An Angry Letter to The Church
To Whom It May Concern in the Church,
By that, I mean everyone. Everyone. Parents, teachers, elders, deacons, bishops, archbishops, priests, pastors, ministers, wives, husbands, all of you. Sit up. Shut up. Pay attention and listen. This applies to all of you, even if you think otherwise.
Growing up in Hanford, California, my home church instilled the notion that homosexuality was the worst taboo imaginable. It was hardly discussed. Any mention was shrugged off with wary glances or discomfort. After years of retrospect, I’ve must admit: your silence traumatized me. It enforced a fear, a stifling sadness, an unfair expectation to terminate my same-sex attractions, to pray the gay away.
That shame didn’t dissipate when I came out to a retired elder and my parents. Honestly, I was deluded, thinking coming out of the closet, or as The Church phrases it, “confessing my sin”, would liberate me from the terror and heartache from innumerable days and nights loathing and hating this part of me. I was welcomed with tears and disappointment. My parents referenced the Scriptures which wasn’t necessarily terrible advice. They attempted to prioritize their unconditional love. Nothing in this world could deny that. What angered me, however, was my congregation’s, and my parents’, refusal to actually address that big IT; homosexuality. Being gay. Queer. Not straight.
Their idea of a discussion was a head tilt and, “Let’s pray for them.” Granted, prayer is powerful, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Good Samaritan parable, it can easily be misused. Actions, sometimes, speak volumes that words can never hope to vocalize. It doesn’t take a sharp, well-versed theologian to admit The Church hasn’t had a stellar relationship with the GSM community. In fact, there have been plenty of incidents when The Church instigated such persecution. In my church’s perspective, gay Christians didn’t exist. I can’t say what the general consensus is today, but the denial was potent. If they didn’t pay attention to them, they didn’t exist. Worry more about King Solomon and his wives or the steadfast devotion of the prophet Hosea. Queers? Christians struggling with their sexuality? Nah, don’t bother.
That’s where this letter comes in. This is for all of you. Sit up. Shut up. Pay attention and listen. Queer Christians exist. Maybe not specifically in your congregation or community, but we do. Or maybe we are in your congregation. I don’t know, what does “queer” or “gay” look like to you? What’s your definition of a “limp-wrist fag?” How do they talk? How do they dress? How do they eat, sleep, dream? Maybe they’re like me. Figuratively biting their tongues until they taste blood, or sitting through devotions and Bible studies, suffering through their fellow brethren giddily ridiculing those flaming homos.
For years, I’ve dealt with depression. I’ve spent nights crying to myself, praying that my sexuality would switch from gay to straight in one glorious faith-based film montage. I’ve sat amidst my church friends mocking the Gay Pride parades, deeming the lot as a condemned bunch who deluded themselves with a victim complex. I mean, it’s not like queer men and women have been murdered, bashed, or raped, right? It’s not like trans folk and gender non-binary individuals were tortured, shot, burnt, mocked, discriminated, struck in the name of God, right? It’s not like the days of The Early Church, not like real persecution, so there are no similarities in that department, right?
The damn irony.
Sit up. Shut up. Pay attention. Put your sermon on hold and listen. I’ve heard you recite the passages from Romans, 1 and 2 Timothy, Leviticus, Jude, and 1 Corinthians until they induce nausea. I’ve read and heard Dennis Jernigan’s inspirational conversion story. I’ve heard the countless references to the Apostle Paul’s lifelong celibacy as an example of purity gay men like me should aspire to achieve. Throughout my adolescent years, I’ve listened. Now it’s your turn.
Believe me, it’s not easy. In many Bible studies, I grasped my hands in discomfort when my Christian friends, kind-hearted they strive to be, made saddening generalizations of the gay community, perceiving the dilemma as black-and-white, when I know it’s not so simple. To those friends and congregation members, specifically the Hanford, Fresno, and Sanger community, I understand it’s not easy to discuss a topic that’s, surprisingly, still taboo. Sexuality is a difficult topic of debate and lecture, especially with children. To place a convenient strawman argument over complicated topics like equality and sexuality would rob you of the potential understanding to bridge between the Christian community and the LGBT community. I say this because being a gay Christian has plagued me with harrowing inner conflict that has yearned to be discussed. Since I’ve come to terms with my sexuality, I’ve listened to your speeches, your thoughts about the GSM community, how simple it was to make those saddening generalizations and yet not do a damn thing about it.
Now we’ve reached a moment in history when silence hurts. Now’s not the time to be coy or brash. Now’s not the time to be lazy. We can’t wait for someone else to open the discussion. It requires all of us. As the great poet Walt Whitman quipped, “Each of us, inevitable.”
There’s a time to speak up, to stand for your beliefs, and there’s a time to sit down, shut up, and listen. And even when it’s time to speak, it’s simultaneously a time to listen. Listen to your words, your literary framing devices, your intonation. It makes a difference to your audience. It made a difference to me. For those impressionable teenagers grappling with their sexuality, they’re listening, even when you aren’t. My greatest regret is refusing to address my congregation and engage my church members in insightful, concise debates on this controversial matter. I was afraid, as would anyone in my position. Being the only out queer Christian is a steep mountain climb in of itself. Now I’ve returned with some climbing equipment. Now I’m not so scared, and now I’m through with sparing your feelings.
For the sake of this letter, whether you believe our sexuality, my sexuality, is a choice is inconsequential. You were the ones who said “Love the sinner, not the sin.” It’s about damn time to mean what you say. Again, sit down. Shut up. Pay attention. Listen. Somebody is always listening.
Before you fiery lot clamor for a rebuttal, I’m stopping you right there. My response to your initial outrage is a challenge, a plea, an opportunity to tear down the spiritual barriers instituted against this marginalized group. Pastors, ministers, and priests, talk about it. Discuss and debate. Teachers, don’t shirk when children ask about the gay community. Encourage openness to such questions, and if you feel inadequate to answer them, educate yourselves. Especially you parents, wives, husbands, and other family members.
Pick up a damn book and read, for God’s sake. Read up on suicide rates, past and current social and economic stigmas afflicting the GSM community, biographical accounts of GSM history, HIV/AIDS awareness, anti-GSM discrimation legislation, the horrific, escalating death toll in the trans community, just reach out to the community. Comprise innovate ways to bring your communities together and establish common ground. Do something to prove you do love us sinners. From where I’ve been standing, you haven’t been doing much. You might want to hop on that.
To my home congregation, I extend a special invitation to reach out to me. Talk to me about this subject. It’s obvious, at this point, there’s a need for reconciliation between the GSM community and The Church. There’s too much injustice and ignorance to ignore, and life’s too fleeting to procrastinate on these issues. For that lone gay teenage boy or the lone individual grappling with transitioning, just one day may determine whether it’s too little too late.
The poor, sappy optimistic in me reserves a hope. It’s a hope I’ve had since I’ve devoted myself to reconcile my spirituality and sexuality. I hope one day we will talk freely of this subject. I hope one day when instead of solely imposing what the Bible says about homosexuality, the church reaches out to the GSM community, despite how either side perceives the other. I hope one day these two communities cast aside their differences, share their struggles, and build a divine foundation, a group of people who strive to understand each other and discover similarities unseen through prejudiced lens. This hope, an aspiration I’ve harbored since my early adolescent years, inspires me to broaden my perspective on Christianity, spirituality and sexuality. The future may seem grim at times, dark, unforgiving, and devoid of promise. There are some days, however, when the glory of a better world seems just a few steps ahead.
Start striving today.
To the gender-sexual minorities in the church who share my struggle, who are terrified, who can’t imagine coming out to their church, I extend my sympathy to you. I see you. I may not have shed the same tears you have, but I ache when you cry. I pray God grants you the strength, the courage, the endurance, and most importantly, the opportunity to be Christ-like in everything you say and do. May your faith remain firm in Him, and don’t give up hope. You are loved. You are treasured. You have a purpose, and though it may seem bleak, though your heart is worn by your friends’ ignorance, never stop loving. The moment you stop loving, you have lost. If you are comfortable talking to your church friends or pastors, talk to them. Reach out to them and perhaps they will open their minds just as you have. Not everyone, thank God, is as narrow-minded and bigoted as you perceive. In the end, if you feel alone, I’m here for you, no matter how many miles apart we are. I’ll fight alongside with you, and when you need me to, I’ll fight for you, just as I hope my friends will do for me.
This isn’t entirely a condemnation of my church, or any religious affiliation, for that matter. This is a challenge, a plea; it’s a call to do something different, to wake you out of your coma, to remind you no matter how “woke” you are, no matter how many gay or trans friends you have, no matter how much you love the sinner and not the sin, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. My fight, the GSM community’s fight, is far from over. There are still forces in this world who would love nothing more than for us to disappear, and I cannot, for one moment, convince myself otherwise. I’m as good as dead if I give up.
So I beg you, Christians. I beg you, Hanford Church of Christ, Lemoore, Fresno, Sanger, to all the church congregations in this nation. I beg you, sit down, shut up, pay attention, and listen, because somebody is always listening.