I like Neil Thomas for a lot of reasons. When I went to see him on Sunday, he was funny, smart and quite charming. He is also gay and good-looking, and he said, with a grin, that he’s “available.” And that British accent, as almost always, didn’t hurt.
The other thing I like about this Metropolitan Community Church minister is that he said what I’ve been saying. Or trying to say. He just said it so much better.
Born and raised and trained in England, Reverend Thomas is Senior Pastor of MCC, Los Angeles - the founding church in the progressive, inclusive Christian movement - and is well-known in England and the U.S for his social activism. He has been instrumental in numerous service programs, including for LGBT youths and people with HIV/AIDS and with alcohol and drug addictions, and is currently President of California Faith for Equality, promoting the legalization of same-sex marriage. On Sunday, he spoke to a LGBT-and-allies group that meets monthly at the congregational church here in Claremont.
After talking about coming out and being sexually active at 15 in a supportive if concerned family, with a very strong mother, and in a country that is somewhat more liberal than America, which was, as Thomas cheekily pointed out, founded by puritans who fled England, he went on to discuss queer theology, the subject of his Ph.D dissertation.
Like me, Thomas likes the word “queer,” whereas many people feel that it is more of a slur. I have always felt, though somewhat vaguely, that “queer” connotes a sense of comradery and a sense of empowerment, and this turned out to be Thomas’ point.
He explained that gay theology, such as is found at MCC, sees the Bible through a gay lens. Likewise, feminist theology sees the Bible through a feminist lens, and liberation theology sees the Bible through an impoverished people’s lens. To Thomas, this is all well and good, but it is limiting.
Thomas posited that all these people - LGBT, feminists, impoverished and others - are queer, in that they go against the grain of society. Moreover, it is these people that Jesus reached out to and defended, and it is these people who now illustrate Jesus’ message of radical love and inclusiveness. And all these queer folks can be stronger - and take back Jesus and his message which has been hijacked by the religious right - when they get together.
In answering a question, Thomas stated that progressive Christians are now where evangelicals were 50, before they started getting together and when they were seen as a weird fringe group. He also said that the problem progressive Christians have is that they’re too nice to each other - “You believe what you believe, and I believe what I believe” - and then can’t speak up and say anything.