The Queering of the Church
A rather biblical argument in favor of diversity and difference over conformity and sameness.
WE WERE NOT MEANT TO ALL BE THE SAME
There’s a story in the book of Genesis that tells of a tradition for how it came to be that the world is populated by all different kinds of people and cultures and languages.
It starts in verse one of chapter 11
1 All people on the earth had one language and the same words.
2 When they traveled east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them hard." They used bricks for stones and asphalt for mortar.
In other words, this is a story about the development of brand new technology. It’s about seemingly minor innovations that led to significant advances in civilization.
I think it’s safe to say that this story describes our ancestors transition from roving bands of traveling hunters/gatherers, into stationary city dwellers.
When our ancestors were hunting/gathering foragers, they knew the land intimately and were more connected with each other and with creation. But when they began taming beast and seed, all those relationships changed. Instead of relying on Mother Earth to provide, the domestication of animals and wheat allowed humans to settle down and remain in one place.
While on paper such a development might seem to make sense, and might strike us as obviously an improvement in living conditions, in actuality it led to things such as:
a loss of knowledge about the broader world; and,
the eventual (and inevitable) hoarding of resources—which led to a new condition of Haves and Have Nots (or more accurately put, Haves and Those They Withheld From).
My sense is the ancient storyteller from Genesis 11 was similarly writing about this kind of transition we now call the Agricultural Revolution.
4 They said, "Come, let's build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let's make a name for ourselves so that we won't be dispersed over all the earth.”
In other words, we’re tired of roaming. We’re tired of foraging. Let’s settle down here and make our own fate. Independent of any larger Source. No longer relying on the land or on the mutual trust of one another, but instead we’ll hide behind our city walls and force the land to produce what we want from it.
5 Then the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the humans built.
6 And the LORD said, "There is now one people and they all have one language. This is what they have begun to do, and now all that they plan to do will be possible for them.
7 Come, let's go down and mix up their language there so they won't understand each other's language."
8 Then the LORD dispersed them from there over all of the earth, and they stopped building the city.
9 Therefore, it is named Babel, because there the LORD mixed up the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD dispersed them over all the earth.
I can remember growing up and hearing this story told as though it were about Pride. Humans trying to build a tower to heaven to be like God, but God didn’t like that, so God confused their languages and took away their tall tower building abilities.
When you read it like this, God saying, “And now all that they plan to do will be possible for them” sounds like a fragile Deity who’s worried that humans will become too powerful. 🙄
What a small, petty God that is.
Instead, my take is that God in this story sees the path that the humans are on—a path of uniformity and conformity and sameness, a path trending toward static staleness, where humanity is anchored down in one spot, trying to tame the world and bend it to their will instead of learning to live in harmony with it and respect it as equal—and God is like, “Ah crap, they might actually pull this off, and that path is ruinous.”
This is why I brought up the insight from Yuval Harari about the Agricultural Revolution and how he calls that path, “History’s Biggest Fraud.” Amidst the innovations that shifted us from foragers to farmers there were a series of technological advances where each new “improvement” was meant to make life easier, and yet it actually added up to be millstones around the necks of future offspring. For what begins as luxuries always has a way of becoming necessities.
Here’s a quote from Sapiens:
“Humanity’s search for an easier life released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways nobody envisioned or wanted. A series of trivial decisions aimed mostly a filling a few stomachs and gaining a little security had the cumulative effect of forcing ancient foragers to spend their days carrying water buckets under a scorching sun.”
DIVINE PREFERENCE FOR DIFFERENCE
When I read Genesis 11 now, I don’t hear it as a petty and jealous God who doesn’t want humans to flourish or be prideful. No, what stands out to me what you might call a Divine Preference for Difference.
There is something in humanity’s DNA that bends toward sameness, that defaults toward likeness. Yet the call of God is a call toward difference and diversity.
Left to our own we’ll drift toward taming the wild and trying to control everything. Meanwhile, there is a God who seems more on the side of wildness and trust.
Both Genesis 11 and insights like Harrari’s regarding the Agricultural Revolution illuminate this idea that when humans forgo a life of
in favor of a life of
…that such a shift leads us away from flourishing.
According to this way of thinking,
movement > rigidity
connection > isolation
diversity > conformity
adaptation > stubbornness
This, I propose, is why God in this story confuses the people’s languages, and disperses them across the land.
Because ultimately God favors diversity, and difference, and individuality, and transformation, and change.
PENTECOST: THE BIRTH OF THE CHURCH
According to the church calendar, this past Sunday is Pentecost, the time of year we celebrate the birth of the Church.
This is often done by telling the story found in Acts 2 where all the followers of Jesus were gathered together, after the resurrection and ascension, and something that might best be described as a group-mystical event transpired. The reports were of a fierce wind blowing through the house, filling it with an all encompassing sound, while brilliant flames of light sort of hovered or appeared on each person.
The unexpected activity caused a crowd to gather outside the house where it was said that people from all over various communities heard their own language being spoken.
I won’t write out the whole story, but I want you to notice how the storyteller went to great lengths to list all the different dialects who swore they heard their own language being uttered:
6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.
7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?
8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?
residents of Mesopotamia,
parts of Libya near Cyrene;
visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism);
We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
SHE PREFERS DIVERSITY
So, “what does this mean?”
Well, I think one thing that it means is that when the Spirit of God has Her way, She prefers plurality over sameness. Diversity over conformity.
Almost as though, right from the outset, there was this sense that if this movement was going to succeed, if it was going to outlive the original few women and men who followed Jesus’s Way, then it couldn’t become just another “join us and be just like us. Look like us. Talk like us. Think like us.”
If the story of the tower of Babel points to a God who puts humans on a path toward diversity, and adaptation, and connection, and growth… because that is the path toward flourishing…
then in a similar way, the story of Pentecost points to a Spirit who likewise puts us on a path toward diversity and adaptation and connection and growth because that is the path toward flourishing.
In fact, I suggest that we just go ahead and call this story—the story of blowing wind and flames from heaven and everyone shouting out in different languages—let’s just start calling this event, “The Queering of the Church.”
The moment when Spirit said, “Oh no you don’t. You’re not gonna go make another institution where everyone is the same. Not on my watch!”
YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL AND WILD AND FREE
So to all of you who have ever felt different than the group,
to all you who ever felt like an outsider looking in,
to all you who wondered why you didn’t look like or talk like or think like or love like or feel like “everyone else,”
to all you who felt burdened under the weight of “not being normal,”
to all the weirdos, freaks, and geeks,
to all you who know all too well the pain of being molded and shaped and squished into forms and boxes that were never you,
I say that Pentecost is your day.
May it be the day you remember that the Spirit of God prefers your company to that of the masses. To that of the normals.
as we begin this month of Pride,
may we not fear change, growth, and transformation.
For such movement is indication of our connection with God.
And may we not fear the call to leave our towers, leave our fortresses, leave our comforts and our safety.
For such wildness, adventure and connection with the larger world is our path to the Divine.
And may we not fear those who are different from us.
For such diversity is required for the fullness of God to be manifest.
It’s how She rolls.
I love you.
ALL of you.