So you’re a Christian? Now what?
For the past month at Queer Theology, we’ve been taking a look at the fundamentals of Christianity — and of what it means to be an LGBTQ+ person of faith. We’ve sorted through everything from myths and misconceptions to downright toxic theology and we’ve tried to get at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
Here’s what we’ve covered so far:
- Back to the (queer Christian) basics
- What do we do with the Bible?
- The Exodus didn’t happen. The Exodus is true.
- What does it mean to be a Christian?
- The generosity of God
- Building a Bible-based faith (that isn’t terrible)
- a live webinar on the basics of Christianity (you can get access to it, and our entire webinar archive, in Sanctuary Collective)
- Resurrecting Faith
But so what? What do you do with all this knowledge?
My junior high youth group director Dave used to tell us, “If you really believe in Jesus, that can’t help but change your life.”
Here are some practical next steps as you continue to pursue a (queer) Christian faith.
Not everyone has to believe the same as you.
Some conservative branches of Christianity are keen on making sure that everyone believes the same thing. There is one way to interpret each and every Bible passage. There is one correct way to relate to Jesus, one correct way to understand salvation, one correct everything.
The math-science nerd in me understands this: there is one law for gravity, 1 plus 1 does equal 2, human reproduction happens in a certain, observable way.
But, even in science, there is so much we don’t know. And so much that varies from person to person, experience to experience. You might work best alone in an office while your neighbor might work best from a crowded coffeeshop. You might be motivated by comfort while your friend might be motivated by fame.
We each experience and understand the world in different ways, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Sometimes it’s helpful to ask “what is right” as best we can know. Sometimes we can look to science for answers (vaccines really will protect your child, comprehensive sexual education really does help keep teenagers safe, the earth really does revolve around the sun).
But sometimes, when it comes to matters of faith or of the heart, “is it right?” doesn’t always have a clear answer (even if it feels so clear to you or me!). In those cases, “is it helpful?” is often a good question to ask. When that is the question, it’s possible to answer “yes” to lots of different questions. They can compliment each other, rather than compete with one another.
When it comes to the nature of God, the resurrection, and even what-happens-after-you-die, Fr. Shay and I often believe differently. But we can look at each of our beliefs, ask “Is it helpful?,” and see that the answer is yes.
Jesus models this in Scripture when he tells his followers to judge the tree of a theology by its fruits. Good theology bears good fruits.
If your theology — or someone else’s theology — is bearing bad fruit … that may be a reason to speak out or act up. But if it’s just different than yours? That’s ok.
Not every problem you face is a spiritual one
We believe in the power of God. A God that parts seas to set oppressed people free and who defeats death. We believe that the divine dwells in you, too. And that you are capable of remarkable things.
It’s also important that we recognize that not every problem you face is a spiritual one — sometimes you need secular solutions.
Too often we receive messages from folks who have been told that their gender dysphoria is a result of their sin or that their depression or suicidal thoughts can be cured with prayer.
God works through doctors and therapists and nutritionists just as much as God works through priests and pastors.
Sometimes you need a doctor. Or a therapist. Or a nutritionist. You might need medicine or light therapy or daily exercise.
If you come from a conservative religious background, working with a therapist to unpack that experience and develop healthier, more productive ways of moving through the world can be hugely helpful. I cannot recommend it enough. If you think you can’t afford therapy, talk with your local LGBT center… they may be able to connect you with some low- or no-cost options. Also, check out this Twitter thread for options and alternatives:
Mental health resources for people who can't afford therapy right now (A thread. Please read and RT to spread awareness)— Tiffany Howard (@HelloTiffy_) September 16, 2017
It’s important that you think through how your faith and beliefs will affect your actions
It’s all well and good to have beliefs but how do those beliefs affect your life—your choices and your actions (and your inactions)? James 2:17 even says, pointedly, “faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.”
We see throughout the scriptures — and in the example of believers throughout the ages — the importance of putting your faith into action. God asked Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The divine became incarnate in Jesus and then walked, talked, ate, touched (and led direct action protests).
If we take Jesus at his word that he came to “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed,” and if we understand that he asked those around him to follow him … then what will faithful actions look like in our lives?
Here are some questions for you think about:
- what will I do with my money?
- how will I take care of others?
- in what ways can I speak truth to powers and principalities that they would take care of their people?
- how will I treat others?
- where will I worship?
- where will I live? (and with whom?)
- how will I spend my time?
- what will I think about myself?
- what will I think about others?
If your Christian faith is important to you, take the time and energy to grow in it
As Christians, we don’t get to download everything that we need to know from The Matrix and be instant experts, even Jesus studied at the temple.
If the Christian faith is important to you, set aside the time and energy to grow in it. Read books, listen to talks, audit classes, speak with experts. You don’t need a seminary degree to be a faithful Christian, of course, but there is something to be said about really studying the theology around your faith if that faith is important to you. (Need somewhere to get started? We have a whole class on how to read the Bible)
I’m a big fan of 1 Thessalonians 5:21 — “test everything; hold fast to that which is good” — it was instrumental in allowing me to question what I’d been taught about “homosexuality and the Bible” … but it doesn’t end there. Test everything. Your beliefs about God, prayer, salvation, about the outsider and the other, about hell, sin, grace, and more. (we take a robust look at 26 different topics over 13 issues of Spit & Spirit — you get a subscription to the magazine with Sanctuary Collective)
Find a community
Where two are more are gathered, there God is (Matthew 18:20). Something divine happens in community: here’s enough to eat (Matthew 14), there are no needy (Acts 2).
Whether your community is online or IRL, it’s important to get connected with a community of folks who believe like you and share your values.
To find community in real life:
- GayChurch.org maintains a list of LGBTQ-affirming churches
- Connect with the LGBTQ+ organization for a specific denomination for suggestions on where to worship. Those are
- More Light Presbyterians
- Reconciling Ministries Network
- Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
- Dignity (Roman Catholic)
- Integrity (Episcopalian)
- Affirmation (Latter Day Saints)
- Reconciling Works
- Room for All (Reform Church of America)
- Open and Affirming Coalition (United Church of Christ)
To find community online:
- Connect on the #FaithfullyLGBT and #QueerTheology hashtags on Twitter
- Search for “gay Christian” on Tumblr or track the gay christian hashtag
- Join Sanctuary Collective, an online community of LGBTQ+ Christians and straight, cisngeder supporters from around the world and across denominations (including some seekers and skeptics)
It’s ok to not be a Christian
It’s also possible that you’ll take a hard look at what it means to be a Christian and decide it’s not for you. That you don’t align with its values, that its beliefs are too different from your own, that you don’t want to be associated with the label, or that its caused you too much trauma and it’s just not safe for you. That’s ok.
It is OK to not be a Christian.
You can be a good, righteous, moral person and not be a Christian.
You can love God and not be a Christian (it’s also OK if you’re angry at God! or don’t believe in God).
And as Christian leaders, we’re here to tell you that God doesn’t think any less of you if you never step foot in a church begin because it’s triggering, if you don’t feel God’s presence, if you have major doubts, if you don’t believe.
We find Christianity to be a liberating and life-giving faith and we believe God wants you to be liberated and saved. If you find that somewhere, go with gusto!