Church is hard. I’ve never met more people with whom I disagree and people I don’t understand than I have at church. I’ve been disappointed in church, and I’ve disappointed others in church. Church costs time, energy, and money. It asks me to make choices I don’t want to make and to interrogate those choices thereafter. Zora’s good at most of this. Me, I’ve got farther to go.
And that’s why I belong here.
Rachel Held Evans says in her latest book, Inspired: “The Christian life isn’t about intellectual assent to a set of propositions, but about following Jesus in the context of actual marriages, actual communities, actual churches, actual political differences, actual budget meetings, actual cultural changes, actual racial tensions, actual theological disagreements.”
And, I’d add, queer Christians are not exempt from this call. Our lives are not theoreticals. Our lives are actual, and our marriages and communities and churches are too.
Yes – even us, queer Christians, for whom church may come with baggage and for whom church was ill-defined. We are not exempt.
Christian community, we were told, is how we learn. But Christian community is also how we unlearn and learn anew. Christian community is how queer Christians learn to be queer Christians and where we do – where we need – queer Christianity.
Now, let me be clear: I do not mean that we should attend churches that are toxic or harmful or abusive, or that we should attend the church in our neighborhood just because it’s the church in our neighborhood. (Zora has written here and here about the hardship and homebuilding of leaving non-affirming churches.) Nor do I mean that we need to fulfill the pietistic duty of occupying the pews for an hour each Sunday in order to head thereafter to brunch without guilt.
Rather, I am asking us, queer Christians, to find our church – the way Jesus intended church to be – if we haven’t already.
Who is your church? Who are your people who commit to a life of love and self-sacrifice for your sake and the sake of a higher love? Who are your supporters and correctors and advocates and warriors and role models?
When Zora and I moved to Maine, we searched for new Christian community. Now, I belong to the following:
Some Way, Somehow: Go
HopeGateWay is my church. It’s a place where we can bring our whole selves. I’ve hidden and censored myself in churches past, but I can show up at HopeGateWay as I am. That extends past Zora’s and my ability to show up as a queer married couple. I can also bring my anger, frustration, fear, and doubt into this community strong and loving enough to handle them. I’ve come to learn that HopeGateWay is a haven for many who’ve left lesser churches in the past.
I also belong to a vibrant online faith community, Progressive Asian American Christians (PAAC), where over 6,000 individuals act as a kind of church for one another. Many members find themselves in spiritual exile from their faith traditions or are recovering from traumatic church experiences of their past.
Like HopeGateWay, this online oasis is a community where individuals can strengthen one another in our collective walk with God. PAAC represents a lively, accountable, and deliberate way of doing Christian community across space. Even within what sounds like a small slice of identity, there are countless different life experiences and theological understandings. Its members include clergy, activists, artists, parents, academics, and so many other everyday disciples. Through an online medium, the community is able to raise funds for its members and important causes in times of need, encourage and pray for one another, collaborate on large public projects, and learn together. Through PAAC, I embarked on a one-year learning fellowship that transformed my previous understandings of theology, identity, and community.
PAAC is a community that decided to exist because it was needed. It is an example of the tenacity and creativity of Christians who insist on Christian community despite obstacles and past experiences. HopeGateWay is an example of Christian covenant – of trust in a geographically bound community where individuals differ but share a purpose.
With All Your Baggage: Go
If you’re a queer Christian, you most likely arrive at the door of any church with baggage. And that’s okay.
Church, if we do it right, shouldn’t be where we leave our baggage behind in order to enter. Church should be where we bring our baggage so that we can unpack and examine one another’s loads. Church should be where we offer medicine for the hurts of others and where we accept the medicine of others for our own hurts.
Church is an agreement to trust that the Spirit will indeed show up where two or more are gathered. Christian community doesn’t come with an “Unsubscribe” option, the same way Jesus didn’t get to live a life of solitary ministry. He made his theology clear through his interactions.
Rachel Held Evans later says in Inspired, “Like it or not, you can’t be a Christian on your own. Following Jesus is a group activity, and from the beginning, it’s been a messy one; it’s been an incarnated one.”
And thank God for that. We cannot love in a vacuum. Nor can we let the fruits of who we are go to waste.
Queer Christian: find your community, or create your own. We are not made to do this work of life alone. At its best, church is the site from which we build the kin-dom. And at other times, church will be hard, awkward, exposing, and sometimes painful.
And we belong there.
Resources to help you find a church community in your area:
- Church Clarity: a high-quality user-submission database of churches around the U.S. ranked for their clarity on two important progressive matters: whether a church will ordain women and non-binary people, and whether the church is fully affirming and celebratory of LGBTQ people.
- Reconciling Ministries Network: a network of affirming United Methodist churches and communities (and my employer!)
- More Light Presbyterians: a network of affirming Presbyterians
- Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists: a network of affirming Baptists
- GayChurch.org: an ecumenical (unspecific to a denomination) resource to help you find an affirming Christian place of worship
- DignityUSA: an association of affirming Catholics in the U.S.
- IntegrityUSA: an association of affirming Episcopal churches
- Metropolitan Community Church: a denomination formed by a concern for civil and human rights movements, race, gender, sexual orientation, economics, climate change, and aging. MCC was the first to perform same-gender marriages.
- Q Christian Fellowship: the community built around Q Christian, formerly known as the Gay Christian Network
- Progressive Asian American Christians: If you’re one of our Asian/Pacific Islander readers, consider joining this remarkable community
- The #exvangelical Twitter community: an ongoing, no-barrier community and conversation on Twitter
- Sanctuary Collective: Queer Theology’s online community and compendium of LGBTQ Christian learning materials
- Episcopal LGBTQ Connection: an active and protected Facebook group for LGBTQ Episcopalians
- Raising Children Unfundamentalist: a community of Christian caretakers and parents committed to raising their kids in a faith that isn’t hierarchical, controlling and fundamentalist.
- Compass L.A.: a Los Angeles-based online and geographically bound community of LGBTQ Christians