Why Marriage Matters
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You are Fabulous, Each and Every One

You Are Fabulous, Each and Every One

Galatians 3:23-29

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

26 August 2007



    Cary Grant is one of my favourite actors. In fact, Cary Grant is probably about as close as man can get to perfection. That class and grace, the wit and romance. And talk about sexy! Maybe Justin Timberlake felt the need to bring sexy back because Cary Grant had been dead for twenty years.

    A couple of months ago I saw a Grant film that I hadn't seen before – I Was a Male War Bride. It was a comedy based on a true story. It wasn't one of his best films, in fact, he didn't really act in it so much as he just occupied the role with his comic ability.

    Grant plays a French military officer stationed in Germany in the months after the victory in the Second World War. He falls in love with an American female officer and they get married. As soon as they were married, it was time for them to return home to the U. S., so everything has to be arranged. The movie is filled with one comic moment after another as Grant is classified a "war bride." There wasn't a category of "war husband" or "war spouse" in any of the military procedures, so Grant has to appear in all these documents and lists as a "war bride."

    But, then things get worse after the documents are processed and it is time to head home. The folk who processed the documents laughed at classifying a man as a war bride, but the lower level soldiers and sailors who have to process him through won't accept a man as a "bride." One night he wanders alone from dorm to dorm with no place to sleep. They won't let a man stay in the war bride's dormitory. But he can't stay in the men's dormitory because he isn't an American military officer.

    It all finally comes to a head when he must be sneaked aboard the homeward bound ship. He dresses up as a woman in order to get past the guards who weren't going to let a man through. Finally he gets caught, but in the end everything gets solved.

    The film is a delightful comedy about gender roles and the sorts of strange cultures that we've developed around them. Of course, on the meta-level the film is even more interesting. Now we know that Grant himself was a homosexual who felt the need to pass as a straight man in the public light. Here's Grant, the closeted and passing gay man, playing a straight man who has to dress as a woman. Grant in that role is itself a commentary on our creation of gender categories.

    Grant, of course, did play with these coded messages about his sexuality. There is the famous scene in Bringing Up Baby where he is dressed in Katherine Hepburn's very feminine bathrobe and when he shocks the old woman he jumps up and down, flaps his hands, and yells, "I've gone gay!" Cultural historians tell us that this was the first mainstream popular culture reference to the word "gay" meaning "homosexual," even though the word had been used in the subculture since the 1400's. Grant, closeted gay man, the first person to use the term gay for homosexual in mainstream culture. And this, again, while he was in drag.

    Today we have read the text that is probably the core of any pro-queer reading of Christian scripture. And that it comes from St. Paul himself is one reason it is so delicious. Paul, whose writings have been used against us by so many, is the source of our best argument.

    I don't think Paul had any sense that he was writing holy scripture. In fact, I think he'd be horrified by the very thought. Paul was a missionary and a pastor who was working this new faith out on the go. He was taking what he knew about Jesus and was struggling to apply it to every real world situation that arose. We must forgive a little inconsistency here and there.

    Of course Paul can be interpreted many different ways, and has been and will continue to be. But the truth is, we should learn to read Paul like we would any literature. What are the key, central themes? And then use those to interpret the more obscure and difficult passages. Plus, it is those key themes that continue to work themselves out over time, whereas the obscure passages become even moreso.

    And there are only a very few passages more essential to understanding Paul than this one. This passage that tells us that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, no slave nor free, no male nor female.

    Back in 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a new statement on the family to add to their confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message. This was the first addition to the confession since 1963 and laid the groundwork for the drafting of a new confession in the year 2000. The 1998 document came after the success of the fundamentalists in ousting the more traditional, moderate leadership of the denomination. The 98 statement showed how concerns had changed since 63, when the confession had included statements on war and peace, poverty, and social justice but didn't feel the need to comment on "family values."

    This 98 statement really was a statement about gender roles. The crux of the document was its views on women. Women were not to be pastors. Wives were to submit to their husbands. And, of course, only heterosexual marriage was legitimate.

    Like was tradition, this statement included not only the written text, but a paragraph length set of biblical references with chapter and verse to back up the statement. Oddly enough this Galatians passage was missing from a theological statement about gender identity.

    Shortly after the statement came out, I was talking to an Oklahoma Baptist University Bible professor who told me that if a student had handed in that document as a paper, he would have flunked it because it ignored Paul's teaching here in Galatians, which ought to be the primary text when dealing with what the Bible has to say about gender.

    But, then, it is obvious why a group of social troglodytes would ignore this passage. Because it is a revolutionary text. St. Paul identifies the three most common social construct categories that have traditionally been used to discriminate in society – race, class, and gender. These categories are the source of harmful identity politics that create an "us" and a "them." They are used to separate people and keep them apart. The evils perpetrated in the name of race, class, or gender are so obvious and numerous that there's no reason to belabor the point.

    Paul jumps right in and names these categories and then explodes them. In the Christian community these categories of division have no place. Remember, the central teaching here in Galatians is that Christians are defined only by their faith. Your membership in the people of God is not based on ethnicity, cultural background, observance of rules, or any other category. Paul is proudly saying that membership in the people of God is not and will not be based on race, class, or gender. In Christ we are all free from these distinctions. He's telling us that they are passé, out-of-date, have no place in the new world.

    Christianity has always seemed to have two broad views that have competed with one another. One view is particularist, setting some distinction or category that you must meet in order to be in the people of God – you've got to have the right knowledge, be in the right denomination, wear the right clothes, don't play cards, don't drink or dance, observe communion a set way, demonstrate specific spiritual gifts, etc., etc., etc.

    Then, there is another view. It is universal in perspective. It says that everyone is welcome in the people of God, that God does not discriminate but accepts us just as we are.

    This week I caught a little glimpse of this universal vision. Thursday I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as the guest of a friend of mine who asked me to go along with her. Two months ago we were talking and she asked me what I knew of the program, and I told her just a little surface knowledge. She thought I needed to know more, as a minister, and I've been excitedly looking forward to us getting together so I could learn more. After she walked me through some background, we went to a noon meeting that was packed. There were at least seventy people there. I didn't know what to expect. And boy was I not prepared. I enjoyed myself. It was amazing to sit and listen and watch as people shared about triumphs and struggles and shared openly and bluntly. And everyone in the room responded with compassion and understanding and overwhelming enthusiasm.

    And these people were from every walk of life. Business men and society wives. Poor travelers and students. Laborers and lawyers. Black and white and Hispanic. Young and old and middle aged. Gay and straight. Even a transsexual who was one of the group leaders.

    This room overflowed with love and joy. It's what the Christian church is supposed to be. A place where we all come because we realize we are no better or worse or different from anyone else. That we each need help. That we only get better if we help others. Where all barriers between us are broken down and we share knowing that we can trust everyone else to accept us for just who we are.

    That is God's vision, I am convinced. God doesn't have time for these categories.

    Our aim is not simply a society where gays and lesbians and transsexuals receive equal rights. Our aim is a world where categories like that don't serve any sort of purpose. Where everyone is free to be whomever they are. Where the lines that divide such categories become so blurry and fluid that everyone recognizes them for the absurdity that they are. As Cary Grant tried to demonstrate a half-century ago.

    We could spend the next century debating what Paul really meant in Romans 1 or other of the obscure and difficult passages that supposedly refer to homosexuality. We could debate what Paul knew and didn't know about same-sex relationships – the science, the philosophy, the culture. Or, we can look at his plain and clear statement here in Galatians and realize that no matter what Paul knew about social categories, he knew something about Christianity. He knew it in the deepest recesses of his heart. It was central to his faith. Christianity does not discriminate; it sets people free.

    It is a universal message. Maybe you don't think you're smart enough. Rich enough. Good-looking enough. Maybe you struggle with a physical or mental disability. Maybe you were abused as a child. Maybe your parents didn't give you enough love or attention. Maybe you are an addict or an alcoholic. Maybe you are alone and lonely. Maybe you are rich or beautiful or smart. Maybe you are a man, or a woman, or one of the infinite possibilities in between.

    I'm telling you what Paul was telling you -- that when it comes to category distinctions, God doesn't give a damn!

    You are a child of the majestic creator of the universe. You are loved with a mother's love. You are the apple of your father's eye. You share the same body as your brother Jesus the Christ. You are filled with God's Holy Spirit, your partner and lover throughout life. You can claim God's power and glory. You are fabulous, each and every one.


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Tim Sean

This is fabulous.

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