In recent months the ongoing conversation regarding LGBT+ people of faith has been picking up momentum. High profile scandals in the church, tales of bigotry and discrimination alongside enormous political and legal upheavals across the world have brought our politics and our religion to the forefront of our collective consciousness.
Christian worship singer Vicky Beeching last week came out as a lesbian in an interview with The Independent, prompting an outpouring of support from LGBT+ and religious figures alike. The revelation followed the coming out of Neon Trees lead singer and Mormon Tyler Glenn to Rolling Stone magazine in March. The flowing December, On My Honor frontman Drew Justice posted a blog explaining, ‘I am gay, and I am a Christian’. Justice went on to challenge the popular perception that the two can’t co-exist, and it’s that particular aspect of the issue that has been gaining traction.
It’s a sensitive question and one that many people – gay, straight, religious, agnostic or otherwise are keen to weigh in on for various reasons, and every addition to the conversation only serves to add more fuel to a fire that threatens to consume everything in its path. Dan Haseltine, of the enormously successful Christian rock band Jars of Clay, caused a localised twitter storm earlier this year when he voiced his support for same-sex marriage. Haseltine tweeted, ‘Not meaning to stir things up BUT… Is there a non-speculative or non “slippery slope” reason why gays shouldn’t marry? I don’t hear one.’ A heated debate was quickly whipped up, and Haseltine continued, ‘I’m trying to make sense of the conservative argument. But It doesn’t hold up to basic scrutiny. Feels akin to women’s suffrage.’
The question of faith and sexuality has people excited and angry, but while two opposing opinions battle it out in an increasingly visible media-war, a vast group of people find themselves torn between two sides.
Gay Christians often struggle to reconcile their sexuality and their faith, and while contemporary readings of scripture begin to make room for more fluid attitudes towards modern relationships, the disconnect between the light community and the faith community appears to be growing wider than ever. In the church community, young initiatives seek to open their doors to the LGBT+ believer, but even so the disputes are far from resolved. Disagreements between denominations further muddy the waters, and LGBT+ congregations find themselves arguing theological details regarding cohabitation, sexual abstinence, marriage and adoption. Quite simply, with no biblical precedent to accommodate the ever-changing arrangements of modern-life, it is left for religious groups to try as best they can to find solutions, and the struggle continues daily. In the meantime, those same groups find their faith under attack from an increasingly hostile faction of the media intent on undermining the progress they fight to make.
Gay media representation of the church continues to focus on negative and inflammatory headlines. With lunatic cults and homophobic pastors making headlines, the hysterical reactivity of the press only serves to reinforce the divide between the two sides, and while basic narratives of extreme injustice makes for provocative column inches, a neglected faction of the community is left without any apparent support network.
LGBT+ Christians often find themselves removed from their faith families and simultaneously isolated from the wider gay community due to ingrained prejudices that we continuously fail to address. Religious conservatism on one hand renders our sexual orientation unacceptable and our lifestyle choices blasphemous, while modern gay culture dismisses our faith as out of step on the other. How are we to convince future generations that coming out is an important, liberating step if we set them adrift for holding belief systems that we find morally disagreeable?
Over the years we have fought to convince the world that our sexual orientation or our gender identification is innate. The term ‘lifestyle choice’ is sneered at as derogatory and dismissive and in the same breath we disregard believers or those who observe religious traditions as uneducated or naïve. Our dismissal reeks of hypocrisy, and until we face our prejudices head-on we risk condemning all of our future fights to failure for our basic unwillingness to open our minds, shut our mouths and listen.
The real tragedy is that all along we claim, on either side, to be fighting for tolerance. All of the blood and the tears and the lost lives and the severed relationships for something as pitiful as tolerance? Personally, I don’t care to be sat in a room knowing that my presence is simply being tolerated. Tolerance isn’t love, and the love I have for my partner isn’t being challenged every day for tolerance; my beliefs, my convictions and my morals aren’t being tested every day so that I can aspire to sit down next to someone who tolerates me through gritted teeth. Tolerance is required, but it’s only beginning.
I deserve to be accepted fully and wholly as a man, as complex and as threatening as that may be, a man with a critical intellect who can make a conscious decision to weigh up all of the evidence at his disposal and decide to live a life accordingly knowing that those decisions will be respected and my right to live my life as I see fit will be protected, knowing that an opposing viewpoint is an opportunity to learn and not a threat to my very identity as a male, a homosexual, a Christian, Buddhist or whatever frame I choose to adopt at any given moment in the day.
However I decide to represent or label myself – as a Christian or a queer; as a feminist, activist or pacifist – I know my right to exercise my beliefs never takes precedent over another person’s right to exercise theirs and, with that, a level of respect must be exhibited as I create an environment around me where dialogue can flourish.
Tolerance must be the tool or the process, but never the end goal. We must aim for acceptance and understanding, using tolerance as the mechanism through which we can see and hear and ultimately learn, or risk rendering our entire struggle for acceptance worthless.