Several days ago, an ugly battle over the resurrection of Christ exploded on theological twitter. It started when two prominent theologians started tweeting about a non-literal perspective of the resurrection, and the conversation quickly devolved into a morass of ugliness and bitterness. The details of the debate are immaterial to this post, so I won’t get into them. What stands out to me, though, is that many of the people defending the literal view of the resurrection were my fellow LGBT progressives. As I read through these tweets, and absorbed a toxic dose of twitter radiation, I had a painful realization, and I suddenly understood why my departure from credal Christian faith has hurt so much. I realized that, over the course of years, I slowly became an outsider to the very LGBT communities I helped build.
The loss of any religious community is excruciating. The grief is intense, even if no particular person is to blame for my eventual giving up on the Christian world. The recent twitter battle helped me understand why my past in the church hurts so much, and why the story I’m about to tell is so excruciating.
As with much of my writing, I air this post not as an attack on those who hold to credal faith, but a processing of my own grief. I do so with the knowledge that there are many silent people processing the same grief, and I write this with the hopes of providing them with some solidarity.
Fighting for LGBT Christians
Back in 2013, I started a now defunct blog called Sacred Tension. I started it as a Bible-believing, resurrection-affirming, Christ-loving young gay person who was struggling with my orientation and severe mental illness. I simply wanted to tell my story and process my hurt, but the blog quickly went viral. It was quoted by theologians, discussed in seminaries, and shared across social media. I soon found a new niche: fighting for the inclusion of LGBT people within creed-believing churches. For two years, my blog gained untold thousands of views and influenced the discourse of LGBT inclusion in many corners of the web. It eventually shut down, because I could not maintain a popular blog and my mental health at the same time. I had to retreat from the public eye and focus on mending my fractured mind.
Now, years later, many Christian LGBT people and straight allies tell me that my blog was the catalyst that helped them change their mind. I am immensely proud of that, and I still believe that the Sacred Tension blog was some of the best writing I’ve ever done in my career. I fought hard for the LGBT Christian community, and while that fight ultimately took a terrible toll on my health, I’m proud of what I accomplished.
And then I lost faith
In 2015 I suffered a mental break the likes of which I hope I never experience again. It was in the midst of that breakdown that I met my heroic partner who helped me recover, get into therapy, and re-evaluate my life.
I don’t know what it was about that plunge into the abyss, but I emerged from it a profoundly different person with a profoundly different faith. The answers I once held as clear as day and self evident were no longer obvious. My faith in Christ was broken and slowly started to fall away, like sand in a sieve. My faith in Christ dissolved against my will and without my consent. I contend that, if I had my way, I would still be a theistic, creed-believing Christian. It is obvious to me now that faith is not a choice, but a quality that sits deeper than rational thought or volition.
The works of people like Peter Enns and Science Mike rescued and prolonged my dying Christian life. They gave me permission to doubt, question, and hold to a more non-theistic view of Christianity. In many ways, they provided the foundation for my current religious life.
I started writing various articles about how I didn’t believe in the literal resurrection or even a God, but still considered myself part of the Christian community and therefore qualified as some sort of Christian. I believed — and in fact still believe — that nontheism is a positive, authentic, and valid force in religion, and that space should be made for nontheistic expressions within Christianity.
But, as I expressed several months ago in my article “Giving Up On Calling Myself Christian” I found that was too exhausting. I’ve been fighting for my entire life for my inclusion as a gay person, a mentally ill person. Now, I didn’t have the energy to fight for my inclusion in the Christian world any longer. I gave up the title of Christian, and assumed the role of Post-Christian. The entire process was excruciating, and took years. I’m still coming to understand why it hurt so much, and the recent twitter battle helped me understand, in retrospect, another aspect of why this journey has been such a horrific and heartbreaking experience.
Let’s return to the recent twitter battle over the resurrection. Many Episcopalians and Anglicans expressed dismay and rage that someone identifying as a Christian would suggest that literal belief in the resurrection is not necessary for Christian identity. This rage was directed at people who are where I once was, and I was reminded, all over again, how fatigued I was of so many theological wars over the years. I absorbed a toxic dose of bitterness on twitter, because those wounds are still fresh. It confirmed for me, all over again, why I left the Christian label behind.
And then the realization hit me, with the full force of a train: the most vocal people in this debate were LGBT people. The people I considered siblings, who saved my life, who I fought for. I spent untold hours fighting for the inclusion of LGBT people in the church. And now, I realized, they were the ones working against the inclusion of people like me in the spaces I helped build. As my faith died, I could no longer affirm the central creeds of the church as literally true but I still loved Christ, wanted to follow him, and live as if his resurrection was true. Why wasn’t that enough?
Now, whenever I watch LGBT Christian communities, I feel a deep stab of grief, even though I’ve moved on. These were once my closest friends and allies, and I experienced a spiritual and communal intimacy with them that was unparalleled in my life. I lost all of that, because I lost faith. Irony of ironies, the community I fought to build is very same I can no longer connect with because of my loss of faith. That hurts.
It isn’t their fault that I’m now an outsider to their world, and I don’t hold anyone responsible. I rather see this as a painful byproduct of a religious operating system. I can’t be fully embraced in their community the way I once was because religious belief makes it so, no matter how much love and respect they hold for me. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it I must.
I know for a fact that I’m not the only LGBT person who feels this way. I’ve talked to many other queer people – many of them now members of TST, who share the exact same experience.
I think my departure from the Christian label was the right choice, and I think the acknowledgement of my outsider status to the LGBT Christian circles is an honest one. I also accept the fact that grief is healthy, and I choose to lean into this grief. I’m excited for what’s ahead, even as I grieve for the LGBT Christian world I love. The loss of religious life is hard, no matter how positive a shift it may be.
Do you relate to this experience? Do you have experiences of religious marginalization? Please let me know in the comments.
Editorial note: allow me to now turn to the camera and give some excessive exposition. This post has undergone some revisions to respond to helpful criticism on twitter. I originally titled this piece, “I Am Now Excluded From the Christian LGBT communities I helped build.” While I took for granted that “exclusion” can be impersonal and systemic, some readers did not interpret the word in that light, but interpreted it as meaning deliberate excommunication. I understood the word exclusion as an impersonal result of religious belief, but I did not convey that clearly.
Some were also confused by the timeline of the story, wondering why I was so bent out of shape over feeling excluded when I had willfully chosen to walk away. I did not write clearly on this point. Instead, I was trying to convey that the process of walking away from Christianity was long and miserable, and that in the process I felt excluded by my fellow LGBT Christians who insisted that non-theistic Christian practice and the identification of Christian were mutually exclusive. The recent twitter debate touched those old wounds, and were a reminder of how painful my departure from Christianity and the LGBT Christian community has been.
I don’t know how successful a blog post this is. I fear that it is still too unclear, or mangled. but I will let it stand as an open experiment in trying to put to words a painful and complicated religious journey.
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4 thoughts on “I Am Now An Outsider to the Christian LGBT Community I Helped Build, And That Hurts”
I’m so sorry you’re going through this, Stephen. To be honest, this is the kind of reason I’ve always been cautious around and suspicious of LGBT and LGBT-affirming Christians. While they’re opinions on same-sex relationships and even gender may have changed, it feels like too many of them cling to other things that would continue to push some to the margins. It seems like you’ve become the victim of one of those instances.
As a personal note, I have to say that I remember reading your blogs back when you were still a theistic Christian. I lost track of you over time, and only rediscovered you after you had made your journey to non-theism. Part of me wishes I had been around to observe and share in that journey.
It is so sad that those who call themselves christian are so quick to fight and condemn those who see things differently. We all have our beliefs and interpretations but none of us can prove our way is right. We should be able to follow Jesus as we feel the Spirit leads us and accept one another in love despite the differences in interpretation and doctrine. I have left the label of christian behind as it means so many things I do not agree with anymore. I still follow Jesus but as you know, so many think that is not enough.
Stephen, what a terrible experience you had to go through. It pains me to hear such stories, which I am sure are all too common. I feel so lucky to have been raised an atheist for this and many other reasons. Peace be with you.
I really appreciate that. Thank you ❤️ And yes, you should definitely feel lucky that you were raised without theism.