For LGBTQIA People: What to do when your church or religion doesn’t want you. Tips from a faith leader.
Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen, Executive Director, Parity
Most every day there is news of a religious leader explaining how LGBT people aren’t ___________. You can fill in the blank - “worthy” “don’t exist” are “not part of God’s plan” are sinful, hated, and even evil. I am no longer shocked when a teen tells me that their parents have said to them: “I wish you had never been born” or “I wish you were dead.” Where I live and minister in Utah, far too many youth and adult Mormons have a variation on this story, and I learned in other parts of the country that it is true in other faiths and religions as well.
I have heard this enough to know why: religious homophobia or transphobia. As someone who has spent most of my life as clergy, preaching and teaching and ministering to people in need because I believe my faith calls me to help people, my heart breaks to hear faith being used as a way to hurt people. Suicide is complicated, but we do know that religion can be a protective factor (help prevent suicide) or it can increase risk of self-harm and even death.
To those LGBTQIA people whose church or faith rejects them, I have five suggestions and a bonus tip:
Reject them right back. When religious leaders overstep their authority and their vows to help others and instead become instruments of harm and hate, reject their authority over you. To quote the Bible, you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” with an intellect to sort through what is true. Find your own truth that affirms who you are as a human being. No human being can truthfully tell another that they are hated by God, and God help those who try to speak for God. Be human. That’s your job, and that’s their job, too.
Know the difference between spirituality and religion and know your own spiritual personality. Regardless of the faith or religious tradition you were born into, you are unique, and so is your spiritual self! What your parents or your neighbors or culture choose is their business - what you choose for your own spirituality is - you guessed it - YOUR business, and no one else’s! Here’s what to do: pay attention to what is life-giving and promotes your health and well-being. Yoga? Hiking? A different faith or religion, or maybe a different branch of your faith of origin? For example, the American National Catholic Church shares much with the Roman Catholic Church, and they ordain women and LGBTQIA people. There is a progressive branch of Mormonism called The Community of Christ. Do your homework, try different things and pay attention - not to what others say, but what YOU say. Don’t limit yourself! Try different things and see what works for you.
If you decide you want to be part of a faith or religion and you are LGBTQIA or think you might be, you need to be aware of what is happening around you. Even within “accepting” religions there are those who want you to change. It’s a tough road but there it is - you have to be vigilant and aware of the messages and people and advocate for yourself and your loved ones. Be aware that some churches are trying to lure you in to change you - if you ask what their position is on LGBTQIA people and they say “we love everyone” - either keep looking or keep asking questions. Know that within every faith and religion there are LGBTQIA groups. Find your group and ask what churches or faith communities are to be avoided, and what ones are exceptional. YOU are exceptional. Don’t settle for less.
Take some time. It’s hard to be rejected, and for some of us, it’s a lifetime journey of dealing with the feelings of shame, anger and loneliness when we are rejected from our faith of origin. Therapy with an LGBTQIA affirming and faith affirming provider can help, as can meditation, yoga, time in nature, music, arts - whatever your passion is, let it follow you, and follow it. Some people find doing Byron Katie’s The Work worksheets help them sort what is true for them, for others it is EMDR, or support groups, or time alone. Find what promotes health for YOU, and don’t be afraid to try new things. There’s a world of wonder out there in the midst of the pain and hurt. Find that, and live your life to the fullest.
Choose to be with those who love you and celebrate how wonderful you are. DO NOT waste your precious hours and days with people who reject you or want you to change. If you decide you want to spend time with rejecting people, balance that time with people who love exactly who you are. Be very aware of what happens to you when you are around people or in places that reject you, and always have a plan for getting yourself to safety. For example, if you need to be at the family holiday gathering and you know Aunt Vera is homophobic, plan what you will say if she is inappropriate to you and your loved ones, and plan how you will leave or have some time away from the family gathering. Consider talking with your hosts and affirming family beforehand about what is hurtful to you, and what is helpful and how they can help. People often want to help but don’t know how. Tell them.
Bonus tip and secret from a minister:
Faith leaders aren’t faith leaders if people don’t show up. If we can’t celebrate beautiful you, we don’t deserve you. Go where you are loved for exactly who you are.
Email Marian at firstname.lastname@example.org for LGBTQIA faith help and mentoring.