On Monday, Albion College Spiritual Life and the Anna Howard Shaw Center for Gender Equity and Victim Advocacy hosted a panel discussion centering on LGBTQIA+ religion and spirituality. While there, I felt my thoughts begin to make space for something I’d been putting off for a while.
I’ve been meaning to start going to church as of late. It’s not a process I’m looking forward to though; I can feel myself grow weary at the thought of finding myself in the midst of a congregation that isn’t welcoming.
It should be obvious I’m talking about the fact that queer folk don’t generally feel welcome in religious spaces.
The immediate examples – all the various denominations of Christianity – come to mind immediately. There’s a long and miserable history present within certain religions, some more prominent than others, of folks doing their best to actively ignore and repress queer communities, if not trying to plainly eradicate them.
There’s cause for hesitation; religious trauma is a very real thing that deserves to be recognized and addressed for one’s own well-being. It’s one of the reasons I will forever remain bitter at the way certain denominations of Christians regard queer folk. Whether it’s a Catholic, East Orthodox, Protestant or any other denomination preaching in my face, I refuse to believe in the pathetic idea that queer folk are damned for the simple act of existing. More than that, I refuse to believe that queer folk need to be saved, that it falls to the “God-fearing man” to bring folks into the light, to turn them away from temptation and sin.
Please, save the self-importance and let people do their own damn thing. An individual’s relationship with “The Divine” is an incredibly personal thing, something that comes about in one’s own time.
You know what queer people need? People that accept them, a community that they can turn to in times of need. You know, the things taken from them by religious zealots that are so drunk off their own self-righteousness.
Queer folk, quite frankly, deserve to not only have meaningful connections with The Divine but also to be a part of a community that welcomes them and advocates for them. No one should be telling queer folk that they don’t belong, be it in society as a whole or within a congregation, just because of their identity.
Do you see why I’m struggling to begin looking for a congregation that suits me? I refuse to put myself or the queer folk in my life in any sort of proximity to a space that, at the very best, only stubbornly tolerates them and at worst actively despises them. I love them too much to put them in that sort of space, both physically and mentally.
I firmly believe that it’s to the detriment of the congregations to actively push out queer people. Communities are stronger when there’s a broad range of perspectives and interpretations of the same subject. There’s room for people to be more open about their experiences.
There’s a reason the number of folks who identify with mainstream faiths is decreasing. You can’t just subject people to a lifetime of trauma and be surprised when they choose to cut all ties and associations with these groups.
Rather, certain congregations are far too concerned with passing judgment on others, blatantly rejecting people who are living their lives truthfully and earnestly, with absolute confidence and pride in who they are.
Who would have thought that hate doesn’t sell well in the long run? More than that, who would have thought that being obsessively authoritarian and rigid in one’s beliefs would create a toxic space where people feel uncomfortable developing their relationship with The Divine?
I am, of course, being facetious.
Pushing queer folk out of congregations just because of their gender or sexuality sounds like a personal issue to me though. If you don’t want to associate with them, I’m not here to force that. But to willingly deny them a relationship with something so sacred? To interfere with their personal relationship with The Divine? Hell, to exclude them from a community that shares their belief in some higher power?
No one gets to claim exclusive access to God. The Divine is infinite and expansive; there’s more than enough to go around. It can find anyone at any time in any place, regardless of what others may insist.
There shouldn’t be any surprise then that queer folk often find their way into congregations at various moments in their lives. It could be that they were raised in a religious household and held onto that faith into adulthood, or that they came into it as an outsider. Whatever the case, queer folk are just as entitled to being a part of these spaces as any non-queer individuals.
Contrary to what some people think, there is nothing wrong with queer folk existing, especially in the presence of The Divine. They’ve always existed, be it openly or in private, and they will continue to do so long after harmful policies wither away and governments pass into memory.
They’re not going anywhere; the same, I’d argue, can be said for religions and faiths of various kinds. There will always be a need for an explanation for the unknown, those things that science has yet to give us answers for. There is comfort and strength to be found in the knowledge that things will work themselves out eventually; that everything good comes in its own time.
Everyone deserves to be a part of that, to find that sort of comfort and peace of mind. People are owed the right to form communities around these beliefs, to stand together and look after each other because that’s the right thing to do.
It’s pointless to police who gets to be a part of these spaces; we all have been through so much, given the current state of our society. The last thing we need to do is make things worse for others who have already been run ragged and torn apart countless times over.
Very little is being contributed to society by targeting queer folk. Targeting queer folk doesn’t equate to targeting groomers and pedophiles; all it does is hurt closeted kids that are struggling and trying to navigate a hard time in their lives. Witch hunts of this sort teach queer kids that they can’t trust the communities that they are presently a part of.
Actions like these compromise the very fabric of what makes religious communities so crucial; the trust and strength that can be found in the hearts of one another is something vital to an individual’s well-being.
Communities like these are the ones that people turn to in their times of need. If members of religious communities can’t rely on one another though, then people will be left adrift. For some, they may find another community that fills the gap left behind. For others, there’s no guarantee that the void left behind will ever be filled.
For those of you who want to do something beneficial, to do some genuine good, listen up. Accept queer folk into your congregations. Fight for them, celebrate them and let them know that they are a valuable part of your community. It’s likely that they’ve been searching for a space like this for a long time, a place where they can put down their swords and shields and take up song and dance as they celebrate a hard-fought life.
There’s enough misery in the world. Don’t corrupt something as sacred and beautiful as worship of The Divine, something that many people have found comfort and joy in, by making it into a club with which to beat those who are already struggling to find their footing.
God loves queer folk.
I’m more than happy to die on that hill, to give my time to the creation of queer-friendly communities within a congregation. Better to help others find their footing in a new land instead of beating them until they’re six feet beneath the ground.