My recent blog posts explore my path of self-discovery and acceptance – highlighting the overwhelming darkness that depression brings, but the incredible strength, joy and beauty there is in the journey to recovery.
Living through extreme darkness, fighting with myself daily to realise that I am strong enough to make it. Bringing myself into the present, daring to open myself up to questions about my past, about the hurt experienced, about how these situations have shaped and moulded me into the person I am now. Realising that without this suffering, without this heart-ache, I would not be the Jo I have come to discover. Realising that who I am in this world is not defined by the labels and expectations placed upon me by society, or religion, or culture. Realising that this is one of the things I am most thankful for – finally coming to truly accept this person in my skin – and the people, the situations and the experiences that have helped me to come to this moment in my life.
Reflecting on my position in the Church and my sexuality has been one of the most defining aspects in this journey of discovery. In the following dialogue I attempt to make sense of my reflection, and aim to share my discoveries in an honest and engaging format – to provide hope to those who may have had similar experiences.
**Disclaimer – I by no means intend to offend with the following commentary – these are purely my understandings, feelings and opinions alone.**
Coming out as queer within the Church
For years I felt like I wasn’t a good enough Christian. I felt unaccepted, judged, unloved. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I couldn’t quite understand why I felt like there was something inherently wrong with me, and wrong with the way the Church made me feel. Thinking back now, I’m not sure I ever really knew what homosexuality meant, what being different meant. I forced myself to believe I fancied the boys around me, forced myself to hold onto some form of femininity because I was afraid I’d be picked out and laughed at.
I never had boyfriends at school, never felt like I was attractive enough to get their attention, or never quite knew why I didn’t want it anyway. Attending Church, going to Church youth groups and weekly house group, was the norm throughout my childhood and teenage years. But I could never properly put my finger on why I felt there was some sense of unacceptance. Some deep knowledge that I didn’t feel like I fit in. Didn’t feel like I was like all the others – I didn’t feel like a good enough Christian. And this slowly wore me down. This deep loathing of myself because I felt like I wasn’t being true to who I was – hiding this part of me, because it wasn’t accepted in the religion I so strongly wanted to conform to.
Slowly but surely I began to understand that there were people who lived in loving same-sex relationships. But still, I fought back. Fought against these feelings of so called ‘abnormality’, because I was strongly against homosexuality – since that’s what I was told at Church. That even though God created us in his image, that he created some people as gay, it could never be acted on. That it must be hidden and put aside, that those people must live a life of loneliness and devotion to God alone – because homosexuality is a sin.
Finally I began to wonder why I believed this. Why I accepted these views as my own. Why I believed in a God that would create people in a way that was seen as wrong. Why a so-called loving God would create gay people and then deny them a fundamental human right – love. And I began to question why it’s made into such a huge topic within Christianity – why there seems to be so much hatred and judgement towards others – why people preach the exact opposite to what Jesus did. And finally I dared to wonder whether I could express these views; whether I could begin to accept this part of me. But this hope, this honesty at slowly beginning to understand who I was, was dashed when I eventually told a senior Church member. I was told that I could never act on it, that I shouldn’t hug my friends who are girls, that I should suppress that part of me and come back to Jesus.
This destroyed me.
Once again I felt that I was something so wrong and so disgraceful, that I couldn’t even be open. I couldn’t even be the person God created me to be.
I continued to suppress this part of me. Continued to pretend I fancied the guys at Church. Continued to wear feminine clothing. Because I didn’t want to be outed. I didn’t want people to realise who I was. Didn’t want to be asked to leave the place where I thought I belonged.
Looking back now, I don’t know why I continued to live like this. I don’t know why I was so afraid to be open, so afraid to be who I was created to be. So afraid to fight back against these prejudices. But coming to New Zealand has completely and utterly changed my life. I took a step back from the Church – it took time to shake the guilt and shame. The shame of being who I was in the Church building, and the guilt of not going every Sunday. Slowly I began to explore myself, my sexuality, my relationship with God. Slowly I began to open myself up to the possibility that I could hold a faith, but also love a woman. Slowly but surely I came out of my shell, came out into the light, came out as the person I was created to be.
The last 2 and a half years have been an incredible journey. A journey of self-discovery and acceptance – of understanding where my identity fits within Christianity, how I see myself, how others see me, and how I want to express myself in this world. Finally I feel no shame at being open about who I am, I take pride in how I live and love my life. How my past experiences have shaped me and made me who I am. It hasn’t been easy –when I finally told my Mum, it was one of the biggest and scariest moments I’ve ever experienced. But, this openness finally broke down the wall. Finally allowed me to be free – to share who I am with the world.
The Church, The Bible and LGBTQI+
There are probably some of you reading this who don’t agree with me. Who can’t understand why I can stand up and say that I believe in Jesus Christ, and that I accept my sexuality – and don’t feel the need to suppress it. The Church fundamentally preaches that homosexuality (and all other labels within the LGBTQI+ spectrum) is sinful. That even though God created us as in this way, we cannot act on it – because that is the sin.
As a student of Theology, I could begin to dissect the verses in the Bible that are used to condemn homosexuality. However, in this instance I feel it better not to. I believe these scriptures must be interpreted with a pinch of salt. One must take into account the historical and cultural differences of the time of writing; the fact that there is actually very little mentioned upon the subject (which begs to differ why it has become such a magnified issue within the Church); the fact that ‘homosexuality’ as a term was not penned until the 19th Century; and we must also take into account whether these passages refer to monogamous or mutually consenting same-gendered relationships as we know today – which can be hugely debated especially in reference to Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1-11 (which clearly alludes to immoral rape). We must also understand that there are other matters discussed in the Bible which most Christians do not adhere to today. One example is a passage in Corinthians (11:2-16) where Paul discusses the proper length of men’s and women’s hair and the requirement for women to cover their heads during prayer – but do we follow this today? So often I feel like the Church is full of hypocrisy and judgement. So often I feel like we fall short of what the true message of the Bible actually is.
The ultimate message of the Bible is love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We are created in His image because He loves us, we are to share this message of love with others, to spread the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection – of the promise of forgiveness and eternal life. So why do so many preach a gospel full of judgement, hatred and condemnation for those who are different? This is not the Bible I know, this is not the God I feel. If God is a God of love, if God IS love – then why would he create some of us in a way that denies this basic human right? I’m sure some of you disagree with me here – and I’m sure that most of you who disagree are straight and cisgendered – have never experienced what I and so many young LGBT Christians have, have never felt such unacceptance at the hands of a faith that ultimately preaches love.
What I believe is important is not to focus on sex/gender/sexuality as so many Christians do. So many seem to put their viewpoints on pedestals, so many debate and argue these points to the detriment of others – to make people feel unwanted and wrong within the Church. What I believe is important is to focus on love. Focus on all of us – whether we are gay/straight/non-binary/trans-gender/male/female etc – and see that all of us are lovingly created by God. And He is pleased with His creation. How we choose to live, who we choose to marry, who we are as people – should not be defined by the constructs placed upon us by society, or religion. At the end of the day, we are simply humans, and to glorify God in our lives is of the utmost importance. Who I am is Jo – I am a female, but I do not put myself within the confines of ‘womanhood’ placed upon me by society. I am gay, but that does not restrict me to who I should marry, or if I should. It has taken me years to feel acceptance, to feel wanted in the Church. And finally, I just know that God accepts me because He loves me, and I’ve gone past the point of caring whether people in the Church do. This is where I find the Church to be at fault – not Christianity itself. We need to include, not exclude, we need to love, not judge. I felt unaccepted and unwanted for years because that’s what was taught in Church. But on further contemplation, self-acceptance and thought about my relationship with God – I have come to feel totally accepted and loved by Him. This is what we should be preaching – this is the essence of why Christ lived and died. So that we may ALL be part of one holy Body – however and whoever we are.