Religion / Finding Your Faith

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“Is it possible to be queer and Christian? It feels like those two identities are constantly in conflict in my life, but they both mean a lot to me :/”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Alyse Knorr Says:

Short answer: Of COURSE it’s possible to be both queer and Christian! Not only because you can be any damn thing you want to be in this world, but because these two particular identities actually go together like peanut butter and jelly or Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo or whatever other metaphor you prefer. Before we go any further, let me first say that I am a queer, Christian-identifying human, and so, as with anything religious, everything I say here will come from my own personal interpretation of Christianity. Everyone’s experience of their faith will be different, just as everyone’s experience of their gender and sexuality is different. So take that with a grain of salt and pepper. Or Dany and Drogo. Or whatever.

For a long, long time, I, too, felt like I could not be both queer and Christian–that I had to choose one or the other, and that never in a million years could those two identities coincide. And to be fair, there are certainly reasons why you and I and many others have felt this way–reasons that probably have a lot to do with our own unique experiences in our church upbringings and in our views of the role that some Christians play in debates over LGBTQ rights.

It’s easy to forget that, in the end, your faith–just like your gender and sexuality–is your own and no one else’s. No one can tell you what to think or do or what not to think or do when it comes to your faith. The key is to follow your heart and your gut and do what makes you happy. For some, that means opening themselves up to spiritual experiences through things like meditation, chanting, purposeful walking, you name it. For others, those spiritual experiences are made more meaningful, or occur more frequently, when governed by a set of ritual practices and/or occurring within a community. That, to me, is the difference between being spiritual and being religious. Religion is about practice and community.

For me, Christianity provides a useful framework within which to experience my spirituality, as well as a moral system to guide my actions. It’s the faith tradition I was raised in, and its rituals, central text, and emphasis on service work all resonate with me. Other Christians are drawn to worship, and still others to prayer. There are many ways of being a Christian, and I don’t just mean denominations! When you look past common stereotypes of “religious people” and Christians, you’ll see that you can be a religious skeptical scientist, a religious feminist, a brilliant religious pop star, or, yeah, a religious queer person.

As you point out, this identity is not without conflict. In some parts of the country it can be hard to find a welcoming church, or a welcoming church where you’re not the only queer person. And the history and political activism of certain Christian groups can feel deeply unsettling and can be difficult to look past. In the end, it’s totally fine to ask critical questions about your faith and your religion, because religion–any religion–can cause harm. But again, your faith is your own, and you can practice it in creative ways. For instance, I have never been that into all the language and iconography that represents God as an old bearded white man. So I like to use other language in my prayers and conceptualizations: God as a holy spirit, a comforting presence, the universe in all its complexities, or even a sacred mother. When I read passages in the Bible about how women must be subservient to men, I interpret them in their historical context, like the rule about not wearing clothing woven from two types of material (Leviticus 19:19).

So what do I mean, then, about how a Christian and a queer identity can actually complement each other in powerful ways? For starters, I didn’t identify as a Christian until after I came out. Growing up, I didn’t relate to my family’s religion at all, but after I came out and started to know myself better, I felt more in touch with the universe and more interested in big-picture questions about how to live a good life and help others. In an effort to continue to understand myself better, I looked back at the Bible and was totally shocked at what I found there.

Christianity, I discovered, is not a religion of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” It’s a religion of radical kindness, peace, and inclusion. The New Testament, and the gospels in particular, are all about loving your neighbor, loving your neighbor some more, and, just for a change of pace, loving your neighbor. “Yeah, yeah,” you’re thinking, “That’s the easy stuff. The hard things are going to church and reading the Bible and doing all those things that queer people aren’t allowed to do. The hard parts are those religious parts.” I would argue, though, that this is totally not the case. First of all, these central tenets of the faith are the hard parts–and not just because I’ve had neighbors who gave me bed bugs and kept me up all night with crying babies. Loving your neighbor no matter what is incredibly hard. Letting go of anxiety and putting your faith into the greater universe is incredibly hard. Living your life in service of others is incredibly hard. But Christianity challenges me to do all of this every day, 24 hours a day. My faith presents me with this challenge, and my faith provides me with the tools to meet it. My faith provides me with comfort when I face hardships in my life, including hardships related specifically to my female or queer identities. My faith offers me the promise of justice when I’m the victim, and the promise of grace when I’m the perpetrator–when I screw up, as we all inevitably do.

So that’s my experience–but you will have your own totally unique journey as a queer Christian, and it’s going to be awesome. The great news is that if you want to practice Christianity as a queer individual in a community of accepting and affirming people, there are an overwhelming number of opportunities to do so. Do you have a certain denomination in mind–perhaps the denomination you were raised in? If so, hop online and find a nearby church of that denomination that’s welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ congregants. Lots of denominations have special names for such churches, such as the More Light Presbyterians, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, the Open and Affirming United Church of Christ, and Integrity Believe Out Loud Episcopalians. If you don’t have a specific denomination in mind, or you’re looking for something new or specifically gay-focused, try the Metropolitan Community Church, a Christian denomination specifically for LGBTQ congregants. I went to an MCC church and Bible study for awhile after I came out and absolutely loved it.

Finally, seek out classes (especially at the college level), books, and online resources to help you in your quest to negotiate your queer and Christian identities. Personally, I found most helpful the works of Christian scholar Marcus Borg, as well as articles on feminist readings of the Bible. Find someone you trust and talk to them about your journey. Be patient with yourself and follow your heart–I wish you the best of luck!

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I'm A Gay Christian

by Alyse Knorr

I never expected that coming out would bring me closer to my faith, but that’s exactly what happened.

Despite (or maybe because of) my very religious upbringing in the Deep South, I could never quite “click” with Christianity. I went to a massive megachurch on Sundays, then a tiny rural youth group on Wednesday nights (because a girl I had a crush on attended), and I felt like a fraud in both environments. I didn’t weep during The Passion of the Christ like the other kids, and my heart was never warmed by the full baptisms on the Jumbotron screen above the rock concert worship stage.

I felt disillusioned by all of the historical injustices Christianity had helped perpetrate, while at the same time, I was terrified of going to hell. Over and over I “recommitted” to Jesus, hoping to feel something. But all I felt were confusing “impure thoughts” that haunted me during morning worship, surrounded on all sides by thousands of reverent born-again Christians who I just knew would soon discover the fact that I wasn’t really one of them.

Even though I couldn’t connect with Christianity, I still felt fascinated by the essential mysteries of creation, human consciousness, and the afterlife. I would have checked the “spiritual, not religious” box throughout most of college and graduate school. I equated “religion” with dogma and hate, and “spirituality” with freedom and open-mindedness. Still, I longed for the ritual, symbolism, and community of church. I wanted the daily practice of religion. I understand the world through words, and I wanted a text to refer to again and again for its beauty and metaphor.

After I came out, things started falling into place. I talked to a friend’s mother, who was a pastor, about alternate names for God. Instead of using the patriarchal term “Father,” I could use Holy Parent, Protector, Guardian, or Timeless One. I started reading the Bible and actually enjoying it. It helped to read the text with its historical context in mind, and through a heavily metaphorical lens. Truth is not necessarily fact, and vice versa.

I talked to my partner about her experiences growing up Presbyterian— the quietness of her religion, its emphasis on service and community. She asked if I wanted to go to church with her, and I was skeptical, to say the least. So we went to a Metropolitan Community Church (a Protestant denomination with an LGBTQ outreach emphasis) and my whole world changed. Families of all types sat in the pews. Inclusive language filled the hymnbooks. Loving gay couples lined up to take communion together and then pray with one of the ministers, arms locked around each other in a tight circle. For the first time, I took communion. The whole experience moved me to tears.

Soon after, I started attending a Bible study at MCC and learned more about what it meant to be a gay Christian. These men and women viewed Jesus as a protector, a champion of the weak, the Other, the outcast. They admired the Bible’s female heroes, and emphasized that there is more love and kindness in the Bible than hatred or dogma.

Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them I go to church, like being Christian and being gay are not compatible. I understand the misconception. But coming out is the reason I began re-exploring Christianity. Coming out helped me finally accept and love my real self. There were no more secrets or shame, no more lying or fear. I finally felt like I knew myself, and that meant I could open up to even more love and connectedness, this time through the framework of religion.

I’m still learning what Christianity means to me, and trying to determine how to live at peace with its troubled history. For me, it is deeply satisfying to reclaim the religion used to oppress and terrify me as a younger person. And the good news is that things are changing very, very quickly, with more and more churches of all kinds welcoming gay members, marrying gay couples, and ordaining gay clergy.

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This story was excerpted from This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (Chronicle, 2014). Learn more about our writers, and help support their work, here on Patreon!

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“I grew up in a Muslim household. I’ve recently come to terms with being trans, and while I want to stay connected to my faith, I’m not sure how to reconcile my identity as a trans person with my identity as a Muslim.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Mahdia Lynn Says:

Mash’allah! What a blessing, to be Muslim and trans. Islam is such a beautiful and dynamic faith. And! Trans people are friggin’ awesome. Being a TRANS MUSLIM!? This is awesome. You are awesome. Yes.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course. Holding on to your faith while being “different” can be a real struggle—and being trans is a pretty big “different” to deal with. The highly normative, gender segregated culture that is so common can make navigating Muslim spaces a minefield of gender feels. And while a lot of people in the community are more accommodating and accepting of trans people than you’d think, it’s often the bigots who yell the loudest.

That doesn’t mean Islam as a whole is unaccepting of transgender people. In fact, multiple well-respected scholars have ruled in favor of transgender people’s rights (like the Grand Mufti Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy of Al-Azhar, the oldest Islamic university in the world, who ruled in favor of modern transgender pioneer Sally Mursi in 1992) and many governments have followed suit (like when the Islamic Republic of Pakistan provided a “third gender” option on legal documentation in 2009 or how the Islamic Republic of Iran provides financial and legal support for its citizens undergoing transition ever since 1987). While the language we use to describe ourselves may change over time, gender variant people have existed since well before the time of the Prophet Muhammad(SAW) and Islam is a dynamic and diverse faith that makes room for all its followers—cis and trans alike.

Here are some strategies that have worked for Muslims like us: A lot of people choose to avoid the masjid* during the early stages of transition. Some start visiting a new mosque, making it easier to use the washroom without being clocked from that one nosy aunt who’s known you from birth. Still a great number of people—trans and cis—have begun creating our own spaces out of exhaustion and frustration with the heteronormativity of it all. LGBTQ friendly, gender-equal, and trans affirming Muslim space is becoming more and more accessible every day—if you’re near any kind of major city (or even some less-than-major ones), chances are there’s a family of queer & trans Muslims meeting up for coffee or having a potluck this Friday. If you can’t find a real-world community quite yet, the el-Tawhid Unity Mosque in Toronto Skypes its jummah services every Friday.

One of the many blessings of my life is that I have a great deal of transgender Muslim family to help field questions like this. Sitting back with such lovely friends last week I asked, “If you could give advice to a Muslim just coming to terms with being trans, what would you say?” It sparked a great conversation—inspiring and engaging, much like most of the conversations I have with such family—but it was what my gender-nonspecific-sibling Fatima said which sums everything up better than I ever could:

“Allah(SWT) doesn’t make mistakes and as such you are not a mistake. Your knowing in yourself is leagues more honest and mature, with wisdom and intelligence, than the things society says/thinks/enforces. Trust in yourself and Allah and make room for the process to learn yourself even though it may be long and confusing and sometimes painful.”

Our faith does not belong to the bigots. Whatever happens and wherever your path leads, there is family to have your back and provide support. The way society divides and stresses it can seem like there’s nobody else on the planet like you. But we’re here. Getting by in our own quiet ways, living out Islam as best we can.

~

A glossary for some Muslim-y jargon used here:

– “Mash’allah” is a phrase that means something like “Allah has willed it,” used to express gratitude or happiness at a person or happening.

– “masjid” is another name for a mosque, or Islamic community center.

– After the name of the Prophet Muhammad, out of respect Muslims often use the acronym “S.A.W.”, a shortening of the salawat, which translates to something like “may Allah grant peace and honor upon him and his family.” Similarly, after the name of God we can use the acronym “s.w.t.” which translates to “Glory to God, the Exalted.”

– FUN FACT! The world “Allah” is just a literal Arabic translation of “God”—the same one Christians, Jews, and Baha’i pray to, to name a few faiths in the diverse dynamic family of monotheistic religions.

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“why do people think being gay is a sin? I don’t understand that at all, yeah, God made Adam and Eve, but he also made us for a reason, isn’t that right?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Becky Garrison as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Becky Says:

A few Christians may rant and rail aka the God Hates Fags crew about “homos” going to h-e-double toothpicks. However, most God fearing folks just smile with that hair that praises Jesus look and go on in true Paula Dean fashion how they “love the sinner but not the sin.” Often these bible believers sport bumper stickers on their cars that say “Jesus said it. I believe it. That settles it.” They point to few select verses in the Bible that condemn “homosexuality” and conclude that “homosexual sex” is a sin. In other words, you can be gay as long as you remain celibate. (Somehow lesbianism never enters the conversation. Draw your own conclusions what this omission means regarding women’s sexuality and the church).

This literal approach fails to interpret these verses within their correct socio-political context. For example, take the bit in Leviticus that forbids men to have sex with each other. Well this same section also tells men not to have sex with the family goat, sheep or other beasts of burden. Sounds to me like a scenario where they’re more concerned about the need to expand the tribe by producing more babies than prohibiting bonds between those of the same gender. Just ask those who use Leviticus to demonize LGBT folks if they eat shrimp, wear two types of fabric and a host of other no-nos that are also found in Leviticus. Quickly you’ll discover that fundamentalists don’t follow every Biblical law word-for-word.

In this video, performance artist Peterson Toscano demonstrates how to see these ancient texts with new eyes. His interpretation of the destruction of Sodom illustrates how the issue at that brought down Sodom was the host’s failure to provide hospitality not “homosexual” acts.

Along those lines, the video of Brian Murphy, co-founder of the Queer Theology website retelling the Genesis story can be played whenever someone spouts off that “God created Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve” nonsense.

Moving on to the New Testament, we do see prohibitions against men having sex with men. Upon closer analysis, we note that in these passages, the Apostle Paul is advising specific Hellenistic communities to avoid Roman rituals that included performing sexual acts. In other words, if one wants to be a Christian, then one needs to follow the teachings of Christ. No more playing with the Roman gods. Stop. Now.

Finally let’s look at what Jesus of Nazareth has to say about LGBT people. In all his rants against a host of ills, he doesn’t utter a single word about “homosexuality.” None. Total silence. So when confronted with anti-gay bigotry, why not turn the aforementioned bumper sticker slogan a bit on its head by chanting back, “Jesus didn’t say it. I believe it. That should settle it.”

If you want to continue the conversation, head over to Believe Out Loud. Here you will find Christians leaders and other voices who fully embrace LGBT people and communities that grant civil rights and liturgical rites to all.

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Click through to read more about Becky and our other Second Opinions panelists!

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