Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17
Jesus, The Golden Girls, and Relationship Anarchy
Grace and peace to you from God the Creator, Christ the Resurrected One, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lately, I have been on a Golden Girls kick. Before watching, I only knew what I imagine many of us who haven’t watched the show know – it’s about four older women, their lives, and their friendship. It’s a classic, you can always find a re-run playing somewhere, and it’s a show that people continue to return to.
What I didn’t realize when I started the show was that the four women – Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche, and Rose – a mother-daughter duo and two unrelated women – all lived together, and form a family. In some ways, they chose to live together, agreeing to be roommates, and chose how to live together, negotiating groceries, overnight guests, time together. In other ways, these women were brought together by chance – answering a “seeking roommates” posting. And through that combination of chance and choice, they became family.
Many relationships in our lives have this balance of chance and choice. The people we meet are largely by chance – where we were born, our family background, connections made through other people, or our interests and hobbies. But these relationships are also chosen – who do we invest our time and energy with? Who are the people we are fully ourselves with? Who do we reach out to when we have life-altering news – whether that news is joyous or mournful?
A term that is often used for these close relationships in the LGBTQIA+ community is “queer chosen family” – the people who are family, even though they’re not related by blood. Or “queer platonic partners” – the people you couldn’t imagine your life without, even if they are not partnerships as recognized by the state, that you might choose to live with, and build a life with. Even though none of the main characters identify as LGBTQIA+, I think one reason the Golden Girls has such resonance in queer communities is that the four women are such a strong example of chosen family and platonic partnership. I would also say that they are practicing relationship anarchy, a way of structuring your life around principles such as “love is abundant, and every relationship is unique.” While the women do cycle through different romantic partners, those relationships do not automatically become more important than their friendships. Their friendships don’t always come easily, but they stay committed to each other. They recognize that their different relationships fill different needs, and how important their chosen family is to each of them.
We also see examples of these closely chosen relationships in families that have been connected through divorce or adoption, sororities and fraternities, and monastic and vowed communities. The importance and value placed on these platonic relationships offers an alternative to one of the common narratives we are surrounded by in media and society – the pressure that we are each meant to find one person, who fulfills us romantically and sexually, who we will marry and prioritize that relationship above all others. This “one-person-to-fill-all-needs” mentality is really toxic – it isolates people from their communities and close friendships, and isn’t actually representative of how many people live. It forces us into a mindset of scarcity – that we only have so much love, so much care, and all of those resources are to be funneled at one person. This is instead of living into the reality that love is abundant, and that we form different types of bonds with different people – and those relationships are holy.
Jesus and his disciples can be read as an example of a queer chosen family, or as a group of people practicing relationship anarchy, centering on the principle of abundant love. This is a community of individuals, some siblings, but mostly unrelated, from a range of backgrounds and professions, who have both chanced upon each other, and chosen to be in relationship with each other. Jesus directly called some of them, others came to him, all through the grace and abundant love of God. Jesus chose who to be vulnerable with, and who to teach more closely. Panning out, Christ freely chooses to love us – we can’t earn that love, because it’s already given – but the disciples choose to stay in relationship with Jesus, to be with him. They don’t leave. Even after betrayals and violence and the mystery of the Resurrection, most of the disciples stayed together, bonded through their love of Christ and their shared history.
This type of relationship – rooted in abundant love and care – might’ve been new for some of the disciples. It can be extremely challenging to reconstruct social norms after centuries have passed, but if we think in our context, men especially are not encouraged to form close relationships outside of romantic partners. And so, in addition to Jesus modeling an expanded type of relationship structure – honoring those who are platonically close to us – he also models a picture of masculinity that is rooted in abundant love and friendship.
Jesus and his disciples are intimately close – eating together, traveling together, experiencing moments of great joy, and deep grief. In today’s piece of the farewell discourse, one of the most compelling moments to read these relationships as a chosen family is when Jesus says they are no longer servants, but friends. This is a leveling of their relationship dynamic, Jesus sharing how important, how close, the disciples are to him. There isn’t a hierarchy, no matter how much some of the disciples want one, but instead a diverse range of valued relationships. Jesus’ friendship with Peter is different than Peter’s and John’s friendship, or Thomas’ and Jesus’. But all are important, and meaningful. This leveling also puts the disciples into a deeper relationship with God – Jesus has shared with them all he can, and they are now free to continue a direct relationship with God, and to go forth in Jesus’ name.
Through all of this Jesus is the model. His ministry, his life, how he moved through the world – has not only modeled for the disciples how to love, how to build close relationships, but models it for us as well. And we are commanded to live out that love. To love one another as Jesus loves us.
This commandment is a challenge. How do we love others in the way they want to be loved? How do we love in a way that honors all of Creation? How are we, who have bad days, have disagreements, have differences – supposed to love as abundantly and freely as Jesus did? Genuinely, not superficially?
This commandment is a gift. It allows us to ask – how do we love others in a way that is rooted in joy? In abundance? How can our faith, our belief in the Trinity, shape how we move in the world? Shape the way we love? How can this love transform us, and transform the world?
Because like the Golden Girls, like Jesus and the disciples, church communities, at their best and healthiest, are chosen families bound together with a mix of chance and continued choice. There is an unfathomable range of diversity, reflecting how the Holy Spirit continues to pour out into us, like she did with the early church in Acts. There is common ground, united by belief in God. There are a range of relationships that are formed, just as important as other relationships that you might have in your life. There is a shared desire to follow God’s commandments, loving others as Jesus loves us.
The communities of St. John’s exist under this model of a queer chosen family, no matter our sexuality or gender identity. Even as I know many in our community are not LGBTQIA+, I know many who are, and I think it’s so important to uplift transformation instead of assimilation – the LGBTQIA+ community has valuable things to teach about relationships structures and the necessity of forming a range of meaningful relationships, values that are echoed in Jesus’ ministry.
At St. John’s, close platonic relationships are valued and invested in; there is a deep desire to know and love God, in our individual lives and collectively; and there is lived knowledge at how harmful the systems of the world-as-is can be, and the importance of imagining a transformed world.
Those who join us on Sunday mornings share prayer concerns with each other, find moments of connection even during a Zoom service, visit and talk with each other, and are attentive to life events outside of the church.
Those who are connected with Theatre at St. John’s have come together with a range of experiences and from different locations, encouraging one another to create new work, workshopping and sharing generously, attending performances and readings.
Those involved in the Inspirational Gospel Showcase have formed a strong group, everyone finding roles that they care deeply about and are well-suited to, keeping each other updated on the joys and hardships they are experiencing, coming together with passion and beauty.
And beyond the connected communities of St. John’s, we each practice the values of these close chosen families in our daily lives. In our relationships with best friends, family, if you are partnered, loving one another can look like being vulnerable with others, taking each relationship on it’s own terms, and being a person that others can be their authentic self with.
In our relationship with our wider communities, loving one another can look like advocating for policies that reflect Jesus’ abundant love and care, such as accessible healthcare and housing, and interrogating where some of our beliefs and actions might not be reflecting genuine love.
In our relationship with the global community, loving one another can look like staying attentive to what is happening in other countries, reading non-US news sources, and living in a way that recognizes we are all connected – from the water we drink to the air we breathe.
Jesus calls us to love one another.
To love one another abundantly, with care, through conflict.
To love one another as Jesus loves us.
To invest deeply in our relationships, in the families formed by choice and chance.
To return to the love Jesus pours out on us as we live our lives.
To trust that in that very love, our joy is complete.
May you be so filled with the love of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit that that very love overflows into all that you are, and all that you do. Amen.
Vicar Reed Fowler,