Updated: Mar 17, 2019
This is a series on my experience as a gay Christian. It is my hope that this encourages and educates those who need it. I am queer, and I am a follower of Jesus. These identities are not contradictory.
“The reality is that God has already given you a seat at the table. Jesus has already invited you to take and eat. The Body of Christ is already Queer.”
– Caitlin J. Stout
To the non-affirming church:
This is your time to listen. I know your position regarding LGBTQ+ identities; you have had my whole life to teach me your doctrine. I know that your theology comes from a place of love, and that you only wish to do justice to your convictions, but now this is your time to listen. I understand that what I have to say is potentially threatening to your worldview, and that you will have ready-made rebuttals for my arguments. I’ve heard them all already. My sexuality is not a struggle. It is not a burden to be overcome. My struggle is with the knowledge that you have created an environment of self-hatred and inadequacy for some of your brothers and sisters. I love you, and I want you to continue to grow God’s kingdom, but this is your time to listen.
To homophobic church members:
In the kindest way possible, this is it. You lose. You have not beaten my love of the Bible, of Jesus, of the church, out of me. Rest assured, you will never do so. I have found the peace of Christ despite your snide remarks, your exclusion, your thinly veiled animosity toward people like me. I’m here to stay, despite your best effort to divorce my sexuality from my belief in Christ. I cannot have one without the other. You do not determine my spiritual status. I am not trying to be a Christian, I am a Christian. This post is not for you. I do not owe you an explanation, and I do not have to justify myself to you. I sincerely pray that this series helps to deepen your understanding of what it means to be queer and a follower of Christ, because I want you to find peace in yourself. I want you to be free of the sin of homophobia, just as much as you want me to be free of my supposed sin.
To my LGBTQ+ family:
This is for you if you’ve stayed up late worrying that who you are goes against God’s will. If you are crippled by the fear of being wrong, if you have ever felt like you had to give up your identity for a place in the church, if you constantly find yourself needing to defend your Christianity to others. You are loved and valued by God, and you are not alone. You are not a Christian “despite” your sexual orientation; you in your entirety belong to Jesus, if you want to. I understand if you are in a place where you cannot see God in your life, because I’ve been there too. Please know that there is a place for you in the kingdom, if you would like one. I really hope this helps you, empowers you, and strengthens your faith.
Chapter I: Church Camp, it’s queerer than you think.
Don’t laugh. Church camp is actually a really important chapter of my story. But when I say camp, I don’t mean the cabin kind. I mean the kind that is held at a university, where you stay in the dorms, and where the college students are your counselors. This story begins at such a camp, when I was 14. That was where I made my first queer friend, let's call him Josh. He was vibrant, witty, passionate, and unapologetically gay.
I didn’t know I was a lesbian at the time. I didn’t have the tools or the space to understand my sexuality. All I knew was that the church had told me homosexuality was a sin, and my parents had told me it was a mental illness. I became Josh's friend anyway, and that short friendship was one of the biggest blessings of my childhood. Hate the sin, love the sinner. That was what I told myself as he taught me sign language, quoted The Lion King with me, and gushed about his new boyfriend. All this time, that answer didn’t seem sufficient. It seemed neither right nor just that God would condemn someone for loving who he loved.
Josh and I slowly stopped corresponding, as camp friends always do. We still kept up with each other’s lives on social media, though, and it eventually became apparent that Josh had changed her name to Amy, and was transitioning to female. Suddenly, this was all church friends cared about: not that she was sinking deeper into drug use and alcoholism, or that she was entering into a series of toxic, damaging relationships, but that she was trans. I was hurt and upset that she wasn’t getting the help she needed, because her faith community couldn’t look past her gender identity. For the first time, I felt a disconnect between my views and those of the church I had grown up in.
Fast forward two years. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I attended a different church camp, run by a different school. By this time, I had more queer friends and fewer answers to my questions. One feature of this camp was an optional seminar, held during the afternoon free period, and intended more for the adult volunteers than the high school campers. I went because I had no interest in sports or socialization, and even at sixteen, I enjoyed sitting and listening to the wisdom of older minds. Little did I know I was about to sit in on one of the most life-giving conversations I would ever hear.
The subject was same-sex attraction, and it was advertised tongue-in-cheek phrase “God Hates Gays.” What followed, however, was anything but hateful. The panel members began by discussing the increasing number of open and affirming churches across the country. I was amazed that there were churches that said it was okay to be gay, even if I wasn’t ready to say that myself, even if the concept made me both uncomfortable and hopeful in a way I didn’t understand. Next, they went systematically through each passage in the Bible generally used to condemn same-sex acts, examining them in light of their cultural and historical contexts, and calling into question the blanket condemnation they appear to proclaim.
That the panelists themselves never claimed a fully affirming stance did not matter, it was enough that they presented Biblical arguments as nuanced and complicated. It was enough that all three panelists made it clear that they didn’t consider same-sex attraction a sin. It was enough to put new air in my lungs and a new curiosity in my heart, even as I didn’t know what to do with these things.
By senior year, I was comfortable with the conclusions at which I had arrived. I was satisfied believing that feelings of same-sex attraction were okay, so long as you did not act on them. That is, I was satisfied until I started experiencing those feelings myself. Until I lay on the couch hand in hand with my best friend, and even while we talked about boys, all I really wanted to do was lean in and kiss her. Although by my newfound reasoning, these feelings were not technically wrong, I pushed them deep within. I couldn’t explain why I was doing so, even to myself. Nor did I know then what a damaging impact that suppressing this part of myself would have on my mental health, friendships, and dating relationships for the following years