I proudly introduce a new podcast series here at Symposium Ethics entitled “Queer and Christian” (follow #QueerAndChristian on twitter). This series is in part a response to the massacre on Latin night at a gay nightclub in Orlando. On June 20, 2016 around 2am, Omar Mateen entered Pulse and committed one of the most deadly mass shootings by a single person in American history. Police killed him after a three hour standoff, but not until he had murdered 49 people and injured 53 others, most of whom were queer and Latina/o.
With very limited exception, the attack has been universally condemned. However, there has also been a strange qualification to expressions of support and solidarity, particularly from some Christians. One version of this qualification goes, “regardless of what one may believe about homosexuality, no one deserves to be gunned down like that.” Another trend in the public discourse about this tragedy is the pivoting away from a focus on the LGBT community in favor of discussions of the broader, albeit related, issues of gun violence in society, the lack of mental health resources, and “Islamic extremist terrorism.” While all of these are deeply important topics, I find the general ambivalence towards the LGBT community beyond expressions of sorrow at the tragedy, frequently informed by religious intolerance, a bit distressing.
I want to shift the focus from a violent event for which virtually everyone can condemn to a broader culture that remains hostile towards queer people. I have a friend who works for a progressive think tank, one of the few that actually has a department devoted to progressive religion. She tells me that despite the clear commitment to inclusiveness and other progressive values, other departments at the think tank view hers with skepticism. It occurred to me that something is off with our relegation of religion to conservative politics and that this tension is probably also apparent for those who claim both a Queer and Christian identity. Another friend frets about how she has to navigate tension in her anti-death penalty activism where her progressive, nonreligious cohorts are wary of partnering with the religious groups she tries to incorporate into the coalition.
These anecdotes don’t even begin to paint the full picture of the tension between the sometimes overlapping identities of Queer and Christian. My Queer and Christian friends navigate their identities in a variety of different ways. Some have left institutional religion altogether. Others managed to find spiritual homes in affirming institutions such as the Metropolitan Community Churches or the Episcopal church. Still others have chosen not to publicly disclose their sexual identities in order to maintain their ecclesial ties as clergy or leaders within their traditional Christian institutions. And still others have chosen to challenge from within the Christian institutions that refuse to recognize their full humanity.
All of these stories deserve to be told and this series will feature conversations with scholars, activists, and clergy who are both Christian and Queer to better understand how they navigate these two identities that many Christians as well as many Queer folk deem to be incompatible.
I could go on and on with the anecdotes and explanations, but instead, let me lay my cards on the table. I am a heterosexual, cisgender1 male, an African American minister, married with kids, who has done justice work primarily (but not exclusively) in the context of Black Baptist churches, most of which at best, ignore issues of LGBTQ justice and inclusion. Even many of my seminary-trained clergy friends who know better and have sympathy towards the social and political challenges facing queer folk, have declined to address this issue.
My role as the facilitator of these conversations is as a seeker of knowledge. I seek to provide a forum for those who embody the overlapping identities of Queer and Christian to tell their own stories. We will collect and share these stories publicly with the hope that people in positions similar to mine can better understand this dynamic and better minister to, with, and for Queer Christians. I also hope that those who are having difficulty personally reconciling the overlap can learn from those who have already put in the work to do the same with varying levels of success.
I invite you to go on twitter and use the hashtag #QueerAndChristian to comment and share your own stories. Don’t forget to check back here periodically for more conversations at www.symposiumethics.org/queer-and-christian/.
Peace and Blessings!
- cisgender: someone whose self-identity matches the gender that corresponds with their biological sex. ↩