By Abby Jeffers
For those of us who identify as both queer and Christian, it can be difficult to find common ground when a history of condemnation and alienation of the other group exists in both communities. Christians have condemned those in the LGBTQ+ community as living in a “sinful lifestyle,” and the LGBTQ+ community has long referred to Christians as being bigoted and hypocritical, so living as someone who identifies as both can feel like a constant tug-of-war between two conflicting identities.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was outed by a girl in the grade above me. She found out I was questioning my sexuality and told her mom, who then told my mom – in the middle of a Bible study and in front of other moms. My mom is now an avid ally, but at the time, she approached me and told me that she still loved me, but that she also believed that same-sex relationships were a sin. I was heartbroken and felt alone in my house and in my head, and I slid into a cold, dark hole of self-loathing as I began to believe that God hated me for who I am.
Almost exactly four years later, as an incoming freshman at Ohio University, I spent the first few days of college life with a small cohort of students, one of whom told me that, even though she thought that queer people should have legal rights, she didn’t believe her God could support that lifestyle. I felt sick; it felt like a punch in the gut and like this college that I had previously thought would be a new start was tainted by the shame I had felt in my past.
I have since made peace with God, but I was not always a Christian. When I was younger, we attended church and participated in the choir and Sunday school. In middle school, I struggled to believe in a benevolent higher power after a sibling’s friend died by suicide and I witnessed my own friends dealing with depression and anxiety. I had also always associated religion with anti-queerness, so I assumed that I would always be the outsider. Then, my mom discovered a church in our new neighborhood, and although I was hesitant at first, I let my sister talk me into going to the youth group meetings.
The moment I first stepped through the door at the high school student night, I was welcomed with a hug, and it was this sense of warmth and love that drew me in. The church preached a “belonging first” mentality and told its constituents that no matter what they’d done, they were loved.
My family grew to be somewhat of a staple at the church. I created a core group of friends from the other student volunteers, and I even met my girlfriend there. I had finally found a space in which I could develop my faith without hiding my identity as a queer person.
Several years later, however, I was confronted with the fact that the leadership contract, a requirement for all church staff and volunteer leaders, stated that the church believed a holy marriage was between one man and one woman. I marinated on that information for several months before requesting a meeting with my pastor to discuss it. At the coffee shop where we met, he confirmed that anyone in a same-sex relationship was prohibited from becoming a leader.
The pastor told me that it was nothing personal, but that this part of me that I believed to be foundational to my identity and an authentic part of myself was not so. Instead, he told me, it is true that I was made in the image of God, but that my attraction to women was instilled in me by Satan. My pastor said that God and the church both still loved me, even though I was living a life of sin by dating another woman. He told me that the church believed that marriage is between one man and one woman and that, even though I may love another woman, that love is wrong.
In that conversation, everything I was told directly conflicted with the most important message that I had come to internalize: that I was loved unconditionally, regardless of my identity.
So I left the church. I felt betrayed and hurt by a community that I believed had loved me wholeheartedly.
But this time around, throughout all of the chaos, I found that my faith remained steady. After enduring turmoil from previous dissonance between God and my own identity, I had built a solid internal foundation of faith and love as well as external groups of other Christians and queer people who affirmed both of my identities regardless of other factors.
I also found queer community and peace in places I’d never considered looking: in a friend and former boss who tried earnestly to suggest a new spiritual home, though she identified her “church” as sitting in a circle with her closest friends and telling them she loved them; in the enthusiastic and loving and fiery queer people who worked at the LGBTQ+ youth center where I interned; in a fellow conference-goer who happened to be the first openly gay student body president of her college.
Eventually, though, it was within myself that I found the acceptance I craved. Yes, community helps, but I had to tune out the external messages and come to terms with that Creator myself through a long period of self-reflection. Though it was a long and complicated process filled with years of inner turmoil, I found that when my faith didn’t waver during a difficult test with the church, I had finally accepted both of my identities fully and completely.
I have also forgiven myself for years of internalized hate toward my own queerness. I have forgiven the girls from high school and college, too, and though I haven’t spoken to the one who outed me since we graduated, I’m glad to call the other girl my friend.
And, perhaps more importantly, these days, I can proudly say that I am both queer and a Christian and that I believe that God loves me unconditionally, not in spite of my identity as a queer person, but because of it.
About Abby Jeffers
Abby Jeffers (She/Her/Hers) is a writer and avid music lover from Columbus, Ohio, who believes in the power of unconditional love. Abby is also a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University and founded a music publication called Indientry in July 2015. She currently serves as the News Editor and an On-Air DJ for ACRN Media and also works as a freelance writer and copyeditor. More importantly, Abby spent years feeling alone in her queerness and wants everyone else to know that she’ll fight for them to feel loved.