For every Christian, there is a moment in their life when God becomes more than just a figure in the Bible. He becomes real and tangible – or at least, as tangible as a spiritual being can be. For me, this happened in middle school. Although my family raised me as an evangelical Christian, I didn’t truly believe in God until I had reached a point of true desperation. For various reasons, I wasn’t very happy in middle school. God was the only person I could talk to, and I became completely reliant on prayer and God’s presence to get me through.
In 8th grade, my parents decided to move churches. They no longer agreed with the theology of the church I grew up in, a decision I now fully support; however, at the time, this move was devastating to me. My community at church had become my home. We attended an all Chinese-American church that meant the church was full of kids my age who understood the struggles of growing up as an “other” and living in a bilingual household. Church was more than a space to worship God. It was one of the only spaces in Madison, Wisconsin – a predominantly white town -- that felt completely and utterly safe. The move to a much larger, completely white church felt as if that safe space were being taken away from me. I cried on that first Sunday morning drive to the new church.
After the move, however, without the distractions of my friends at church, I learned how to thoughtfully listen to sermons. Although I had long ago decided that Jesus was my savior, I learned then how to take an initiative with theology and to actively listen to the words of a pastor. However, I wasn’t public about my strengthening faith – rather, I kept it a secret from my family members and friends and continued a façade of indifference.
When I left for boarding school at the beginning of my freshman year of high school, in typical insecure freshman fashion, I refused to join my school's Christian Fellowship club for fear of condemnation in this hyper liberal and secular environment. However, throughout the year, as I learned about patterns of religious justification for slavery and colonialism or about the gradual evolution and creation of monotheistic religions or shared my views with friends on reproductive rights and homosexuality, I started to ask questions about the validity of the theological and social stances I had been raised with. How can Christianity condemn homosexuality if God means love? How can we deny scientific evidence for evolution in favor of creationism? I didn’t understand how these undeniable facts and new progressive stances that I had learned at school could co-exist with the more conservative ideologies I had ingrained in me since childhood.
With the encouragement of the faculty advisor of Christian Fellowship – to this day, he remains one of the most spiritual and faithful persons I have ever known – I overcame my fear of condemnation from peers and joined Christian Fellowship. There I found so many likeminded folks who were struggling with their faith and theology alongside me. This community became my saving grace in times of doubt and weakened faith. This community normalized asking questions, and I learned it was even okay to lose faith in God.
After church shopping throughout my sophomore and junior year, I eventually found a home church that I felt comfortable with. They discussed immigration and intersectional feminism in a way that I felt aligned with my progressive ideologies. Over the past few years, I had slowly become more and more progressive. I tried my best to engage in social justice efforts and used my writing to express my views on the 2016 election. I had become LGBTQIA+ affirming and pro-choice; however, this move felt more like a preemptive move as opposed to a well-informed move. I chose to believe in these views more due to my personal experiences as opposed to having any theological evidence to back up my stance. As I result, though I identified as socially progressive, I often felt uneasy with this stance. Because I was taught that the bible was theologically conservative, becoming socially progressive without a theological backing felt heretical and directly contradictory to my belief that God’s values should define my values.
For a while, though, I felt okay with taking my time in terms of figuring out my beliefs. The cognitive dissonance was bearable as long as no one delved into questioning my stance.
The cognitive dissonance was bearable until it wasn’t. When I started questioning my sexuality my sophomore and junior year, because all I had ever known was that the bible condemned homosexuality, it didn’t matter to me what my political views were. All that mattered to me was that I had been taught God believed homosexuality was a sin, and that thought process was what led to a lot of self-hatred and shame during my high school years.
When I eventually came out the beginning of my senior year, I decided I could no longer remain passive with my theological stances. I elected to write my history research paper on John McNeill, a Jesuit priest who wrote one of the first books on affirming theology. This research paper introduced to me the possibility of an affirming theological stance on homosexuality, an idea that I had previously never considered or thought was possible.
Often though, the journey towards accepting my sexuality was exactly that – a journey. For every two steps forward, I took one step back. Although I had convinced myself after the research paper that I could live life as a queer women without condemnation from God, the belief that homosexuality was “bad” was still ingrained in me. When I shadowed a pastor for a school project, his rhetoric of “love the sinner, hate the sin” felt so familiar and convincing that it was easy to fall back to previous thought patterns of self-hate. Every time my non-affirming home-church pastor had a sermon on homosexuality, I wavered slightly in my affirming beliefs. Simply put, the deconstruction of deeply ingrained Evangelical theological beliefs is hard.
Despite these struggles, I actively sought out affirming spaces. I discovered Progressive Asian American Christians on Facebook, one of the first affirming communities I had encountered and one of the only places where I felt the intersections of all my identities were recognized and validated. I also discovered organizations like Q Christian Fellowship and the Reformation Project – resources that affirmed my experience as an LGBTQIA+ Christian.
I’m so excited to begin a new a part of my journey interning at QCF. At first I believed that choosing to be in an affirming community meant ignoring a conservative perspective that disagreed with a theology that I wanted desperately to be true. However, that’s not at all what being in an affirming community means. Being in an affirming community means choosing self-love for oneself. Although it took a while for me to get here, I’m glad that I’m at a point in my life where I am choosing to love myself and to accept God’s vast and incomprehensible love for me as well.