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I Don’t Need Another Straight Pastor to Tell My Story

i dont need another straight pastor

Growing up, my mama taught me a rule: you don’t talk about people behind their backs. Am I guilty of this? Absolutely. I’ve tried to reign in my tongue in recent years, but it just gets harder and harder as people continually do that to me and my community. What am I talking about?

I’m talking about all the conservative, heterosexual, (usually) white pastors who are writing books and blogs, speaking from pulpits and on podcasts, having conversations on homosexuality as it relates to the Christian faith. Why does this bother me?

Because the majority of the time they don’t have a queer person involved in these conversations, let alone a queer person of faith. These voices are gaining so much recognition, being hailed as bringing a “fresh revelation” or “new perspective” to the conversation about homosexuality and the Christian faith.

However, these are people who have no grasp on what it is to be an LGBTQ+ person, and they make statements and assumptions of how I want people to walk with me, minister to me, or love me. They claim to want to “have a conversation” but don’t involve me or my community. How is that a conversation?

Straight pastors, with the exceptions of  those who have come out as allies, have zero skin in the game. And, usually, their statements are downright deadly to LGBTQ+ people who are still struggling to reconcile their faith and sexuality.

So, to be frank,

I don’t need another straight pastor telling my story.

Sometimes conservative circles will allow some queer voices to enter the conversation, but if they gain any kind of notoriety, leverage, power, equality, these voices are often silenced and discredited (like Julie Rodgers who served faithfully as chaplain of Wheaton until her life and platform became problematic for the establishment).

These conservative men (and it’s usually men) aren’t bringing a new perspective to these conversations. These conversations have been taking place for a very long time, and it’s only now that people are starting to listen.

They aren’t bringing any fresh revelation either. All I’m seeing is some repackaged versions of traditional, non-affirming theology that looks pretty on the outside, but at its core is still the same “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of mentality. It may appear welcoming, but only to a point.  

People are usually fine with some gay people being around, maybe even becoming a part of the church until they step out of line. Until they don’t fit into their version of what it means to be Christian. Until they threaten their theology.  

And so time and time again, Christian groups, councils, and leaders are having conversations about LGBTQ+ people without LGBTQ+ people. 

That’s what gets me upset. Despite the increased visibility of queer Christians in media, we’re still continually silenced and invalidated by voices claiming to be experts on something in which they have zero experience. And this is not to be mean, rude, or exclusive, just very real:

If you are not a sexual or gender minority, it is impossible to understand what it is to be one. Click To Tweet

And so my question to all these straight, non-affirming, Christian pastors and writers is this:

If you love me, why won’t you listen to me? If you love me, why won’t you believe me? If you love me, why are you talking about me behind my back?

These are the frustrations of so many LGBTQ+ individuals, especially in communities of faith. We’re everywhere and we’re desperate to be heard. I’d say there are few things more frustrating than being ignored.

And on top of that, they are only talking about gay people.

Most of the time, conservative writers, bloggers, and pastors will fail to recognize the broader spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities that the LGBTQ+ community includes.

This conversation we are trying to have goes beyond gay people. It has to be broader because what I experience as a gay, white, cisgender man is very different from my trans Latina sister or my queer Japanese American brother will experience. And their experiences will be different from those of someone who is genderqueer or bisexual or intersex or asexual.

Additionally, race plays a huge part in our stories and cannot be divorced from our narratives. The struggle for queer justice is bound up frequently with the struggle for racial justice, and conservative writers and voices typically fail to acknowledge this as well.

Overall, this conversation and the justice work surrounding it is much more complex and nuanced than what many conservative individuals boil it down to. Every story is beautiful and unique and what I find, more often than not, is that someone who has no life experience in this arena preaches a one-size-fits-all “fix” for LGBTQ+ people.

Here’s an example:

I recently came across this article which reviewed Preston Sprinke’s book, People to Be Loved. It outlines the main points of the book, about “strong” vs. “soft” gay identities, making the supposition that people who identify as gay are placing their sexual identity above their identity in Christ.

First of all, the notion of a “strong” or “soft” sexual identity did not come from the queer community, but from a straight pastor. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone, gay, straight or otherwise, out there who would say that their sexual identity was “strong” or “soft.” Additionally, what the writer fails to realize is that our identities in Christ include our sexual identities and gender identities, as well as our races and ethnicities. This is true for cisgender, heterosexual individuals as well.

These differing identities that we carry with us don’t detract from our identity in Christ. They paint a beautiful picture of the diversity and creativity of God’s heart. (You can read more about that in the blog that’s linked above.)

Another example would be the Q Ideas conference in Denver coming up in April. They are going to be discussing, among other things, gender dysphoria, but they do not have a trans person on the panel. Anyone else see a problem with that? 

That’s where I take my second issue with people of faith discussing LGBTQ+ issues without LGBTQ+ people present in the conversation:

Since queer people of faith exist, why aren’t you talking to us about our own experiences? Click To Tweet

Seriously! It blows my mind. Why do we keep seeing heterosexual, usually white, male voices being centered on a conversation about us when there are so many queer Christians who are extraordinarily capable, eloquent minds at your disposal?

There is much to be learned from the smart, scholarly, Spirit-filled queer Christians who can be brought into conversations about LGBTQ+ issues. I mean I could be wrong, but doesn’t that make a whole lot of sense?

Why would you go to a secondhand source when you could go to a expert who has lived through the thing you’re talking about?

A straight cisgender person has no bearing on what it is to wake up every day and wrestle with pain from reconciling their faith with being who they were created to be.
A straight cisgender person doesn’t know what it is to be told, time and time again by the Church that they love, that they have no place in it.
A straight cisgender person doesn’t know what it is to have their voice continually silenced and to have their testimony invalidated despite their rich life experience and deep devotion to God.

And this isn’t me bashing straight, cisgender people. I know everyone has wisdom they can share. Everyone has a story to tell. But I don’t need someone else to be telling mine.

Every time I see another book, blog, podcast or publication from another straight person about the LGBTQ+ community, I get angry because they are centering themselves in a conversation that doesn’t truly threaten them.

This conversation threatens me. It threatens thousands of LGBTQ+ individuals across this world. It threatens those scared, isolated, closeted individuals in the pews of our churches on any given Sunday. It threatens those who are too pissed off to return to a house of worship because they are convinced God hates them.

And the Church did that. Our church is responsible for driving people from the Family of God. And it is our duty to do the hard work of healing and welcoming people back into the Family.

I don’t want to listen to another straight pastor telling people about me when I am literally right here.

Listen to me.
Hear my voice.
Join me in my story.
Realize that God is in my life and is being glorified through it.

And if you don’t want to listen to me, listen to Broderick Greer. Listen to Austen Hartke. Listen to Alyson Dillon Robinson or Matthias Roberts or Brandan Robertson or Isaac Archuletta  or Vicky Beeching or literally any queer Christian you might meet.

That story, that life, that person will tell you more about what it is like to wrestle with God, more about what it is to live with the balance of divine unknowing and complete trust in God’s sovreignty, more about what it is to walk through rejection and hate and public disgust and anger and STILL arrive at a place of loving God and God’s people more deeply than ever before.

Is there room for people who disagree with me? Yes. Absolutely. But just because someone disagrees with me or holds a traditional view of human sexuality/gender roles/marriage/whatever does not give them the right to paint a picture that undermines my journey and life as a gay Christian.

If we want room for disagreement, it means we need room for everyone to be heard. Right now, we, as queer Christians, are not being heard. This has to change.

So listen up:

I am a gay Christian. My story has power and purpose. My life is a story of grand redemption, of life conquering death, of joy overcoming sorrow. Jesus loves me, the Spirit lives in me, and God affirms me. I will not be silent about the goodness of God or about the freedom I have found.

And if I can speak directly to all those conservative pastors and writers and bloggers out there who are talking about about me and about a community they know little about:

Kindly shut up and listen. Queer Christians exist. Listen to us. You will be amazed at what Jesus is doing with our lives.


 

I Don't Need AnotherSTRAIGHT PASTORTo Tell My StoryI know I can’t be the only one feeling this. Does it frustrate you that queer voices are continually left out of conversations about queer people? What do you do to help center those voices? Let’s talk about it in the comments. 

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  • Logan81

    “And on top of that, they are only talking about gay people.”

    As a bisexual man, this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Bi erasure is bad enough in the secular world, but in the church, it’s pretty much the law of the land. How am I supposed to share my story with people who don’t even acknowledge my existence?

    • MyrtleMartha

      And there is the assumption among even a great many gay and lesbian people that a person who has loved, perhaps even married, a person not of the same sex, must of necessity be straight. We all really need to learn to stop making assumptions about another person’s sexuality, especially assumptions based on the false notion that everyone is just naturally repulsed by a deeply loving, intimate, and yes sexual relationship, with half the human race.

      • Logan81

        It tends to be the opposite with me. Because I date men almost exclusively, folks assume I’m eventually going to come out as gay. Trust me, I would’ve come out as gay years ago if the label fit. It doesn’t, though, so….

  • Stephen Long

    Thank you so, so much for this, Kevin. I find myself communicating this exact same message, as kindly and firmly as I can, over and over again. I lay out 3 necessary steps for straight people if they want to have any voice in the lgbt issue: 1. Get to know as many lgbt people as you can on a deeply personal level. 2. Read, pray and study about the subject as much as you can. 3. Stay in it for the long haul – commit yourself to indefinite investigation and engagement. Then, and only then, will straight Christians have any capacity to speak about the lgbt issue.

    Like you, I find myself growing impatient and angry when fellow Christians do not earn the right to speak about my life, and fail to engage the lgbt community at all. I’m at the point where I see it as a form of subtle, if well intentioned, abuse, and I do not tolerate it. I lay down my boundaries, and walk away. Kindly and gently, of course, but also refusing to settle for anything less than what I and the body of Christ deserve.

    Many thanks for this,

    Stephen
    Sbradfordlong.com

  • Preston

    Hey Kevin,

    Thank you so much for this wonderful blog! I’ve read it twice and will probably read it again. It’s super helpful, challenging, and compelling–not to mention, very well written. You truly have a gift! I’m so glad that we got to have dinner together in Atlanta last November and I only hope we can do it again sometime.

    Just quickly, I don’t feel that I was represented well in either that review or in the way you understood the review of my book. You said: “It outlines the main points of the book, about “strong” vs. “soft” gay identities, making the supposition that people who identify as gay are placing their sexual identity above their identity in Christ.”

    This isn’t the main point of the book at all. Not even the main point of the chapter from which that quote was pulled. My overarching point in this section in my book is to argue that conservative Christians should accept and not freak out about the phrase “gay Christian.” I was actually defending the use of that phrase and, for what it’s worth, I’ve gotten a LOT of pushback for this from my conservative friends.

    For instance, last year I had a queer Christian on my radio show (who’s also an ethnic minority, BTW) tell his story. I introduced him as “my gay Christian friend” and man oh man, did the phones light up with angry “Christian radio listeners” castigating the radio station for allowing me to have a “gay person” share his story on the air!

    So what did I do?

    I had him on for another show and continue to defend the use of the phrase “gay Christian.” Haha! It was loads of fun…wish you were there. I think I lost some listeners with that one, but others were very touched by his story.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to defend myself, Kevin. Just trying to suggest a better reading and understand of what I’ve actually said.

    I also LOVE what Stephen Long advises straight people like myself to do: “1. Get to know as many lgbt people as you can on a deeply personal level. 2. Read, pray and study about the subject as much as you can. 3. Stay in it for the long haul – commit yourself to indefinite investigation and engagement.”

    I can honestly say that I’ve spent the last few years doing just that and have been preaching this same (or similar) three-fold message as well. In fact, I’ve said almost the exact same thing to two different audiences over the past 2 weeks. Some conservatives have a hard time with this “listen, love, keep listening…and shut up and listen some more” message, but I’ll keep preaching it. Some of the most precious moments I’ve experienced (and continue to experience) is listening to and doing my best to enter into the stories and lives of LGBTQ people–knowing that as a straight man, I’ll also be a guest in this conversation.

    I am trying to wrestle with my role in this conversation. Some people wish I’d go to hell and not come back. But I have too many LGBTQ friends who invited me into this conversation and keep telling me to stay in the conversation. So, I keep following Stephen’s advice and the advice from my LGBTQ friends.

    I also love what you said about race: “race plays a huge part in our stories and cannot be divorced from our narratives.” I really screwed up last summer in failing to understand this very important point. In fact, Eliel Cruz pointed this out to me and I ended up apologizing for my ignorance and arrogance (see here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theologyintheraw/2015/07/an-apology/). Super embarrassing, but God even uses the stupid stuff we say–I say–to help me grow in my understanding.

    Must more to say, but I’ve got to git. Thanks again for this helpful post! And let’s do dinner again sometime!

    • Hi Preston,

      With all due respect, you just co-hosted a six part podcast (with another white, straight, married guy) about gay people but included very few gay voices. You edited in only one (known) affirming gay Christian then delegitimized his beliefs. You were described in that series as an expert on homosexuality. The podcast was called “The Gay Conversation”.

      Those are the facts on the table. The ones being discussed in this blog. You might at least recognize your complicity in the problem (indeed the maddeningly frustrating problem) that Kevin has articulated here. That would be a good first step in showing that you are listening and comprehending what’s being said.

    • Preston- I don’t hate you and I don’t want you to go to hell or any of that foolishness. Because, despite how much we disagree, we’re still brothers in Christ. And sure, barring the fact that the article linked in my article doesn’t give a full picture of your book or what you’ve said in this conversation, or even your general kind demeanor towards LGBTQ individuals, my issue is that queer voices are still marginalized in conversations about us.

      Having one queer person of color on your radio show and giving one apology online does not change the fact that queer voices are disregarded. And it certainly doesn’t change the fact that straight writers/pastors/whoevers are making a profit of my struggle and my communities struggle. That’s wrong.

      I think if you seriously care about LGBTQ people, you should use your position to elevate those voices. Invite us more into spaces and allow us to tell our point of view. For instance, that podcast series you were on titled “The Gay Conversation” where you were cited as an expert on homosexuality, and yet there was not a gay person in that space or conversation. You know plenty of queer Christians, and you know we’re a call, text, email, tweet away.

      Like I said above, there’s room to disagree, but we can only disagree if all voices are heard. And your voice is loud, Preston. Really freaking loud. And it’s drowning out the people who need be heard.

      And yes, if you are ever in ATL, I’ll take you for tacos. ✌🏾

    • Jeremiah Stanley

      Preston, honestly your response is frustrating, and it seems like you have resolved on persisting in your tone deafness. It is evident to me that you fail to understand the concept of systemic privilege. After communicating with you on twitter this fact has become clear to me.

      You gave the caveat that “you aren’t here to defend yourself” after you spent several paragraphs doing so. But what’s most problematic is that you insist on tokenizing queer people, and queer people of color specifically.

      Don’t you find it problematic that in the breadth of your career on this topic which has culminated in multiple radio and podcast appearances, and not one, but two books, that you only have your interview with Kenny to mention? Shouldn’t there be more?

      On the Q Podcast, you and Gabe Lyons played clips* from LGBT people – that’s not a conversation. For it to be a conversation you have to give someone the chance to respond. A privilege which you did not afford Julie or Justin, or even Dr. Gushee. Q’s Gay Conversation is not a conversation at all.

      Queer people do not exist for you to tokenize, and they don’t exist for you to make a name for yourself.

      No one is wishing for you to “go to hell and not come back” but we’re all scratching our heads and wondering why you think you’re so needed here. We’re all curious who these LGBTQ+ people that “invited” you into this conversation are. And as a note, guests sit in the congregation and listen – they don’t cling to the pulpit.

      *I’ll note that Q entirely misrepresented Julie Rodgers

  • Jill Spicer

    What about Kathy Baldock or those of her ilk? She’s writing an LGBTQ history and study guide. Why her? When do we speak up against it? Do our allies who are recompensed for writing/speaking about our oppression want us to be free?

    • Knowing Kathy personally, I’d say she’s one of the good guys, and I count her as a true friend an ally. While it’s true, that it perhaps would be better to have an queer person writing this type of work, Kathy has been an ally, writing on this topic for over 10 years now. She’s someone with a fount of knowledge and is very good about centering queer voices.

      But, on the flip side of that coin, not many people have the knowledge she does. And because she is a straight, cis woman, there are churches and people who are more likely to listen to her than listen to a queer person. So it’s like… What do you do with that.

      It’s tricky, but as far as Kathy is concerned, I don’t take issue with her because she’s fighting alongside the LGBTQ+ community, not in place of it.

      • “she’s fighting alongside the LGBTQ+ community, not in place of it.”
        Interesting difference… I will keep this in mind before I speak.

  • Earl Harville

    Outstanding, Kevin! You articulate this so wonderfully. Thank you!!