The early Christian writer, Tertullian, posed the question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem,” long ago when addressing the complicated relationship between the Church and the Roman culture of his time. And many may be wondering the same today, nearly eighteen hundred years later, at this pivotal moment in American history when Christians are confronted, via cases currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States, with the painful legacy of homophobia that our tradition has too long perpetuated and encouraged.
Many rightly ask why so many churches continue with toxic teachings on human sexuality that poison the political waters against people simply seeking to have their love affirmed in the eyes of the state. Especially during this week, Holy Week for Christians, I am grateful to be asking this instead: why has the Episcopal Church over the past decade risked its relationship and standing with other churches to advocate so forcefully for LGBTQ people in religious and public life? Why did countless members of the Grace Cathedral community, gay or not, mark the beginning of Holy Week by marching with thousands of others from Castro Street to City Hall in support of marriage equality here in San Francisco?
The answer, I believe, is simple. In the struggle for LGBTQ rights we glimpse the traces of a story that is most sacred to Christians—the story of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. This story begins when Jesus was publicly executed as a Roman criminal in Jerusalem because his message of God’s liberating Spirit threatened the religious and political establishments of his day. The divine drama of the story unfolds throughout Holy Week, which began last Sunday and culminates on the Easter Sunday.
During this week each year, Christians particularly relate to Jesus as the living expression of a God who is Love. We remember Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday, when he came before earthly judges to be tried and sentenced simply because he empowered people to act without fear for the sake of love’s uncompromising commitment to justice.
As judges, pundits, politicians and religious leaders endlessly debate the social and moral value of LGBTQ people’s love during this brief moment in our own history, we would do well to fix our eyes on Christ’s arms, outstretched upon the cross. They reveal to us a God who embraced total vulnerability to prove to us the surpassing value of our own lives, exposing the absurdity of any mortal claim on our life that would compete for this God-given value.
When Jesus was crucified, the cross, which was intended to be an instrument of shame, became an unfathomable sign of hope and the true measure of God’s love to his followers.
This hope and love, alone, had the power to uphold their cause in the midst the world’s counterclaims on their dignity, just as it today has the power to uphold our cause for equal rights for LGBTQ people.
Easter, the concluding celebration of Holy Week, signifies Jesus’ triumph over death and the grave. On this day, Christians believe Jesus’ death teaches us about the true cost of pursuing God’s vision of justice in our harsh world, and that his resurrection assures us that all our efforts, however costly, will one day be vindicated by a divine justice that is greater than any human injustice. On this day, we are particularly reminded that whatever happens to Prop 8 or DOMA, no court has the authority to adjudicate our true value, no political system can pronounce on our ultimate worth, because we as Christians believe that our end rests in God who made us as we are, and loves us as we are.
And even as we remember death and loss in Holy Week, we know how this story ends. Death does not have the final word, as we know it is no match for Love’s unstoppable power.
About the Rev. Jude Harmon
The Rev. Jude Harmon is a Minor Canon at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, where he oversees young adult and emerging ministries. His background includes time with the Society of St John the Evangelist, internships at New England’s largest day shelter, St. Francis House, and at St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., and service as a Mission Partner in the Diocese of Haiti. Jude, an out gay man, was educated at Haverford College, Harvard Divinity School and Virginia Theological Seminary.