Betrayal is one of those deliciously emotive words that feels as if ought to be more at home in tales of deceitful lovers, or treachery in medieval conflict. It’s also a word that features heavily in the minds of Christians at this time of year: the betrayal of Jesus Christ at the hands of his friend, Judas Iscariot.
Today is Maundy Thursday and as we draw to the close of the Lenten period we find ourselves at the beginning of the Easter weekend. It is a challenging time in the Christian calendar, one of confusing mixed emotion and the asking of difficult questions: “what happened to Judas?”, “can he really be to blame if Jesus’ death was all simply part of the Divine plan for redemption?”, and so on. It can also be an incredibly harsh time for queer Christians in particular: a time of year when we are increasingly likely forced to stare down challenges to our very identity and inclusion within the Church of Christ.
For many, this is routed in rejection: the Easter message is one for all of us, except those whose gender or sexual identity differs from the status quo. Many queer Christians face expulsion, exclusion and isolation and find festivals in the Christian calendar to be a time when this is particularly prevalent.
For others, this is routed in our relationship with betrayal: queer peoples of faith face betrayal in ways that our heterosexual peers often don’t. It is therefore in the story of Maundy Thursday, and Jesus’ last meal with his friends, that I would suggest that queer Christians have much to empathise with.
In the song simply called “Judas” by Lady Gaga, her lyrics speak of an unresolvable conflict between lovers based on what appears to be repeated instances of betrayal, using analogous imagery from the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.
“When he calls to me, I am ready I'll wash his feet with my hair if he needs Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain Even after three times he betrays me.”
These words strike at the heart of the issue for queer Christians: no matter how many times we are lied to, scapegoated, betrayed by the church, we can’t help but still come back and offer more of ourselves, seek roles of service, humble ourselves beyond anything our straight peers would consider acceptable.
And this betrayal often takes a physical form in the behaviour of those who we are most close to or have huge amounts of respect for. Those who have promised to nurture us, comfort us, walk with us, but who then turn their backs or publicly declare that they are not really for us, but against us; or those who choose power and progression over love and solidarity.
These forms of betrayal often come from those outside of the queer community, those who belong to established privileged groups who have long held the power. But more worryingly, betrayal can also come from within our own midst, just as it did for Jesus and Judas. As queer Christians we have a duty to stand for the weakest, the most marginalised, to challenge the ethnic status quo and break down barriers which have built upon colonialism; to champion our trans siblings and to allow their voices to be heard above the voice of the cis-gendered in a society that seeks to demonise them; to make our spaces accessible for all abilities in a world that increasingly favours the strongest, the fastest, the smartest. Yet, how easy is to feather our own nest, seek the safest path, abandon those who might slow us down or expose us?
The second verse of Gaga’s “Judas” is as follows:
“I couldn't love a man so purely Even prophets forgave his crooked way I've learned love is like a brick You can build a house or sink a dead body.”
As Christians in this profound season of redemption and restoration, are we choosing to sink the dead bodies of those we have betrayed along the way, or build a house in which all can find the peace and the love of the Divine? Whatever happened to Judas after that fateful night we can never know, but the lesson of betrayal within Maundy Thursday needs to resonate louder than it does today so that the church stops betraying her queer siblings, but also so that we stop betraying one another.