By Gregory Coles. This blog post is adapted from an excerpt of Greg’s new book No Longer Strangers. Used with permission.
I often hear the accusation that celibate gay Christians talk about our sexuality too much—or, perhaps, that we insist on talking about it at all when we ought to be silent and blend in. The act of naming sexual orientation—the adoption of an identity term other than “Christian”—stands in the way of union with Christ and his followers. Or so the argument goes.
Though the circumstances certainly aren’t equivalent, I hear a similar argument made about racial minority folks who want to talk about their experience as racial minorities and the ongoing challenges they face. I hear it made about survivors of sexual assault who want to reckon with the systems that enabled their assault. To talk about these “non-gospel” things, we are sometimes told, is to distract from the gospel, to create rifts where Christian unity ought to exist. As Christians, we mustn’t speak about our differences in heritage or predisposition or experience, and we mustn’t let them show. The gospel is identical for all of us, and therefore we must be sufficiently identical to receive it.
Amen. Pass the Welch’s grape juice and communion matzo.
Embodied: The Latest from Preston Sprinkle
But the gospel of uniformity isn’t actually good news. Or rather, it’s only good news for the people who already fit the bill, the people who can be fully honest while also remaining in the majority by every meaningful measure. The rest of us are welcome to show up at the party too, but only if we wear our nametags selectively. We’re asked to hide away the particular bits of ourselves that look different, sound different, manifest the gospel differently.
The longer you and I hide ourselves away in this belief system, the harder it becomes to believe that God loves us or desires to be in relationship with us. The God we learn to approach is like a choreographer for the Rockettes, interested in us only to the degree that we look exactly like the rest of the troupe. Our attempts to belong within the family of God are constantly thwarted, because we’re trying to belong by impersonating the people we consider normal enough to be worthy of love.
But God—the real God—has only ever been interested in loving us, in redeeming us, in transforming us. He has no interest in an army of clones, a horde of wax figures and cardboard cutouts sent to approach him in bold unanimity while his heterogeneous flesh-and-blood children crouch in the shadows.
Those of us who love Jesus are indeed called to find our paramount identity in him. Every other identity is placed in submission to Christ, upturned and radically reordered by the logic of the kingdom of God. But our particularities are not erased in the process. We are not recycled paper, blended into a pulp and recast as a blank sheet. We are a painted canvas in the hands of a master restorer, painstakingly cleansed and healed and remade until we finally become the irreplicable artwork we were always intended to be.