It’s an association so common in society that it rarely warrants a second glance. The use of “gay” and “Christian” in the same sentence nearly always means there is some type of protest against the queer community. But those in the Gay Christian Network would like to see that change. They realize that most of the queer community feels that Christianity has by and large become a hate group when it comes to LGBTQ issues.
In their view, this is a misrepresentation of the works of Jesus, a man who allegedly stood up for prostitutes, the impoverished, and anyone who didn’t fit in with mainstream society.
In a world that is becoming increasingly more polarizing as the radical right gains mainstream power, it’s no surprise that these Christians feel that they are on the front lines of a societal and spiritual conflict. OUT FRONT spoke with some of these queer and queer-allied Christian folks to get the scoop on this alternate view of the Christian faith, and the way they practice love.
Love Thy Children
For Susan Cottrell, mother of two queer daughters, acceptance is now a way of life, but the rhetoric of rejected children is all too familiar.
“My first daughter who came out to me, she was using the language of being same-sex attracted because that’s the language we had from the church, and she was not wanting to give in to it because she thought God didn’t want her to,” she explained. “I was supporting her in not giving in to it, but then when she decided ‘this is who I am and I can’t change,’ I supported her in that. And then after that she started dating women, she said to me; ‘I’m at more peace now with God then I’ve ever been,’ and that sealed the deal for me, because as a Christian, that’s what you go for.”
Unfortunately, the story of the estranged family member disowned by their family for being queer, or queer people being afraid to tell their families, is nothing new. In many conservative, Christian communities, it isn’t uncommon to hear that someone is cast out for their sexual orientation, or terrified of being cast out. But for Cottrell, this was never even an option.
It was a slight shock when her other daughter also came out, but that quickly faded, and she realized what others thought was unimportant; the peace and religious conviction that the family felt because of being open about who their daughters were, and the fact that their daughters were able to live full and empowered lives, were what truly mattered.
Although she and her daughters experienced fear and hate from some members of the faith community, they realized that love and unity were the best way to live and make sure their daughters were accepted.
Susan Shopland, the mother of a gay son, is also familiar with the experience of offering love in a situation when many parents do not. Like Cottrell’s daughters, when her son first came to her, he said that he was seeking help for being same-sex attracted and trying to heal himself. When she went to bed after hearing from her son, Shopland wept, not because she was repenting for her son being gay, but because she was lamenting raising him in a church that made him feel there was something wrong with him.
“I went to bed and wept, because I felt so much remorse for having raised him in a church that had become increasingly conservative, and his experiences with the mentors he had through church and camp had convinced him that this was something unacceptable about himself,” she said.
“I felt like I should have known better, because as a psychologist, professionally I had the awareness. I had the education to know what kind of rejection he would experience within our conservative faith community. I didn’t want any of that for him, and it was another four years before he realized God wasn’t going to change him because there was nothing about him that needed to be changed.”
Now, both Cottrell and Shopland are advocates, supporting their own children and fighting to make sure that others are comfortable being queer, or comfortable supporting their LGBTQ children. They both reached out to the GCN when they realized that they needed a new faith community and support system for their children, and what they found was acceptance and fellowship.
While many in the faith community at large still cast their families aside, the parents who have joined with the GCN are committed to making their family members feel safe.
Matthias Roberts, a gay man who is still very much a part of the Christian faith, found that coming to terms with his own identity was a struggle.
“Realizing I was gay and growing up in the conservative church, I was told over and over again, ‘You can’t be gay and Christian; you can’t have same-sex attraction and be Christian,’” he explained.
“But no matter what questions and doubts I was having, for some reason, there was a thread that kind of wove throughout all of that time that God loved me. I’ve held onto my faith because it’s a support system for me and it’s a way of framing the world that helps me work towards justice and good and light in the world that we desperately need. I feel like it’s an avenue to do that work.”
Even for those who find love and acceptance from family and friends in the church, the concept that queerness and Christianity don’t belong together can be so internalized that those who are LGBTQ even struggle with hate towards themselves. Luckily, Roberts found a way past this with his faith and was able to connect to those who were more accepting and affirming through the Gay Christian Network.
Like many other openly LGBTQ Christians, Roberts now spends his time working with the GCN and other organizations to spread the word, both through retreats, events, and his own personal podcast which can be found at MatthiasRoberts.com.
Queer, Intersectional Christianity
For Tonetta Landis-Aina, a queer woman of color who is in seminary currently and also works as an organizer of the women’s Christian organization WomanConnect, it’s clear that not everyone is afforded the same opportunities, even in the more accepting arenas of Christianity.
While queer acceptance in the Christian community is a beautiful thing, it is still often easier for white men, those with white privilege, and those who in all other ways fit the mold of the mainstream Christian.
For women, people of color, and other individuals that already feel they don’t have as much of a voice in Christianity, it can be doubly hard to come out.
“I’m an African American woman who is gender nonconforming,” she said. “I think there are issues for people who are minorities with finding a church.
If you are not comfortable with your ethnicity, language, then you have trouble feeling comfortable with yourself, and then if you are not a part of the dominant culture that can be hard. I also think if I were not gay I would have been ordained in my early 20s. A lot of the obstacles had to do with not being able to come out, not being able to date, not being able to live out my call.”
“I am of the opinion that Christian gay women and men have very different experiences because the patriarchy is so strongly enforced, especially in Evangelical Christian communities,” added Marg Herder, a queer Evangelical Christian who also helps organize WomanConnect. “White men are kind of once removed from their privilege by being gay; until they announce it they are in the privileged class. Women come at it from being at least once removed, disadvantaged, so women kind of need a different thing just by virtue of being women. Women who are coming out of a more religious situation have already come out as being other, so when they come out as gay or queer or trans it’s a different experience. It’s kind of like, ‘Oh, here’s one more thing that makes me different.’”
Divisions and Differences
Generally speaking, those who consider themselves Christian and queer or queer-allied are very open and accepting about gender and sex expression and the fact that God loves all the faithful members of his community, no matter what. However, there are some who believe in varying degrees of acceptance. Those associated with the GCN often identify as either Side A or Side B in order to explain how they feel about acceptance.
“A Side A Christian would say God created people and he doesn’t make mistakes, and therefore he blesses same sex marriage and this is in God’s design,” explained Kimberly Dent, the mother of an LGBTQ daughter. “Side B is God loves each and every one of us, but same-sex marriage is not in God’s original intent and design. That’s not to say they are going to hell, not to say they are not allowed in the church; it’s simply that this was not God’s design for marriage.”
Additionally, some Christians feel that their relationships are only acceptable in the eyes of God if they are committed to celibacy. The GCN is supportive of those committed to celibacy, as well as those in sexual queer relationships and marriages. While the GCN is never adamant that celibacy is necessary to stay in the Christian fold, and never claim that those who are married cannot be affirmed and welcomed into their circles, it is still troubling to some queer folks that these opinions and ideas exist within queer, Christian spaces.
Despite the varying beliefs and viewpoints among GCN members and queer and affirming Christians in general, there is no denying that those involved in this community have created a safe space where many would have nowhere to turn.
The GCN also offers retreats and conferences to help build unity and provide faith and education tools to its members. On January 18-21, the 14th annual GCN conference will take place at the Colorado Convention Center.
The conference is open to queer Christians, those who are allied with queer Christians, and anyone who wants to learn more, as long as they are open and affirming to both the LGBTQ and the religious sides of the conference.
For more information, go to GayChristian.net.