Where would Jesus be on identity politics?

(Trinity Sunday 11 June 2017)

It is has been a while since I posted a blog – I was honest at the beginning of the blog that I may be a little erratic.

Partly work, partly undertaking some course/study and partly a little of the “black dog” has been hanging around a bit.

I have been struggling to put something  together , so many ideas running around my mind, but not forming a coherent flow.

Today I attended a Pride Rally in Sydney.  Many of the Pride Marches around the world are the month of June, summer time.  It is winter here, and the main Pride event in Sydney is the Mardi Gras held in March, at the end of our summer and beginning of Autumn.

The focus of the rally was to raise awareness that in countries such as Australia and the USA where there have been positive movements for LGBITQ rights, and countries where Human Rights have been a core foundation, however in recent months there has been a reversing momentum on LGBTIQ rights.  Many of these backward actions, or attempts to stop LGBTIQ rights progress have often been led by fundamentalist evangelical Christians and the political (religious) rights.

One of the speakers at the rally used the phrase “identity politics”.  This has been one of the strategies of that group of fundamentalist evangelical Christians with right wing politics to create the concept of identity politics to devalue people who are different to them and in some sense abuse them by comments like “lifestyle choices” when being LGBTIQ is how you are born.

The thought that hit me standing in the winter rain in Sydney between the St Andrews, the Sydney Anglican Cathedral (a Sydney based denomination part of the Anglican Communion that seeks to oppress LGBTIQ people and provides global leadership on that mission) and the secular Sydney Town Hall, “Where Would Jesus be on Identity Politics?”

Then a number of Biblical stories hit me how to answer this question, and I had been writing some of this without knowing it, but the topic brought these strains together.

During the recent course that I did over two consecutive weekends we undertook a high level overview of the Hebrew Bible, helping us understand some of the context, history on how the Hebrew Bible was constructed and to help us understand it on another level for when we are in a situation where we may be involved in preaching or leading a group.

One book we explored was Ruth and for me through a lens that I had not previously worn.

So the quick run through:

  • There was a famine, and a man and his wife left Bethlehem to go to Moab, with their two sons.
  • So we have people leaving their country due to a famine, they are refugees, and they were able to remain there.
  • The husband dies, and Naomi is left with two sons.  This is not a great situation in those days, to be a single mother.
  • Eventually the two sons married (this may be the only way that Naomi would be able to survive), their wives were Orpah and Ruth.
  • 10 years later the two sons dies, now Naomi had no husband nor sons.
  • Naomi with her two daughter-in-laws started out to return from Moab.
  • Naomi told her two daughter-in-laws to return to Moab.
  • After discussions and tears, Orpah turned back to Moab and Ruth decided to continue with her to Judah.
  • When they arrived in Bethlehem, Naomi was remember, and now Ruth was the outsider.
  • Naomi and Ruth lived of the land, reaping the left overs in the field under Boaz, the land owners protection
  • Ruth eventually married Boaz (after some commercial trading) and they had a son Obed, whose son was Jesse who would have a child David, the famous David, and from that line we flor through to Jesus.

In this story, we have Ruth and her sons becoming refugees into a foreign land, marry, and the males die.  Then Ruth and one of her daughter-in-laws came back to Judea, and they are on the outside of society as widows, and eventually we see the linage to one of the most important Hebrew Bible people David, and then onto Jesus.

It is important to remember that widowed women don’t have any real protection in their society at that point in history, were refugees, essentially outcasts in various societies, and yet provide the lineage to David and through to Jesus.  It seems to me given this family history, Jesus would be very open to those who are different, be that from their race and ethnicity, position in society,  we know he walked with those who were disabled, and included in being different are those with different sexual orientation.

I’m finally putting this together on Trinity Sunday 2017, which has a number of interesting lectionary readings.  The Hebrew Bible text for the day is the first creation story, Genesis chapter 1 rolling slightly into chapter two.  In verse 26 we hear “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (NRSV).  It is interesting that the writer didn’t provide any limitations, ie only White, or only Americans, or only Australians, or only those not disabled, or only those who are heterosexual.  God made mankind in his image, with all of its variations, colour, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation etc.

In today’s Psalm reading, we hear (Chapter 8 verses 4 and 5 – NRSV) “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.”  Again we are seeing the message that all are included in God’s plan, there are no exclusions.

The last of today’s readings I wish to reference, is the Great Commissioning from the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:18b-20 NRSV) “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Again, Jesus is not saying go and make disciples and baptize only the white American’s or Australians.  He is saying to go and make disciples of all nations, of all people, and from our reference in Genesis, all people are made in his father image.

And he is telling us to do everything that he commanded him to do, and what is the Great Commandment?  We find this earlier in Matthew (22:36-40 NRSV)  “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

What is Jesus asking us to do, to love God, and to love one another.  There are no exceptions as to who to love.

So coming back to identity politics, this is a term which is used by the fundamentalist evangelical Christians, the religious right of politics and the political right wing , to try to demean and undermine people, particularly those who are different.  Their key crusade at the moment, is the LGBTIQ community.  These are the people that want “bathroom bills” to disadvantage transgender people, these are the people who do not want to allow marriage equality, or to roll it back, these are the people who want to allow people not to bake a cake for a same sex wedding reception, these are the people who want to stop anti-bullying programs for LGBTIQ kids in schools (who have a very high incidence of bulling – and LGBTIQ teen suicide rates are significant multiples of their peers), these are the people who want to create 21st century pharisaic laws for their own religious freedom at the expense of  the freedom of others.

So where would have Jesus been today in Sydney, I think he would have been at the anti-homophobic rally today, he would have been speaking against oppression, and speaking for inclusion.  I think he would have been happy to have been outside of St Andrew’s Cathedral speaking to those that the religious leaders of today are rejecting and oppressing for their own power and influence in the political sphere.

Jesus would recognise that the “politics of identity” is about oppression, and not about love, grace or inclusion, and in Pride month around the globe, Jesus would be standing with the LGBTIQ community, not those who want to use the identity politics as a tool of oppression.

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