When Peter came to Antioch, however, I opposed him to his face, since he was manifestly in the wrong. His custom had been to eat with the Gentiles but, after certain friends of James arrived, he stopped doing this and kept away from them altogether, for fear of the group that insists Gentiles must convert to Judaism first. The other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, and even Barnabas felt obliged to copy this behavior.
When I saw they weren’t respecting the true meaning of the Good News, I said to Peter in front of everyone, “You’re a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not a Jew. So why do you want to make the Gentiles adopt Jewish ways?”
Paul was on a campaign to open the early christian experience to Gentiles. These Gentiles were the equivalent of spiritually queer folk to good jewish-christian people in that day. Paul worked long, hard hours gathering, organizing, and building coalitions of like-minded persons. He tirelessly protested the policy which turned the Gentiles away.
Though angry, Paul at least knew that James, the brother of Jesus and head of the early church, was an opponent. What Paul did not know was that Peter, living like a Gentile, would take James’ side. Stabbed in the back, Paul confronted Peter and outed him as an “acting Gentile.”
There is a typical queer dynamic in this confrontation. We understand the need for protection – jobs, family, friends, status, and much more can be affected negatively if we are serendipitously outed, as Peter was. Having friends outed and knowing their pain and confusion, as well as frustration and fear, I cannot condone what Paul did.
Still, Peter is not innocent. If he did not want to be seen as less in the eyes of James, Peter should not have lived as a Gentile. He was a hypocrite to show one face to Paul and another to James.
For me, the knife which cuts the deepest in my queer experience is when I am damned by one of our own. The hyper-heterosexual coach who himself is latently gay; the bashing minister who is sexually active with other men; the homophobe who fears her own sexual curiosity, all are part of the queer experience. It is a deep betrayal when they turn on those who are out.
Eventually, tradition holds, Paul and Peter got their act together. In doing so they opened up the Gentile world to the richness of God’s love in Christ.
Some marvelous day we queers will finally get our act together too. Out front and latent, bold and scared, self-aware and questioning – we will all come together blessing ourselves and our kind. Like Peter and Paul, when that day arrives, great opportunities will appear, and we will all be the richer.