Neither Male Nor Female in Christ
In my mid-twenties, I began the process of trying to salvage what might be spiritually helpful from the Christianity I’d jettisoned as a teen. For the first time in years, I opened a Bible and read it. For the first time in my life, I found myself interpreting and contemplating scripture through my own eyes rather than those of parents, preachers, and teachers.
I followed Jesus’ commentary on eunuchs in the Gospel of Matthew back to Isaiah’s commentary on the same in the Book of Isaiah, and then onward to Acts of the Apostles and Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians.
In Galatians, I found myself in shock. Paul writes in chapter 3, verse 28 (NIV):
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This passage immediately resonated with me as a young queer person because my experience of Christianity as a child and young adult did not match this scriptural understanding of gender.
Gender in the Modern Church
I grew up in communities with very discernible gender roles, enforced but rarely openly discussed outside of sermons or political conversations angrily opposing the transcendence of these roles embodied by gay and lesbian people.
When I say enforced, I primarily mean through social alienation. So often community gossip seemed to center on the ‘power-hunger’ of women perceived as wearing too much makeup, or being too loud, too assertive, too present. As teenagers we were constantly warned against this behavior, especially in pop music. I remember one girl turning beet red when she caught herself accidentally singing out loud to a Pink song that had entered her head.
My own encounter with these dynamics came when I revealed my interest in arts rather than sports to the preacher of a church my family and I had just started attending. I’d been a painter for years and also had a love for photography, for the beauty of stained glass windows, and an appreciation for worship through music.
I could see in his eyes that I had immediately failed. I could hear it in the disappointed voice of the deacon who hoped to recruit me to the church football team when he said “We don’t have anything like that here.”
My masculinity became suspect. My politics were quickly pigeonholed in church gossip as “very liberal,” and I was connected in this way to a former youth member who had become an atheist and left some time before we started attending. It was taboo to talk about that boy, whoever he was. No one would even speak his name, but I became the new him, the new sacrificial son on the altar of this church.
Sermon after sermon on the devilish temptations of homosexuality pitted the preacher and I against each other after that. Yet for all the selective quoting from Leviticus, what of Isaiah 56? What of the princess dress lovingly gifted to Joseph by his father in Genesis? What of Jesus’ own words in Matthew 19:12? What of the eunuch in Acts who is the canonical first non-Jewish convert to Christianity? And what of this passage in Galatians?
This preacher, this guide and mediator between my childhood and the Bible, between our community and our God, he never taught us these things. And it took me so long to realize that. He made his views the views of the Bible, the views of God. And the congregation accepted this false god as their own.
Together they cast him in the role of God the Judge, and he judged me, he alienated me, he punished me, just like the other son before me, and for what? For appreciating beauty? For refusing to sit through sermons condemning gay people? I wasn’t even comfortable identifying as queer at the time. I wasn’t disruptive. I wasn’t open. I was an awkward teenage boy cut off from the herd for appearing too feminine, too compassionate, too full of love, too sensitive, and too assertive in all these things for a man whose fragile spirituality clung to an understanding of gender that even Paul condemned two thousand years ago.
Why must there always be a son who is sacrificed? Why must there be condemnation and punishment, and not unconditional love and forgiveness?
All One in Christ Jesus
But one thing I’ve learned over years of sitting with Paul’s words in Galatians is that this passage is not just about gender. It’s not just—as much as I want it to be sometimes—a queer treatise on gender from a fundamental source in Christianity, or proof that the movement of Christians should be one of explicit affirmation, love, and acceptance for queer people.
Paul is reminding us of Christ the liberator, Christ the rescuer, Christ Jesus, the salvation of all-kind from the divisions and suffering of lower worlds. Paul is teaching us a Kabbalistic recognition of Jesus as Christ, an embodiment of the spirit of Tiphareth.
And whether we arrive at Tiphareth through Christ, through Osiris, Proserpina, Mohammad, Sabbatai Tzvi, Antinous, or others, the pathway is the same. Tiphareth is the moment of the G-dhead’s descent into material consciousness. And Christ is our beautiful return. Christ reminds us that there is no part of creation which does not emanate from the mouth of G-d, and that will not be reunited in Her infinite light.
There is no race, there is no class, there is no gender here. There is no longer the distinctions of material living. There is no longer the distinctions we build our lives around still. Christ is our gateway to liberation from these polemical identities and biases. S/he is our freedom, our salvation, our pathway back to G-d.
In Christ, I cannot hold onto my anger at this preacher or anyone else. I cannot hold the self I have come to identify with in lower worlds. We are both called on to be something more than our physical and emotional ties would have us remain. Christ reaches for us all to enter into this level of consciousness.
And yes, it is alarming. It is terrifying. At times I have wanted nothing more than to be able to punish those who ostracized me as a child, to wield the Bible back at them, to weaponize God against them, and to be right, to be powerful and severe in their eyes, to behold a congregation like he must have and feel the power of godliness commanding them in whatever I choose to say.
Yet from that mindset, Christ is meaningless. Christ is a metaphor for the material power-over we take. And my story, my voice, my experience become like Satan’s in the tragic realization that usurping the God in the throne simply thrusts one into the same locus of mis-assumed power.
But Paul is not the fundamentalist queer hero my ego craves. Paul’s teaching is more than my visceral relation to it. The Christ Paul teaches is the Christ who raptures in unity, who collects us from wherever we have fallen in the lower worlds and exalts us into our place among the heavens, pushing us upward to the G-d whose holy light we crave.
This Christ gives my story, my voice, and my experience more worth than my ego can ever muster because s/he exalts the pain of separation, and relieves from the suffering of division. S/he is the gold that fills the voids which form between us, which stretch and rip us apart in agony and egotistical belligerence. Christ is the consciousness of rescue, our transcendence from caustic bickering, the passage to an infinite whole of whom we are all already part.
Dare we embrace the consciousness of Christ? Dare we enter the spirit of Tiphareth?
In Galatians, Paul is describing a way of living that remains profound to this day. For all the excuses we will all still make, for all the sin of separation we will each and all continue to identify with, the fundamental path of Christ remains salvation from all division, and from all suffering it causes.
Blessed be all the times we claim the courage to take it.
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org