In a season of sharp partisan division, much of it centered on sensationalized depictions of the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly transgender people and drag performers, June 1 marked the beginning of Pride Month. Pride is about celebrations, marches, festivals, and representation of a dynamic community that has often been relegated into the shadows. But Pride is also about activism, acting up against oppressive, reactionary pieces of legislation, and indeed, Pride has its roots in riots. As a Queer Christian who organizes and equips Christians for LGBTQIA+ belonging and flourishing, I’m often asked to identify where Christians are during Pride Month. But the better question is where is Jesus during Pride Month?
After centuries of misrepresentation and white washing, American Christians largely imagine a Jesus who is white with flowing brown hair and a chiseled jaw line—not for nothing, this image of Jesus looks a lot like Jonathan Van Ness, but I digress. Christian nationalism is recreating Jesus in the model of white supremacy. The reality of the Jesus story is being replaced by a sterilized ideal of the white nationalist man. Who is this Jesus? He’s a man possessing all the marks of a man who leads, fights for family values, and protects women by controlling as much of their lives as possible. He values life from conception to death. He hates LGBTQIA+ people and believes there are only two genders. He wants to build a wall at the southern border, because illegal immigration is a serious issue to safety and the job prospects of Americans. He supports tax cuts for the rich because they create jobs. He decries social services for the poor because it makes people lazy. The Christian nationalist Jesus knows that best way for free people to protect themselves is by keeping guns readily available. This Jesus shouts at people marching in Pride parades. In short, this Jesus wants to make America great again.
The Bible, however, depicts Jesus as a person of first-century Palestine, brown skinned and poor. His immediate family lives in a collective community which travels together and supports each other. Shortly after his birth, Jesus becomes a refugee and migrant fleeing persecution by King Herod. While sacred scripture doesn’t provide a complete view, his upbringing seems happy and fulfilling. He’s loved and he’s taught to show love. He grows up knowing about the dominant, governing culture (Roman) as well as his own marginalized culture. He lives as a homeless, iterant minister in a region with diverse and conflicting religious groups. Ultimately, he becomes a victim of an occupying force terrified of dissension and is put to death in a gruesome and public manner.
We don’t need to “Queer” Jesus or read him through a Queer lens, because Jesus is already a Queer character. He is socially transgressive and liberatory. He puts into practice the message he preaches and centers the voices of the marginalized. Our search for Jesus during Pride Month shouldn’t be in the hollow prayers of people pushing destructive bills through state legislatures or in the people claiming Christianity while they spew hate at Pride festivals. We will find Jesus in the Pride parades, among drag queens maintaining an uniquely Queer art form, and at festival booths set up by churches trying to better welcome and include the LGBTQIA+ community. Jesus can be found among the families fleeing states where it is no longer tenable to be transgender and he can relate with their struggle because once his own family fled violence.
The Biblical Jesus and the Christian nationalist Jesus look nothing like each other. One is focused on community while the other is obsessed with control and power. One hungers for liberation while the other thirsts to further oppress the marginalized. One brings truth while the other offers sweet lies presented as hope. The reality of Jesus—the Jesus we find during Pride Month and beyond—is a person and a force who has never stopped working. We Queer Christians can find Jesus among us building community, in front of us demanding action, and around us standing between us and those who would wish us or do us harm. That’s where Jesus is during Pride Month and every month.
Author: Dr. Ben Huelskamp is the Executive Director of LOVEboldly (www.loveboldly.net), an organization working to create spaces where LGBTQIA+ people can flourish in Christianity. You can find out more about his projects on his website (www.benhuelskamp.com).