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8 Steps to Being Queer in a Non-Affirming Church

queer_in_church

Hey there! Yeah you, the queer in the prayer closet. Having trouble in church? Struggling with looking your pastor in the eye? Dining and dashing in your place of worship? I might be able to help with that. The relationship between queers and the church is in flux right now — some churches are openly affirming, while others hide behind made-up tradition as their means of justified discrimination. I happen to be a faithful member of a church from the latter end of the spectrum. I assume, since you’re reading this article, the same goes for you. I’ll also assume some of you are reading because you need some solid advice on how to behave around your God-fearing, fag-judging peers.

Don’t worry, I won’t give the cringe-inducing advice: “Why don’t you just go to a different church?” I know that would be telling you to leave your family in Christ. It’s just as bad as people wanting to kick you out; both are saying, “you don’t belong here.” No, instead, I’m going to give you some steps that have allowed me to coexist with people who disagree with me. I realize these steps may not be for everyone, but they have worked for me in keeping the peace so we could focus on God.

And now, my fellow fairies (and friends), here are eight steps to help with being queer in church:

1. Smile and Wave

Just act natural. Before I accepted gay into my life, I was given the title “old ladies man” because I would chat with all of the old ladies in church every Sunday. Marlene was my favorite because she used to be my neighbor. I would go to her house once a week after school to hang out. She’d make us ham and cheese sandwiches (mayo on mine, mustard on hers), and I’d ask her to tell me stories from her past (my favorite were stories about her first husband). So, naturally, I would begin my rounds in church talking to her about life: “College is fine. How’s your speech therapy going? Does the guy still compliment your teeth?” Marlene, in her wheelchair, would hold her arms out to me for a hug and a kiss. She’d tell me she loved me, and that she wants to hear all about my trip to Ethiopia, or Scotland, or wherever I’d gone at the time.

Then, next on my rounds, I’d go to Grandma and Grandpa (no relation). Grandma would compliment me for being handsome, I’d compliment her for aging gracefully, and she’d yell at me for calling her old. All the while Grandpa would make cracks at both of us. Grandma is perhaps one of my favorite conservatives to have walked the face of the earth. She would pull me aside and, in hushed tones, tell me not to be like the kids from the Black Lives Matter movement, justifying her racist undertones with dated theology. Instead of getting mad, I would nod my head and tell her I’ll do my best to be good, of course meaning I would happily protest for the BLM movement if the opportunity arose. But she didn’t have to know that. Then I’d hug and chat with Judy, the sisters, Laura, Rich, Gale, Linda, Lisa, and so on.

After I came out (to myself), my favorite part of church felt weird all of the sudden: “Oh no, now that I secretly accepted who I am, doing what I always do every Sunday is going to make me look gayer!” It took me too long to realize how idiotic that thought was. I didn’t talk to my elderly friends for weeks. When I finally got the courage, Marlene had been sick with a severe cold that altered her voice for months, Grandpa had gone to surgery for the fiftieth time, and one of the sisters moved away. So, partially out of necessity and partially out of my love for the other old folks, I learned to act as I normally would. And that’s when I discovered something: nothing about me changed! I was still the same guy, and only when I wasn’t making my rounds did people think there was an issue.

Fun fact: nothing about you changed either — except perhaps a higher sense of self-awareness. Stay true to yourself, and don’t let your sexuality hinder you from anything — especially not maintaining relationships with loved ones.

2. Breathe… Lots of Breathing

Sometimes, actually a lot of times, you’ll have to remind yourself to forgive. But when you do, you’ll feel like Jesus mother-loving Christ (“Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do”). When you hear the out of context “anti-gay” scripture in Leviticus, or 1 Timothy, or whichever of the seven for the 100th time, take a breath and remember everyone is entitled to their interpretation of scripture (or opinion). If you forget that, you aren’t entitled to your own. Usually, I think of something witty to say. I remember once I was talking to a classmate. He was talking about how a scripture in Romans proved my identity was a sin. Trying to get to my next class, I put on my backpack, looked him in the eye and responded, “I’ll be sure to avoid the whore-houses.” A quick flip of the hair and twist to the door put the final nail on that cross. Another great comeback is, “Thank’s for looking out for me, bro. How’s that tattoo treating you?” Oh, or quoting scripture in Leviticus about loving the sojourner (but that one only works if you know they are against mexican immigration or middle eastern refugees. Or if they are Trump/Cruz supporters).

If you think comebacks would be inappropriate, I would employ the counting backwards method: Ten (I’m pissed), Nine (I want to punch their heteronormative face), Eight (but Jesus loves all humanity), Seven (surely He’d forgive me for just one punch…), Six (but, like, I’m supposed to forgive and stuff, man), Five (that whole “seventy-seven times seven” thing), Four (they just don’t understand my perspective), Three (and they are trying to be loving), Two (alright I’m feeling better), One (Remember, I love my sibling in Christ).

“… and you can’t deny the scripture in Romans …” Ten, Nine, Eight…

3. Respect Your Allies

For every hater, there is an ally — or at least ¼ of an ally. You may need four haters to receive an ally. Allies seem to magically appear like buds on a potato you’ve had in your cabinet for the last month (people say magic isn’t real and the potato eyes can be explained by science, but then I ask if science can explain why I always have glitter on my body, and they let it go). Sometimes, it’s hard to accept allies into my community of gays, but I remember that it takes a lot of courage from the ally because they are basically promising to debate with church people — and likely family — for the rest of their lives. I know how much I hate debating homosexuality with family over Sunday dinners when the pastor said something offensive:

Dad might say, “What did you think about service today, Luke?”

“It was fine,” I respond, spooning mashed potatoes in my mouth because it isn’t polite to talk while chewing, and I can use that as an excuse not to say anything.

“I liked the part about how sinning is kind of like spitting in God’s face after he gave you life,” Mom may add pointedly.

“Yeah, we shouldn’t sin,” I say, then to myself, That’s a rehearsed preschool response. Surely they can’t debate that. I’m in the clear.

Then dad says, “Well, then, why do you do it?”

Ten, Nine, Eight…

As frustrating as it is to admit that Allies receive discrimination, they do. Sure, they may not get as many death threats, but associating with the unpopular crowd often makes you just as unpopular. Your allies may be the greatest weapon you have because otherwise we gays just sound like whiners. Respect allies, love them, and be thankful for them. But make sure they respect and love you back, otherwise that isn’t a healthy relationship. That’s a completely different article…

4. Also, Respect Your Non-Ally Friends

Some of my best friends are God-fearing church people who think homosexuality is a sin. Their beliefs shouldn’t determine if your friendship is valid or not. If your sexuality is too difficult for them to accept, then they have growing to do. But in my experience, people don’t modify their behavior when they learn the truth. And if they do, it often goes away after they figure out you aren’t attracted to them and you aren’t trying to convert them.

Somehow, we learn to live with each-other even though we disagree a lot. If you let your sexuality hinder your friendships, you’re like the people who stopped being friends with you after you came out to them. When sexuality + disagreement = friendship loss, it doesn’t matter who ended things with whom, both result in the end of something that was once great. As I said before, don’t let your sexuality hinder you from anything — especially loving relationship.

5. Don’t Proselytize Your Queerdom in Church

Church isn’t the place to push your beliefs of anything besides the gospel of Jesus. I’d be wary talking about any issue during church unless you’re the pastor or you’re at a discussion-based devotional. You can debate the minor aspects of scripture on your own time in a healthy, open-minded way. But that time right-before and just-after church is for fellowship and caring about your spiritual family. Ask them how their week was or how their children are doing; don’t corner them into a discussion about your sexuality. If they’d like to talk about it, go to lunch afterwards or get coffee sometime.

Too many Christians think of sexuality discussions as the “gay agenda” without realizing it’s really just someone looking for love and acceptance. So, unless you’re prompted, why should you bring what they view as an agenda to church? Imagine someone walking around explaining why they think abortion should be legalized — I’d want to kick them out too (and not necessarily because I disagree)! Church isn’t for arguing, and if you start something, it can look like the 2016 Republican primary debates. I’ve been called “ignorant,” “stupid,” and basically anything Donald Trump would say to someone who disagrees with him. What kind of healthy church environment is that? Leave the debates at home, and save this time for love and community.

And if someone starts it, say you don’t want to talk about it. I have on multiple occasions ended a discussion with “No offense, but I’d really rather not talk about this right now.” If they don’t respect your wishes, do what Jesus did: bring out the sass with a bible verse about non-judgement like, “why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). Then walk away. You don’t need a response. Go talk to someone else, or go sit down and open your bible so they won’t bother you. Taking the high road is always the best option.

queer_in_church26. Don’t Wear Your Colors to Church

If you wear rainbow colors every Sunday, it’s basically non-verbal proselytizing (see tip 5). If you feel like showing pride for your sexuality in church, I’d recommend obscure flag options. For example, an upside down pink triangle is the gay symbol (and also AIDS awareness), and the upside down black triangle is the lesbian symbol. If you’re a winter skin tone and asexual, well played; asexual colors are purple, black, grey, and white. And shout out to my allies: wear black and white stripes!

Other flag colors may not be as obvious as the rainbow, but I find it super effective when my internal Justice Warrior needs some air time (NOTE: you can look up flags/colors for nearly every sexuality online). I have friends who wear rainbow bracelets or necklaces, too. One trans guy recently sent me a picture of his trans colors nail polish. It’s not as obvious as your “Gay is Okay” shirt, but it definitely feels equally as rewarding!

7. That Said, Don’t Bear False Witness… You’re in Church for Christ’s Sake!

You don’t have to proselytize your sexuality to be true to it. If someone asks why you’re wearing a wedding band, tell them about your same-sex spouse. If they ask why you’re dressed so androgynously, tell them you are non-binary. If they want to talk about it further, go for it if you have time. If not, I’m a big advocate for coffee dates (I’ve mentioned them twice in this article)! If someone comments on how they think you are an abomination, tell them not to make unclean what Jesus has made clean (Acts 10:15), and remind them that you are both children of God. They may still think you’re sinning, but at least there is scriptural backing to keep them from telling you they are in any way better than you. Also, never underestimate the power of walking away.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself (and remember despite how it may feel sometimes, your sexuality isn’t all of you). That said, remember point five? Keeping the peace is of the utmost importance at church. If you know someone is asking about your rainbow lanyard because they want to start something, tell them a different truth about it:

“What’s your lanyard about?”

“Oh, this? It’s my favorite. I got it from a friend.”

The above response only works if you actually did receive your rainbow lanyard from a friend. You could also say it’s great for holding keys or some other captain-obvious response. If the person wants to get into a debate, they probably already know you’re gay, so you don’t need to remind them. Find a way to change the subject, so you can respect each other as fellow siblings in Christ:

“What’s your lanyard about?”

“Oh, it holds my keys. Do you prefer lanyards or keychains?”

Works every time.

8. Love Thine Enemies

Remember when you say “Jesus Loves Everyone” you’re including the people holding up the “God Hates Fags” signs. Also, remember when you say “Why can’t people be more loving?” that means you have to be more loving to the people that hold up the “God Hates Fags” signs. AND the ones that don’t call you by your preferred pronouns. AND the ones that make fun of you for wearing lipstick, or flannel, or holding hands with your partner. We are called to forgive even the heteronormative/heterosexist/homophobic/cisgendered Christians. Don’t profess love without first acting in it.

Perhaps the best way to show love is by showing mercy. I read once in an article that I’ve long misplaced to show more mercy than you expect to receive. I would push it a step further and say, expect no mercy. That makes the little bit you are sure to receive from a practicing Christian worth enough to maintain communion with them. From my studies about God, I’ve learned that he is fully loving, fully just, and fully merciful. I think by remembering God gave his life to save people who wanted him dead, I remember we are to give our lives for our enemies as well — at least metaphorically. The Bible says we will be known by our love, so let’s show it in ways we aren’t given.


photo credits: Jimmy and Sasha Reade, cc;
torbakhopper, cc.

 

Garfield-LukeLUKE GARFIELD is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University where he earned a degree in TESOL and Writing. While at this arguably homophobic school, he created an underground LGBT+ support group that grew rapidly.

Check out his new blog at A Moveable Hunger.

 

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