Begat. Begat. Tower of Babel. Begat.
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”
Genesis 11:5-6 (NIV)
Kyle was a mess. Mom dead; Dad strung out on whatever and fading. He had just turned 19 and had begun to feel the pressure of adulthood. No job, no education, no drive to get educated. He had just struck up a relationship with this guy, a friend of a friend. First boyfriend. They had never met – yeah, they only talked via text message – and so I thought, well maybe that’s not a real boyfriend, but I wasn’t about to discourage him. He had had enough of that. I barely remembered him until he linked me an old picture of us, and then it clicked. Kyle. I was his Bible study leader when I was 19, and he was 12. He was assigned to my group when I interned at my church for a bit. For one semester. Four months. His family moved to the Pacific Northwest; I never saw him again.
But despite our limited relationship, he remembered me, and now he needed help –immediately. He felt life slipping away from him, and he remembered me as one of the few people that actually cared about him. He had questions of faith, of his homosexual lifestyle, of his doubts and hang-ups and, as he said, the piece of shit cards that life had dealt him recently. He recalled that I had made him feel close to God, and that comforted him when he was younger. Now he sought the same. Say something to make me feel close to God again.
I balked. I listened to Kyle’s woes but offered no advice. I wanted to tell him that I had lost my faith, that I was queer and also felt out of place, but my more esteemed side led me to remain silent. After hours of hearing his stories, I ended the conversation with an ellipsis.
In a moment of confusion, I contacted my old boss from that internship long ago – Pastor Hank. He sounded genuinely thrilled to hear from me; I was always one of his favorite interns, he recalled. For a few minutes, we played the catch up game, remembering the craziness of that summer seven years ago: the sweaty camping trip to the mountains, the sermons about peer pressure and budding desire, the varied personalities of the students. Pastor Hank was a middle schooler trapped in an adult’s body; his voice even hovered in a mid-pubescence cadence– grainy yet high-pitched. My heart swelled. I loved this guy; I loved being his guy. He endowed so much responsibility to me that summer – with dominion over small groups and sermons. I wasn’t his intern. I was his partner – his guy.
It had been some time since we had last spoke, so he was unaware of my newly emboldened sexuality. And I did not share it with him. No, no, I couldn’t. To destroy that image in a moment, I couldn’t. In a moment of painful doubt, I realized that I still had something to lose by disappointing him. His waning opinion of me was a threat to my self-esteem, to my ability to keep one foot planted on both sides of the religious fence. I was a traitor to both my queer brothers and my Christian brethren. I belonged nowhere in that moment.
But Pastor Hank was charismatic, and he surmised quickly that I was no longer a faithful follower. Why the phone call? I mustered the energy to tell him about Kyle. His cheerful pitch dropped slightly. I wouldn’t tell him anything, Pastor Hank suggested. Refer him back to our church. Tell him we’d love to hear from him again. The conversation ended quickly with a hard stop.
In Genesis, the flood epic is immediately followed by a list of the descendants linking Noah to Abram. In the middle of all this begatting, we jump into an aside about the Tower of Babel. It’s an incredibly short story comprised of a mere nine verses that outline the origin of languages on Earth. Unspecified “people” moved eastward and began building a large tower to the heavens. God saw this ambition and worried about the capability of man working as a unit, so he confused their language and spread them about the Earth. If left to our unified vices, God surmised “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”
This just isn’t the same all-powerful God I remember learning about in Sunday School. Am I to understand that humanity, if united, actually poses a threat to the Creator of the universe? It is a core tenant of Christianity that God is an omnipotent and omnipresent deity, capable of literally anything, yet in these first eleven chapters of the Bible, a very different picture is presented. We have a God who searches, regrets, and worries – a very human and vulnerable God. When we encounter enigmatic passages in the Bible, we are told to count it as one of the unknowable mysteries of God. Perhaps God is so powerful that He even withholds certain abilities from Himself. Perhaps He allows Himself to feel the emotions that have a grapple hold on the behavior of His creatures, and this apparent weakness in His personality is just one way that He relates to us.
Or perhaps I am participating in a massive game of mental gymnastics in an attempt to justify the illogical passages of the Bible. I know that I am not a threat to God, because that notion is completely ridiculous – an example of where my intellect diverges from the unshakable Word. It reminds me of Greek mythology, when mortals somehow managed to manipulate and trick powerful beings in hilariously obtuse ways. What pathetic gods and goddesses.
I may not be a threat to God, but as a queer man, I am a threat to the modern Christian dynamic – several Christian law-makers have made this clear. I represent a viewpoint that is inherently dangerous to Christianity as I intellectualize what should be left alone, and I highlight the merits of a sexual orientation that is reprehensible. If I were to tell Kyle that his homosexuality is, at its worst, benign, then a Christian might say that my influence constitutes abuse with eternal ramifications. My teachings in self-reliance could be responsible for leading him straight to Hell. I refuse to believe that I hold such power.
To the Christian majority, I am a threat – to culture, to morality, to questioning young LGBT people, to heterosexuality, to marriage, to masculinity, to women, to men, to their children – but more than anything, I am a threat to myself. My soul is at stake. To them, I will one day have to take responsibility for that; I will answer for it. To them, when I stand before God, I will have no one to blame but myself. To them, I am threat.