By Eli Palacios
A friend of mine was recently ordained by the United Church of Christ and installed as a pastor in a congregation. As I witnessed these events, I felt joy and wonder: the younger me who grew up in church could have never imagined a queer same gender loving person being celebrated and welcomed into ministry. Seeing her with her wife by her side at the installation service renewed a sense of hope that the church is moving toward justice – becoming a church where all are rendered visible and worthy.
As a queer Latinx Catholic teenager who, at that time, identified as female, it was hard to believe that God could work in someone like me to lead. My faith community marginalized me because I was queer. They believed that the only people who could lead were straight cisgender men. Though I sought to know God, the messages I heard from their pulpit kept me from understanding the fullness of God’s love and my calling. When I left my South Texas home and faith community to attend Brown, a predominantly white and liberal East Coast school, I struggled to reconcile my queer and Christian identities. I kept them separate in my day-to-day interactions with others and within myself.
During this time in my early 20s, I began to understand the importance of having a community. I started experiencing the healing power of being in spaces with people of color from various religious backgrounds. I came to fully accept myself – a queer Latinx gender non-conforming person – as worthy of God’s love and grace. Yet, in this space I almost walked away from God as many others had because we were marginalized in Christian spaces and deemed less worthy of God’s love. I understood that I was made to be loved and to love just as I was, but I did not see examples of that reality in my faith communities.
One sunny afternoon on campus, however, I experienced what Rev. Laura Beth Buchleiter referred to as a “pivot point” at the 2022 QCF conference. Rev. S.Y.S., a campus minister I had never so much as had a conversation with previously, pulled me aside and in reminding me of God’s love and grace, led me to question the message that a queer person as myself could not be called to share the good news of the gospel. Holding on to that lie kept me from fully having a relationship with God, and letting it go brought me back to a path long laid before me. My calling was because of who God made me to be, not in spite of it.
Since then, as I have delved into my faith journey over the years, I have found relief and hope as I have found my story in Christ’s story among the margins. He reminds us that “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). I can imagine the displacement Jesus felt as others were outraged by his teaching about the fullness of God’s love (Luke 4:14-30). In the margins, Jesus found his disciples and gathered a community. In our marginalization, queer folx, BIPOC, trans folx, and women experience fellowship with Jesus and each other. Some in their privilege may not see these realities as they read the Bible, because privilege does not tell the story from the margins where Jesus taught, ministered and healed.1 However, the experience of community and healing we find in the margins, empowers us. This is key to dismantling systems of oppression deeply rooted in Christianity.
Systems of oppression seek to other people and keep God’s children from experiencing the fullness of God’s mercy, grace and love. I understand my calling to guide others in seeing the truth: we are all God’s children, made to be fully seen, valued and loved, and God has placed a calling on our lives to share this good news. Jesus Christ teaches us how to move justice forward, guiding us to create a church where all are rendered visible and worthy. As we find our stories within Jesus’ story in the margins, we honor our lived experience and identify our pivot points: in the places where we have been rendered invisible and deemed unworthy, we reintroduce our stories and celebrate the healing we find in community with our chosen family by being fully seen as God created us to be.
Empowered by our awakening to the truth that we are the church Jesus speaks of, we reinsert ourselves as central to the story. In doing so, we show the fullness of grace found in recognizing ourselves as created in the divine image. In loving ourselves fully as man, woman, neither or both, we show that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). Though this message has fallen on many deaf ears in our hometowns, we move forward. We make visible the image of God in those bodies that have been made invisible in the margins by calling to leadership women, queer folx, trans and non-binary folx, persons with disabilities, etc. We share our stories in person, online, in small groups and especially in church services. We create spaces where marginalized people are fully seen and celebrated, honored as those God has called to lead.
Our call to move toward justice requires us to see the bondage we experience as marginalized people. We have been othered in our congregations and other areas of service. This marginalization is a tool of oppression: it aims to separate us from the fullness of God’s grace and love and our purpose, to render us invisible. But they forget – Jesus himself led from the margins. As we connect with his story, we understand the power we have together to render the whole church visible and worthy. This idea continues to help me recognize the divine image within me and all others around me, and inch my way toward justice.
I turn 38 this month. It has been 19 years since that pivot point that helped me see myself – a Latinx trans-masc non-binary person – as fully loved. I see my calling to ministry more clearly. I have been a full-time educator for over 15 years, a community faith leader for the last several years, and am now a seminary student. I am grateful for my experience and honor my journey. Joining Jesus’ ministry in the margins, I have the charge to move the church and world toward justice, empowering those on the margins to see the fullness of Christ within themselves. After recently stepping away from serving as pastor of a non-denominational church, I am asking myself where my ministry will lead. What is my next step in helping the church become a place were justice exists for all folx, especially those that have been marginalized? In a recent conversation with someone seeking pastoral care, I was reminded that the work I do, no matter the position or context, all contributes to creating a church where we are rendered visible and worthy.
Eli is from south Texas and has devoted his life’s work to supporting educational equity and educator effectiveness for the last 15 years. In recent years, he has transitioned to supporting LGBTQ+ Christians in their journey towards accepting the affirming love of God in their lives. He is passionate about sharing the good news of the Gospel, creating community spaces for faith sharing, preaching about the affirming love of God, doing kingdom work with his wife who is on staff at Q Christian Fellowship, and being an advocate for animals in need.
- Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne by Wilda C. Gafney