When we read the Parable of the Prodigal Son, many of us who are Christians, and thus repentant sinners, automatically and immediately identify with the character of the Prodigal Son. We put ourselves in his humble position — depending on the mercy and grace of God, our Heavenly Father. However, that is not the only way to read the parable. Because the Bible was written from many perspectives, so also should it be read from many perspectives! When we look at the parable of the prodigal son, we see that family is torn apart by crisis. One member of the family rejecting the other instigated this crisis. The son essentially disowned his father, and dissolved the family relationship. We must take a Christ-like approach to this issue. Very frequently queer–identified individuals are in the position of the father of the prodigal son: we must forgive and move past that which has hurt us. We must not retaliate.
Most Christians today read the New Testament from a position of comfort and privilege. After Constantine legalized Christianity in the fourth century, we have forgotten that, in its earliest stages, Christianity was very offensive to the “family values” of the surrounding society, and there was a great deal of social stigma attached to being a Christian.
Christian communities often blurred the well-defined social roles that their surrounding culture expected of them. Strangers called each other “brother” and “sister.” Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, rich and poor, male and female became one in Christ, and they all treated one another with a surprising degree of mutuality and reciprocality.
They also did not offer the customary sacrifices to the gods. They refused to acknowledge Caesar as the supreme power in the world, giving that honor instead to a defeated, executed convict. In the Roman world, the Christians were a despised, disgusting group. Just as Jerry Falwell blamed Hurricane Katrina on “the gays,” Nero blamed the Great Fire of Rome on “the Christians.”
The New Testament developed as a collection of documents written by a misunderstood, distrusted minority as they struggled to see how they could fit into their broader society. They filled it with messages of consolation, expectation, and liberation, as they encouraged one another to remain united in the face of oppression.
This is why I have no doubt that the Bible is the most important resource to help my people learn to thrive and survive in a world that wishes we were not here. The Christians included this saying of Jesus in their book: ”They will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.” (Matt. 24:9)
Take a close look at the suffering above. Jesus, as you can plainly see here, was the victim of a brutal and unjust hate crime perpetrated by oppressive Roman forces to terrorize the Jewish people. As with hate crimes today, Rome used public crucifixions to intimidate an entire class of people by the example of individual victims. Not only beaten, tortured, and executed, Jesus was also mocked, bullied, and derided (Matt 20:19; 27:29, 31; Luke 18:32; 23:11, 36). Afterwards, one of the Roman soldiers responsible for crucifying him realized, too late, that he had wrongly slaughtered an innocent man (Matt 27:54, Mark 15:39).
My own people (LGBTQ) face the threat of unjust execution in Uganda. We experience taunting, mocking, and deriding each day in American schools. We are thrown out of families, careers, and churches throughout the world. As a result, we frequently must gaze upon our closest neighbors, and plead as Christ did from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). They think they are doing the right thing–God’s will, even–yet they are just as much victims of homophobia as we have been. This is much like the Prodigal Son has sinned.
It is my people who are among the closest to the cross in many contexts, because we too are the victims of hate crimes. My people have some of the most precious voices within the Church–voices which more and more Christians are hearing in our generation.
Yes, I am gay, and I am proud to be a Christian because Jesus knew the violence of a hate crime. “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14) We must have the same attitude that Jesus did when he said of himself the following: “Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21:42)
We, as queer people, face rejection. For so long, queer people have been seen as the “Prodigal Son” in need of repentance and return. However, we have done nothing wrong. We are not the ones dissolving the other, by rejecting the family. It is the other way around. We are frequently in the position of being hurt, misunderstood, or abandoned by those closest to us. We are in the position of the father of the Prodigal Son. We must also act like it, and forgive.
Decades from now, when gay rights are as non-controversial as rights for women and people of color, many people within the Church will realize what horrible thing they have done by excluding us, who are equally created in the image of God. When that happens, we won’t even need to mention their sin against us. We will just be so happy that they are back!