It is often with the undertones of complete obedience, submission, and compliance that we speak of the Atonement. Yes, we recall the words of Christ “Thy will be done” and picture His bleeding body, not able to stand because of the weight placed upon it; fully humbling itself before the great task of bearing us. This is why I hesitate to stand here in proclaim the opposite — but the spirit bears witness to me that I must, so I will: I proclaim the Atonement to be an act of radical rebellion, of disruptive inclusion, and of revolutionary queerness. Today, I am here to expound on what I have learned upon pondering on the queerness of the Atonement of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
From Alma and Isaiah, I early learned that Jesus Christ died for our sins. This is, in fact, the central affirmation of Christianity. However, I was often intrigued into the apparently expanding power of the atonement that Mormonism teaches: that not only did he bear our sins, but our infirmities he bore. Our pains, our struggles, our temptations did he bear. Mormonism had indeed brought a new Atonement into the Christian playing field — one that wasn’t accomplished on the cross, but that was rather achieved while in the Garden.
When applied to my own life, the atonement seemed absurd. How could Christ comprehend the pubescent desires of my homosexual youth? Did he suddenly become aroused at the thought of John, His beloved while in Atoning prayer? If the Atonement is what it claims to be, I thought, then Christ must know what it is like. He must know of the intense sexual feelings that I experienced often. Not only that, he must know of the infatuation that I felt for that boy, David, back in 9th grade, and he must know about the anxiety of walking into that gym room and try to avoid or conceal an erection, and he must definitely know that these feelings were also causing me to wake up every morning and wish I were dead.
In the words of Tad R. Callister,
“This was a personalized, not a mass atonement. Somehow, it may be that the sins of every soul were individually (as well as cumulatively) accounted for, suffered for, and redeemed for, all with a love unknown to [humanity]… One reading of Isaiah suggests that Christ may have envisioned each of us as the atoning sacrifice took its toll — "when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed" (Isaiah 53:10; emphasis added; see also Mosiah 15:10–11). Just as the Savior blessed the “little children, one by one” (3 Nephi 17:21); just as the Nephites felt his wounds “one by one”(3 Nephi 11:15); just as he listens to our prayers one by one; so, perhaps, he suffered for us, one by one.”
My initial realization was that this Atonement we Mormons speak of is nothing like any other expiatory sacrifices preached by Christianity. Most focus on the cross, many speak of the pain and the blood. The crown remains a painful symbol for many, and the marks of the nails on his hands and feet hold perpetual presence on the altars of the world. However, this Mormon Atonement spoke, not of thorns nor of nails, but of pains and of sorrows. This Christ that we preach is nothing like the other Christs, because the power of our Christ does not reside in a wound, but in an embrace — an embrace that, once and for all, destroyed any and all barriers that stood against divine empathy.
Because this Christ, at that moment, not being able to sustain Himself, knew exactly what every moment of my life would be like; and furthermore, he lived every second of it with me. Indeed, this Christ was brown and was black. Christ was pregnant, She was trans. Christ’s body was left dead in a bag, having succumbed to HIV in 1985. Christ was homeless and destitute, hungry and cold. Surely She hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Her stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But She was wounded for our transgressions, She was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Her; and with Her stripes we are healed. And just like that face of disgust and disapproval my loved ones would make as I explained to them that I indeed love men, that same face of white pride that recurrently appears in my life telling me to go back to Mexico, just like that, She is despised and rejected of men; a Woman of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Her; She was despised, and we esteemed Her not. Yet, it was this despising, this rejection, this discrimination — the endurance of racism, sexism, colonization, and every single form of oppression — it was this suffering that brought Christ to the powerful place They now hold. I propose to you today that our Mormonism proclaims and necessarily claims a Queer Christ. A Christ that is nothing like any other Christs, and that makes our Gospel a Queer Gospel.
Now, as an agnostic atheist, I stand clear in the physical impossibility of a person being able to defy time and space in an event designed to experience the entirety of humanity in a single evening. This, however, should be no determent to find moral analogies that can prove to expand my ability to love, to embrace, and to stand for the improvement of humanity. Indeed, the Mormon Christi Myth, I believe, is a strong case for social justice, love and human rights. The Queer atonement provides a clear example as to how to best engage in allyship to oppressed communities. In preparation for this event, Christ often dined and conversed with those deemed sinners. Christ listened to their stories and stood in defense of the poor, the ill, and the oppressed. It was during the Atonement, however, that Christ was finally able to save, and this was only accomplished by a full embrace of another’s experience. The example was set, and as proclaimed Christians, we have no greater duty than to follow this example. I assume you have started this path, by choosing to listen to this queer feminist homosexual. In all seriousness, it is often said that the best allies are those who shut up and sit down. I believe this is exactly while Christ did while experiencing each of our lives. Indeed, Christ went out into the borderlands of our lives to be able to fully understand.
This is the call to action I leave today — a call for empathy and action, and a call for reaching out into those communities at the borderlands of current social orders. Even when solidarity asks us to put away our privilege, even if we are crowned with thorns, and even if we have to redistribute our own wealth — which would arguably hurt some folks more than bleeding from every pore — yes, to put our privilege aside and engage in solidarity at the borderlands: that is our call.
I leave with warning as well.
Mormonism was queer at its beginnings — so much that it produced a persecuting reaction from mainstream Christianity. Attacked and deprived, early Mormons found refuge in the Inter-mountain West. However, bigotry prevailed against them for many decades. The Church, in its attempt to share goodness with others and erase such discrimination, started trying to appeal to the American Empire. So much, that it has embedded itself in it. Embracing its racism, its colonization, its sexism, and its endless lists of phobias, the Church has lost much by choosing to look like the world, instead of being a bastion for queerness and a pillar of light in a desert. May we not make the same mistake. We are a peculiar people. We are not the same as the world. I do not say this with a sense of superiority, but with a sense of pride in a community of fighters who have chosen to embrace. A group of those who reject the idea that anyone is too small, too ugly, or too despicable to not deserve redemption.
A group of queer Christians indeed.