It had been a long, hard journey. Sold into slavery, having endured a precarious rise to power in the Egyptian court and now confronted with the knowledge that he has saved the very brothers who had sought to destroy him, Joseph cried out to them, “I am your brother,” and fell into weeping.
“I am your brother.” This poignant, memorable, heart-rending scene from the book of Genesis teaches us clearly how important it is to be able to honestly name who we are and who we love. It reveals that it is the greatest of gifts to be able to say without constraint, “I love you,” to say those words clearly, freely and joyfully. It makes it clear that it can be life-saving to step out of the closet and speak freely of who we love.
For a brief moment, let’s look at one of the most well-known stories of the Bible, Peter’s denial of Jesus, through this lens. Jesus had been arrested, was enduring the mockery of a trial and would soon be crucified. As his followers waited outside, around a fire, someone said to Peter, “I know you. You’re the chief assistant of that guy they just arrested.” Peter denied any connection to, any relationship with or any love for, Jesus. It happened a second time. It happened a third.
When the weight of what he had done hit him, Peter was broken. His relationship to Jesus was the very core of his life. Yet, when given a chance to declare it, Peter lied. Peter has sacrificed everything to follow Jesus. Yet, when it mattered most, he tried to keep it hidden. Who can live like that? Peter’s denial hurt him, it hurt Jesus, it hurt the community. When we cannot, do not, speak freely of who we love, pain rules.
However, in many cultures, communities, churches, GLBTQ persons are told, “We like you but we don’t want to know who you love. Can you just be quiet about that? We don’t need to know about your private life.” Yet, the truth is unassailable. We are defined by who we love. When permission is not given to speak openly, honestly and joyfully in this regard, pain rules.
Take this reality a step further. There are communities, congregations and families in which love is not only silenced but assaulted. GLBTQ persons are told that if they would get their relationship with God right their “unnatural” desires would go away. Desperately, some try to “pray the gay away.” Some do themselves physical harm, even taking their own lives.
Some are subjected to conversion therapy, a medical practice outlawed in California, but which is still prevalent in religious circles. In a Good Faith Media article, Zach Dawes Jr. notes that a study released in 2020 found that 7% of people in the U.S. have experienced conversion therapy, with religious leaders carrying our 81% of the reported instances of such therapy.
The findings revealed that individuals who had undergone conversion or reparative therapy were far more likely to contemplate, plan and attempt suicide than those who did not encounter such therapies.
Because we are defined by who we love, we need Pride Sunday. We need to be able to name our love honestly. Joseph needed to say “I am your brother.” His brothers needed to hear it. Peter was broken when he could not find a way to say “I am with Jesus.”
Human beings need, especially in their families, their workplaces and their religious communities, to be able to define who they love and the ways in which that love defines them. Such honesty brings life to our souls and grace to our communities.