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What does it mean to be LGBTQ+ in your family, church, and community?
In my family and previous church/community, being LGBTQ+ has made me an outsider. It has been painful to go from insider to outsider but then Christ modeled a journey of being forsaken. I continue to pray for and seek reconciliation and redemption always.
It means showing up honestly but also strategically within my family. It means beckoning my affirming church (Forefront Brooklyn) to go beyond affirmation and journey towards the rich resources of queer theology and explore what queer people can gift to the church. Within the larger church community, it means advocating for clarity of policies (see ChurchClarity.org) so that queer people and others don’t get tricked and further harmed. Within my relationships, it means committing to ‘queer politics’ and not recapitulating patriarchal norms.
I am blessed enough to belong to an accepting and welcoming church in New York City. This is something that I do not take lightly and try to recognize how blessed I am. Being LGBTQ+ in my community and church simply means that sometimes I go on dates with men and sometimes I go on dates with women. Thankfully, I do not often feel asked to validate my sexuality. As with many people, my family is not quite as open-minded as my community and church. When I first came out it meant that I had to do a lot of educating and processing. In my family, these conversations about faith and sexuality still happen but more time passes between each one and every time they get further into personal and away from ignorance. In coming out, I had to be willing to sit in the process with my family.
There are times when I perceive a definite "other-ness" for not being straight. (Honestly, with all my non-LGBTQ+ communities I think some of it is all in my own head!) However, I think there's some nuance to that; for example, in my community at St. John's Lutheran in Des Moines, I feel it more as an awareness of how my fiancé and I are different from most other members and what we bring to the community that makes everyone better, rather than exclusion. But more than just this, I think to be LGBTQ+ in all my winder communities is to always be aware of what's going on around me, what people in my family and other groups are thinking and doing, and how the winds around me are changing. More than just how things change, it's also being aware of how I can help that change move along.
It means that I am both a prophet and a protector. I am a prophet in the sense that my queerness begs me to call attention to the injustice being perpetuated by my social sphere, church and community in the name of Christianity. I am a protector in the sense that I am also called to protect and empower the good that is possible in my social sphere, church, and community. It is never giving up on the possibilities of what could be, but never letting injustice go unaccounted for.
As I young boy growing up in Nebraska, I knew I was different. I really did not have any good words for it at the time, but I knew, even from a very young age, that I had a different experience of men and women. I did not know what to do with it at the time, so I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have anyone I could speak with, so I just let it be.
When I reached high school, I met my first gay activist. This was a boy a year older than me. He introduced me to a whole new world, part of which resonated with me and part of which did not. I loved the sense of community, I loved being able to be open and speak about this part of me that had been stuck inside of me for so long, but I was uncomfortable with the activism I saw in my friend and felt that was not for me. I knew I was a Christian, and some of what I saw did not seem to match my faith. But again, I did not have anyone to talk to about that, so I was not sure what to do with it and found myself in the same position as when I was younger, so I did nothing.
Since then, I have met many people, both Christian and non-Christian, that have brought me to a better place of self-acceptance, but it wasn’t until last summer that I came to realize how I could accept the fact that I still did not know how to be gay and Christian. I did not know how to bring these two seemingly disparate things inside of me into harmony. I finally had to take them to the Lord and tell Him that I needed His help to know what to do. I had been trying for so long to force them to work together in ways that would please others, in ways that I thought would make me more respectable and accepted, but I finally had to admit that none of that was really working and that I was never going to be able to live in a way that would make everyone happy, so I stopped trying. I took all of this into the light of the Lord and let Him work it out. I decided that I would start living my life as I believed God wanted and not based on others’ expectations.
These experiences have colored the way that I live as a gay man in the midst of my family, church, and community. In many ways, it was not until recently that I really felt comfortable being completely open as a gay Christian man. Most people in my life knew this about me, but I tended to downplay the different parts of who I was depending on the group I was in. I am becoming more comfortable being out as a gay man and as a Christian in all spaces.
For me, there is not much difference in how I am gay around my family, my church, or my community. I tend to occupy conservative spaces starting with my family. The Christian tradition where the Lord has led me is also a conservative one, as is the city where I live. It can be difficult navigating these spaces, but it is not impossible.
Being LGBTQ+ in all of these spaces is about maintaining a quiet position of integrity. I do not feel called to be an activist—to be on the front lines fighting the battles—but I do feel called to minister in the background to those seeking help. I do feel called to tell my story. I do feel called to be more open and loving to all those around me, but for me, being LGBTQ+ isn’t about forcing anyone to see things from my perspective or forcing anyone to change. It is about quietly changing perceptions by my presence and witness. It is about being in a position to show people, who may not otherwise believe this, that being LGBTQ+ does not mean one is anti-Christian and being Christian does not mean that one is anti-LGBTQ+.
There are times when I wish I could be more vocal, but I am coming to a place where I can rejoice in being a point of entry for many people into a discussion they might not otherwise have, and from there, who knows where the journey will lead them. At the end of the day, I hope I can be faithful to the Lord as well as a person of love and support for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.
To my parents, being LGBTQ+ means that I believe in a different sexual ethic, one that differs greatly from that which I was taught as a child. Nonetheless, my parents respect my identity as an LGBTQ+ Christian. In most other areas of my life, it is rather normal to be LGBTQ+.