Never to Be Allowed in the Lord’s Assembly – A Bisexual Sermon on Ruth 1

This sermon was first preached for a virtual service of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Kennewick, WA as part of a series featuring LGBTQIA+ and/or BIPOC preachers.

Relevant readings can be found here.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

My name is Pastor Elle Dowd. I use pronouns like she or they. I am an author, activist, and ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 

I’m also queer. And my path to ordination in this church was not always sure or clear.

I first felt a call to ministry at the age of seven. I heard about unrest in the Middle East and said to my mom, “I have to go there!” I always had a sense that ministry was about being present with people who were suffering. As I got older, my call to ministry got stronger and my understanding deepend. By the time I was a teenager I knew I wanted to be a pastor…although growing up in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa, I hadn’t met a lot of women who were pastors.

And definitely not any that were queer. 

I grew up in a church with a narrow, oppressive sexual ethic and I got the message loud and clear that who I was as a bisexual person was against God’s divine will. 

When I questioned what I had been taught about sexuality in the church, I was told, “Gods word is clear!” I was quoted proof texts from the law or pieces of Paul’s letters. Hearing those verses I thought maybe they were right. Maybe “Gods word is clear” about what God thinks about people like me. 

And yet at the same time I was learning more about my call to ministry, I was also learning more about myself and realizing what I had tried to suppress for years…try as I might to deny it, I’m queer. I’m queer. I’m queer and “Gods word is clear” about what that means…I could never ever ever be a pastor in the church I loved so dearly. 

I spent many sleepless nights crying out to God in the dark, begging through tears for God to change me … or to change the church.

And my prayers were answered. God didn’t make me straight, thanks be to God. But God did begin transformative work in the ELCA. And in 2009 the ELCA churchwide assembly voted to give congregations the option to call LGBTQIA+ pastors.

My home congregation voted to leave the ELCA after that decision. My vocal disagreement with their decision was enough to kick me out, too. I wasn’t even out to them at that point as bisexual, but even allying myself with LGBTQIA+ people and making waves in the congregation was enough for the pastor to say to me, “Maybe we would be more comfortable and you would be more comfortable” if I went …somewhere else. 

My queer identity…especially as a bisexual femme, meant that I did not fit easily into the church’s boxes and therefore, I was not easily controlled. I was a threat. 

Of course I am before you today preaching in a collar so this isn’t where my call story ended. I was accepted into loving church spaces with leaders who recognized my call and nurtured my gifts. But my ordination process wasn’t smooth sailing from there on out. Every step of the way there were people who thought I was too much – too queer, too mouthy, too femme, too …whatever. They had an idea of what it meant to be a pastor, and I wasn’t it. It was truly a full on miracle that I was actually ordained.

Throughout history in every generation the people of God have had to wrestle with all kinds of questions, including questions like this. Questions about who is in? And who is out? Who is worthy? Who makes the cut? Who counts as one of us?

The Moabites were a tribe in the ancient near east, relatives of Israel. But the Moabites? They were of, let’s say, questionable origin. And when the Moabites refused to help the Israelites or show them hospitality when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, the Moabites became enemies of Israel. Scripture was full of all kinds of judgment against Moab and the Moabites.

The prophet Ezekiel records God as saying,

“Because Moab said, ‘Look, Judah’s nothing special,’ I’ll lay wide open the flank of Moab by exposing its lovely frontier villages to attack… I’ll lump Moab in with Ammon and give them to the people of the east for the taking…I’ll punish Moab severely. And they’ll realize that I am God.”

And the prophet Isaiah writes that Moab is,

“Arrogant, self-important, insufferable,

    full of hot air.” 

And then gives the ominous prophecy,

“So now let Moab lament for a change,”

On the question of the Moabites, I can almost hear the Israelite people saying, “God’s word is clear!”

It is written in the law, in Deuteronomy:

“No…Moabite is to enter the congregation of God, even to the tenth generation, nor any of his children, ever….Don’t even try to get along with [those Moabites] or do anything for them, ever.”

And yet today we read the story of Ruth. A Moabite.

Once upon a time there was a man, an Israelite. But there was a famine in Israel that was so severe that he left his town, Bethlehem – whose name means “House of Bread” – to go to the desert of Moab. That’s how bad things were in Israel in the time of the Judges. The normally verdant land of Palestine was so barren that this man, Elimilech, thought he would have better luck in the sand dunes of his enemies than in the House of Bread. 

The Israelite Elimilech went to Moab with his Israelite wife Naomi and his two sons. And each of his Israelite sons married Moabite women. Which is scandalous, honestly, especially because Moabite women had the reputation of leading Israelite men into idolatry by converting them to worship their own gods. 

But tragedy struck. Naomi lost her husband and both of her sons. Naomi heard that the famine had ended in Israel and so she set off towards her homeland…without her partner, without her sons, her baby boys. And all Naomi was left with in the midst of this trauma were these two Moabite daughters in law.

One of these Moabite daughters in law was named Ruth.

At first, both of Naomi’s daughters in law tried to remain with her. But Naomi reminded them that there was nothing there for them. That she had no more sons to give them as husbands. One daughter in law kissed Naomi and headed home to her mother’s house in Moab. 

But Ruth was stubborn. 

Scripture tells us that Ruth “clung” to Naomi, the same Hebrew word used in Genesis to talk about the ways that in marriage two partners “cling” to one another and become one flesh.

Naomi seems almost annoyed when she tells Ruth, “Listen. Look. Your sister in law has gone back to her people. You should really go back to where you came from too.”

And in return, Ruth pledges her devotion saying,

““Do not press me to leave you,

    to turn back from following you!

Where you go, I will go;

    where you lodge, I will lodge;

your people shall be my people

    and your God my God.

Where you die, I will die,

    and there will I be buried.

May the Lord do thus to me,

    and more as well,

if even death parts me from you!””

In response to this outpouring of devotion, in response to this ardent declaration of love, in response to this pledge of loyalty, what Ruth receives from Naomi is….



Scripture says Naomi “said no more to her.”

Some scholars wonder if on top of the burden of grief that Naomi was carrying, she was also feeling burdened by Ruth who refused to just go. Imagine coming back home after this tragedy, back to Israel from Moab, Israel which so clearly had generations and generations of enmity against Moab. This was an ongoing, decades long feud. There were laws written against being kind to Moabites. There were prophetic judgements against them. I imagine that Naomi might have been concerned…would she still be received back by her people if she brought one of them with her?

Besides the queer overtones that many theologians have noted in this passage of a woman proclaiming love and devotion to another woman, there is a lot of resonance in this story for me, too. Generations of LGBTQIA+ people have been told that we are enemies of God, outside of the natural order. We have been told that we should not be allowed in the assembly, should not be included in God’s temple. We have been told our identity is inherently sinful, our unions are not to be blessed, our leadership is not to be trusted. 

And yet, despite so many roadblocks, despite abuse, despite physical and financial hardship, despite sacrifice, so many LGBTQIA+ Christians have stayed. We have proclaimed our devotions to God’s people and to the Church.

We have pleaded, “Do not press me to leave you,

    to turn back from following you!”

We have promised, “Where you go, Church, I will go;

    where you lodge, I will lodge;

your people shall be my people

    and your God my God.

Where you die, I will die,

    and there will I be buried.”

We have taken our vows seriously, we know what is at stake.

We’ve promised,

“May the Lord do thus to me,

    and more as well,

if even death parts me from you!”

We have chosen life in the Church over and over again…even as the Church itself proclaimed death to us. 

It pains me to say this, but even many of the people who call themselves our allies often falter. In response to our devotion, we were urged to ask for less, to make ourselves smaller, to be grateful for crumbs, to just wait a little longer.  We were told, in word but more often in deed by the ones who love us, that identities were breaking too many rules, our love was too risky to go to bat for, that we had to compromise our liberation for unity, that we had to silence our pain in order to make other people’s bigotry more comfortable.  

And yet, as you will read in the coming weeks, Ruth’s story does not end here. She is not only accepted into Israelite society, but God gives her a prominent place. 


A Moabite. 

One never to be allowed in the Lord’s assembly. 

Was welcomed into the tribe of Israel.

Became the great-grandmother of King David. 

And a direct ancestor of Jesus. 

This is the way that God works. The arc of the Gospel bends more and more towards justice, towards liberation. It keeps unfolding itself, more and more open, to include more and more people.

And God does not just include the Moabites, the outsiders, the queers, the Ruths. God puts them at the center.

In God’s coming kindom, LGBTQIA+ people will not have to bow our heads and thank cis-het people for the scraps from their tables at church. We will not only be welcomed to these tables. No. We will be hosting them.

There are times when churches are talking about becoming more affirming that people fear that they will become the Gay Church. And some people try to assure them, oh no, no one is trying to make you become the gay church. We just want you to be welcoming to gay people.

But when I hear people say they worry that they will become the Gay Church, I think to myself


Our queerness is a God given gift, not a liability. And the church needs the gifts of queerness. 

Over and over throughout salvation history we see that God takes the rejected, the outcast, and not only redeems them but gives them a special place. According to all of the rules, Ruth should not have been accepted into Israelite society. And yet, she was not only accepted but given special honor. 

In return for embracing God’s love for Ruth, God’s people gained so much. We gained the story of her faithfulness, a witness to inspire us. We gained an ancestor who brought forth King David, an iconic leader of Israel. And through her lineage we gained Jesus, the savior of the world.

As the Church learns to embrace God’s love for LGBTQIA+ people…as the Church learns to CELEBRATE us, not just tolerate us…the Church will gain gifts too. 

Gifts of our witness and faithful example. Gifts of playfulness. Gifts of subversion. Gifts of resilience.

The very gifts the Church of our day so desperately needs.

Thanks be to God. 

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