I’m a queer person who grew up in a traditional Christian household, but I’m lucky enough to have never been shamed by my family for my sexuality. I know now how rare that is. My dad is an Episcopal priest who has been a steadfast supporter of the queer community, even before I came out. I never faced rejection on the basis of religion, and my queer identity was never in conflict with my belief in God. That is, until I got engaged.
I asked my oldest friend if she would be a bridesmaid and was surprised when my letter went unanswered. One tearful phone call later, I learned that she had reservations about my marriage due to her religious beliefs. I was blindsided. As I processed the hurt, I realised I wasn’t angry so much as I was confused. Don’t we believe in the same God? How can we interpret scripture so differently?
The rejection I faced was minor by comparison, but it was the wake-up call I needed to start a discussion I wasn’t hearing. My denomination of Christianity is accepting and affirming, but many other branches of the church feel otherwise about the queer community.
According to The Trevor Project, over 700,000 LGBTQ people have been subjected to conversion therapy, a practice condemned as harmful by the American Psychological Association and all other major medical associations. By all accounts, certain denominations of Christianity are the major drivers of these practices. As a few examples, the United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, and Pentecostals all include official language ascribing immorality to queerness. And the impact of this abuse is heartbreaking; a young person who experiences rejection from their family or caregivers because of their sexuality or gender identity is eight times more likely to attempt suicide.
Nevertheless, we know that Hillsong Church doesn’t allow gay couples in leadership positions and opposes marriage equality. That hasn’t stopped many high profile celebrities from attending services, but Christians who are silent on the othering or oppression against the queer community are complicit. We need to do better.
To be clear, whether you believe in God or not shouldn’t matter in terms of the importance of this issue. The bottom line is that laws are being written to disenfranchise and target queer Americans. The “gay panic” defence remains legal in 47 states, the majority of states do not protect LGBTQ Americans from workplace discrimination, and just this week the Supreme Court cleared the Trump Administration’s transgender military ban — just to name a few examples. When laws are written based on prejudicial interpretations of the Bible, it reinforces many Christians’ view of queer people as second-class citizens.
Despite everything, a recent study found that 40% of LGBTQ Americans identify as Christian. Armed with that knowledge, I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia this past October, hopeful to speak with people who were willing to have some difficult conversations.
As part of my time there, I attended a service at Park Avenue Baptist Church, an LGBTQ affirming congregation, where I met queer Christians committed to their faith despite the obstacles placed against them. The congregation at Park Avenue is an example of the beautiful tapestry that is God’s creation. They are racially diverse, young, old, gay, straight, trans, skeptics and seminary students, all coming together to worship. But these hidden believers are either shunned or ignored by the church at large. Our existence raises painful questions and discussions that quite frankly it doesn’t seem like many Christians are interested in having.
There are exceptions, however. While I was in Atlanta, I also met up with Jackie Hill-Perry. Her list of titles and accomplishments is long, but among other things she is a Christian author and an “ex-lesbian.” Our lives and our beliefs could not be more different but, despite our fundamental disagreements, we made it a priority to listen to each other. And amongst all our differences, we still found common ground: The acknowledgement that many in the Christian community has caused harm to the queer community. But what good is acknowledgement without action? Is it progress if no hearts or minds were changed? Did I challenge her enough, too little? It’s with this that I’m hoping the dialogue started in Atlanta will serve as an invitation to create progress. The table is set. I’m pulling up a chair. Will you break bread with me?