When Donald Trump took office in 2016, I remember the panic that sunk in as I began to wonder what would happen to my rights as a gay woman, and if my chance to marry someone I loved was about to disappear. Same-sex marriage had been legalized for years, but in 2016, I didn’t know a whole lot about politics, and was sure that he would find some way to reverse the law and once again people from the LGBTQ+ community would be thrown under the bus. But Trump wasn’t someone who the world might have called an “evangelical” prior to his running for President. So why were his views, and especially the views of many of his followers, so staunchly against the queer community?
Obviously, Christianity is practiced in multitudes of different ways. Protestants, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists — even Catholics. All of these and more are different varietals of Christianity and swing on a pendulum between conservative and progressive. For example, my grandparents go to an Episcopal church, and the leader of their church is a female pastor. In other circles of Christianity, this might be wildly frowned upon. Or perhaps you’d see a Protestant church in the city of Portland with a rainbow flag hanging outside, making it apparent that LGBTQ+ people were welcome in that space, but if you were to look at a church of the same denomination in rural Alabama, you probably wouldn’t see any such thing. So, obviously, Christianity isn’t practiced the same way all across the board, despite it coming from the same root — the idea of Jesus Christ. But why are queer people always the ones who are pushed to the sidelines?
What I believe has happened, is over centuries of religious chaos (which I will get into), a new format of Modern Christianity has emerged; one that strays further away from what the Biblical Jesus called for, and more towards what an “us vs. them” mentality calls for. So why did this happen? How did the people that were once persecuted for their beliefs turn into the ones now persecuting others for theirs? Let’s look at it from the viewpoint of someone who has been ostracized from the church for loving someone of the same sex. It would appear to them that modern Christianity has become the religion of white, straight, conservative Americans. Maybe they would picture the white skinned, long straight haired, blue eyed Jesus painting, or the knock at the door from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or devoted Evangelicals. Perhaps they would imagine the mega churches that have blossomed in every major city across the US, and that idea might strike fear into their hearts.
But, as Christians generally know and believe, Christianity started in the Middle East by a Jewish man named Jesus of Nazareth. From my own very basic reading of the New Testament, it appears that everything this Jesus fellow spoke against are things that are wildly common in the US today. I think Jesus would be surprised if he were to walk through 21st Century America. One example we could look at would be his admonishment of the behavior of the Pharisees. Everyone knows the Pharisees are the bad guys of the Bible. They’re the ones walking around in their nice clothes with large sums of money and doing relatively nothing to help the poor and needy. They were obsessed with abiding by strict religious laws and staying pure. You could probably equate them to a multitude of 21st Century political and religious leaders. Then Jesus comes along and wrecks their whole ideology. He even says to a group of people in Luke 12:1–3:
“Watch yourselves carefully so you don’t get contaminated with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town” (Luke, The Bible, The Message Translation).
What a call out! Calling the Pharisees ‘fake’ in front of a group of people they are trying to control would definitely make them mad and paint Jesus as a villain in their eyes. When we read the Bible now though, we see him as a hero! He stood up for the poor and destitute, the thieves and the prostitutes, and the diseased and dirty. It’s exactly what he called for us to do. To stand up to the greedy, gluttonous, judgmental Pharisees of our time by showering love onto the oppressed. There are countless quotes from Jesus filling the New Testament that completely disown the behavior exhibited by people in power those days. So why on earth do so many modern day Christians continue to oppress so many groups of people, especially the LGBTQ+ community, if they don’t perfectly align with their idea of Christianity? Even Jesus would have called the queer people of the earth his “children.”
One of the earliest causes requires us to look back into history even more. Christianity didn’t just become like it is today overnight however. Centuries of “holy wars,” racial and queer intolerance, and power hunger got us to this point. When Christianity first began, it grew out of Judaism. It was the underdog in a vast sea of Roman rule. It was monotheistic (one god), instead of polytheistic (more than one god), unlike the major Greek, Roman, and Egyptian religions at the time. Followers of this new Jesus fellow were persecuted and killed in the most violent ways for centuries. Beheaded, hung, tortured, burned alive, you name it. There is an entire book called Foxes Book of Martyrs explicitly detailing the violent persecutions early Christians experienced. The wealthy and power hungry didn’t like this new idealogical religion that preached love and acceptance for everyone, unconditionally. Jesus was crucified because of his love for all, not because it was the Roman’s choice, even though it was them who physically nailed him to a cross to die (crucifixion was commonplace during the Roman rule as a form of punishment for criminals). The Roman’s didn’t necessarily want to kill Jesus at all; it was the Pharisee’s who didn’t like his approach to God’s love for everyone instead of just those who strictly followed the Temple’s rules and regulations, and were clean and tithed well. But early Christians kept sharing who Jesus was and his ideas of love for God and love for your neighbor, and eventually Christianity grew into one of the major religions of the world. However, with a bigger following, came more opportunities for power and corruption. Through history, some of those leaders were on the better side of things, and some promoted more terrible ideologies. I’m more focused on the rise of Christianity in America, and what it has done to those on the outskirts, however.
Zooming forward into early American history, we can see another one of the causes of more restrictive Christianity dating back to the Revivalist era during the Great Awakening in the mid-16th Century. Puritans and Calvinists were obsessed with obedience and remaining pure (as their name suggests). When revivalist preachers showed up, they invoked wildly emotional responses from those in the massive crowds, and struck fear into the hearts of everyone who believed themselves to be a Christian. We could even pinpoint one man in particular for creating the idea of a fearsome, spiteful God, and that’s Jonathan Edwards, who preached his revivalist sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in 1741. The “Angry God” approach spoke of a God who was chomping at the bit to send a sinner down to hell forever for even the slightest sin. It preached an incredibly rigid religious path, and spread like wildfire across the New England colonies. We can look at a multitude of churches and different branches of Christianity right here in the 21st century and see some of those exact same behaviors; many of them leading to the spread of hate for people who believe differently, rather than the original Christian belief of spreading love.
Because of this, we see more and more people getting pushed out of their families for the mere act of coming to terms with who they are and who they love. According to the Religious Institute Organization, “Four in 10 LGBT students report that they experience physical harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity” and “LGBT youth represent 20–40% of all homeless young people. Many were forced to leave their homes because their families’ religious beliefs did not accept them” (religiousinstitute.org). The Religious Institute also quotes “As the 2003 Christian Community report, Faith Matters, said: “Those [youth] who were able to be open in their faith-based communities were also less likely to have considered suicide than other non-heterosexual teens. Those who are in faith-based institutions where there are negative views toward homosexuality and bisexuality rarely are open about their orientation. Those teens live with a very painful silence.” Imagine how many fewer suicides and self harm incidents would happen if queer people from religious backgrounds were met with Jesus’s love and acceptance from their families, rather than hatred and exile.
Kirsty Gurtler, author of the article, “Moving Toward Divine Queerness: Broadening the Trajectory of the Secular Queer Narrative” argues, “For those who occupy a religious space, the realization of queer identity fosters feelings of pain, anxiety and displacement. Hence, to maintain spirituality or to remain in a religious space, even a progressive one, is not possible for everyone” (Gurtler, 3). Gurtler essentially makes it clear that even in the most progressive and accepting religious sects, the ability to be both queer and spiritual is often a very exhausting, anxiety inducing space to be in. These two things are rarely seen together, as queer people often feel like they need to abandon their personal faiths in order to truly be a member of the queer community, or abandon their queerness, and therefore happiness, to avoid getting banished by their religious friends and family. Because of this infinite loop of separatism between the church and the LGBTQ+ community, we see an enormous gap creating the “us vs. them” mentality I mentioned above. To reinforce this statement, Gurtler contends that “Rejection by faith communities and the normative secularity of queer culture has meant that the intersection of faith and queerness is small and often overlooked.” It’s obvious too — think about how many people in your personal life are both religious/spiritual and queer at the same time.
I can personally speak on this myself as well. I grew up going to a church camp where I made some very dear friends and learned an incredible amount about loving people around me despite their differences, and taking care of those in need. I considered that camp to be my second home because of how much I loved it. Eventually, I graduated high school and was old enough to be a counselor. For two summers I counseled and made some of my favorite memories. The following year I came out as a queer woman publicly. I applied to be a counselor for one more summer, and was instead offered the position of working in the camp kitchen. While it was never explicitly stated that I was sent to kitchen duty instead of counseling because of my queerness, I certainly couldn’t find any other reason for it, and I only ended up staying there that summer for a week. I felt alienated and alone, and incredibly far away from God. I was terrified that something like this would happen if I chose to live my truth. Nothing broke my heart more than seeing my perspective on my former second home change so dramatically from the feelings of separation I felt. I was lucky enough to have a multitude of friends and family back home who fully supported me, but to this day I still am devastated that that place no longer feels completely safe to me.
Imagine instead of a summer camp, it was a church that ran all year long, every year. Then imagine a young, queer person who loved that environment and was raised by a loving family finally came to terms with their sexual orientation. Suddenly, they were told that they couldn’t participate anymore in the church simply because they figured out that they loved a member of the same sex, rather than the opposite sex. Perhaps their family was also adamantly against homosexuality. Where does that leave this queer youth? They are no longer safe at home, as well as no longer safe at church. Isn’t church supposed to be a community of people to take care of you? For someone without an incredibly strong network of support, it could easily cause them to run away, hurt themselves, or even kill themselves. If sexuality were a choice, do you think they would actually choose this exile and hate instead of the support and love they had grown up with?
I’d also like to take a moment to consider a common conservative myth about the LGBTQ+ community that does more harm than good. Amongst they many worries conservative Christians have about queer people is one about parenting. There is a belief that children raised by same-sex parents will fare worse than those raised by heterosexual parents. According to the Family Research Counsel (frc.org), it’s stated that “Children need fathers” and “Children need mothers” as two of their arguments against same-sex marriage. Their argument essentially states that children without fathers won’t receive a model of what girls should “look for in a man” and that children without mothers won’t receive emotional security. This simply isn’t true though. Boston University (as well as countless other sources) wrote an article citing a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics stating that “three decades of research concur that kids of gay parents are doing just fine” (BU Today, 2013). The report itself explains that:
“Many studies have demonstrated that children’s well-being is affected much more by their relationships with their parents, their parents’ sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents” (BU Today, 2013).
When we continue to propagate ideas that queer people are bad parents and that girls especially need to be directly taught what they should “look for in a man” and how they should follow rigid gender roles, we continue to alienate the queer community. If this subsection of humanity were to be brought in and accepted by the conservative Christian religious system, think of what ideals a healthy church could also bring to the parenting table. It could only get better than it already is.
Some people argue that a solution to this problem would be eliminating religion all together, but clearly, this has some flaws to it. W.C. Harris, a professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, promotes the idea in his book, Slouching Toward Gaytheism that queer people should stop practicing religion entirely in order to “self-preserve” (Harris, 88). He claims, “My conclusion, which is the motive force of the book as a whole, is that the most pragmatic, self-preserving response is for queers to abandon religion and spirituality altogether — and not just because religion has historically been, and to a great extent remains, a heteronormative and homophobic enterprise” (Harris, 88). He comes at this idea of mixing queerness with religion/spirituality with a violently black and white view in a world that is mostly grey. As someone who was brought up in a Christian household and still fully embraced and affirmed in my personal sexuality by family and friends, it is perfectly clear to me that if Christianity is being practiced the way it was originally intended to be practiced, there is no reason a queer person should have to completely drop it. My personal spirituality is something I struggled with on and off for years while I was figuring myself out, but as I’ve grown and learned more about the theological and historical beginnings behind Christianity, I consider my spirituality to be a very important part of who I am, right alongside my queerness. While this is a rarity to find, as Gurtler pointed out in her article, I do not believe that religion or spirituality need to be completely cut out of the cloth that makes up the LGBTQ+ community, especially if we can inspire the Christian community to come back to their identity of love. Of course, not everyone is the same though, and you can’t make a definitive decision on either side, but this is a personal choice that should be made by the individual in question, not by a church trying to promote hate and rejection, or a professor trying to cut out religion altogether. Christianity doesn’t need to be annihilated from the queer umbrella in order to “self-preserve” our sexualities, it just needs to be brought back to its roots in order to bring people together in a widely divisive world.
In order to do this, we clearly need to start promoting some ideas of change that could be widely accepted by Christians everywhere. One way of doing this is by making information about the original translations of the Bible more easily accessible to church leaders, rather than just relying word for word on the English translations. 2,000–4,000 years ago, English wasn’t around, and the people of these times wrote biblical passages down in Hebrew or Greek, and a lot of words and phrases just cannot be translated perfectly into English. Take, for example, the common verses from Leviticus that anti-gay Christians like to use as their weapon of choice against the LGBTQ+ community:
Leviticus 18:22: You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have commit ted an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Obviously, these are ancient laws, but there are multiple rebuttals against them. First, we have to look at context. When Leviticus was written millennia ago, the culture of Israel at the time was not as focused on sex for pleasure as many people are in the 21st century are, regardless of sexual orientation. David P. Gushee, author of Changing Our Mind, explains, “Scholars generally agree that uneasiness about non-procreative sexuality was a factor in Old Testament and perhaps also New Testament treatments of same-sex issues” (Gushee, 68). He also notes that Leviticus never mentions anything on female same-sex relations, and suggests “that it was the male ‘spilling of the seed’, thus the symbolic loss or waste of life, that was the primary motivation for this law” (Gushee, 68). This, obviously, wouldn’t come off exactly clear to modern day Christians who are just reading the English translation without any ideas of the context these laws came from. If we are going to abide by these laws anyway, we would also have to follow the other laws Leviticus mentions so as to not pick and choose what aspects of Christianity suit us and which don’t. This means we would also face the death penalty for anyone who cursed their parents, was incestuous, considered themselves to be a medium/witch/wizard, said “oh my God” or something of the like, struck their mother or father, failed to restrain a violent animal, and the list goes on and on. Obviously, these things aren’t great, but none of them deserve the death penalty.
We have to look back at translation again to note that the word “homosexual” comes from a mis-translation in 1946 when the Revised Standard Version of the bible was produced. The word “homosexuality” wasn’t even invented prior to 1946. There is also a newer argument that prior translations meant that men should not lie with young boys in the way they lie with women, thus incriminating the idea of pedophilia, which we can all agree is an abomination. Clearly, there are multitudes of different meanings throughout the whole bible that maybe weren’t translated perfectly into English, and these Anglicized versions are used as spiritual weapons, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, against those who do not conform. For reasons like these, we must, like I said, make easily understandable and accessible translations available for church leaders and congregations as we educate future generations, with hopes of making hatred through Christianity less of a divider in our country.
The most prominent way we could go about changing peoples hearts and minds is via a person by person system. It is incredibly difficult to change an institution, especially a religious one that is backed by ancient text. People have been arguing about the idea of same-sex attraction for eons, and even still we haven’t progressed much. But meeting someone who shows their love to others and is easy to have a conversation with might be a better way to compel someone to love those they didn’t originally agree with, and step into their shoes for a day. Social media has begun to do a great job with a person by person format. My mother is part of a Facebook group called the “Mama Bears” which aims to pull moms together who have queer kids and are from a religious background. Entry to the group is extremely private because of how much hate groups like this can get, but what she has shared with me is inspiring. Thousands of moms coming together to give support to each other with calls to action. PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is another wonderful organization that gathers allies in order to show support for the LGBTQ+ community (pflag.org). Imagine if churches across the globe adopted the love that Jesus shared and shared it with queer people of all ages. Think how much good could be done in the world and how much we could come together to accomplish things that Jesus himself strove for when he walked the earth. That would certainly show the Pharisees of today.
We have to stop crucifying each other for believing different things in a world that is so immensely complicated. We do not know each others stories, and immediately resorting to hatred and fear is only breeding more divisiveness. Coming toward each other with the love that Jesus of Nazareth, the origin of Christianity, came with is the only way we are going to begin to heal the festering wound that society keeps making worse. Next time you meet a queer person, perhaps consider stepping into their shoes and offering them love. If you have a voice in the church, then you have the power to make positive change in the lives of millions of queer people who are hurting from the alienation modern Christianity has offered them. Person by person, I believe we can heal this wound and come together to form a society that hears each other and supports each other, no matter what.
Barlow, Rich. “Gay Parents As Good As Straight Ones: BU Today.” Boston University, Boston University , 11 Apr. 2013, www.bu.edu/articles/2013/gay-parents-as-good-as-straight-ones/.
Council, Family Research. “Ten Arguments From Social Science Against Same-Sex Marriage.” Family Research Coucil, 0AD, www.frc.org/issuebrief/ten-arguments-from-social-science-against-same-sex-marriage.
Gurtler, Kirsty. “Moving Toward Divine Queerness: Broadening the Trajectory of the Secular Queer Narrative.” Hecate, vol. 44, no. 1/2, Jan. 2018, pp. 100–109. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=141761594&site=ehost-live.
Gushee, D. P. (2017). Changing Our Mind. Canton, MI: Read The Spirit Books, David Crum Media, LCC.
Peterson, E. H. (2003). Bible, The Message (The Message ed.). Pinon Pr.
Konow, Drew. Fact Sheet on LGBT Youth. religiousinstitute.org/resources/fact-sheet-lgbt-youth/.
Unknown Author. “About PFLAG.” PFLAG, 12 Mar. 2020, pflag.org/about.