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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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