Growing up queer in the church is a lonely endeavor for many of us

At the first signs of the early, earnest loves of youth, we must face institutions and people who teach us to fear our hearts.

In fear, we retreat. In shame, we isolate. And at times, finding our closets reinforced by religious dogma, every interaction is laced with risk.

Every day is its own heartbreak as intimacy is suspect and grace is made to feel contingent. But for those of us who are lucky enough, our stories do not end with death-dealing theologies.

We go on to find new life in community among those we consider our chosen family. Growing up shamed, isolated, and fearful, the discovery of queer community can feel like the greatest blessing.

Pride is beautiful in its ability to encompass a multitude of different meanings for different people. But for me, this has always been its essence: a chance to celebrate and revel in the life-affirming worlds we have built for ourselves, worlds made possible by decades of struggle and sacrifice.

Pride surfaces the unique beauty of LGBTQ life, and provides the opportunity for all Christians to bear witness to the richness of our loves and holiness of our souls.

Far from being marginal to Christianity, I believe that queer and trans experiences can speak back to and actually enliven our tradition in the way they evoke the unconditional, world-changing love of God.

In his book Cruising Utopia, theorist José Esteban Muñoz writes that after a life lived at the edges of what might be considered “normal,” there are moments where queer folks find themselves in relationship with one another, and these sometimes fleeting instances “[register] as the illumination of a horizon of existence.”

Put another way, the communities and chosen family we knit together open up new horizons of possibilities for flourishing.

Over and against the harmful narratives forced upon us by a broken world, we know that these possibilities exist.

We feel them around dinner tables and in nightclubs, at parades and in community centers. And they linger long after we return home, felt as a warm glow in our heart that strengthens us to live another day.

One such community that I was fortunate to inhabit over the last few months was a Queer Bible Study composed of other queer and questioning Christians from colleges in my area. For ten weeks, we met every Thursday night on Zoom and worked our way through the entire Gospel of Mark.

We would read the section for the week aloud — receiving it orally as the first hearers of the good news would have — and then would have a wide ranging discussion about the implications and possibilities that what we had received might hold for our lives.

Each session we shared felt like an immense gift, as we were able to encounter this sacred text with the fullness of who we were and where we were in that moment.

Early on in our meetings, we came upon Mark 3:31-35 in which Jesus expresses a model of kinship that resonated with our experiences of chosen family.

He is early in his ministry and, having already stirred up controversy, Jesus and his disciples are surrounded by crowds outside his home. His family, hearing the commotion, “went out to restrain him.” (Mark 3:21) But Jesus continues to teach until they send for him directly.

Upon hearing this, Jesus replies, “Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33-35)

Faced with misunderstanding and fear from those who are meant to care for him most, Jesus responds with an abundantly loving vision of what family could be. He calls all those assembled to be his brethren — to be loved, cared for, and welcomed as family would be.

On its face, the resonances with queer life are obvious, but our conversation went deeper still as we attuned ourselves to the fact that Jesus is inviting people to be brothers and sisters united in doing the will of God.

To be kin with Christ is to be invited into a deeper intimacy with the presence and work of God. It is to let our love for one another be the basis for our action in the world and to become co-laborers for God’s dawning kingdom.

This marriage of love, mutuality, and world-transforming possibility is precisely what is on display throughout the month of June as queer and trans folks make visible their joyful solidarity and commitment to one another at festivals, parades, and events around the country.

Forged in adversity, the love we feel for one another is the vital ingredient for imagining and actualizing something better, a world in which all of us can flourish according the sacred designs of our hearts.

This Pride, my deepest hope for disciples throughout the Christian world is that they would take the time to witness the horizons of existence that a truly unconditional love can open. This Pride, I invite our straight brothers and sisters in Christ to join us in the sacred practice of kinship, a way of being in service of the kingdom to come.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to June as Pride Month. The other articles in the series are:

You’re LGBTQ Affirming! Now What? | Cody J. Sanders

Celebrating Pride and Pentecost in a Pub | Bert Montgomery

I Am a Woman Because I Do Womanhood | Junia Joplin

An Invitation for Embrace and Resurrection | Kali Cawthon-Freels

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