Our final reflection on Pride Month and Lutheran theology, we have a fascinating piece by Sergio Edson Rodriguez – a latinx, synodically authorized minister in south Texas, and seminarian at Wartburg Theological Seminary. But as a gay Tejano living along la frontera (the borderlands between the United States and Mexico) Minister Rodriguez’s need for grace was very different than that of Luther’s. His exploration of this difference, mixed with his personal story, is the subject of this week’s post, and it is a marvelous one. So please, read, comment, and share!
Francisco Herrera – PhD student and Interim Blog Editor
This might sound quite odd to most of you but if I had not discovered the liberating message words of Satis Est in the Confesio, I would be stuck in the closet, living an unhappy life of machismo and self-loathing.
As the son of two Mexican immigrants on this side of La Frontera in the Rio Grande Valley, I grew up in an environment of ridged societal norms and work ethic based off of hay que sufrir. I was to be an hombre, a macho, a hardworking man who gave up everything for his wife and kids. I was to honor la familia and take care of mis padres all the while conquering the hearts (y honor) of many senoritas. And so when I was in the fifth grade, I started to notice my own eyes following the movements of many of my male classmates and my heart yearned to be together with my male best friend. What did this mean for me knowing what my abuelos, tios and papa week after week taught me about what it meant to be a hombre? What would happen to my relationship with my papa if he knew I started to have these odd feelings? I saw how my papa struggled to provide for our family in his construction jobs, how he rehearsed his answers to border patrol agents, how he showered my sister and I with such tender affection that I could not fear losing his love. So, I didn’t tell him.
Yet how could I stop being myself, a small, timid, passive child who at the drop of a hat would bawl his eyes out? Since I was used to being the butt of many jokes, being called Maricón for starts, I decided at a fairly young age to bury myself in the thin veneer of sports, clubs, music and video games as I attempted to make sense of who I was and what I was feeling.
I grew to loathe the deep inclinations of my heart as puberty increased my dissatisfaction with my nascent sexuality. It was at this time that I stopped attending la Misa at Our Lady of Sorrows in McAllen, TX because I could not see how any institution could tell me how to think or how not to be true to myself. And with this severing of my affiliation, the ax fell upon other identity markers of my youth as I struggled to make sense of my own beliefs and feelings: Español, followed by my own hatred of La Raza.
I was a Maricón and I didn’t feel that neither my father or the church understood what it meant when I longed to be loved by another man like me. So when it came time to go to college, I took the decision to go far away from mi familia y la raza at Baylor University. Finally, I would be among folks who would think to some degree like me; rational, liberal and etc… Of course I did not realize at the time that I was going to a conservative school with conservative classmates and required religion courses.
Again like in my childhood, I became the butt of many jokes but this time these really stung me; go back where you came from, wetback. These years of college made me yearn for the familiar rhythm of life where I could live and breathe the same air as my antepasados did as they toiled the contours of the North Mexican soil. So, I decided then to recover what I was able to as I studied in Waco; my Roman Catholic faith. So I returned back to the bosom of La Virgen de Guadalupe even though I knew that if I were to pursue the calling I had in my heart, that I would be celibate. But at that time, I rationalized the entire process. I would be like El Padrecito, like Cantinflas…
Luchando – fighting and struggling – for the marginalized of society. I would be a blessing to my papa y mama because I would be closer to God on their behalf.
But more so, I would finally win the battle over my self-loathing over my sexuality and ethnicity because the gracious merits of Christ would enable me to win my victory over these powers of wickedness.
La Virgen would enable me to win the crown of victory through my ministry. I would no longer be a queer disappointment but to be loved with all the crosses heaped upon me.
And so I began the sleepless nights, the scruples in, within and under Confession and Contrition, the utterances of a laundry list of litanies with the particular caveat of helping me not commit a mortal sin. But no matter what, I always found myself impeded from taking la hostia because deep down inside I felt a pull drawing me deeper and deeper into the pit of resentment, resentment because I knew that I hated being a maricón. With a deep sorrow weighing me down, I would leave la misa at St. Peter’s Student Center in Waco, TX with deep regret for not having tasted the sweet meal of salvation. This cycle came to a halt during a my senior year in college.
One Tuesday afternoon as I arrived to my apartment after class, I broke down. I broke down because enough was enough of this charade. I was tired of hating myself for being attracted to men and then almost breaking out in a cold sweat because I might have or not committed a mortal sin.
I just wanted grace. I just wanted love. I wanted Dioscito to look at me with tender eyes and hold me, hold me with a love that unconditionally accepts me just as I am.
Suddenly an odd thought came to mind; perhaps Dr. Luther was correct.
See for years, I had a zeal for the Roman Catholic faith that I attempted to do whatever it took to convert people back to Holy Mother church. So during the semester I broke down, I finished Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand for my History of Protestantism class. Here was a man who like me was seen in such a horrendous light and who also yearned for God as I did. Here was a man who loved his wife and children so tenderly that I found myself back in the arms of my own papa with every passing description of Luther’s love for his son, Hans. His message of justification by grace through faith warmed my heart; God in Jesus Christ unconditionally held me, a Queer Latino in his loving familia. Immediately, I phoned my only Lutheran friend with the desire to learn more about the Lutheran faith. The Book of Concord was the road he pointed me to; the road to Wittenburg. Quickly, I ran to the library and seized upon the Tappert edition and turned to the Augsburg Confession; the first Lutheran Symbol…
I devoured each article with such a hunger that could only be explained as my own personal Pentecost moment. There it was my vida, my faith, my hope that I would never again lose my cultura y my sexuality. La Misa was celebrated. La Virgen retained. La Hostia to be tasted with faith. La familia and ministry pursued together as sacred. But above all, God viewed me with the eyes of mercy and new life, me a Queer Latino hijo de imigrantes from la Frontera. Through God’s son, I felt my self-loathing melt away and give way to a life in the company of people like me.
Ya llegue. Satis Est. – I had made it. It (I) was enough
Even now as a Queer Latinx Luterano vicario (Latinix Lutheran vicar), I lean into my own encounter with the living God that Melanchthon and Luther proclaimed whenever I encounter other Queer Latinx folk who yearn for a place and a word that wrapped them in unconditional mercy.
As I look towards La Frontera and see the beautiful faces of la Raza struggling to come over to this country, I can not help but see in their lives, my own life. Their hopes as my hope. Their own struggles as my own. God’s grace for them as God’s grace for me.
Sergio Rodriguez is a word and sacrament candidate in the Southwestern Texas Synod and is a M.Div student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. Currently, he is a Synodically Authorized Minister at St. Paul’s Square Ministries (St. Paul Lutheran-Karnes City; St. Paul Lutheran-Nordheim).