Dear Pastor S.,
Two years ago, I gave a report on our denomination’s national meeting, which approved two measures allowing same-gender couples to get married in the church. As you know, I wrote about celebrating the victories of the meeting, and the long road to reconciliation on both marriage equality and racial justice. As you know, these problems were and are salient to our congregation, which is overwhelmingly white and which has a handful of queer members who we claim to welcome. As you know, after I gave my address in the first service, you pulled me aside to request that I make changes before delivering the address in the next service.
The line, which you deemed too controversial to repeat, was at the beginning of my section on the importance of compassion and reconciliation:
…I struggled with the idea of reconciliation with [those] who voted against marriage equality. If they were unwilling to treat our queer friends with compassion, why should we be compassionate toward them? But Christ calls us to love even our enemies…
You told me that some of our members were not on board with marriage equality, that they were already uncomfortable with the denomination’s vote, that they already felt marginalized within our church, and that we should not be referring to them as “enemies”. Being shy and nervous and eager to please, in the heat of the moment, I agreed to change my speech. In the version that until recently was available online, I instead said
But Christ calls us to love each other, even when we disagree strongly, even as we all are sinners.
Dear Pastor S., I regret making this change, and I deeply regret that you found it acceptable, much less necessary, to demand that I change my testimony like this. Because what you don’t know is that I am a lesbian. What you don’t know is that this exchange is a big part of why I no longer go to church when I come home. What you don’t know is that this would be the first in a long (and ongoing) string of encounters in Christian spaces that purported to be queer-friendly, which turned out to see my identity and others’ distaste for who I am as two equally valid opinions.
Dear Pastor S., and all the other “progressive” Christians who think the same way, what you need to know is that there is no both/and on this subject. If you tolerate homophobia in your church, you are not queer-affirming.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest every individual member needs to be fully on board with marriage equality – we shouldn’t have theological tests at the door or anything like that. It’s ok that we had homophobes in our membership. What’s not ok is telling queer Christians to doctor our own personal testimonies to make those homophobes more comfortable. The minute you draw an equivalence between being queer and being anti-queer; the minute you grant legitimacy to the anti-queer position, you are no longer queer-friendly and I will not attend your church.
Just once I’d like to see a Christian space treat homophobia the same way so many well-meaning homophobes treat my capacity to love: If someone asks if their homophobic views will be tolerated, a queer-friendly Christian space should say we welcome everyone and we’re all sinners, so even though they are sinning in believing the homophobic view, God still loves them and they as individuals are welcome in our space. See how that’s different? This doesn’t legitimize the view (just as the equivalent does nothing to actually validate my queerness), it shames the view like it deserves to be shamed, while still expressing love for the people who hold the view. No accommodation of the homophobia required.
Here’s why there’s no equivalence and it’s offensive to pretend there is one. We queer Christians understand perfectly well the sanctity of marriage. In marriage, two people “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:8-9). So, a queer-friendly theology (and most married queer Christians) would see my wife and me as one flesh, spiritually bound. We are part of each other, we are no longer individuals. So if the best your theology can do is “accept” us as individuals, you are not accepting us. If your theology treats hetero married couples as two becoming one, it is untenable and homophobic to not acknowledge same-gender marriages as just as holy. If you can only love me individually and not my sacred marriage, then you do not love me as I am, you love a projection of me that conforms to your worldview. That is not the same as loving me.
For comparison, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the Bible about you becoming one with your interpretation of a few lines of Leviticus – on the contrary, the New Testament is filled with calls for tolerance of theological differences as the new church expanded to include both Jews and Gentiles with their different customs.
Bottom line: I can love you without loving your beliefs. But you cannot love me without loving my marriage. And if you reject my marriage, while simultaneously preaching about how sacred marriage is, then you are absolutely my enemy. Now as I said, Christ calls us to love our enemies, so I still love all the homophobes out there. But you shouldn’t be surprised to hear me call you an enemy, and if that offends you, I’m not sorry.
So, Pastor S., and all other pastors, facilitators, small group leaders, take note. You can’t agree to disagree on whether my marriage counts. You have every right to adopt that position, but you should know that in doing so you send a clear message to us: We are not welcome, our love will be treated as on par with others’ hate, our lives will be put on trial (or under a microscope for vivisection) the second we walk in the door. And I for one will not participate in any such Christian community.
In sincere Christian love,
Another Queer without a church