Loving Fully

This is the start of Pride month in Toronto, and in many cities around the world. There will be parades and parties celebrating every kind of gender expression, including not having a gender at all. There will be celebrations of all kinds of sexuality: gay, lesbian, asexual, among many. It is a month when human sexuality and gender in all forms are recognized, discussed, practiced, and celebrated. It is a time for pride in being who we are as human beings, as gendered and sexual people.   

But as the celebrations take place, there will be a note of concern. The freedom we enjoy here in Toronto is still impossible in many places in the world. Just this past week in Uganda, a law was passed making gay sex a crime punishable by death. Uganda is not alone. All over the world homosexuality is still considered a crime,   

In most of these countries, the punishment is a long prison term, and sometimes also lashings. However, over a dozen countries execute people for being practicing homosexuals, among them Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan.[2] Just being yourself can get you killed in these nations.   Closer to home, persecution of queer people is rising. In the United States, three states, led by Florida, have made it a crime to have books with gay themes available in school libraries and classrooms.[3] Penalties range from losing your ability to teach, to criminal prosecution (Missouri).   

All over the US, local parent groups are getting books banned from school and public libraries. Most of these bans start at a local level, at school board meetings and town council meetings.   

Gay literature is broadly defined, equated with pornography. A graphic novel of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the books often banned.   

Here in Ontario, this tactic of starting at the local level is also gaining traction. Some Catholic School boards have been pressured by parents to not raise the Pride Flag this month. Story times by drag queens in public libraries are denounced and protested. Anti-trans hate speech and threats have been rising all over the province, with many rural areas worried about whether they can celebrate Pride safely this year.[5] Anti-queer groups have discovered that it is much easier to make wins at the local school and town level than trying to get legislation passed in the provincial and federal level. But for queer people the effect is chilling: their identity is being erased or condemned as dangerous. The tactics in the United States are here, and they are working.   This idea that there is a right way to be human can be seen in more subtle ways as well among straight couples. Gender reveal parties have become a way to celebrate the coming of a new baby.   

Parents throw a party to announce the gender of their child by releasing colourful fireworks or confetti, blue for a boy, pink for a girl. These parties all assume that the genitalia that you are born with determines whether you will be male or female. But that is clearly not the case. Trans people as well as non-binary people feel that the body they are born with, their cis-gender body, does not match their true identity and gender. By calling them gender reveal parties, the parents and their friends are imposing the idea that all humans are either male or female, and what you’re born with is who you really are.   

Religion has played a part in this definition of gender. Any child who has seen Christian art has learnt that our culture assumes God is male. God is presented as an old man with a beard; Jesus is a young man with a beard. The holy spirit is a dove with no obvious gender, but certainly doesn’t get presented as queer or female, either.   

Gender plays a big role in how our faith is presented to us. Paul’s letters in the New Testament lay out some very clear gender roles for what men and women should do. He condemns homosexuality in a few places [6], and assumes most people will be straight, even as he advocates for celibacy [7]. Western Christianity has promoted the idea that it is best to be straight, and all people are either clearly male or female.   

But it wasn’t always that way. When artists started to depict Jesus, they had a problem. 

There’s no indication in the scriptures of his appearance, whether he had a beard, whether he was tall or short. They knew his message, but not his appearance. So, it is interesting that the earliest images we have of Jesus present him as androgynous. Here he is on a sarcophagus in the early 300s. Jesus shows up several times. On the left he is healing a boy, next to a man with a beard and short hair. Jesus has long hair, no beard. In the middle we see a very masculine Daniel in the lion’s den – he has short hair. On the right, Jesus is talking to Peter, who has short hair and a beard.   

Here we see Jesus standing next to Adam and Eve. Adam is a young man, with short hair and clean shaven. But the artist has chosen to make Jesus have long hair and no beard, so he looks more like Eve than Adam.    

This effeminate Jesus is seen throughout early Christian images at the same time as Christianity is becoming legalized in the Roman empire.   

In time, Christ’s non-binary identity was suppressed in art and in theology, and he became unambiguously male. So that made the Trinity appear to be about two males and the spirit in heaven ruling everything. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Very male. And, in our age, when we think about the Trinity at all, we tend to see it as God’s club, of three separate divine beings who, mysteriously, are also one and the same. When we pray, we hope that one of these three aspects of God will hear us. Officially, everyone up there is assumed to be male.  

But in the 20th century, some theologians pushed back against this view of God and the Trinity. Theologians like Jurgen Moltmann argued that the Trinity is not just about the three identities of God, but most importantly, about their relationship to each other.[8] How they get along with each other is as important as their three roles.

Moltmann argues that the Bible makes more sense if we think of God as three beings who are in constant loving, inter-relationship with each other. This is how Jesus speaks of his identity – he is always saying that God is in me, and I am in God, and we shall send the Holy Spirit, which is in us. This is a hard idea to grasp, so Jesus says that God is like a grapevine. 

I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)  

Jesus explains that Jesus is the vine, which is always attached to the branches, and God is the vine grower. (John 15:1) It is an image of God not as separate from us, but as embedded in us, flowing in us, like sap in a vine.   

Scripture tells us very clearly that God and the Christ existed before space and time were created. (John 1; Philippians 2:6-11) They have existed with each other before the stars were born. They, with the Holy Spirit, have been abiding in each other long before creation began. They are separate identities, that’s why they have different names, yet one substance.   

Some weeks back I told the children that the trinity is like three best friends who are constantly having sleepovers at each other’s homes. That captures part of what is going on. There is a glorious dynamic inter-relationship of love and support in God as the trinity. Because this is a loving relationship, when one suffers, so do the other two. So, God and the Spirit grieve as Christ suffers on the cross. God loves, God feels pain, and God celebrates Jesus and the Spirit. Where love is, so is joy and pain, that’s how love works. 

This theology argues that what the Trinity teaches us is that God is about relationship, relationships of intermingling love and support. As Jesus says, “In this you may all be one, as the Father is in me and I in him that you may be in us” (John 17:21).  

This has consequences for how we see human sexual and gendered relationships. This view of the Trinity means that God wants us to become like God by being loving and supporting and willing to sacrifice for each other. Love is about seeing the other’s needs as being as important as your own. The Trinity is our model for a loving relationship which is capable of self-sacrifice for the needs of another, as Jesus did, for us and for God.   

If our calling as human beings is to live into our full identity as God made us, then our highest achievement will be in how fully, honestly, and openly we can love each other. So, to hold someone back from being able to love another is to curtail their humanity and God’s call to realizing their true potential. To truly emulate the loving relationship that is our God in the Trinity, people of all genders and sexualities must be free to love who they love, care for who they care for. That is the path to the full realization of their human potential. It is a sacred call, as modelled by God’s relationship of love within the Trinity.  A God of love is one who values and endorses relationships, where people of all kinds are encouraged to be in loving relationships with others. The trinity teaches us that love occurs not within one person, but between persons who are different, and yet united by love.   

So, as Pride month begins, let us see each new child as a miracle. Let us see that their humanity will be explored in many ways in their life. Among the most important: their ability to truly, deeply love another. Let us pray that they will grow up in a world where they are free to love anyone of any gender or sexuality, with all their heart and soul. For where love is, God is, too.


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-45434583 [2] https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/06/14/countries-where-being-gay-is-legally-punishable-by-death/39574685/ [3] Florida, Utah, and Missouri: https://pen.org/report/banned-in-the-usa-state-laws-supercharge-book-suppression-in-schools/ [4] https://pen.org/report/banned-in-the-usa-state-laws-supercharge-book-suppression-in-schools/ [5] MPP Kristin Wong Tam shared this at a meeting Stephen attended on June 1st, 2023, at Queen’s Park.  [6] I.e., 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. [7] 1 Corinthians 7. [8] ‘THE TRIUNE GOD: RICH IN RELATIONSHIPS’ – A SERMON BY JÜRGEN MOLTMANN, https://jasongoroncy.com/2008/04/25/the-triune-god-rich-in-relationships-a-sermon-by-jurgen-moltmann/