When Haley, this week's interviewee, said that to me, it hit deep. Like Haley, I came of age in a Christian church that rarely discussed homosexuality, and where my fellow congregants were tacitly accepting. Few things about my home church (besides its denomination's stance) would have caused me to question my ability to be both queer and spiritual.
And yet tacit acceptance did nothing to insulate me from the dominant message that homosexuality was wrong. Instead, the messages from other Christians came through on television and newspapers, telling me that there was something psychologically wrong with me, that I was going to Hell. Haley got the same media message, and it pushed her away from her faith community -- even though they, too, were accepting.
Haley and I aren't the only two who have observed that religious condemnation dominates the media coverage about LGBT issues. In fact, the 2012 "Missing Voices" study concludes that "the news media is largely omitting a pro-LGBT religious perspective and ignoring individuals who identify as both LGBT and religious."
These omissions are so profound that they skew the presentation of the whole subject, reframing it into a "God vs. Gays" debate.
In sharing her story, Haley took one step toward filling the void of stories from individuals who are Both.
But she has a bigger vision than that:
"We have the power as a Church to change this world and make it better in an absolutely awesome way right now. We can tell everyone in the queer community, and in fact all marginalized communities, “The point of Jesus was that you are welcome. The point of Jesus was that there is a place for you at God’s table. End of story. End of discussion.”
In short, she says we can move from tacit acceptance to active inclusion. We can speak a new truth, and make ourselves heard.
I can't wait to see where Haley's next steps take her on this journey!
P.S. If you haven't already read Haley's full story, click here to do so!
Today I’m happy to share the story of LMT, a queer 17-year-old who I met in Winston-Salem, N.C. She was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and is preparing now to serve a Mormon mission when she turns 19. She tells her story with a presence that amazed me, and gives lots of context about LDS theology and culture, for those who may not be as familiar. I’ve posted her story online here, and I highly recommend that you listen to the audio, to hear it in her voice.
In some ways, L’s story has been a challenge for me. Like me, she is attracted to men and women, and comes from a faith tradition that says heterosexual marriage is the only appropriate avenue for her sexual expression. And yet, as she articulates them, her experience of her faith and her understanding of God’s calling in her life are very different from what I understand for myself.
As I’ve listened and re-listened to L’s story, I have felt pride, awe, sadness, discomfort, admiration, condescension and respect. The thing is, these reactions all say more about me than they do about L. To hear what L has to say, I have to stop by reacting and truly listen to her words, her experiences, and the meaning she makes from them.
My own spiritual understanding has been shaped most recently by the Quakers, who emphasize the pursuit of truth, wherever it may lead us. They encourage us to listen deeply to others, as truth is being seen and understood in different and complex ways. I hope to offer this story in that spirit, as one account of truth.
I started the Queerituality project to get a broad view of the way that queer people are experiencing spirituality and being informed by their sexual orientations and gender identities. From the beginning, I knew that I wanted them to be able to share their stories in the first person – to be able to speak their full truths, even when they are complicated or evolving or unpopular. I wanted to include people of all faiths and none. I wanted this to be a space where we can come to listen and understand, and even be challenged. I hope you as a reader are looking for that, too.
I am incredibly grateful to LMT and her family for allowing me to record her story, and I wish her all the best in her journey forward. Keep me posted, okay L?
On Sunday morning, my twin sister sat with me on the stone steps outside of St. Thomas' Parish, an Episcopal church in the gayborhood of Washington, D.C. She rubbed my back, asking me what was wrong. Why was I crying? Hadn’t we just driven 30 minutes to come specifically to this church? Wasn’t it recommended because it's so queer-friendly? Didn’t I want to go in?
The emotion coming up in me was so deep that I couldn’t speak it then. I just let her be present with me, and let the tears follow one another down my face.
“It grieves me” is a phrase I learned from a Queerituality participant, and that is what was I felt yesterday. I grieved for the Sunday mornings – hundreds of them – when I had stayed home, in fear of what I would find in a church. I grieved my feelings of being forgotten and beyond reclaiming. I grieved the missed songs and prayers, and the lost feeling of belonging.
The thought that I would be warmly welcomed into St. Thomas’ as a full human being was so momentous that I couldn’t embrace it without first acknowledging all of the times that I had felt other, unwelcomed, afraid and unworthy. So I stayed silently on the steps and kept crying.
During my seven un-churched years, I have experienced my most spiritual moments at night, in the darkness, alone. (In fact, it was in just such a setting that the Queerituality project came into my consciousness.)
I find that darkness and receptivity reflected in one of my favorite hymns:
Here I am, Lord.
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, If you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
Those words never cease to inspire me: I will hold your people in my heart. Here, in the darkness, when I am afraid, I will not cast them away from me, and I will not hide myself under a bushel basket. I will hold your people in my heart.
The reverse of that is also true. I will allow myself to be held. Held by my amazing sister. Held in prayer. Helped, when I need it. Lord, may I let your people hold me in their hearts.
The hymn also calls us not to stay in the darkness, but to go. So I did.
My sister and I entered St. Thomas’ Parish so late in the service yesterday that we had already missed the sermon. My tears continued throughout the Lord’s Prayer, and as I took communion – the act of community that I learned as a small child. Though my hands shook as I took the bread and the wine, I shared in that familiar sacrament as a full and present and fearless human.
Tonight, beyond my grief, is an understanding that is healing and foreign:
I am a child of God.
I am someone with spiritual gifts.
I am worthy to be in community.
I feel those three sentences coming from a deeper place, a place of wisdom. That is a place I can start to acknowledge, knowing that all will be well if I do.
This Sunday morning, my spiritual progress happened in full sunlight. Is it too soon to say that it changed my life?