Queer Christian Baiting (And How to Avoid It)
This is a contribution to the July Carnival of Aces by The Ace Theist, on the topic of home. The short documentary that inspired this post: “The Dark Reality of Celebrity Endorsed Mega-Churches” by State Of Grace on the Refinery29 youtube channel.
TW: (internalised) homophobia
My asexual orientation, demisexual panromantic, is rather important to me, on par with my nationality, my college major, my gender. My religious identity goes even deeper, because to me, God is someone I love dearly, as close as a parent or a good friend.
I wished these deep-level affiliations to be in harmony. I wished to practice my faith and orientation without hiding one from the other. Instead, my church brought up all the homophobia I had internalised over the years. I was at war with myself as soon as I started identifying as queer, because it had already started to dawn on me that queer people weren’t welcome in my church.
It changed from a spiritual refuge to the source of spiritual conflict.
I blamed myself for being a coward. I blamed myself for all the fear and anxiety. I blamed myself for not seeing it sooner.
I have made peace with myself, but I am still negotiating how much I pass and how much I am out at any given time.
I still haven’t found another church where I’d be welcome, rather than tolerated. This in a community that is supposed to be a second home.
The truth was, I was told I was welcome, same as in my old church. The pastor made a statement to that effect several times.
Then I walked into a charity’s presentation after service one Sunday, all unsuspecting. They raved about how they, too, welcomed all queer people, so they could gently convince them how wrong they were. Could “lead them back to a more godly lifestyle.” I felt sick.
Later, it was confirmed to be the church’s stance as well, when they showed clips of a woman who had “graduated” from conversion therapy, and from a son who’d reunited with his mother after he “got over his rebellious phase as a homosexual.”
By this point, half my friends were from this church. Most of my social activities were tied to this church. I had just stopped feeling lonely in my new town. I couldn’t just leave, especially when I there was so much I liked.
I made like an ostrich, head in the sand.
I kept a tally of how many times I heard a homophobic remark in this community, either a quip in passing or a ten-minute sermon. The average came to once every two weeks, over the next half year.
Now that I have started exploring other (protestant) churches and trying to find other queer Christians’ experiences, mostly online, I find the answer to “are you open to queer people?” is always “yes,” in churches, but they mean any of the following:
- Hate: Yes, we are open to queer seekers (non-believers) or new Christians so we can show them the error of their ways. We consider queerness to be a) a curse, b) an addiction, or c) sinful behaviour that we will actively try to change.
- Discomfort: Yes, we are open to queer people… so long as they pass as cisgender and heterosexual, aren’t in a relationship and don’t try to serve as elder or deacon. We’ll allow it to be an open secret nobody talks about.
- Tolerance: Yes, we are open to queer people… they can even be members and help out with lay ministries. God loves all people equally and we’re all sinners, after all. However, they cannot marry or serve as clergy in our church.
- Love: Yes, we are open to queer people… God loves all people and they’re not sinners… we seek to be allies and stop the Christian persecution of queer people. Please tell us how we can pray for you, respect your gender and your relationship and if you need counseling for the hurt you have experienced in the past.
To be honest, even the church I was homesick for was only tolerant, for all that they do allow same-sex marriage now.
I find I have grown more critical in my search. I want to feel at home in my church, I want to be loved by my spiritual family, queerness and all. I want a church that exhibits the same love I believe God has: unconditional and inclusive.
Since churches cannot be trusted at their word on whether they are welcoming, I have developed the following search criteria:
- Follow the Money: If a church supports a mission organisation that is known for promoting abstinence, run. If a church supports a charity promoting sex education and handing out condoms to fight AIDS in Africa, continue. Charities and ministries a church supports are often listed on their website.
- Mission, Creed or Doctrine: I scan their “this is who we are” and “this is what we believe in” for evangelical phrases I’ve picked up like “family values” and how literally they take the translation of the bible.*
- Look at the Clergy: If the elders and/or clergy listed are a mix of ethnicities, genders, ages, etc. then they are more likely to be an inclusive church. Old white men in suits only? Stay away.
- Flag or declaration: If the church building has a rainbow flag or a statement explicitly welcoming people of all genders, sexualities, races, etc., they are likely to be tolerant at least.
- Did they go to Pride? Some churches will literally go to or participate in the parade, if their city has one, or have a Pride-themed service. This information might be found on the events page.
- (Affiliated with) LGBTQ ministry? I haven’t seen this with churches in my own area, but some offer counselling or a small group specifically for queer people, or work together with an organisation that offers it. Do read the description to make sure it’s not conversion-therapy-lite.
I also learned that review apps or third-party websites can be outdated or outright unreliable.
*Fun fact: the “Clobber Passages” in translation seem to condemn (clobber) homosexuality. In their original language and context they condemn a) normalisation of sexual violence (Sodom and Gomorra), b) sex with temple prostitutes and c) Greek pederasty (sex with underage boys).
I hope this information will be helpful to other queer Christians out there. I hope it also illustrates how hard it sometimes is to know if a church is welcoming and how disillusioning learning otherwise can be. I cannot stress enough that church isn’t just a club… it’s supposed to be a safe place to meet a God you love.
I continue my search for a church that is truly welcoming so I can make it my home. Many churches openly tolerate queer people, especially in 21st century Holland. And I can certainly understand staying in a tolerant church if you’ve been a member for a while.
I want to find a church where I am truly accepted. After the false welcome in my current church, I have no desire to settle.