29 Oct Why The Church Needs Some Ellens

I was twelve years old when Ellen came out to Oprah. As a homeschooler in the Bible Belt before social media was invented, I studied her pictures in magazines when my parents weren’t watching. Her sense of humor didn’t resonate with me and I wasn’t necessarily attracted to her, yet there I was celebrity stalking her back when we had to work for it.

Watching Ellen with teenage wonder, my conversation with myself went something like this: She made it. She’s an actual lesbian who made it to adulthood and she’s, like, NORMAL. She’s relatively well-adjusted and some people kind of like her. I wonder if some people would still like me, too, if they knew?

Every young person scans their network to identify role models they can look to when they try to imagine future stories for their lives. Whether it’s a father, a coach, a youth pastor, or an art teacher, kids observe those they identify with so they can sketch a rough outline of what life might look like down the road. An aspiring black Christian musician will probably be drawn to an older black Christian musician when he imagines a future career. A young female soccer star might look to a soccer player at the local university for inspiration. An amateur chess champion—you get the point.

When I scanned my network, though, I only saw straight people. I’m sure there were closeted queers, but there was not one single openly gay Christian that I could look to for even a vague idea of a possible narrative for my life. It was great to watch youth pastors and camp counselors to get an idea of what it might look like to serve in ministry, but it broke down because every single one was straight.

As I bounced between camp counselors (for the Christian part) and Ellen (for the lesbian part), I knew the answer to the question of whether or not I could be an open, honest, relatively well-adjusted, relatively well-liked lesbian in the church: No. The lack of people to look to was a strong indicator that it simply was not possible to tell the truth and stay in the church.

This resulted in hyper-self-consciousness in Christian circles because I was so attentive to curbing my gayness. “Am I sitting gay right now?” I often thought to myself. “Oh GOD, I’m sitting gay right now,” as I shifted into what I gathered was a less lesbian way of sitting in a chair. I bought into the lies we tell about both gay people and women, believing that if I could somehow carry myself in a more stereotypically feminine way, then I would be more acceptable. And if I could be skinnier, and prettier, and act like I didn’t work for it or care about it, then my likability factor would rise even more.

What Ellen showed me was that it was okay to exist as an openly gay person in society. What we need now are leaders in Christian communities who, by their existence, communicate that it’s okay to exist as an openly gay person in the church. Ideally, LGBT people would be in leadership so that kids grow up downloading a message that straight Christians believe they have something to learn from gay people. Some churches seek to “reach out” or “minister to” gay people and it’s often in the spirit of compassion, but even that attempt to love still maintains a power dynamic that implies sexual minorities are a particularly needy or broken brunch. Having a bisexual elder, on the other hand, tells the young bisexual boy that it’s not only possible to exist as a bisexual adult in the church, but that bisexual people are wise and they have gifts to offer the community. It’s a positive message to a young person who doesn’t hear many positive messages from the church.

We’ve come a long way. Young people can now celebrity stalk with peace of mind and LGBT teens can locate other gay Christians via google. As wonderful as it is for them to work through questions about theology, or dating, or everyday existence by interacting with others online, very few of them have people in their actual circles that model a way forward for them. My sense is that this is because: 1.) Many older sexual minorities stay in the closet because they still don’t feel safe enough to share, and 2.) Christian organizations that might actually want a gay person in leadership feel like it would be a liability (they might lose donors, or get phone calls from parents, or have to wrestle with questions that make them uncomfortable). It is simply easier not to take that step. It comes at a cost, though, and it comes at the expense of the most vulnerable.

I’m encouraged that many Christians see the need for LGBT leaders to be intimately involved in the community, but it’ll take more courage on the part of straight Christian leaders for this to become the norm. In the mean time, I hope more sexual minorities will come out as both gay and Christian, leading lives of vitality and integrity. Even if there isn’t enough momentum for us to be truly supported in leadership roles within various institutions, we can convey to young women that find us in roundabout ways that it’s possible to exist as a lesbian who loves Jesus—that it’s a good thing to exist as a lesbian who loves Jesus.

8 Comments
  • J.
    Posted at 12:03h, 02 November Reply

    This is why I have a problem when atheists tell LGBT Christians to just leave the church and take up atheism, and deride them if they don’t. Leaving aside the fact that people can’t just turn on/off their belief in God like a switch, where does that leave the vulnerable LGBT child who can’t simply ~leave the church? It’s important that people have role models in all areas of life.

    And I’m saying this as someone who is gay and no longer a part of organized religion. I left for reasons unrelated my sexuality, but said sexuality guarantees that I will never go back. (At least not to the churches I grew up in.)

  • Lorelai O'Malley
    Posted at 12:49h, 02 November Reply

    Because of your love for Jesus, breathtaking vulnerability and compassion, you were my role model that led me to believe it was possible to navigate queer Christianity within my own faith. As I continue to follow your journey you inspire and inform my own. I am so grateful for your online presence and have passed many of your blogs along to loved ones which articulate my own sentiments much better than I could have. Thank you for your heart, courage and compassion that speaks to so many others in an area that is so crucial.

  • Vanessa
    Posted at 19:21h, 02 November Reply

    Can I join in with Lorelai’s comment please? Thanks Julie! I am so thankful to God for you. Though those closest to me (who I’ve told and shared your posts with) are still afraid to even read your posts, I needed to read them to not only survive in a world where I feel so alone (I’m a pastor’s daughter), but also thrive. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

  • Beth Caplin Stoneburner
    Posted at 12:39h, 03 November Reply

    Do you think that Christians are sincere about “reaching out in love”? Or is it code for “hate the sin, love the sinner,” which sounds good in theory but has proved problematic in practice?

  • Matthew Parker
    Posted at 23:59h, 03 November Reply

    So glad you’re writing again, Julie! I’ve missed reading your words. This post brings to mind my own situation where I’m desperately trying to be out at my church so that I can be there for the gay youth, but it hasn’t been easy. Every time I talk to someone in leadership, they say they’re all for allowing me to minister to the queer kids who they know are in the youth group, but it always gets put off to another day. Meanwhile, I know they’re sitting in the seats around me feeling alone and ashamed and it breaks my heart.

  • noah weatherly
    Posted at 10:42h, 10 November Reply

    Shaking my head at the poison that is being fed to our young Christian audience. You know better Julie.

  • Knox van Afrika
    Posted at 04:00h, 13 November Reply

    I appreciate your compassion , Julie, but I can’t agree with your wish for LGBT elders. What has become of the Bible as only authority? The Word does not allow it Julie! The whole category of so called bi-sexuality undermines the often heard statement that no choice is involved in homosexuality!

    • Chandra Moore
      Posted at 22:53h, 22 November Reply

      The Bible is not now and never has been the “only Authority”. God is our only authority, and one way through history he used to communicate to His people was through the written word. But stating the Bible is the “only Authority” turns the Bible itself into an idol and replaces God as master and Lord of the universe who is capable of using many ways to communicate with us and show us His will.

      As for bisexuality – it does not undermine “the often heard statement that no choice is involved in homosexuality” and as a Bisexual Christian I can assure you – no one knows this more than me. Bisexuality is a gift God gave me. It does not undermine the sexuality of my Heterosexual, Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters and I don’t appreciate it being used as a weapon against my Lesbian & Gay sisters and brothers as a way to discredit our faith and trust in God that He created to be exactly who we are – for His purpose and glory.

      Bisexuality does not mean one gets to “choose” their partner. It means their attraction and desire can be found in more than one gender. That’s it. Bisexuality has nothing to do with monosexuality (being attracted to only one gender) nor does it has have anything to do with monogamy.

      Our sexuality – whether Heterosexual, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual (and all it’s other terms of nonmonosexuality) are not chosen. Our gender identities whether Male, Female, Transexual or something else are not chosen. We are ALL created in God’s image and all of our sexual/gender identities bring Him glory when we live fully as we are, with no shame and no guilt about how HE made us!!!!

      The Bible is an amazing book, it is the word of God. It’s stories and history are invaluable to the Christian faith. But the Bible was never meant to be the end all be all instruction manual for all life in all generations throughout all time. It is this misconception which has many people living out hate towards many people groups and doing it thinking they are doing God’s will.

      We can agree to disagree on theology. We can have different beliefs. We can choose to live out our faiths in different ways. But it is not your right to use my sexuality as a weapon against my LGBT brother’s and sisters to condemn us when God say’s He loves us.

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