaries tell us which social behaviors and relationships are in and which ones are out. They mark our bodies and our stories in ways we realize and perhaps more so, in ways we don’t realize. Religious bodies are often the greatest proponents, gatekeepers, and managers of boundaries, giving us practices and rituals that define us and define those who are not us. As we all know, LGBTQ lives find themselves bound by a host of boundaries not of our choosing.
Blessings emerge in the crevices and thin places between these borders and boundaries, In those spaces, we find people whose lives, whose love, whose witness in the world, challenge both those borders and those boundaries. I might be quite biased, but I think LGBTQ people in their contexts and countries are doing this by simply being who we are. When we consider the gospel of Jesus Christ, meant to liberate us from both the mark of borders and the law of boundaries, we discover that perhaps LGBTQ lives are demonstrating a way of being in the world that is simply and profoundly, blessing.
As we consider the ways LGBTQ lives might be deconstructing borders and boundaries while at the same time bearing witness to blessing in a new way, we must also name and internalize the ways that LGBTQ are brutalized and demoralized around the world. Let’s consider just a few facts as we reflect together. As we all know, the list is much longer than this:
And yet, and yet, and yet, LGBTQ lives are building alliances, challenging laws, forming relationships, engaging houses of theology and re-imagining for their communities what it means to be fully human, what it means to be loved by God.
In Acts, we are told the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, a man whose borders and boundaries had long defined him. His sexual orientation in the world was not of his own making. He was cut off literally and relationally.
And when we find him in the book of Acts, he is traveling and reading from the prophets. Here’s what he comes across and begins to mull over, deeply in his heart…
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
I can imagine this eunuch reading this passage from the prophets over and over and over again. Philip encounters him in a moment both metaphorical and incarnational, and the eunuch says, “Who is this about? Is he talking about himself or someone else?”
This moment just moves me to my core. Because of course this text, this text is about the eunuch. It is about Jesus, yes, and in ways both metaphorical and incarnational, it is about the eunuch. Cut off from the land of the living, stricken by a perversion of justice.
And so, the eunuch realizes that all that he thought cut him off from the world was actually what drew him most closely to the very heart of God. He says, as we should all say, “What now would keep me from God’s full blessing, baptism?” And the answer, then, and the answer now is, nothing, nothing, nothing.
My hope today is that we acknowledge the trauma and destruction that borders and boundaries have produced all over the world, but more than anything I hope we spend our time considering the blessing, the witness, and the expressions of the gospel that LGBTQ lives can offer us as communities of faith.
Maria Swearingen is associate chaplain at Furman University. Originally from Texas, she attended Baylor University and then made her way to the East Coast to attend Duke Divinity School where she received a Master of Divinity. She shares life with her partner, Sally Sarratt, whose love, a blessing beyond all blessings, has demolished one border and boundary after another.