Greater NW Pride: LGBTQ+ Families and the Holy Family



LGBTQ+ Families and the Holy Family

With “Merry Christmas” on the lips of many in many churches in the US in the past few weeks—with simply a pause to first wish you a “Blessed Advent” first for those in the theological and church-holy-day “know”—the focus on December 24thand 25th, is all about family. Granted, it is the date that was chosen generations ago to be the day that we would celebrate the birth of the Christ child, though biblical scholars continually remind us that keeping sheep out in the fields is a spring thing, not a winter thing. And it does get cold in Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the winter. The “rise” of the family-focus of Christmas began in the 19thcentury in the US and other parts of the western world, with the “rise” of the romantic idea of “childhood,” and thus the rise of the toy industry at the turn of the 19th-20thcentury. Indeed, our modern concept of Santa Claus is a well-known 19th-20thcentury construction as well.
The modern family focus of modern, western Christmas is fascinating. Even though the “modern nuclear family” has, for the most part, died in our modern world today, there are vestiges of it, in which many cleave to the notion that family is a mom, a dad, two children, and a pet or two, “and they lived happily ever after.” What is amazing when reading the story of the birth of Jesus from Matthew 1:18-25, it is apparent that the biblical family is anything but “normal” or “sane.” What I appreciate about reading Matthew 1:18-25 (which was the Gospel selection in the Revised Common Lectionary for the fourth Sunday of Advent), is that Joseph didn’t quite know what to do about Mary and this unexpected, unexplained, unannounced pregnancy. And imagine Mary’s surprise to be chosen by God! A young woman who was considered a refugee in an occupied land; an unwed teen who is pregnant. It is clear in Scripture that only God could save this messed up union, this about-to-fall-apart-couple, who are known as Mary and Joseph, who made it through the mess, and became known as the Holy Family. Praise be to God for a messy narrative about the birth of Jesus!
The reason I’m glad for a messy narrative is because I, as a gay dad, often experienced Christmas as a messy time of year because of our family’s narrative. This focus on the modern family in our celebration of Christmas has given us an opportunity to consider who or what family is included in the celebration of family, and which families are still considered outsiders; marginalized; not “normal” families, a.k.a., LGBTQ+ headed households and our families. When I was a gay dad of two young children, early on after I separated and divorced from the mother of our children, we all had to choose which meal would be shared in which home for the holidays. 
Sadly, I continue to read stories on Facebook and other social media outlets, in which there is a question raised about the legitimacy of a gay couple’s papers to adopt children from other countries. There are stories in which school teachers shame children who have two gay dads. There are stories of churches that still deny LGBTQ+ couples and our children participation in certain sacred rituals, such as baptism. And the list goes on, which it will for a while, because we are still the first generation of LGBTQ+ parents, now grandparent for me as well, in which we are writing the first narratives, telling the first stories, of what it is like to raise children as LGBTQ+ parents in today’s world.

So, in this family-centric modern holiday which we call Christmas, non-LGBTQ+ friends, please move over on the sofa as we take our family pictures. Welcome our families when we come to sing “Silent Night” with candles lifted high on the 4thverse. And embrace the messiness of our families, as we accept the messiness of your family as well. After all, just like the Holy Family, we too are dependent on the Spirit of God to make it through these days and thrive in this world as well! 
Merry Christmas!

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!