At the Wild Goose Festival, I led a workshop, The LGBTQ+ Friendly Bible Hour. Instead of a traditional presentation that defended queer folks from clobber passages or the more uplifting approach to unearth queer Bible characters, I opted to highlight seven themes that are familiar to some LGBTQ+ people.
The seven themes are:
- The Closet/Coming Out
- Queer/Alternative Family
- Transition & Transitioning
- Drag & Disguise
- Non-Procreative Sex Positive Stories
- Breaking Norms: Gender/Social/Class
After listing these and providing an example for each, I then turned it over to the folks who showed up. Through a crowd-sourcing sharing session, people added Bible stories under queer theme categories. I promised the participants I would blog about the event and share their suggestions. There is a lot of info to share, so I will do so through a series of blog posts. Today’s post is:
The Closet/Coming Out
Not all LGBTQ+ have the experience of being “in the closet” or “coming out,” but it is fairly familiar to many of us. We stay in the closet for lots of reasons–fear of rejection, the possibility of losing or changing important relationships, and concerns for our careers, housing, and safety. When you are young and not on your own, it can be especially risky coming out in a community that is not prepared or willing to receive you.
The stories below feature individuals and groups who reveal something about their identity or their experience. It is a key to better understand who they are. In doing so they risk losing position, place, and people. In coming out though they often find liberation and new life.
Here is the example I gave:
Esther Comes Out Jewish — Esther 7
The Book of Esther is jammed packed with LGBTQ+ friendly themes. It also is downright creepy at times; the story sometimes toggles between the Handmaid’s Tale and Game of Thrones.
Esther grew up in Persia as a Jewish exile. We do not know what happened to her parents, but a “kinsman” by the name of Mordecai takes her under his wing (thus creating a queer/alternative family.)
The young Esther, with the help of palace eunuchs, finds herself in the women’s quarters and in the running to become queen. She wins handily (again with help from the gender non-conforming eunuchs this time giving her inside information.) She is queen but does not have full freedom of mobility. Her position can easily be taken away (See what happened to her predecessor, Queen Vashti in Esther chapter one.)
Esther has a secret–she is Jewish–and only Mordecai knows. After an edict is passed that will kill all of the Jews, Esther (again with the help of eunuchs) confronts, Haman, the enemy of her people, and in front of the king reveals she is Jewish. She can lose everything by coming out, but she finds favor with the king who then lets her get her revenge on her enemies.
These are the people and stories workshop participants added to the closet/coming out stories.
- The Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt: a collective coming out story — Genesis 12
- The Transfiguration of Jesus: The Nazarene reveals his true divine colors — Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36, 2 Peter 1:16–18
Lazarus Come Out! The resurrection of Lazarus — John 11. He was out but not yet free. The disciples helped in his liberation by unwrapping the grave clothes and letting him go. I write about this story here.
- The Secret Gospel of Mark: Sadly we did not have time to discuss all of these suggestions, but I am intrigued with the Secret Gospel of Mark being seen as a closet/coming out story. It does contain a story similar to the resurrection of Lazarus. While we do not have a complete version of this Gospel, it is referenced in a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria.
“And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, “son of David, have mercy on me”. But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered , went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus thaught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.”
- Apostle Peter’s comes out as someone who includes Gentiles among believers — Acts 10
- Mary reveals to Joseph she is pregnant with God’s son — Matthew 1:18-25
- Jesus comes out of the Tomb — Luke 24 Three days dead and buried, Jesus’ resurrection resonates with many of us who lived in there shadows and ultimately experienced liberation.
- Jesus comes out to the disciples on the road to Emmaus — Luke 24:13-35 (This story also fits under the category of Drag/Disguise.
What about you? What stories from the Bible do you want to add to the list of Closet/Coming Out stories. Leave you thoughts in the comments below.
Many thanks to Wild Goose and the folks who attended the workshop!
IF you want to hear more alternative readings to the Bible, check out the monthly podcast I co-host with Liam Hooper: The Bible Bash Podcast! available wherever you listen to podcasts.