Since I was born, I have attended a Methodist church in Washington, DC. I was baptized there, and through my church, I met lifelong friends, mentors, and people that I consider family. As long as I can remember, there have been members of my church that were part of the LGBTQIA+ community. I never thought about same-sex couples as unusual or confusing as a child because I was used to seeing them and knew many of them as my friends’ parents or just as other people in the congregation. When my mom explained to me that one person in our congregation had been born biologically male but identified and presented as a woman, I took her word for it. Nothing about it seemed strange to me -why wouldn’t someone want to be the person they truly are inside?
While I never felt much connection to the actual religious part of church, it was always a place I associated with love and acceptance. When I got older, however, I learned more about the history of Christianity in general. I heard peers and friends comment about how religious people are close-minded and conservative and I couldn’t exactly blame them for feeling that way. The more I learned, the more I wished that more Christians had the religious upbringing that I had.
It took me a while to fully understand my own sexuality. I didn’t tell anyone I was bisexual until I was in college, and never really felt the desire to make any public announcement to come out to friends or family. This is not, however, because I was afraid or felt I would not be accepted by those around me. I simply felt most comfortable by just being who I am and disclosing information about myself to people as they got to know me, just as I would do with any other aspect of my identity. If someone asked, or made a statement assuming I was straight, I just corrected them. Slowly, but surely, more and more people in my life became aware of my identity and thankfully no one ever had a problem with it. I have heard a handful of ignorant comments about bisexual people in general, “Oh they’re just confused,” or, “Bisexual people are just greedy, they want to have sex with everyone,” but rarely have I been subjected to any dramatic or aggressive forms of discrimination based on my sexuality. I say this knowing that I am in a great position of privilege and that many other queer people out there cannot say the same.
In early March, the Methodist Church held their general conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Methodists from around the world gathered and one of the main things the delegates voted on was something referred to as “the traditional plan.” While the Methodist Church had never officially accepted members of the LGBTQIA+ community, this new plan takes a much more aggressive stance against them and places stricter sanctions on churches and clergy who choose to go against it. My church would be one of those churches.
Every year at the beginning of Lent (the forty days leading up to Easter, known as a time of reflection in the Christian calendar), my church celebrates the anniversary of becoming a reconciling congregation. A reconciling congregation is a church where the members are committed to the inclusion and acceptance of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The methodist church currently has over 900 congregations affiliated with what is called the “Reconciling Ministries Network.” Progress within the church is being made, but obviously there are still setbacks. As I’ve transitioned into adulthood, I have at times struggled with my relationship with religion. On one hand, I am not particularly spiritual and don’t feel much of a need for religion in my life, but on the other, I am so glad to have been brought up in the church that I was. I enjoy going back a few times a year and reconnecting with old friends. My family spends most major holidays with people we know from church who I consider to be family. Christianity in general, however, has a problematic history and since I’m not religious, it would not be difficult for me to just remove myself from any relation to it at all. For other people, however, the decision is not so easy. LGBTQIA+ clergy, members, and their allies are now forced to grapple with these new guidelines and decide if they want to continue their relationship with the Methodist Church. This struggle is similar for members of other religious institutions that have historically discriminated against LGBTQIA+ people.
While I personally do not feel a strong need for religion in my life, I recognize the impact my church had on me as a person. I don’t know if I would be the same person without the community that I grew up in. My vision for equality is that people of all identities can feel welcome in faith communities if that is something they feel called to be a part of. Of course, some groups have a lot farther to go than others to achieve this goal, and there is a lot of healing that needs to happen first. Ultimately, religion should be for everyone who seeks it, and if there is a God, She loves everyone regardless of their identity.
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