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Queer Christians: We Also Need the Church

Ada

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.

 

Online communities:

  • 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
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Why My Family Will Always Fear

Zora

I was six years old when Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead by two men who were tormented by his very existence as a gay man. Twenty years later, his story has resurfaced in social and mainstream media as he was finally laid to rest at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. last weekend.

At the time of Matthew’s murder, I was far too young to understand what happened. My grandparents were fifty-seven; my mother was twenty-eight. None of them would have imagined I would be like Matthew. Like most people, they presumed their little girl to be straight.  

The Pulse shooting was the first major instance of violent homophobia to shake my consciousness. I was twenty-four – just three years into living authentically as queer – and I remember in my body the anguish I felt. The shooting took place six days before Ada’s and my wedding. It was then the deadliest single-day mass shooting since 1949 in the United States.

Not long after Pulse, my grandmother asked, “You and Ada don’t go to gay bars, do you?”

Her question left me indignant. Now, I can hear the concern beneath her words. She has lived fifty years longer than I have in a heteronormative, homophobic world. She fears for me.

Through Their Eyes

Over a dozen years later, when I came out to my mother and grandparents, Matthew Shepard’s murder didn’t flash before their eyes. But the impact that his and other stories of anti-LGBTQ violence shaded their perspective.

Being small town folks of a certain generation, they had little direct experience with out queer people. Most of what they knew about the world beyond theirs came from what they saw on television.

What they saw on television imbued them with bias against LGBTQ people. Over the course of their lives, they’ve seen queer people deemed ill and institutionalized. They’ve seen queer people defamed by politicians and church leaders. They’ve seen the AIDS crisis. They’ve seen pride parades – celebrations of our self-worth – discredited or used as the butt of jokes. They’ve seen queer people spat upon, beaten, and killed.

More recently, my TV-attuned family has also seen queer people elected to public office. They’ve learned that their favorite newscaster (shout out to Robin Roberts) and favorite musician (shout out to Brandi Carlile) are queer. They’ve seen out-and-proud Adam Rippon skate on the Olympic ice.

More importantly, they’ve seen me living an authentic, happy, and healthy life.

Through Their Pain

I’ve heard it said and found it to be true that it takes only one or two examples to confirm a stereotype but a hundred to debunk it. So despite these exemplars of queer positivity in our culture, my family will likely never outgrow their internalized fear for queer people like me. I can’t blame them for that. The trauma has been too vast and too deep.

Lately, my faith has been teaching me to better embrace grief. The Bible is filled with examples of deep mourning: the loss of a homeland, the loss of political independence, the loss of a child, the loss of a Savior. These are not happy stories, and it can be tempting to mine through them until a mountain’s worth of suffering is stripped away only to focus on a gem of hope.

There is value in accepting the grief that my family feels when they remember that mine is a people still in danger. By accepting their grief, I can love them better.

When the next act of anti-LGBTQ violence makes national headlines, I won’t be dismissive toward my loved ones when they ask: “You and Ada don’t hold hands on the street, do you?” or “You won’t talk about being gay on the internet, right?” I do, and I do. And frankly, sometimes I share their fears.

I hope that someday my family’s fearful whispers might turn to shouts of joy, that their mourning might turn to dancing. Chances are, though, it won’t.

For me, that’s okay. I understand why they mourn: they mourn because they love. Between us is a gulf of misunderstanding: there’s much about me that they don’t understand, and there’s much about them that I don’t understand either. But they care – care enough to fear. And that makes me love them all the more.

 

Featured image: album cover of Considering Matthew Shepard – Composed by Craig Hella Johnson

 

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It Gets Your Own Kind of Better

Ada

It’s been a year since we began writing the blog we now call Queering the Kindom. Thank you for being with us. However long you’ve been with us, we’re honored that you’re here.

We set out to share what we’ve learned in marriage, love, and friendship to give a glimpse of what a queer Christian relationship can look like. It’s hard to combat any narrative without a new one, and the narrative we set out to combat was that a queer and partnered life could not be righteous and fruitful. The narrative we set out to proclaim is that queer individuals who live in obedience to their God-given identity are a delight to that giving God.

We hope that Queering the Kindom has helped you on your journey. If it has, we encourage you to share the blog with your loved ones. Today, I want to tell a story to those who may have just come out, either on National Coming Out Day or otherwise, or to those for whom coming out is not yet an option.

Fourteen years ago, my family and I came to Maine for the first time. We drove halfway across the country, and I had loaded up my MP3 player with terrible music, and my brother had loaded up his pockets with packets of jam he’d taken from a restaurant outside of Philadelphia. Maine was where my brother picked wild blueberries for us, cupped them in his hand, and spilled them down the hillside when he tripped over the rocks that fold up like waves. I hope that some of those became new blueberry bushes.

I came out to my parents not long after that trip. Maine was in the rearview, high school ahead of me, endless as the prairie, as a night too warm for sleeping. It was my brother, when he grew a little older and wiser, who told me that our mother always loved us. And it was I who added that she often showed that poorly but the best that she knew how. It’s important that the word “and” be included between the clauses.

It’s a cultural thing, my friends and I commiserate late at night, that our elders believe they know what’s best for us, so they act on that presupposition, or they act against our “no no no no no” until we cave and say, meekly, “okay, yes,” because that keeps the peace better than expressing our agency does. They do it because they love us.

Zora, who grew up lobstering on a noisy boat and grew up white, didn’t have that experience, and there’s very little guesswork with her. I love that.

And so my relationship with my parents has been this faltering walk on a rocky ledge for many years.

This week, they came back to Maine for the first time since that first time. We last saw each other for Christmas in Illinois. That visit wasn’t easy, but I had given Zora a list of things to do to be a good Chinese daughter-in-law and she did them well.

Now they were here because I met and married a woman from Maine and we moved here. The morning before Zora joined us, we go up the hill overlooking the bay. “Do you remember the last time we were here?” my mother asks. “You must be cold. Go get your coat from the car.”

“I’m not cold.”

My wife grew up across that bay.

Now as we talk about buying a home, they side with my wife: “Yes, get a duplex. We’ll be your first renters. Or we’ll pay you in childcare.”

The last morning we were together, my mother says to me she wished she knew that Zora had recently been sick. “I would’ve brought more of the medicine I’ve been taking.” She gives the rest to Zora nonetheless.

“You should keep it, ma. Zora and I can always buy more when we get back to town.”

“What kind of mother would I be if I let my own daughter suffer while I was well?” She adds, “After all, she is my daughter now.”

Then: “I made dumplings for Zora. She’s going to like them, so I made two full bags.” We spend many minutes rearranging the freezer to accommodate the dumplings. I risk a loaf of bread that should’ve stayed put.

Zora drives to the nearest ATM early one morning to withdraw cash for lobsters. It had rained all weekend, and no one thought to bring umbrellas, but somehow we stay warm enough. We buy the lobsters at the co-op and cook them that night. Zora and my mother go down to the dock together to fetch water for cooking.

Zora takes the medicine every day. When my parents left, we went home and ate dumplings.

I don’t know how to end this story. Some of it feels like a fairy tale, of which I feel undeserving. How would I even begin to tell this to that kid who left Maine in the rearview fourteen years ago, who looked across the bay, perhaps over the streets where her someday-wife was riding her bike, singing along to terrible music, coming home from a long day of lobstering?

One day, her someday-wife will also have her best wishes presupposed by the people she calls ma and ba and they will call it love and they will call her their daughter. And it will be imperfect and worthy. One day, we will stand in the busy intersection of cultural misunderstandings and humbling relearnings and we will hold one another’s umbrellas.

One day, it will get better, the way spring never comes gradually, but always all of a sudden – the way you watch for the sunrise but forget the right-before. It will get better, and it will take all the moments before. It will take the longest days and the sleeplessness, and it will take the anger and misunderstanding and the exile and the loneliness. It will take you making it through this.

It will not get the same kind of better, but it will get a uniquely-you kind of better because of the uniquely-you way you will interface with a giving God. My own kind of better includes a second chance to live and review the ways in which I imperfectly express love with my family. I cannot write a better story than the one I get to co-author with the Holy Spirit. Neither can you. It gets your own kind of better.

And you will take your story from up on the mountaintop and bring it running to the ones you love most, your hands cupped to keep it inside, and an act of God will tumble that story of grace down the side of the hill, and in some places, that grace will take root, and in some places, that grace will bear fruit, and so on, and so on, and so on.

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“So, what are you two, like roommates?”

Zora

Ada and I had an uncomfortable Lyft ride this summer. We were headed home well after midnight, weary from a long series of flights. A middle-aged white man picked us up at the baggage claim, and he and Ada exchanged the usual post-airport pleasantries. (I usually sit back and let her do the talking.)

Halfway home, things started to turn. Our driver railed about his girlfriend. She spent too much time on Facebook and not enough with him, but no, our suggestion that maybe she ride along in his Lyft and scroll from the front seat would never fly. He disliked her altogether. Loudly and smugly, he declared his disdain for our tight-knit and diversifying city. It quickly became apparent that this man wasn’t interested in masking his misogyny or xenophobia.

Without so much as a glance, Ada and I synced to the same mindset. We were not safe.

The drive passed slowly. A few blocks from home, he asked, “So, what are you two, like roommates?”

A quick affirmative.

Some white lies to bolster our roommate charade.

Another block.

Home.

. . .

As I wound down from the journey and tried to clear my head before sleep, I realized this wouldn’t be the last time Ada and I hid in plain sight, and I felt ashamed. Our driver would never have assumed we were roommates if we were a heterosexual couple. How can two women who boldly live their queer identity in virtually every sphere of life shrink in the backseat of a cab?

But after sleep, a shower, coffee, and breakfast, I was able to dismantle that shame. What we did wasn’t shameful. It was smart.

The truth is, we are living in a time where queer folks are more accepted and more celebrated. And the other truth is that we are often still in danger.

A Right to Fear

Writing for them., Beverly Tillery gives a stark summary of anti-LGBTQ violence and discrimination in the United States in 2017, including:

  • an average of one LBGTQ murder victim per week,
  • 27 murders of transgender and gender nonconforming people – the highest on record – with the vast majority of victims being people of color, and
  • 129 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in states across the nation.

Tillery also cites a Media Matters report finding that anti-LGBTQ violence garnered less than 40 minutes of television coverage across all news channels in 2017. We are also being beaten, murdered, and trodden upon by systems like governments and healthcare

A Right to Self-Preservation

We have a right to be accepted and celebrated. And we also have a right to be afraid and to be smart. We have a right to share our identity, and we have a right to hold it close to our chests.

Our hope is that soon, all places will be safe spaces. But we’re not quite there yet. And while we’re not, we need to practice self-preservation. Without us, who will build the future?

A straight friend of ours recently shared that she hadn’t realized how LGBTQ folks live constant “coming out” moments. We may be out to our families, friends, and coworkers, but then comes along a DMV clerk, landlord, or ride-share driver that sounds our internal alarm or is outright hostile toward us.

In moments like those, we have a right to protect ourselves by selectively disclosing our vulnerabilities.

But even more so, we have a right to live in a world where sexual and gender identities are no longer vulnerabilities. We’re not in that merry kin-dom yet, but we will be.

Until then, queer kin, be gentle with yourselves. In spaces where your authentic selves are unwelcome, you owe no one the fullness of who you are. Trust your instincts because you are precious.

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Crafting the Statement on God’s Justice: Why Not Us?

Ada

Two weeks ago, John MacArthur and a dozen other conservative evangelical men released a statement likening the pursuit of social justice to heresy. In addition, the statement celebrated white supremacy and sought to uphold other forms of oppression that comprise a cultural status quo.

Why Not Us: How the Statement Came to Be

A few days later, 35 progressive Asian American Christians assembled in response to a question that we recognized as a call:

“Are there other progressive entities rebutting the MacArthur Statement?”

“Not as far as we know.”

“Why not us?”

Out of a community of 6,000, CC and EW stepped forward among 33 other volunteers. CC, EW, and I would orchestrate the other volunteers so that their brilliance could shine. What we wanted, in the end, was a statement that would stand between the toxic theology espoused by the now-7,000 signers of the MacArthur Statement and those most maligned by that theology. We hoped that whatever we produced would stand as a shield against those that the Church had surgically chosen to harm. We named it the Statement on God’s Justice (SOGJ).

From the beginning, we did not want to write a point-by-point rebuttal of MacArthur’s toxicity. Facts and dissections of biblical interpretation alone would change no minds, and some claims were too laughable to address. We wanted to retell better news: a truth worth remembering, worth signing, and worth working to make a reality.

But telling this story would not be easy. Whereas MacArthur and his team had the luxuries of time, influence, and money, we had none of these. If we wanted to publish a timely response, we had 48 hours. Between raising children, working, and the occasional hours of sleep, the task seemed daunting.

Three volunteers offered examples of topics that writers could address. Within hours, an assembly of 18 volunteers had voted on the articles to include in and exclude from the Statement. This was an inexhaustive list.

Next, CC, EW, and I reached out to Asian American writers, biblical scholars, and editors. We recruited 22 individuals appointed to articles according to interest and knowledge. Each team adhered to strict deadlines to create a draft, vet theology, and edit writing. Some teams consisted of up to eight people, with biblical scholars and editors going beyond their own section to assist with other sections. I served as the editor for two sections: Sexual Identity & Gender Identity and Economic Equality. Both teams consisted of an impassioned writer and committed biblical scholar.

After teams were formed, they adhered to a strict schedule. Writers had one overnight to create a first draft. Then, scholars had four hours in the afternoon to check the biblical foundations of the writers’ work and to fortify what existed. When these teams finished, editors had three hours in the evening to finesse the amalgamation of the writers’ and scholars’ work. Some sections proved more contentious than others. Not every section had a team that reached certitude on theology or word choice, but every team reached a consensus in time for the next team to begin. Some editors stayed on to ensure cohesion throughout the document.

Then, CC, EW, and I had between 11pm ET – 12am ET to comb through the final product. In the meantime, JDF and AAS stood in the wings, having created a website at breakneck speed ready to receive the final wording when it was ready. The website was populated by 2am ET and went live that night within the progressive Asian American Christian community then.

Our young, fearless PR team – EW, SC, and JY – had written a press release earlier that day and begun outreach. They would field inquiries, commandeer social media, and respond to the occasional angry phone call in the days to come.

Altogether, the SOGJ was created by 35 volunteers.

Phase II

As the number of signatures began to rise, the number of questions did, too. What did the writer mean by this wording? Why did the scholars choose this scripture? We asked our cadre of volunteers if they would be willing to respond to the inquiries from within our community.

Within a couple of days, we had reassembled the force and scheduled a three-week series of AMAs – “ask me anything” question-and-answer panels whereby each team would be available in a judgment-free arena to field inquiries from the community from which the SOGJ arose. SWP joined the administrative effort that included the PR team, the web team, EW, CC, and me. In the few instances where a contributor was unable to participate, we selected substitutes to round out the team’s remaining skill-set.

Why Us?

It’s been a week now since the release of the Statement on God’s Justice. Over 1,000 signatures later, I ask myself what the Statement has meant and what it will mean. From the world of mainline Protestants and other Christians, the loud tussle of evangelicals may seem archaic and primitive. Some Christians had not even heard the loud thud that the initial MacArthur statement had made in its circles.

We had set out to bear witness to a God who is perfect justice. We had also set out to wrest the name and meaning of Jesus from those who sought to equate him with white supremacy, religious fundamentalism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, and other forms of blatant oppression. Lastly, we had set out to be a balm for those wounded again by the proliferation of dehumanizing theology. The poet Sean Thomas Dougherty said it best:

“Right now, there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words.”

JM and JY were my teammates for the SOGJ’s article on Sexual Identity & Gender Identity. I was particularly moved by their collaborative process: that JM wrote with such conviction and depth of emotion, and that JY came alongside the writing process to affirm JM’s biblical foundation and fortify JM’s arguments with additional scriptural evidence. JY displayed ally-ship in theology. His comments seemed to say, “I hear and affirm you, and I come bearing holy evidence.”

Some critics of the SOGJ accuse it of being an emotional document. This is an understandable criticism from the co-signers of a document written by fourteen men – almost all white – who were socialized to equate emotion with weakness. Indeed, it is a document that is part exegesis, part proclamation, and part poetry. It was written by individuals who drew from personal experiences of oppression and prejudice and yearned deeply for equity. Some contributors pushed through illness to bring this Statement to life.

The substance and hope of our lives is in the Gospel, and specifically, in a good news that extends beyond un-engaging, uncourageous platitudes of salvation the size of a personal pizza, the depth of a teaspoon. We channel and recall a Savior who was emotional: who openly wept, who let his mind be changed, who kissed his friends, who flipped the money-changers’ tables… Of course, the SOGJ is an emotional document.

This was a team compelled by the Gospel, and I am beyond proud to belong to it. We proclaim a faith that speaks the substance of Jesus’ ministry through words and through acts. Through the process of releasing the SOGJ, we’ve received deeply personal feedback like the following:

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The SOGJ is faith-renewing because of its commitment to a difficult and courageous faith. It takes more courage to affirm an inclusive and intentional faith – especially for those who belong to exclusionary faith communities and have not “come out” as progressive Christians – than it takes to sign MacArthur’s declaration of war. We acknowledge that signing the SOGJ may not be safe for all, and while we lament it, we respect it. Some signers have already been censured by their community. It also takes more courage to live out a faith that stems from the SOGJ than it takes to live out a faith modeled after MacArthur’s vision of white supremacist religious fiefdom.

No one’s faith is renewed by MacArthur’s statement and the 7,000+ who have signed it so far. Theirs is not a prophetic theology. it is a willful denial of the Gospel call and a defense of shrinking cultural influence.

In the end, the SOGJ is not a revolution. It is not an act of God’s kin-dom realized. But it has the prophetic power to potentiate God’s kin-dom builders. Yes, it was written in response to abusive theology trotted out by evangelical leaders who have masterfully manipulated American culture for decades. We have hope that we are nearing the last days of that era. But it is far more than a rebuttal. See, our old have had visions, and our young have dreamed dreams…

 

If you have not yet, click HERE to sign the Statement on God’s Justice.

#JusticeIsLove

Artwork by Sheri Park & Jennifer Duann Fultz

Ada Got Published: Searching for Hope Through a Mother-Daughter Story

Zora

Earlier this month, Ada got published in Inheritance Magazine, a publication with “Asian and Pacific Islander stories, experiences, and reflections that affirm API identity and contribute to a more inclusive and multi-faceted understanding of Christian faith.”

Her story stems from a piece originally posted here on Queering the Kindom steeped with more time and more of the Spirit. I am so proud of her – of her hard work and talent, yes, but especially of her hope. Read on to witness it for yourself. 

Witnessing and Seeing: A Mother-Daughter Story

An excerpt from Inheritance #61: Searching for Hope

 

Four years ago, I had worried that as the sole Christian in my family, my coming out to my mother would hurt what Christians call my “witness”: the theology I live to demonstrate to others who God is. How can you be a Christian, she asked me then, if you are gay?

I laughed because hers was a critical question that first drove me to despise organized religion as a child and that later tested my faith as an adult. But still, I mourned the straight-and-narrow path of easy answers and easy witness I left behind when I took the leap to live authentically as a queer Christian.

. . .

My mother and I never made things easy for one another. But she has come a long way in four years: from her silence and absence at my wedding, to gradual phone calls and a couple holidays. Last year, my wife and I spent Christmas at her home.

Our first morning there, my wife and I were headed out for a walk. My mother said she’d drive us to a nearby park. “Don’t walk here,” she said, “Not in my neighborhood.”

She said she had quit walking her own streets, too, to avoid unwanted questions about me, to avoid embarrassment, to live peacefully. To risk her own face — to dare to wear her shame in public, she said — would change no one’s mind about her queer daughter.

At one point, she ushered me out of the family’s earshot and into her coat closet. She spoke quietly…

Journey over to Inheritance #61: Searching for Hope for the full story.

 

Incredible illustrations by Maria Vitan

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Learning the Long Way to Love Your Queer Self

Ada

Recently, I read an interview with a stranger, and it included this:

Social media changed the game. Before the Internet, I didn’t know anybody else with a disability. I didn’t hang out with other disabled kids, I didn’t want to. I wanted to blend in so badly. But, with the Internet, I’ve met people who are disabled and who love themselves. I learned to love them before I learned how to love myself.

“I learned to love them before I learned how to love myself.”

Later, I watched Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette,” and because it really is as singular and good as the critics say it is, I won’t give away too much. But I’ll say that she discusses shame, and in particular, the kind of shame that often trails queer folks. For those of us who are queer Christians, that shame can feel like a well a mile deep with smooth stone walls.

“I learned to love them before I learned how to love myself.”

There’s a prevailing Western notion that it’s only by loving yourself that you learn to love others – that you have to affix your own oxygen mask before you can put on others’. But self-love – and self-love first and foremost – can seem unattainable for many of us, and especially for anyone who struggles with shame.

Like Hannah Gadsby says in “Nanette,” shame doesn’t easily come out in the wash when you spend decades soaking in it. Years after you come to terms with who you are, and even the likeness of God in you, it’s still hard to defy the reflex of shame. Loving oneself doesn’t come naturally for everyone, and that’s okay. But it’s important that we embark on this re-informing journey to love self, love others, and love God. This is the work we’re here to do.

And what’s more – there’s really good news: the notion that it’s only by loving yourself that you can love others is false.

Learning Through Representation

Like many of you, I watched Crazy Rich Asians this weekend. It was the first Hollywood movie in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast. In the row in front of mine, two white people craned their heads upward to see the beautiful faces of Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, many other faces like mine. Thousands of times before, our roles were reversed, and I had looked up at faces like theirs, recognizing that theirs were beautiful, unsure if mine would ever be seen the same way.

Like Asian representation in Hollywood, queer representation happens so rarely in popular media, and it’s often done poorly. The queer stories of sadness and loss are plentiful. While it’s vital to bear witness to hardship, we have other stories, too. Even worse, the falsehoods sold by non-affirming Christians with an agenda of exclusion are often the only stories that young gay Christians hear about themselves. Those stories can be devastating. Our community is full of stories of the admirable, strong, resilient, clever, brave, and even glamorous. These are stories in which we find reflections of our potential and our destiny.

Representation of queer lives – full and vibrant lives – in a mainstream culture is meaningful in ways that small-scale and intra-community representation cannot be. Mainstream representation done well is a public message to an uncertain world that queer people are to be loved and to belong. Sometimes, mainstream representation affirms what is normal. Sometimes, mainstream representation is aspirational, showing audiences a future of beloved-ness that has yet to be achieved. Positive media representation has the power to display the best parts of ourselves – the best, most complex, and most beloved parts of queer identity. By loving the stories of us, we learn to love ourselves.

Some examples of queer TV and movie representation that Zora and I have recently enjoyed include the following:

TV

  • The Fosters (FreeForm)
  • Queer Eye (reboot; Netflix) 

    You can find more here.

MOVIES

 

  • Disobedience
  • Carol
  • Baby Steps
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • But I’m a Cheerleader

    You can find more here.

Learning Through Community

We also learn to love ourselves by being in affirming and queer community. Whereas non-affirming community can damage self-image, affirming community nourishes one’s ability to give and receive love honestly – with one’s whole self.

To see the multidimensional lives of other queer individuals gives us time and space to love them – to play with their children, eat in their homes, and share in their prayers. And as we grow to love the other queer individuals in our lives for their kindness, bravery, humor or oddities, we grow to love them also for their queerness. And we grow to love ourselves for our own kindness, bravery, humor, or oddities, and eventually for our own queerness and the glory reflected similarly in us. Zora wrote previously on the importance of queer friendships for this and other reasons.

For those with limited access to physical queer or queer-affirming community due to geography and safety, online communities can also play an immense role in affirmation. Some find queer community online at Q Christian Fellowship Online (formerly Gay Christian Network), Autostraddle, or Queer Theology’s Sanctuary Collective. (We do not recommend non-affirming online communities like Living Out.) In addition, countless communities exist on Facebook. If you happen to be an Asian American queer Christian reader seeking online community, send us a message, and I’ll be happy to connect you to a loving Facebook community.

Learning Through Scripture

We also learn to love ourselves by loving exemplars of queerness in Scripture. Our queer siblings in Scripture include Joseph with a rainbow dress (it was never a coat) – called to prophesy and dream – who rightly proclaimed that the same family that shunned him would later kneel at his feet. They include Jonathan and David, two warriors whose romantic love forms an epic tale recounted throughout the ages. They include the Roman centurion who begs Jesus to heal the enslaved man he loves and who receives that blessing of healing.

These are only some the most detailed accounts of queer individuals of the Bible. Others abound. But no queerer love exists in the Bible than the love recounted of our God, who breaks societal conventions of gender expression, who is a panoply of gender, and who is relentless in love. As we grow in our understanding of God’s own queerness and our capacity to love that God, so does our ability to love who we are.

Going Deeper in the Pools

There’s nothing false about the fact that sometimes, we do learn to love others by loving ourselves first. But thankfully, the Spirit that is Love has made this journey of learning to love a series of connected pools rather than a line of succession. Often times, we learn to love ourselves by loving others first. Thus, as we better learn to love God, we learn to love ourselves, and we learn to love others. And as we learn to love others, we learn to love God, and we learn to love ourselves – so on and so forth. Sometimes, “I [learn] to love them before I [learn] how to love myself.”

As we support and demand more queer representation, as we immerse ourselves in queer and affirming community, and as we soak in the visibility of queerness in Scripture, loving reflections of ourselves becomes easier. And, with time and by the power of the Spirit, love starts to crowd out shame.

 

Photo, “Cheetah Looking in Mirror,” by Emma Rian