by Isobel Knight
PRESENTING THIS PIECE:
This feature has intentionally been written with the visual experience of the reader in mind. The subheadings featured, in the ideal setting to experience this feature, would all contain self-contained segments that could be read in any order. The intention would be for the reader to click on an illustration and “step in” to that “space” with the LGBTQ Christians interviewed. This is essentially an unconventional profile on a group that doesn’t necessarily see itself as a community – the potential for disjointedness within an overarching bigger picture is integral to the telling of the story, given that it is a key part of the experiences outlined by our interviewees.
Come and step into a space you may not have thought existed.
LGBTQ people who are, in 2018, active members of Bible-believing churches?
Christians actively participating in LGBTQ spaces and communities?
These two worlds that are largely presented as opposites have dual citizens – people who exist in or between both spaces.
Could such a person be welcome in both? In either? Is increasing acceptance and celebration of diverse expressions of sexuality incompatible with the teachings and beliefs of the Christian faith?
Because of the unique vantage point (with accompanying trials and challenges) that Christian LGBTQ people experience, these questions are best answered in their own words. The three LGBTQ Christians who are interviewed below attend different churches with different theological approaches, but all three of them see themselves as part of the wider community of the Christian church.
“I think I realised my sexuality before I committed myself to Christianity, because I’d grown up in a Christian household, but I was in boarding school… I think it was a real barrier for me owning my family’s faith for myself initially.”
Anna*, who attends a small Presbyterian church in Sydney said that now, the idea of her sexuality being a barrier to her faith is more complicated.
“In many ways it’s definitely not [a barrier]… I think it still fits the Christian story, like, really well.
But in other ways I think it still does impact it negatively because in a lot of spaces that I’m at in church there’s the assumption that there’s no-one in the room who experiences something that’s not just straight Christianity.”
Carlos was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist church in Maui.
“They kicked me out for speaking in tongues, I’d started hanging with the Pentecostals too much,” he laughs.
“And then they kicked me out because I woke up one day and said ‘Hey, I’m gay and I think it’s fine with Jesus’ and they said, well, ‘no it’s not’, and then the pastor of that church prayed for the destruction of my flesh that I might be saved and prophesied that by the end of the year I’d have a deadly illness – he meant HIV because back then, that was the big deal, it still is but it was raging at that point – and he thought I’d pray and seek repentance and come back and he’d heal me… well none of that happened. False prophet? I don’t know.”
Joel has a Masters of Divinity and has worked as a minister and a chaplain. He is currently completing his PhD around the subject of the Bible, faith and sexuality, and attends a small Anglican church.
“I grew up in a Christian family, a beautiful family… incredible Mum, incredible Dad, very involved in my life. So it was kind of a Christian by osmosis thing… During my uni days if you’d really pushed me I could have claimed atheism or at very best a very angry agnosticism – not wanting God to exist because I just could not reconcile a good God that would make me gay and then put a blanket ban on all forms of intimacy.”
“But at the same time, I just really loved my church community… and all the different Christian circles I was involved in… so I was quite conflicted. Over time I came to realise that, yes, I do believe in a god and I can’t escape that fact, so now I have to set about finding out what He intended for my sexuality… For a lot of LGBTQ people the two things are really intertwined, it’s a concept of God that depends on how He interacts with your sexuality, which sounds over-proportionate but it’s almost the universal story.”
(*not her real name)
Carlos and his partner rarely attend other churches than Metropolitan Christian Church, an LGBTQ church gathering in the inner west.
“I couldn’t be a part of those [other] communities, I just couldn’t. I’ve experienced too much freedom here to be who I am for that. I do, though, recognise them as my true brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“I don’t have a total rejection of them, or their churches, I just know that this is where I’m called to be.”
“Different people at [my church] will have a different view on this. My partner… he just won’t do it, he sees it as an insult to who he has been created to be in the image of God to go to a church where they say, ‘we can’t accept you’.”
“I think on a surface level I’m very included but at the same time I recognise that I am excluded by necessity and by theology. That’s an interesting road to tread,” Joel said.
“I was sitting with a friend a couple of nights ago and she was re-iterating ‘Joel, we disagree, but I still love you’ and I made the comment ‘well at some point I might get married’ and she said ‘well I’d want to be there’ and my comment back to her was, ‘Well maybe I don’t want you at my wedding. You’re an incredibly good friend but we disagree, and you think that my relationship to a future spouse is inherently evil… why would I want you in the pews celebrating that? And there’s no going around that, there’s an awkwardness we just have to sit with.”
“The church that I’m at at the moment, the lead pastor doesn’t affirm LGB relationships, doesn’t see them as part of God’s good plan, but despite this he has been amazingly open to dialogue,” Joel said. “He’s read all my work… He’s sat down with me for hours on end, he and his wife sat down with me, and they just talked, and they heard my story, and they asked about the stories of my friends and they engaged with the theology. For me that was really beautiful because it’s disagreement, whilst having this unity that is based on something more than our sexuality. He’s welcomed me, he’s asked me to lead on the music team, to lead the church service… he sees more fundamentally that our unity comes from our understanding of who Jesus is, and that’s the crux of it. Our sexual ethic just comes really far down, and that’s been really nice for me to be part of a church like that.”
LGBTQ GROUPS AND COMMUNITY
“I haven’t participated in many LGBT circles aside from Christian ones so far,” Joel said.
“Partially because it’s only been a year since I’ve become affirming in my theology, and up until that point I avoided gay community events, but I’m part of quite a number of Christian LGBT circles.”
“I fully intend to in the near future. The question that people have of whether Christian LGBT people exist… I’m part of the reason they don’t know the answer to that.”
In Anna’s experience, there are parallels between her existence in church and LGBTQ spaces, which is, she said, part of the reason she has not really participated in LGBTQ spaces and events.
“Maybe some of this points towards my lack of courage, but just as I feel like it’s draining to talk about my sexual identity in church, I feel like it’s draining to talk about my church identity in LGBTQ spaces. I feel like, and fairly so, I’d have to justify some of the choices that I’ve made about how I express my sexuality.”
For Carlos, the existence of his church, an LGBTQ space that also cared for him spiritually, has been a source of incredible love and support, but the lead up the postal vote in 2017 saw “an ugly depth of hate” that he said he hadn’t seen the depths of.
“What we want to say is that God, despite what others might have told you, is a God of love, and there are no exceptions to that.”