I hear it over and over again in my work with those questioning their sexual orientation; “I don’t see how my Christian faith can co-exist with being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender.” I will hear things like, “it just doesn’t work together, I don’t see a way out, there’s no hope, I don’t know how not to be a Christian,” and “I don’t know how to not be LGBTQ.” This is usually when either an internal voice speaks up, or someone in his or her life suggests simply choosing not to be queer; the idea of choice arises. While both our internal wonderings and the voices of those in our lives are strong and loud for good reasons, we also need to pay close attention to what our heart is telling us by listening to our feelings. In the deep quiet space, what is your heart telling you? To be clear, this is not a stance of weakness, but it takes great courage to hear and be honest about what it’s saying.
Here’s the thing: if I or anyone else who is LGBTQ could choose our sexual orientation or gender identity don’t you think we’d choose something easier and more socially acceptable? Believe me, if anyone could have chosen and found a way not to be a LGBTQ, I would have found it. I spent years fasting, praying, reading my Bible, engaging in accountability and therapy and at the end of those years, here I am. Still gay. What I found instead is that we don’t get to choose our sexual orientation or gender identity. It is actually completely illogical and offensive for people to assume we can choose to be, or not be LGBTQ. Obviously, as Christians, it’s WAY easier to be straight so why would we choose such a painful path? And while we choose our faith everyday; everyday we wake up and say yes to God. On some level it’s also something so deeply ingrained in us that for me and many others, to be a Christian doesn’t feel like something that can simply be undone, or un-chosen. So this takes us to where we started. Can someone be both Christian and LGBTQ? A deep internal torment occurs when there are two central elements of the self that don’t seem to have any real way of coexisting yet neither seem to be able to be taken out of our core selves.
I remember the years of trauma and misery not understanding why God would let me be attracted to women if he knew that it was so wrong and bad. All I wanted from life was to please and praise God with all of me. By some fluke, I felt I had the only flaw that got in the way of that. I felt powerless and would pray that God would take my life; death was the only way out in my mind. That was the only way I could conceive of things being resolved.
I hear in my work the same prayers I once prayed, “God, take my life. I can’t kill myself, so please take my life”. I no longer pray this prayer and now feel part of my calling is to help others know they no longer need to utter these words either. There is hope, there are beautiful ways your LGBTQ orientation and Christian faith can co-exist. For instance, I’ve found that I connect to Jesus in a different, more connected way now. He too was someone who was an outcast, rejected by the religious leaders of his day; like me and many other queer people. There is something deeply intrinsic to who he was that any LGBTQ person can deeply connect to. This connection to Jesus creates space for an aliveness in my faith.
For me, the journey of considering how my deeply held Christian faith and my attraction for women were not opposed to one another was a lot like the song by Katy Perry. I kissed a girl. And I liked it. Still, it wasn’t enough that I liked it. Let me try to be clear here – with that kiss, I felt a connectedness to my true self, the way God made me. I had never felt that way when I kissed men. It was in that moment of knowing this was how God had made me that my heart opened to the idea that maybe there was a way to reconcile faith and desire. There was also something missing when I kissed a woman that I was sure would be there.
What was missing, you ask? The conviction of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t feel convicted at all when I kissed a woman. You might start going to a place of telling me that my heart as a human is wicked and deceitful, but I know now just as I knew then that my heart was one that wanted what God wanted for me and was sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t someone who just did what felt good and said “screw it” to everything else. A good example of this: I went to a pretty conservative school for my undergraduate studies where they had a rule that students couldn’t go to the movies. There was one particular day I was feeling kind of lonely and just wanted to rest in the darkness of a movie theatre. My heart beat fast as I bought the ticket. Sweat pored from my brow as I walked into the theatre; I was breaking a rule I had agreed to follow. It seems funny now, but the truth is that I didn’t even make it through the previews before I ran out of the theatre. I felt so guilty that I had broken the rules that I couldn’t stand it. Even though I didn’t even understand what the purpose of the rule was, I wanted to be obedient. I wanted to be obedient to what God would have wanted from me.
I’m not trying to sound holier-than-thou, it’s just that I’m a pretty earnest person and desire to please God, to be close to God. This is why when I kissed a woman and didn’t feel what I always thought I’d feel – namely, the conviction of the Holy Spirit – it blew my mind. That instant changed my life forever. I had been told by a member of the church that if I ever kissed a woman, that I would feel shame, guilt and a sense of being far from God. I was told that I would be convicted from the Holy Spirit. Only, that’s not what happened during that kiss. Instead, I was filled with peace, excitement, blessing and an affirmation of rightness. In an instant, I knew I had been wrong. Everyone who had told me being gay was a sin was wrong. I felt God’s blessing, not conviction.
This started a process where I began to study the Bible in ways that explored more than just one point of view, learning the “clobber passages” that are usually used to prove homosexuality is a sin aren’t so cut and dry, and that there are many ways to interpret and exegete passages in ways that don’t address homosexuality as a sin. I began to consider not only the translation, but also the historical context, the intent of the writer, and developed a humility towards the Bible as I thoroughly came to accept the ways that it had been used to prove really horrendous things by Christians. I was struck with why lesbians weren’t talked about in the Bible; women were considered less than men in power, stature and value. They were property and so there was no need to talk about them. This new way of understanding the Bible, along with the continued peace of God in my heart is what helped me know I was being blessed by God in my same-sex relationship.
Naturally, I could have taken that experience and discredited it. I could have pushed the peace of the Holy Spirit away and assumed I was bad and horrible. I could have silenced the goodness and assumed I was being deceived. I am constantly face-to-face with Christians who believe their feelings are not to be trusted. They believe their feelings are bad and that their heart is bad. Are we really that easily lead astray? This actually doesn’t make sense on a logical level for me. I’ve actually come to see that feelings are a gift from God; we’ve been given them to inform and help us navigate our lives. I think as people of faith it’s time for us to start listening to what we feel. It’s like there’s this unwritten rule in Christianity that says our feelings are not to be trusted. Our feelings can be trusted when we feel convicted to do something, like pray more. We can trust our feelings in a conversion experience, like at salvation. But when it comes to a desire that is sexual in nature, or even in relationships in general, feelings are deemed bad, evil and wrong. In the snap of a finger, your heart goes from being able to be trusted to darkness and damnation. Suddenly, a feeling, hunch, or intuition needs to be resisted. It makes no sense. Every single person I’ve heard talk about this goes to the same passage found in Jeremiah.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV) Jeremiah 17:9
The verse seems very direct and simple; our hearts are wicked and will deceive us. But if we take another Jeremiah passage that seems like a clear message to us as individuals and take a closer look we see something very differently. What I’m talking about is Jeremiah 29:11. The verse is about a nation, not an individual. That is abundantly clear from the chapter, but we insist that it is our individual “life verse” which is exactly the mindset that Jeremiah is challenging – the isolationist individualism of society, uncoupled from what has been happening. In a similar way looking at the context of 17:9, the very next verse says God searches the heart. Why would God search for what is apparently already been deemed “beyond cure” or “wicked”? It makes no sense! I was also able to find that the verse wasn’t always translated with such a moral bent and so I agree with others who have translated this verse from Hebrew as, “The heart is complex and fragile, who can know it?” instead of the dismissive negative reading of “deceitful… and beyond cure.” It makes more sense that God would search for our fragile hearts, doesn’t it? I’d like to propose that our hearts and our feelings are actually an integral part of deciphering how our faith and LGBTQ identities can co-exist.
This idea that we can begin to trust our feelings is central to beginning to open our minds; what would happen if we started trusting our heart’s desires? In my life, I found that the one thing I thought would separate me from God actually brought me closer in more beautiful ways that I could have ever imagined. Can you be gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender and Christian? Absolutely. Without a doubt. I could not possibly assume how you should live that identity out or what God will guide you to do, but living as God has created me to be has meant marrying the best woman I know and having two smart, fun, and full of life kids. We pray daily for God’s wisdom in our lives and theirs and believe we are very much in the center of God’s will. I’m so glad I followed desire and trusted my heart; I am blessed.