During June, which is Pride Month, queer Christians like me remember the biblical story of Peter and Cornelius. Set during a time when early followers of the way of Jesus were fiercely debating the inclusion of Gentiles, the story offers a powerful lesson for Christians today. These early followers struggled to understand: Was it lawful to baptize Gentiles? Could Jewish believers eat together with Gentiles who didn’t practice kosher? Should Gentile believers be required to follow Jewish law in order to be welcomed into the body of Christ?
Peter, like all of Jesus’ early followers, was a devout Jew. When a Gentile “God-fearer” named Cornelius came to him asking to be baptized, Peter wasn’t sure how to respond. After a dream in which God revealed to him “what I have made clean you must not declare unclean,” Peter agreed to meet and eat with Cornelius and his household. As he witnessed the Holy Spirit at work in their midst, Peter became convinced that he could not refuse baptism to these people God had already blessed.
There are significant parallels between the debates over Gentile inclusion in the early church and contemporary struggles over welcoming people whose ways of loving and experiences of gender differ from traditional norms. When Peter encountered Cornelius and his family, he did not remain trapped in his old understandings of God’s intent. He witnessed the Spirit at work in these Gentiles and recognized that God (as we say in my denomination) was still speaking — to Peter, to Cornelius and to the world — about the wideness of God’s embrace.
Little by little, increasing numbers of Christians today are recognizing that their understanding of God has been too small and limited. They have seen the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Humbled by what they have witnessed, these Christians have heard God’s declaration: “What I have made clean, you must not declare unclean.” They are convinced, in the depths of their souls, that those who God has created and blessed must not be excluded from full participation in God’s church.
LGBT people of faith need to hear and know that our beings, our deepest places of identity and love are fully embraced both by the God who made us and the church that was born of God’s extravagant love. This makes Pride Month a sacred time for queer Christians and those who support us.
The Open and Affirming congregation I serve celebrates “Pride Sunday” on June 30. We declared, with faithful hearts and passionate conviction, a gospel of welcome and affirmation for God’s queer children. I wore my rainbow stole, and we lit our rainbow candles. We expressed deep gratitude to God for the spiritual gifts of queerness and difference.
The Holy Spirit is at work in our midst — and God is celebrating.
(Open and Affirming is an official designation of congregations and other settings in the United Church of Christ affirming the full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons in the church’s life and ministry.)
The Rev. Kathleen Remund is the ordained minister for First Congregational United Church of Christ, Menomonie.