There’s no doubt Pride feels different this year given the political unrest, Black Lives Matter movement and cases of police brutality. While we’ve covered how important it is to honor and remember the Black and trans history of Pride already, there are other surprising groups finding new ways to celebrate this June.
LGBTQ clergy members are leaders in various church groups who are openly part of the LGBTQ community. It’s not common to see in most Christian denominations or communities, but these leaders are bucking the status quo and working to make religious spaces more welcoming to everyone. Perhaps more than anyone, they understand how difficult it is for queer Christians.
For Pride, we spoke with Rev. Austin Adkinson, a pastor at Haller Lake United Methodist Church in Seattle, WA, and a leader in the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus. The UMQCC “seeks to act in solidarity with one another and others who have been marginalized in the church” and offers opportunities to get involved through joining the group, donating and more.
Below, you’ll learn more about how the group is working to make the Methodist Church more inclusive, how they celebrate Pride, and Rev. Adkinson’s thoughts on how God views LGBTQ church members and sexual desire in general.
How do people leading a faith-based lifestyle reconcile sex in general, especially queer sex, when it is so often the subject of shame and scorn in religious teachings?
Sexual shame that is rooted in religious upbringing can come from so many different angles, and each individual will have different wounds to heal on their paths to reconciling their sexuality and their faith. I wish I had a quick easy quote to pull that would work for everyone.
Fortunately scripture isn’t the only tool we have for learning from and about God. Methodists look to scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to understand God and God’s will. We hold these four resources in conversation with each other and in tension with one another. When our experience demonstrates to us that sexual repression has a harmful effect on a person’s psyche and the scientific data leads us to reason out how much harm it causes, we in turn investigate how we might look anew at the ways certain scriptures have been traditionally interpreted. The holistic approach points us to a better understanding than scripture, tradition, reason, or experience could on its own.
If God made these bodies that were made (at least in part) for pleasure and called them “good,” what does that say about God? I don’t believe that a loving God created us “in the image of God,” in order to tempt us and shame us for wanting to enjoy the pleasures our God given bodies provide. A female orgasm is not integral to procreation, and yet God created the clitoris in all its splendor. God created bodies with a component that exists purely for pleasure and called the fruit of that day’s labor good.
How do different Christian denominations accept and welcome LGBTQ members? The Methodist Church is open and accepting; do other denominations have groups like this?
The United Methodist Church is deeply divided on LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and I am proud to be part of the organizing efforts to remove discriminatory policies. Here in the western US, we have leadership that actively disobeys discriminatory policies and appoints out LGBTQIA+ clergy to serve in churches. We even elected a lesbian bishop the last time we filled a vacancy.
Some denominations have moved past their former discriminatory policies and are doing the work of living into that transition. Most major denominations have at least a vocal caucus of individuals and congregations that pushes for change and supports LGBTQIA+ members in their faith journeys.
How do these accepting Christian groups/denominations celebrate Pride?
In just about all cities there are church groups that march in the Pride March. In cities where the march route passes a progressive church, members cheer on the marchers and distribute water, snacks, and even communion. In Seattle, affirming pastors gather at the United Methodist congregation located at the end of the march route and serve communion. Church members distribute cookies while a band of drag performers rock out from the church entrance.
What advice might you have for LGBTQ individuals looking for a church to go to? If there isn't one in their area, do you recommend tele-church or live stream services?
The good news for LGBTQIA+ people looking for a church in more isolated and conservative areas is that more and more churches of all persuasions have moved to online worship because of the current health precautions. A number of those will likely continue with the practice even after in-person worship resumes. Pro-tip: Congregations that have pressed forward with in-person worship despite calls for social distancing are almost certainly of a theological vein that is anti-queer, no matter how welcoming their messaging appears.
If a church does not have an explicit welcome to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities that is easily found, take that as a warning. Churches that will truly care for LGBTQIA+ people, know enough about the abuse we face to make sure we know they are a safe space.
What might you say to people who experience shame around their sexuality, or worry they can't be Christians and LGBTQ?
God made you who you are. God wants you to bring your whole self to the journey of faith. God wants you to give what only you can give toward making the world more like heaven. Jesus said helping us live life abundantly was his mission, and that includes you.
Heterosexism is a tangent that much of Christianity spun off on based more in cultural norms than grounding in faith. Scripture was used to justify slavery (and might be again if white supremacists continue feeling more and more emboldened). Anyone who wants to use someone else’s sexuality to cut them off from faith and community clearly hasn’t spent enough time with Jesus’ teachings.