Author: caitlinjstout

A Letter From The Persecuted Church

The following is an anonymous guest post from a fellow student at Spring Arbor University. Recently, a group of LGBT students and allies were the target of anti-queer harassment. This is one student’s response. 


I remember vividly the day my faith shifted focus. It was my first youth group event, and I was deliriously excited. We all filed in to the conference center and worship music engulfed us. I was in love with the mega church feel of it all. At the beck and call of any given inspirational speaker, my spiritual emotions would rise and fall. They knew how to play the room like a harp, and my soul became the crescendos. Riveted by the first few guilt-inducing songs, I wasn’t really prepared for the wave that would take over me when they put on a skit depicting the crucifixion of Christ.

The room fell dark, and nearly silent. With shadow, light, and softly growing music, the silhouette of Christ was dragged to the stage by the Roman soldiers. Their shadowed figures beat his as the music grew in intensity. Their message held me captive, and my eyes began to well with tears. With violent flashes of light, “Jesus” was put to death on a cross right there in front of me, and I just wasn’t prepared for what would come next. As the music faded away with the dying breath of “Christ,” the room fell silent, and the speaker came forth again.

“Your sins held him here,” he declared. “Yet you deny him still.”

I began to weep.

“Will you continue to deny him, reject that you belong to him, just so you can feel safe in this secular world? Or will you die to this world, and be persecuted for Christ?”

The speaker continued, telling us that a Christian life wouldn’t always be easy, but it would be worth it. It would be worth it because of the promises God made to us, but only if we never gave in to the ways of the world. The message was clear: the Christian church will be increasingly persecuted in a constantly secularizing world. The question was, could we with stand the persecution for Christ, or would we fall to the ways of the world?

My faith was changed. I would spend the next six years devoting myself to being a part of the persecuted church, no matter what it would mean. I would not give in to the ways of the world. I would hold fast to my God.


Recently, I was reminded of this rhetoric. I remembered being incorrectly taught that I, identifying as a white, straight, cisgender Christian, was being targeted and persecuted. I was taught that as a member of conservative evangelicalism, my beliefs were holy and righteous, and I must stand for those views at all costs. I was taught, as many still believe, that I needed to stand against people who lived lives contrary to a “biblical lifestyle.”

Specifically, I was taught that LGBT people were not only not welcome in my Christianity, but that they were a threat to it. This rhetoric was used to victimize white, straight, cisgender Christians and demonize LGBT people. Regardless of what kind of “truth in love” speech is claimed, this doctrinal belief inherently dehumanizes LGBT people, especially if they also identify as Christian.

In this rhetoric, I stood firmly against LGBT people, especially within Christianity.


And then I came out. It was traumatic. Honestly, it still is. My faith broke all over again, and tediously I had to rebuild it. I am a Christian. I am a lesbian. I am faithfully myself and no one can take that from me.

A few days ago, I sat on the steps of my non-affirming school’s library with my family of queer Christians and a rainbow flag, trying our best to stand for our right to have faith.

That same day, my friends were berated on those very steps by a homophobic Christian woman who screamed about their supposed sexual sins against God.

That same day, administration did not defend us immediately. They had to think about it before releasing a statement.

Two days later, the school refused to claim the existence of LGBT students on campus, and when they finally did, it came with a notice that no LGBT person could also be Christian.

Three days later, an email was released, claiming LGBT people exist, but are never to be viewed as Christian.

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In the wake of these events, I am left feeling violently aware of the fact that I had for so long contributed to the tyrannical beliefs that are now dehumanizing myself and my friends. I had been a part of persecuting queer people by denying their existence and their right to enter into a relationship with God. I had, for so long, felt like a persecuted Christian because of the very existence of real persecuted Christians. I feel compelled now to make the difference between the two abundantly clear.

A persecuted Christian is not the person who has to wrestle with a different opinion. A persecuted Christian is not the person who “defends their faith” against the existence of diversity. A persecuted Christian is not someone who feels the only way to maintain their own faith is by disowning their gay child. A persecuted Christian is the Christian who hangs on to faith despite being told they don’t belong. More than that, a persecuted Christian is someone who dares to continue to believe in a God who has never answered their prayers for acceptance in their church, home, or school.

Dear Spring Arbor University, you are not the persecuted Church.

My church taught me to stand for my faith against those who persecute Christians. So, dear Church, dear Spring Arbor, have you considered that you persecute me? That you persecute us, the hurting queer community among you? Dear Church, dear Spring Arbor, stop telling me I must deny my truth, my faith, my story to fit your Christianity. Dear Church, dear Spring Arbor, dear families, might you be our persecutors? Your “truth in love” is stifling our prayers. Dear Church, we do not threaten your faith, but you daily threaten ours. Dear Church, how am I to believe in a God who allows you to treat us as less than the beloved? Dear Church, hear our cries as Jesus does.

We pray for you, who persecute us. We pray for your enlightening and your apologies. We pray for reformation and reconciliation. We pray for peace, for you and for us. We pray for unity. But now, dear Church, it is up to you. You have to come to see the Jesus in us. You hold your Bible as a poison rather than a remedy. Dear Church, dear Spring Arbor, you’re making it hard for us to breathe.

Let us breathe.

Sincerely Ours (because we’re super not yours),

The Persecuted Church (aka The Gay Kids Club)

“This Is My Body…”

Imagine for a moment that you strike up a conversation with a young woman sitting next to you on a long flight. You exchange pleasantries, talk about work, family life, etc. She starts to tell you about her boyfriend. She tells you that the two of them have been together for years and that she has no intention of ever leaving his side. She talks about the joy that he brings her. She says that she cares about him, and that she wants the best for him. The longer you listen, the clearer it is that this woman has fallen head-over-heels in love.

The conversation starts to take a turn when she admits that her boyfriend is far from perfect. Sometimes she thinks that she puts more work into the relationship than he does. Actually, if she’s being perfectly honest, he can be pretty hurtful. He scares her sometimes. He threatens her. He makes her feel undesirable, and he doesn’t even try to understand her feelings. He has a tendency to treat her as a lesser human, and she spends a lot of time crying about things he has said when he thought she couldn’t hear. She calls him out when he does this kind of stuff, but he always finds a way to turn it around and insist that he’s just acting out of love. She wants to believe that he’s telling the truth, but sometimes she just can’t. She stays anyway.

After all, he’s not always like that. On good days, she feels like she and her boyfriend could change the world together. Those are the days when she feels known and wanted and understood. On good days, she knows that she belongs with him and she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of her. Yes, she’ll admit, it seems like those days are becoming fewer and farther between… Like she said, he’s not perfect. But she’s pretty sure that if she sticks around, she might be able to fix him. Besides, she needs him.

What would you say to her?

Would you tell her that she’s in an unhealthy relationship?

Would you say that she’s being abused?

Would you tell her to move out and end it?

Have you ever heard an LGBTQ Christian talk about the Church?


This weekend, as a part of the Reformation Project Conference in Chicago, I attended a seminar on spiritual abuse and trauma, led by Teresa Pasquale Mateus, the author of “Sacred Wounds.” She started the workshop by asking the room full of Queer Christians, “What words or phrases do you associate with spiritual abuse?” The answers came rolling in with a disturbing level of ease, requiring no deliberation or second thoughts.

Fear. Control. Threats. Dehumanization. Gaslighting. Blame. Shame. Homophobia. Scapegoating. Isolation. Rejection. Forced compartmentalization. Second class. Silencing. False security. Abandonment. Feelings of inadequacy. Manipulation. Conversion therapy. Anxiety. Dependency. Conditional love. Damnation. 

As these words were spoken, faster than Teresa could write them down, I looked around the room and saw weary heads nodding in understanding and legs bouncing nervously. I heard deep and troubled sighs, occasionally accompanied by exasperated laughter. The kind of laughter that says, “This isn’t funny at all, it’s just so incredibly fucking true.” It was devastatingly obvious that no further explanations were needed.

The parallels between the non-affirming church and an abusive partner are startling. And I don’t always know how to deal with that. I don’t always know how to reconcile my genuine love for the Body of Christ with the ways it continues to do harm. I don’t always feel like the relationship is justifiable, and I don’t know if I can tell LGBTQ Christians to keep pouring their energy and affection into an organization that barely tolerates them. I don’t know how to not be angry with the fact that some churchgoers would ignore the hypothetical abusive boyfriend, but lose their minds if the imaginary woman on the plane were dating a female metaphor instead.

I carried this abusive partner analogy in my mind for the rest of the day after that workshop, hoping desperately that it was insufficient and praying for the metaphor to break down.

That night, we took communion.


During the summer, I would sometimes creep into church halfway through the Sunday services. I’d time it so that I got there right after the sermon and the passing of the peace, that way I could walk in, take communion, and then leave before anyone spoke to me.

After coming out, the Eucharist is what kept me coming back to places of worship. I can say with confidence that it is the only reason I still go to church at all. I think for a while I saw taking communion as an act of resistance, and I still acknowledge that there is something powerful about participating in a sacrament that certain people would rather deny me. I felt a need to claim my seat at Christ’s table, even if I wasn’t yet ready for the post-service coffee and fellowship hour.

My understanding of the Eucharist has evolved since then, though I still don’t have the theological language to fully express its beauty or its meaning or its centrality to my faith. I can’t explain the mystery of it, or how the enormity of concepts such as “unity, inclusion, remembrance, and love” seem to somehow be contained in a wafer and a sip of wine. But I can tell you that as I partook in the Lord’s supper on Saturday night with several hundred of my LGBTQ siblings– these refugees and exiles whom I call my friends– the abusive partner metaphor began to weaken.

The thing is, Queer folks are not dating the Church, we are the Church. And I’m beginning to realize that as soon as I start talking about the Body of Christ as an entity separate from myself, I am doing what non-affirming Christians have been trying to do to me for years. Spiritual abuse makes you see yourself as an issue up for debate. It distorts the beauty of the sacraments and turns them into these badges of belonging that you have to fight and work and bleed for. But the reality is that God has already given you a seat at the table. Jesus has already invited you to take and eat. The Body of Christ is already Queer.

This is not to minimize the very real abuse that does happens within the Body. This is not to say that anyone needs to stay in a congregation where they are not celebrated as equals. This is a reminder that “Child of God” is a title that cannot be revoked, and when we internalize that title, we are liberated. We can no longer settle for being tolerated, nor can we ignore the ways in which we have been hurtful to others. After all, the Body of Christ is also Black. The Body of Christ uses a wheelchair. The Body of Christ is undocumented. The Body of Christ is hungry and homeless.

Yeah, sometimes I still worry that I’m acting like the woman on the plane. I still don’t know what kind of advice to give to my fellow gay people who so desperately want to follow Jesus and remain in fellowship with the Church. But I know that when the love of my fellow Christians is insufficient, Christ’s is enough. Christ’s perfect love casts out fear, along with shame, homophobia, manipulation, abandonment, isolation, damnation, and all those other words that we shouted out during Teresa’s workshop.

Christ’s love does not ask me to fight for a place at the table.

Christ’s love says, “This is my body, given for you.”

To My Friends in the Closet

Hey, friend.

How are you doing today? How’s life? I hope you’re taking care of yourself and filling your time with things that bring you joy. You were just on my mind this morning, and I wanted to take a moment to check in and say ‘hello.’

As you might have heard, today is National Coming Out Day. It’s a holiday of sorts, founded in 1988 to honor the anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The idea is to erase shame and stigma and to let the rest of society know that we’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going anywhere.

It’s actually one of my favorite days of the year. In fact, last October I dyed my hair purple for the occasion. And today I’m covered in glitter and wearing three different articles of rainbow-colored clothing (my gay apparel, if you will). This is a day that makes my little heart grow three sizes bigger and makes my chest swell with more pride than any parade has ever inspired. Coming Out Day makes me overjoyed to be who I am: a tiny, dapper lady who loves Jesus and likes girls.

But wow, I definitely did not feel that way two or three years ago, and I imagine that you probably don’t feel that way today. I get it. In my not-at-all distant past, nothing filled me with more intense horror than the idea of coming out. The very mention of this supposed pinnacle of the queer experience made me physically ill with anxiety. Because no matter what your situation is, coming out is a vulnerable, intimate, and absolutely terrifying thing to do. Which is why you’re probably going to see a lot of people online today talking about what a beautiful and awesome and wonderfully brave act it is.

And they’re not wrong. Coming out is a brave thing to do. It’s personal and it’s political and it’s radical and it takes a whole lot of guts.

But do you know what else takes a lot of guts? Being closeted and waking up every morning. Being closeted and going to school. Being closeted and eating dinner with your family. Being closeted and going to church. Being closeted and living your life and taking care of yourself and learning and growing and loving people to the best of your ability. Existing as a queer person in the closet takes a LOT of guts.

I just wanted to make sure you know that. I wanted to tell you that I haven’t forgotten about you. I see you. I’m on your side. Lots of people are. And we think that you are so damn brave.

I don’t know what it is that’s keeping you in the closet. I don’t know if it’s out of choice or necessity. I’m not going to pretend to fully to understand your situation. But I am going to tell you that whatever your reason is, it’s a valid one. And that’s because coming out is not something you owe to anyone but yourself. It is not something you do for your family or friends, nor is it something that you must do in order to earn your Queer Card. You don’t have to come out today. You don’t have to come out next year. You don’t have to come out at all if it doesn’t feel safe and good and right.

Because your “outness” does not determine your worth or your identity. It does not make you any more or less a part of my family, and it most certainly does not affect your status as a Child of God. Coming out, though a brave and beautiful choice, is not a prerequisite for being a whole human being who deserves dignity, respect, and peace.

Please remember that. Stay safe and take care of yourself today. If that means coming out, then know that there is a whole community of people ready to drape you in a rainbow flag and shower you with glitter. But if it means hanging out in the closet a little while longer, that is ok. You are ok. Things will be ok. Listen, I know it’s an obnoxious cliche that probably doesn’t help one bit right now, but I promise you, it gets better. There are people rooting for you and working hard to make this world a kinder place for you eventually step into if you ever decide to crack open that closet door.

One step at a time, my friend. Just try to breathe deeply and find a little bit of joy today. And remember that no one else has the authority to define that joy for you.

With pride,

Caitlin

 

“But you CHOSE to come here…”

Last week, for the second year in a row, Campus Pride released their “Shame List,” calling out the “absolute worst college campuses for LGBTQ students in the nation.”

And for the second year in a row, my campus made the list.

As I’m sure many of my readers know, being gay at an Evangelical university is a WEIRD time. I attend a school that has repeatedly made the news for its anti-LGBT policies and controversies over the years. Our administration has successfully received an exemption from Title IX (which is meant to prevent gender discrimination) because of its Christian affiliation. I check a box on my housing application every year, promising that I will not engage in any kind of “homosexual activity” so that I can qualify for a dorm. I sit through sermons by chapel speakers who speak as if there could not possibly be any queer students in the room. I watch straight couples hold hands and fall in love while knowing that I could get expelled for having that same beautiful experience. I get nervous every time I write a new blog post because I’m not sure which professors or administrators are reading it. I am against the rules.

But when these kinds of frustrations are discussed in mixed company, one of the most common and most frustrating rebuttals queer students hear is, “Well, you did choose to come here.”

In other words, “All of the pain you have experienced here is actually your own fault.”

In other words, “It’s not really discrimination if we warn you about it first.”

In other words, “You already knew that we didn’t want you.”

Oh, classmates. Friends. There’s so much that could be said. There’s so much that I want you to understand…

I want you to understand that some of us did not choose to come here. Just like you, some of us were destined by parental pressure, financial aid, and youth group socialization to continue our educations in safe, Christian settings. For some, secular universities were never an option. And for some, they became even less of an option when our parents began to notice “dangerous” or “unholy” tendencies.

Some of us thought those tendencies would go away after freshman move-in day. Some of us came to our Evangelical colleges so we could turn ourselves straight. And some of us are still trying. Some of us are still being told by counselors and chaplains that trying is the right thing to do. Some of us will try harder tomorrow.

Some of us are just now starting to realize that we don’t fit in here like we thought we would. Some of us have yet to put words to our differences. We have yet to explain the heart-stopping panic that happens when a conversation turns to LGBT issues. Some of us have yet to verbalize that ineffable ache of realizing that that one friendship that might have been a little bit more than a friendship will never really be more than a friendship.

And many of us will not bother coming out until after commencement. Because many of us have no reason to believe that we are truly welcome in these institutions that we have tried so hard to call home.

Not all of us, though. Because to be fair, I did choose to come here. And throughout my coming out journey, despite dehumanization at the hands of the student handbook, I have chosen to stay. This has led to several instances of people (straight or otherwise) asking me, “Why don’t you just leave?” It’s a valid question, and it’s one that I have asked myself. But now, as a senior, I think I finally know how to answer it.

First and foremost, I don’t leave because I shouldn’t have to. My sexuality should not limit my educational opportunities. That’s Equality 101.

I don’t leave because I have made a family for myself here. I have people who make me feel like a person. I have friends who I would do anything for. “Fictive kin,” if you want to get sociological about it. And I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

I don’t leave because, despite the brokenness of the institution as a whole, I have met incredible professors who have shown me what Jesus really looks like. I have mentors who inspire me to continually seek God, who have affirmed my calling to ministry, and who make me more deeply aware of my status as a Child of the Creator.

I don’t leave because I know that there are more queer students on campus who need to know that they are going to be ok. And the idea of them feeling scared or alone is enough to keep me right here, reaching out.

I don’t leave because, for some stupid reason, I love my school enough to want to make it better. 

So as I work towards graduation, I submit and I subvert. I check that box on my housing application. I write blog posts. I sit through chapel. I volunteer with LGBT organizations. Most importantly, I learn how to see beauty and growth in the midst of heartbreak and pain. I learn to bridge gaps, love enemies, and believe that people are truly Good. And although attending a conservative Evangelical university is not always easy, I have no doubt that it has made me a better person and a more committed follower of Christ.

Just maybe not in the ways that administration intended.

 

Evangelicals, Stop Making Me Care

The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood released The Nashville Statement today. It condemns—not just those who choose to live authentically as LGBTQ Christians—but also those who affirm their choice to do so. Evangelical leaders have decided, and put into writing, that this is not an issue that we can disagree on while still being part of the same faith. They have effectively declared entire Christian denominations to be sinful for daring to accept and include folks like me.

Here’s the thing. Personally, I could not care less about this statement. I think it’s absurd that this debate is still happening, and to be completely honest, I actually laughed out loud when I read the name, “Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.” The Nashville Statement won’t affect my life or how I live it. It won’t affect affirming denominations or their stances on scripture. It won’t affect the rest of society, and it will not change anyone’s mind.

Because between their responses to the World Vision debacle, Ferguson, the election, the continued support of Donald Trump, Charlottesville, and countless other crises, evangelicals have completely squandered whatever moral authority they once held. They have zero credibility in the eyes of those outside of their echo chamber. No non-evangelical is putting any stock into John Piper or Francis Chan’s signatures. Evangelical opinions about queer people hold no weight whatsoever to those who are committed to social progress.

However…

There are questioning and closeted queer kids sitting in those evangelical pews. Queer kids who are already four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. And they don’t know that there’s a world outside of the evangelical echo chamber. They’ve been told that the evangelical church is The Church. And those kids are going to read that statement. They’re going to see their pastor’s signature on that statement. They are going to feel terror, shame, and hopelessness, and they are going to believe that it’s from Jesus.

Because for some of these kids, evangelical Jesus is the only Jesus they know. No one has told them that the Body of Christ is queer. They don’t know that it’s queer and it’s black and it’s disabled and it’s undocumented and it’s sleeping on a park bench. They’re growing up in a church that tells them that their sole purpose is to share the Gospel, the Good News, with everyone they meet. But they don’t know that Jesus is good news for them, too. They don’t know that God is even better than some Christians are willing to believe.

I really don’t want to care about what evangelicals are saying anymore. They have no sway over me. They have no relevance. I’ve found a church home outside of evangelicalism, and I’m more in love with Jesus than ever before. In four months, I’ll graduate from my evangelical university, and my last tie to fundamentalism and conservative Christianity will be cut. I shouldn’t have to care about The Nashville Statement. It has nothing to do with my life.

But I can’t not care. Because when I graduate in four months, those kids will still be sitting in those pews. There will still be folks who are full of terror and shame because of the kinds of teachings that their leaders have signed off on. There will still be good Christian parents losing their kids to suicide because of this theology. And I care a lot about that, you guys. We all should.

So as long as evangelicals are promoting this kind of fruitless and exclusionary distortion of Jesus, and as long as they continue to drive Image Bearers away from the arms of Christ, as much as I don’t want to…I’m going to care about what they say. And I’m not going to shut up about it.

LGBTQ folks, 
You are loved by God.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made. 
You are worthy of wholeness and happiness. 
You belong here. You are not a burden. 
I’m so glad you’re part of my family. 
 

How To Be Part of the Problem: An Instruction Manual for my Fellow White Queers

Alternatively titled: A Grassroots Guide to Making Sure that Nothing Gets Better and The LGBTQ Community Loses All Credibility as a Social Movement as Well as its Humanity


Witness a tragedy of white supremacy. Tweet a few times. Believe that you have done your part.

Ease your white guilt by reminding yourself that you are also oppressed! Do whatever mental gymnastics you have to do in order for that to somehow make you feel better.

Let go of all the standards you have for straight allies. If you don’t, you’ll have to hold yourself to those standards as well. Try to forget about what it was like after Orlando. Repress the pain of silent loved ones. Forget about the sickening rage you felt so deeply within yourself when politicians and pastors refused to utter the words “hate crime” or “homophobia.” Don’t think about how devastating it was when you realized that some people were completely unaffected by an event that left you sobbing on your bedroom floor and scared to face the world. Do not empathize.

Or, if you can’t make yourself forget, then focus that pain in a different direction. Assume that your trauma and your minority status mean that you understand the PoC experience perfectly. Draw every parallel you can and forgo nuance. You already get it. And if you already get it, then you have no reason to actually listen to people of color. Don’t bother listening.

Let people know that you are sad and angry about white supremacy. Be sad about Charlottesville. Be sad about Charleston. Be sad about Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Kendra James, Freddie Gray, Darnisha Harris, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Shereese Francis, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tanisha Anderson, Trayvon Martin, Malissa Williams, Alberta Spruill, Eric Harris, Alesia Thomas, Rumain Brisbon, Yvette Smith, Tarika Wilson, Darrien Hunt, Ezell Ford, Dontre Hamilton, Shelly Frey, Shantel Davis, Bernard Bailey, Miriam Carey, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Kathryn Johnston, Aura Rosser, and Sandra Bland.

However, remember to prioritize self-care! Tell yourself that you simply do not have time to worry about every single issue.

IMPORTANT: Pretend that white supremacy and LGBT oppression are two separate issues.

Pretend that the modern gay rights movement was not started by trans women of color. Pretend that our community would still exist if it weren’t for our black brothers and sisters. Pretend that “gay culture” is yours. Pretend that we were borne out of “unity” and “kindness” and a respect for “all sides,” and not out of bloody riots in rebellion against police brutality.

After you’ve decided that you don’t have time to care about racial justice, don’t let that stop you from using AAVE and borrowing black culture when you go to the club with your white friends. Have a great time.

Have such a great time and be so in love with the queer community that you can’t see any of its faults. Preach the gospel of queer inclusivity. Remember how welcomed and celebrated your fellow gays made you feel right after you came out. Assume that every gay person feels this way. Do not talk about racism. Do not make anyone uncomfortable. Do not entertain the idea that white supremacy still exists within the LGBT community.

Do not entertain the idea that white supremacy still exists within you.

Wait until there is a tragedy of white supremacy.