Queer the Church
When you think of “church”, what do you see?
What does it look like, sound like, and feel like?
Does your conception of church trigger pain? Hope? Nostalgia?
It may even have a smell - I, for one, remain a lover of that peculiar scent greeting me in the narthex every Sunday.
We all have some form of an association with "church". For each and every person, there's a different picture of what a church is like. Whether positive, negative, or layered in complexity, many of us have had our formative experiences at youth group lock-ins, Passion Plays, celebrating baptisms, crying at the altar on a Sunday morning, receiving our first Communion, and so the list goes.
I grew up in corporate settings seemingly in opposition to one another, spending my days in Lutheran schools (Missouri Synod) being introduced to ideas such as the Church Calendar, Liturgy, and a variety of traditionally Christian concepts nowhere to be found in my family's charismatic, Evangelical setting. On a superficial level, the contrast was striking, but even when the form and structure of corporate worship seemed to operate in entirely separate portions of the Protestant multiverse, there were threads of commonality - both in style and substance - that served as markers for a specific theological tradition.
These churches believed specific things about specific people, and with those boundaries in place, they looked and sounded remarkably similar.
For many of us, the churches in which we were raised were fairly pale, had a deep voice, and spoke frequently of family values, always appearing to know precisely what was best for women. If you've experienced the unease of not quite fitting the profile of your church and its embodied ideal, you know what it's like to have your entire identity totally erased by those you've entrusted with your spiritual betterment.
Ask any queer Christian about their experiences in churches, and there's a reasonable chance they've endured spiritual trauma in ways not often leveled against straight, cisgendered Christians. It's a complex, deeply painful experience.
Unfortunately, our faith communities tend to reflect and propagate a power structure whose Eurocentric, phallogocentric social vision is best represented in the authoritarian figures governing the masses, the very same individuals who read Isaiah 61 and think it to be a spiritual metaphor, not a political message.
Were they to reapply a hermeneutic less forgiving of their privilege, they would find themselves implicated in the significance of God's "Judgment".
These same figures promulgate theologies that elevate and protect the privileged at the cost of the marginalized, reducing sin to personal righteousness and the "gospel" to evading eternal conscious torment at the hands of a vindictive Deity.
Theology is adept at keeping a specific group of people "in" and a specific group of people "out".
These walls are quite difficult to tear down.
We've all heard of churches seeking relevancy by conceding a lack of "diversity" in their congregation, staff, and executive leadership. It's worth remembering that, according to a recent study by Church Clarity, none of the top one hundred largest churches in the United States are LGBTQ+ affirming, and only seven of them are pastored by a person of color.
Out of those one hundred, only one is pastored by a woman who co-pastors with her husband.
Yet, if you visit any of their websites, you'll find an appeal to diversity spread throughout their messaging. Whether through pictures, social media graphics, or sermon series on important "issues" facing Evangelical Christians today, you'll get a sense of just what "diversity" really means (according to them).
For these kinds of communities and the many more represented by them, diversity is a buzzword whose real meaning necessitates a disclaimer, and those searching earnestly for belonging without having to sacrifice their identities are met with obfuscated doctrinal statements or redirected to a denominational resource.
Millions of professing Christians gather every weekend, singing with fervor the eschatological vision of "every tribe, tongue, and nation" worshiping side-by-side in total unity. This reflects yet another need for a theological disclaimer wherein the meaning of diversity is subject to a major caveat:
For them, "every tribe, tongue, and nation" does not include every sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Evidently, "diversity" has become a rather exclusive term.
Churches advertise themselves as inclusive spaces, posting phrases suggesting all are welcome without prejudice or exception. Yet try as they might to stretch the meaning of "come as you are", they're only harming people with a form of institutional gaslighting. Many, myself included, have written at length on the practical ramifications of this ecclesial precept, but I'm not here to harp on the same problem. I am here to remind you:
The Church is queer.
Theological boundaries set in place by those with power notwithstanding, no burden of dogma is heavy enough, no hamartiological conviction strong enough to keep at bay those God blesses and calls Beloved.
We will sit in your pews. We will take up space. We will serve on your volunteer teams and sing in your choirs. And as often as you may decry our wholeness from your pulpit, we will continue to breathe confidently as God's Beloved.
When we live into our Belovedness, we're a powerful people.
And we'll resist with great joy your refusal to acknowledge us as the Church.
We don't owe you anything.
Many of us have had to leave our faith communities, even those in which we would have preferred to stay, because they became unsafe and abusive. The thing we loved most, the thing we looked forward to every week - our family - was taken from us simply for who we are.
What are we to do?
Queer the Church.
We'll make it as colorful, dynamic, and joyful as we are. We'll make space for hurting people to hurt, for doubting people to doubt, for the disbelieving to disbelieve. We'll feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give comfort to the mourning because that's exactly what God's Beloved do.
We'll re-appropriate the songs penned by those who condemn us into songs of joy, singing our theology as a witness to our hardship.
We'll read Scripture critically, engaging it with open hearts and open minds, refusing to be shamed by the hermeneutics we were taught to believe.
And we'll stand up to cisheteropatriarchy in every way, shape, and form. No more white-washed, privileged theology with nothing to say on the ills of racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, patriarchy, and so on.
Queer the Church.
To breathe is to resist.
And we certainly don't need your pity.
A pitfall of many progressive Christian allies, even those nobly advocating LGBTQ+ inclusion at great cost to their personal safety, is the tendency to treat sexual minority Christians as "victims" to the point that we lose all agency in our own spiritual formation. Many of us have been cast aside by powerful people, yes, but we needn't be characterized over and over again as hapless victims - it's a status I've happily given up. While it provides emotional weight to the theological conversations taking place, it can have dehumanizing effects on queer Christians, making it appear as if we're being held against our will by one theological camp or the other.
Give us space, or we'll make it for ourselves.
So many of us have left one faith community only to find spiritual respite in the safety of another, sitting in seats alongside beautiful souls whose lives tell of God's Love despite immense challenges.
This is all highly idealistic, I know - but is it not an ecclesial vision worth fighting for?
Queer the Church.
And see the glory of God, the Love of God, in a people whose gifts won't be taken for granted, whose voices won't be silenced, and whose hearts are being made new by a God who says "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness".
"Blessed", She says.
Queer the Church.
If you're a Christian and a member of the LGBTQ+ community (or an ally), there are a variety of resources out there for you to find a spiritual home.
Visit Church Clarity to see scores on over eight hundred churches whose transparency on policy regarding LGBTQ+ people have been reported. You can even submit reports for review.
You can also visit GayChurch.org to search for affirming churches near you.
The Convergence Network has its own database of progressive churches listed by state/province, all of whom are committed to justice and inclusivity.
As always, you can find more over in Resources.