I have always found it odd, amusing and slightly pathetic that institutional Christianity has propped itself up as the valiant defender of the traditional nuclear family. Many of the most famous families in the Bible did not meet such a standard. On the contrary, those families were frequently non-monogamous and dysfunctional, often spectacularly so. Abraham sired two sons with two different women, and the ancestral sibling rivalry of Isaac and Ishmael continues to this day. King David had multiple children with multiple women; his son Solomon had 500 concubines.
Despite the glaring lack of Biblical precedent for it, highway-adjacent mega-churches and right-wing Christian institutions frequently attach the word “family” to their names. These organizations typically emphasize the importance and divine mandate of private property, patriarchy and socially conservative “wholesome” family fun.
I do not point this out to gleefully spotlight the inconsistencies of the Religious Right; I do it because they are onto something important. Across deep political divides, there is still a broad consensus that “family” is desirable and good. You can receive time off and public accolades to attend to a “family emergency,” for example. “Family” connotes the joys of belonging, safety and acceptance.
However, the life of Jesus and the early Church is marked by the embrace of non-traditional, deliberately chosen, subversive community — in other words, “queer family.” At one point during Jesus’ rise to fame, a messenger announces that his mother and brother are waiting outside to see him. He responds: “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Likewise, the very first description of the Church is a radical departure from traditional family units: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
The writer adrienne maree brown summarizes the tragedy of conservative forms of family and love when she writes, “From religious spaces to school to television shows to courts of law, we are socialized to seek and perpetuate private, even corporate love … We’re all going to die if we keep loving this way, die from isolation, loneliness, depression, abandoning each other to oppression, from lack of touch, from forgetting we are precious.”
In the spirit of brown, may the Church rediscover how precious we are and let liberated and non-traditional love be the highest good in our communities. May we remember that love — of self, of comrade, of friend, of lover, of sibling, of neighbor, of enemy even — can burn down the mightiest walls of oppression and repression! May the Church become a queer community again.
Read more of the Aug. 10-16, 2022 issue.