Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kicked Out in the Name of God (1 King 9:22-23, 41-43 )

Then Solomon stood before the altar of God in the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, with hands spread out to heaven, and said, “Adonai, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above and on the earth below – keeping your Covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly to be faithful to you with all their hearts….
“And the foreigners as well, those who do not belong to your people Israel, if they come from a distant country for the sake of your Name – for they will hear of your Name, of  your mighty hand and outstretched arm – if they come and worship in this Temple, then hear from heaven where your home is, and do whatever the foreigners ask of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your Name and revere you, as do your people Israel, and may know that this house I built bears you name.”
1 King 9:22-23, 41-43

Artist Michael Soi
This is the prayer given at the time of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. It is as much a political statement as it is a religious statement about the emergent self-identity of the people. As is befitting a prayer on such an august occasion, it strikes themes scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: the incomparable glory of God, covenant, sin and mercy, and the place of the foreigner (Gentile) in the congregation of Israel.

It is the inclusion of the foreigner which grabs my attention. Adonai is an ethnic God, belonging solely to Israel. In covenant Israel belongs to God, and God belongs to Israel. The temple in Jerusalem in planed in such a way as to screen people not of the in-group out: first the foreigner, then the female, then the lay male (not of the priest hood), then the priests, until at last there is the solitary figure of the high priest in the Holy of Holies. 

Queer people are familiar with the experience of being screened from God’s presence. As sexual minorities we are the foreigners in a largely hetero-centric religious matrix. The assumption has been that straight people belong to God, and God belongs solely to straight people. I do wonder if it is the fear of no longer being the “sole” concern of God which drives the religious homophobe to some extent.

Yet, when we hear the bible closely we find that while God is interested in Israel, God is also interested in the foreigner. 

Foreigners are people outside the in-group; peoples whose bloodline laid no claim on the ethnic God of Israel. They are people who could never get to the temple, never get to Jerusalem for they never got the invite to begin with. Sexual minorities are also people who cannot get to sanctuary. Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other organized religion seek to stop us at every turn from entering their sanctuaries. Actually, this is not totally true. We are welcome as long as we encounter the heterosexual god, become convicted of our sexual immorality, give up this “choice,” and live a committed heterosexual life. 

Should we come and encounter the God who confirms us in our innate sexual expression, inviting us to go live out the internal markers of our self-identity – well, that would get us foreigners kicked out of the in-group in the name of their ethnic god.

To be sure there are open, accepting, and LGBTQIA affirmative groups in all organized religions, and they (thankfully) are growing. These traditions have acted on welcoming the foreigner. They have heard the voice of a God who favors inclusion.

In antiquity the temple was the earthly abode of the deity. Rituals of sacrifice and libations were undertaken to “feed and water” the god, as apparently what was good to domesticate animals was also good to domesticate deities. While I may poke a little fun at ancient faith practices, I take seriously this invitation to the foreigner to come and be at home with God.

Queers have spent the better part of the last fifty years fighting hard to establish a sense of home which honors diversity and safety. God, we find, has been working for millennia to establish us in such a sacred home. 

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