I can’t lump all Christians or conservative evangelical churches together, but multiple churches I visited throughout my life were not welcoming of the LGBT2SQ+ community.
The labels of my sexuality and the labels of my spirituality don’t account for all of who I am. But the more I sit with my faith and sexual orientation, the more I realize they are linked in a way that can’t be separated.
I can’t fully understand the universal love and inherent worth of people if I can’t give myself mercy and grace, which I can’t do without loving my most vulnerable parts. Faith and love are woven together with my desire to belong. But these forces don’t feel like they align. Each has a rough edge, which shows where I have been cut in the past.
My faith has never provided me with a firm place to stand. Gusts of uncertainty hit me, threatening my balance and sending me through a turmoil of questioning my viewpoint. My doubts are as omnipresent as God is supposed to be.
The Unknown Part of Me
I glanced around as the cashier swiped my groceries. My eyes skimmed passed the flower wrapping station and I left reality. I watched myself getting a bouquet of flowers bundled in the brown crinkly paper. When the cashier asked who the flowers were for, I said something unfamiliar to me: “For my girlfriend.” I pictured myself going home and seeing how happy this non-existent woman would feel when I randomly brought her flowers.
The scene makes me warm. As I recall it, I can feel the dryness in my eyes that occurs just before tears form. This experience was the first time my brain forced me to consciously examine my sexuality. I was in my mid-20s at the time.
I lived less than a five-minute walk from the Safeway, but each step on my way home felt momentous — I was moving closer to what felt like the destruction of the life I created. It was as if my brain wanted to stay in this moment as long as possible and didn’t want me to return home and have to face reality.
Discovering this deeper layer of my sexuality challenged a core part of my identity. The burden consumed me. In every moment of downtime, I came back to the agony of thinking my life was over. I started questioning how much the expectations I felt from society and my church culture influenced how I saw myself.
I’m not straight. I’m attracted to men and women, so what does that make me? I know many would categorize this orientation as bisexual or pansexual, but I’m not comfortable claiming either for myself.
The next day, I sat on the blue plaid bedspread of my then-boyfriend of four years and stared at the beige carpet. My silence and stiffness made it obvious that we had to talk, but I struggled to find the right words.
“Does this mean we need to break up? What if he doesn’t love me anymore?” I thought as I agonized over how to tell him my new feelings.
After sharing the news, his understanding and reassurance made it easy for me to feel comfortable continuing on as if it didn’t matter. For the remainder of our relationship, I didn’t think much about my sexuality and I didn’t mention it to anyone else.
My Inner Struggle
As someone attracted to women and men, I’m able to hide my sexuality. I can be with a man and pretend to be straight. This privilege complicates my feelings, increases my doubts, and gives me a choice: do I hide the fullness of my identity so I will belong, or do I share this part of me to cultivate self-acceptance?
Laying on my bedroom floor, I prayed to be different too many times — crying out to God in pain, fury, and fear. I didn’t want this struggle to be part of my life. I thought life would be so much easier if I could choose to be heterosexual.
Many others who came out to themselves in a Christian culture share this experience. YouTuber Shannon Beveridge often addresses LGBT2SQ+ issues. In her coming out video, she says she knew she was gay as a teen but didn’t want to be. She attempted to “pray the gay away.” As much as she genuinely tried, it didn’t work.
Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?
My faith hinges on how I see Christians giving and withholding love. I want a community that will come together to offer a welcoming spiritual place for LGBT2SQ+ people instead of excluding them solely because of their gender or sexuality.
Luke Miller, the board president of Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests, cautions us to pay attention to situations where people are “treated as expendable and worthless in order to preserve some institution or structure.”
I wonder if this is a healthy atmosphere to raise children in. I don’t want my future kids to be exposed to the commonly used and extremely condescending message to “hate the sin, love the sinner.” I wouldn’t want them to feel fear coming out to me, their family, or their community.
A Foot in Both Worlds
I didn’t grow up in a Christian household — I decided to go to church on my own. As a child, I went with my oma every Christmas. The sanctuary space filled with joy when so many people came together to celebrate the birth of their saviour and the gathering of family.
My spirituality continued to grow after a friend in elementary school invited me to Bible camp and during the following school year, I ran into a different friend while visiting a church near my home.
One part of me was formed in church and another was formed by my parents, classmates, and secular society. I didn’t feel like I belonged in either world. Torn between Christian ethics and people who based their ethics on something else, I struggled to feel pure enough to be accepted as a Christian with my church friends, while also feeling like a prude in my friend group outside of church.
Watching Girls Kiss and Studying the Bible
In high school, a friend held a party one Friday when his parents were away. Halfway into the night, Katy Perry’s hit “I Kissed a Girl” rang through the host’s iPod and speakers. Before the song was over, two girls began making out in the living room full of people.
From my spot on the floor with my knees brought to my chest, I looked up at the girls. I felt frustrated, and I couldn’t believe they wanted attention from their male classmates so much they were convinced to do this. Looking back, maybe my annoyance could have been an early sign I wasn’t straight.
Earlier that evening, I had been at church — spending a couple hours worshipping, studying the Bible, discussing the lesson with a small group of girls, and building community over snacks.
In university, I was a youth sponsor mentoring junior high school girls in the church. I remember changing into a short club dress in the church bathroom because I was going out after. I hid the dress under oversized sweats and a jacket as I walked out. Leaving one world behind for another.
Eventually, I walked away from the church and my faith, convinced that I had to find my own strength.
Elevating My Spirit Through Music
Julien Baker is a queer singer. She is also a Christian.
Baker started playing music because she never felt grounded and needed to cope with her feelings of loneliness “as she struggled to reconcile her queerness with her upbringing,” says Rachel Syme, writer of The New Yorker article titled “Julien Baker Believes in God.”
I sobbed when I first read the piece. By the third paragraph, the tears in my eyes made it hard to continue reading. I was not alone. I felt hope that one day I could calmly hold these parts of my identity together.
Baker grew up in a Christian household in Memphis, Tennessee — the heart of the United States Bible Belt. When she came out to her family, her dad searched the Bible for an hour to find support and to show her she wasn’t going to hell. Syme says this moment made Baker’s faith in God stronger.
In 2018, Baker played at Winnipeg Folk Festival. That summer, I listened to her latest album as I lay on the hardwood floor in the living room of my one-bedroom apartment. With my then-broken foot elevated above my head on the big plush footrest meant to accompany my reading sofa-chair, I felt more whole — I wasn’t the only one that struggled with the conflict between my faith and my sexuality.
But there’s a comfort in failureA verse of Julien Baker’s song Shadowboxing
Singing too loud in church
Screaming my fears into speakers
‘Till I collapse, or I burst
Whichever comes first.
Seeking God and a New Community
A few years after my daydream in Safeway, I felt a longing to be part of a faith community again. At the time, I was struggling in my relationship, I didn’t like my job, and I felt stagnant. The combination filled me with dread and made me feel like my life wasn’t going anywhere.
Driven by anxiety, I needed to focus this energy into something else I could obsess over. Trying to answer the big questions about life and the human soul felt like a vast enough challenge to sufficiently distract myself.
After ending my five-and-a-half-year relationship, I found a new church that had the energy, connection, and welcoming atmosphere I sought. Services began with a mandatory two-minute welcoming session where people walked around, shook hands, and chatted with those around them. The band on stage played contemporary worship songs while they bobbed and danced for the congregation.
The room filled with excitement before the preaching started. I lifted my arms high and sang as loud as I wanted. During those moments, the heaviness briefly disappeared, and I felt temporarily free.
Within four weeks of attending, I decided to go on a young adult weekend retreat even though I didn’t know anyone. Retreats were always my favourite part about connecting with my youth group or young adults at church. Usually going away with a group of people I didn’t know would fill me with fear, but I looked forward to it and didn’t feel lonely during the trip.
The young adult weekend fell in the middle of the church series geared toward helping people in the congregation discover their gifts and learn ways to serve the community. The lessons during the retreat continued the undertaking — teaching me about the church and self-discovery.
Each of the approximately 40 young adults sitting in the upstairs of the wooden loft received a bound notebook with a blue cover outlining the church’s mission, its services, and how we can get involved. I filled out the questionnaire and discerned my spiritual gifts. Two traits stood high above the rest — mercy and exhortation. Mercy, defined in the book, is “to feel empathy and caring for those who are hurting in any way,” while exhortation means “to encourage others.”
One of my reasons for rejoining a church was to help others. The Sunday following the retreat I learned I needed to become a member of this community before volunteering my time, which meant I needed to sign the statement of faith document at the end of the bound book. One of the statements explicitly stated I must believe marriage is only between a man and a woman.
The document crushed the spirit I had been rebuilding. My stomach dropped and I suddenly felt trapped in a glass box that was too small for my body. Behind the church’s energy and welcoming façade was a massive pillar of harsh unkindness.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America says the negative messages the world puts on LGBT2SQ+ people can cause them to “view themselves as deeply flawed, unlovable, unworthy, and hopeless.”
The thought of becoming a member of a community that asks certain people to give up their greatest chance at an intimate and loving relationship ripped my heart apart. Betrayal of oneself is the ultimate act of turning away from whom we are meant to be — who God made us to be.
In Beveridge’s video “let’s talk about gender,” she says sexual and gender identity is not a choice and “at the end of the day the only choice you have is whether or not you’re going to live your life for yourself or if you are going to live it for other people.”
I wanted to be vulnerable and open with new people, but I couldn’t feel comfortable in a group where my rejection was always right under the surface. So I stopped trying again.
What Would Jesus Do?
Imagine a man walks through the centre aisle of a church sanctuary on Sunday morning. He is dressed in his Sunday best, but he also has a rainbow flag wrapped around his shoulders. How do you think people in the church would respond to him?
Imagine a man parked outside, getting out of his car, and feeling hesitant to grab his partner’s hand before walking into church. Do you think they would feel welcome? Imagine one of the men is Jesus. Does that change anything?
After years of searching for answers, I know God is unconditional love and grace. God is an always-present force, whether that be a human figure we connect with or something as universal as the air we breathe. God can provide comfort no matter how much we are hurting and no matter how big our pain is.
Pain and Pride
In June 2018, I fractured two bones in my right foot dancing at Pride Winnipeg Festival at The Forks. The bones fractured from the impact of landing on my foot as I repeatedly jumped in the air. The consequence of feeling free in that moment was a painful burden for the next few months, I had no choice but to sit around and work on accepting myself.
Just like my sexuality, I tried to ignore the feelings of pain that grew more and more intense as time went on that day. My friend and I walked away from The Forks to get lunch near Provencher Boulevard and Des Meurons Street.
After we ate, I stumbled a bit as we walked back to The Forks, thinking I must have injured a muscle. A day or two before, on a long walk, I finally had the courage to tell this friend about my sexuality.
A year prior, I went alone to my first Pride Winnipeg Parade, and I walked away feeling even lonelier. I wore a bracelet that had rows of colourful beads that almost looked like a rainbow. I was excited to wear the bracelet, but when I was there, I purposefully kept it hidden under the long sleeves of my flannel shirt.
Where is My Faith Now?
It has been almost two years since I went to a church service. But in summer 2018 I was so committed to attending church that even though I was on crutches, I hopped over 1,000 metres to attend a new church with a new friend. I arrived sweaty and exhausted, but it felt worth it at the time.
About a year ago, I went to my last church worship event, coincidentally, after I fractured my other foot in two places (though I didn’t know yet).
I slightly hobbled into a church that seemed to expand as soon as I walked through the door. The lights dimmed as we all raised from our seats. Many young adults immediately lifted their hands into the air.
Sitting at the edge of a long row halfway to the stage, I could look in any direction and see groups of young adults singing praises to the Lord they seemed to whole-heartedly believe in. I stood there feeling isolated for the first three songs. I had to force myself to participate to feel like I fit in.
I recently fractured another bone in my right foot. The spiritual and psychological pain of feeling like I don’t belong seems to be accompanied by physical side effects. There is something to be said about the stress of trying to compartmentalize faith and sexuality.
Vicky Beeching, a famous worship singer, felt so much stress about her sexuality that her body started falling apart, she says in an interview in The Independent. After needing chemo for an autoimmune disease that left a white scar on her face, Beeching promised herself that she would finally come out to the world.
Will I Go Back?
There is a church down the block from where my current boyfriend lives that flies a rainbow flag outside the entrance. The first time I passed by this church, I felt more confident in God and Christianity. This place should be exactly where I want to attend. But I don’t have enough drive inside me to walk through those doors. I’m afraid to risk having my heart, sense of self, community, and spirituality shattered again.
I haven’t prayed in a long time. It doesn’t feel authentic anymore.
I’m skeptical that I will ever find the belonging I seek.
I grieve for the loss of community I never quite found. I grieve for those still struggling — those forced to fight or forced to hide who they are because of their church’s stance. I grieve for love that is so tainted to some people they will never know God or know how being unconditionally accepted is supposed to feel.
Continuing to Wrestle
I struggled to fit into a group that provides the spiritual community I once craved. I felt personally rejected when trying to find a church where I could connect with people my age and not have to decide between becoming a member and silencing myself or being myself and never fully belonging.
Even though I stopped going to church I can’t escape the shame that remains. I continue casting down my eyes whenever I catch myself finding a woman attractive.
A pastor at one of the conservative evangelical churches once told me “It’s a waste of God’s time to try to be something that you’re not.”
I’m not straight, and I’m not sure what I believe about God or Jesus. Day by day I’m trying to remember that not knowing is okay.