It was Halloween. I stood in a Scooby Doo outfit made from random pieces of clothing and garments I found in the dusty corners of my closet. We walked into a massive, gay party, me and my queer friends from seminary. I stood talking with a guy who might as well have been a model—his muscles filled what could be extra fabric of his costume. He asked what I do for a living and I told him that I was a counselor for the LGBTQ+ community, one who also works with religious parents of queer children. I told him about my time in seminary, where I reconciled my sexual orientation with my faith.
With confusion in his brow, he interrupted me to ask, “Wait, you can be gay and Christian?”
Many queer people are confused not only that some would call themselves both queer and Christian, but also that the combination itself is a sheer possibility.
Faith and sexual identity go hand in hand, in my book. To prove similar claims, many reach for theological academic resources, diving head-deep into biblical commentaries, historical languages, and archeology to understand what was penned in Scripture centuries before us.
Sure, the biblical texts have helped many come to a place of self-acceptance, but as a trained psychotherapist, I am certain that there is no better way to understand one’s inherent value than to experience love, relationships, change, and growth.
Let me begin by stating that, as a seminary student, I hated who I was, who I was becoming, and the fact that I was completely powerless to change the unwanted attraction that involuntarily occurred within my body. To be honest, relying on old biblical texts that referred to sexual behavior seemed like a bad mistake—not because they would tell me something I didn’t want to hear, but because too many smart people disagree too much. I couldn’t trust the manner in which we didn’t agree.
I stopped reading the Bible for a while. In seminary, I had learned that the Bible was assembled by men who voted on which books should and should not be included. These men voted by throwing colored, marble-like stones into the center of their meeting table. When I learned this, I was like, “What the heck?” I seriously began to doubt the credibility of the Bible.
So I set off on a different path, a truly experiential one. I didn’t just want to read about God; I wanted to experience God. I didn’t just want to hear what people thought about God; I wanted to know what God thought about me.
Here are some important things I learned on that journey:
1. God does not care about our behavior.
God cares about the motivation that underscores the behavior. As I started treating clients for sexual addictions, explosive anger, and compulsive habits, I began to realize that the behavior (which is what most therapists would focus on) was only a symptom of what my clients were emotionally experiencing. I realized the same thing of my own motives and desires; they, too, were initiating my behaviors. It does no good to change behaviors if the desire is still missing the mark. I believe Jesus was stating the same point when he conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well. And this leads me to my second revelation…
2. Once we make peace with our desires, we take back the power from shame.
Shame is a sneaky force that convinces us that desire itself is wrong. The moment we are persuaded by shame, we will start to hide our emotional yearnings and cravings, thus limiting our options for satisfaction to occur only in the silent, secretive moments when no one is looking. But when we strip shame away from our desires, allowing them to be seen as pure and innocent, we are able to behave in a way that leaves us demonstrating integrity and pride! This is a powerful transition for those trying to reconcile sexuality and spirituality.
3. Trusting God has nothing to do with what we do.
Trusting God means that we do not worry about who we are in God’s eyes. It does not mean we have to keep an eye on God’s emotions, or feel afraid when we make a mistake. For example, if I were to trust a babysitter with a newborn, I wouldn’t spend my time away worrying, calling to check in, or texting to feel comforted by the sitter’s responses, and I wouldn’t end my night early to dash home to feel relief. Trusting the babysitter with the child means that I do not worry because I intrinsically believe the child is safe in the care of a competent person.
Learning to truly trust God with who I am was a revolutionary lesson. It was not only a cognitive thought that left me with some cool insight; it was a physical experience of relief that convinced me I was safe…forever. I could feel comforted by my behavior to keep God happy, but this is not trusting God; it is trusting myself and my actions. Practice trusting God with who you are, not yourself by what you do.
4. I am inherently valuable.
As I began living life as one connected to God, not religion, I discovered that I was inherently valuable. No matter what mistake I made, my God-given value could not diminish, and no matter how perfectly I behaved, my value could not increase. I was perfect to God, even when I messed up and even when I was trying too hard. Our inherent value does not excuse unhealthy or immoral behavior, but it does help us live tied to our worth. And when we know our true worth, we begin to honor it with the actions of our life.
Can you be queer and Christian? Of course. Some may want to rely on religion as a way of finding confidence. I find, however, that the combination of theology and spirituality is a dynamic duo. Reconciling sexuality and spirituality is no easy feat. There is no one answer that fits all personalities, belief systems, and religious backgrounds. That’s why it’s important to rely on what works best for you. A therapist, a pastor, a loving parent, and a best friend can all give you advice because they love you to pieces. All of their words of wisdom could, however, be dramatically contradictory.
An experiential season of spirituality might just help you discover what you believe and why you believe it.