On why I don’t fully believe in God vs. Gays

The internet has been atwitter with the clip of John Kasich’s neutral to tolerant answer on marriage equality as a progressive step forward for the GOP. The sad reality is the truth of that perception. For the past decade, the GOP has stood firmly on the side of discrimination, and used conservative interpretations of the Bible to justify their vitriolic responses to the notion of equality for LGBTQ people.

The argument is not one that needs rehashing, but it is undeniable that a wedge has been drawn between Christian communities and LGBTQ people and the perception that there are only two sides without any overlap. The notion of Christian identity has been constructed to refer predominantly to the “Christian Right”, or the most conservative voices, as they have been the loudest on the issue. Even as progressive Christian voices have become louder and more centered in faith conversations and the LGBTQ movement, the proverbial script has not been flipped.

Christianity and theology are deeply personal interests of mine. I grew up in a progressive Christian family. A small, Wisconsin town ran my minister grandfather away after he performed too many interracial marriages in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was my father who admonished me for my homophobic language as a child, and who explained what it meant to be transgender. We went to church every Sunday, surrounded by community, music, and boring Biblical passages.

I was allowed to read during the service for most of my childhood, and like any good pair of sisters, Marin and I played MASH on the back of the attendance pad. We also did a lot of hand massages. Eventually, my age forced me to pay attention, and what kept me in the pews not in a constant state of rebellion was the music, that and my high school forced me to attend. I learned to (kind of) harmonize at church – and also by memorizing Mark’s parts in Rent. When my church weighed voting on the LGBTQ affirming statement of the United Church of Christ and the consensus was that upon adoption, we would lose membership, my mother not-so gently reminded the congregation that if voted down, they would still lose membership in the form of my family and her leadership.

I told my family I was queer at age 16, and I told them I wasn’t Christian at 21. The latter was a much more difficult conversation. My sister, who I first trusted with the knowledge of my queer identity, gave me a cold, furious stare, accusing me of “turning my back on the traditions of our family”, while my brother tried, in vain, to get me to say the prayer before dinner for months after my announcement. My parents were totally fine with it, and I actually think my mother forgets because I go to church with her when I’m home.

My small church in rural Indiana has changed as I have grown. Though still comprised of the aging population of my town, there is a strong queer group of people who attend services. My pastor is queer, there is a queer couple with children, one congregant is trans, and a few other queer folks frequent our pews as well. When I need to be around queer people at home, or my “olderlies” as I lovingly refer to a few of them, I go to church.

The notion that my source of queer community when I’m home in my rural Indiana town stems from going to church very well could seem unfathomable, and therein lies the problem. Perhaps it’s because I am biracial, or a queer agnostic who still goes to church, but absolutes don’t really work for me. Christianity is not a monolithic identity just as queerness or Blackness are not, and for years it has been described as such, much to the chagrin of those doing work to provide more narratives. The voice of the Christian Right would lead us to believe that reconciling LGBTQ identity with Christian faith is the greatest question of our time with only two options: be a “good” Christian and be anti-LGBTQ, or be a soft Christian and be pro-LGBTQ. The reality is that within denominations of Christianity and Christian families, the response to this question is just as nuanced and wide ranging as Communion itself.

Though I have had a positive experience in my faith community, Christianity has caused and continues to cause a lot of pain for LGBTQ people, from the state, from politicians, and also from their families and communities. As we move away from the right to marriage and delve deeper into prejudice masquerading as “religious freedom,” this tension will continue to manifest on a public stage.  And there are moments where I am unsure of how to move forward and have real conversations beyond the confines of the progressive Christian community I love.

There was a moment that shook me deeply a couple of years ago while volunteering for a campaign. I was calling people to talk about a proposed amendment in Indiana and found myself on the other side of a thrashing response. “You know you’re going to hell,” he spat at me. I had no idea how to respond. I knew there was plenty I could say. I pride myself being able to respond quickly in difficult moments, but I froze. I tried to extricate myself from the situation, but he kept coming at me. Statement after statement of hatred with a vitriolic fervor that still stands unmatched in any of my encounters. Once I got off the phone, I just sat in my bed, the silence overwhelming me as his voice rang in my ears.

I have the privilege of that moment being a temporary and rare occurrence. I did not grow up hearing those words from my parents or the pulpit, but that is not the case for so many LGBTQ people. The Supreme Court may have ruled in favor of marriage equality, but the resistance to that ruling has been real in far too many states and counties. Non-discrimination ordinances have become a religious battleground in my home state of Indiana. Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, with many of them becoming so due to being kicked out of their homes by their parents. LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide, and that number is even higher for trans youth. To separate Christianity from its contribution to these realities would be to erase the lived experiences of far too many people.

And that is one of the reasons I struggle with Kasich’s response, and the focus on progress. Compared to Rick Santorum, Kasich provides a softer alternative. He is not advocating for a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, nor is he using his personal interpretation of one religious document to condemn an entire segment of the population from lived acceptance. And yet, he didn’t say that marriage equality was OK. There is an air of “hate the sin but love the sinner” in his response, and in that sense it is inadequate. To separate the “act” of LGBTQ identity from the LGBTQ person undermines the political, cultural, and emotional significance of a person’s queerness. LGBTQ identity is not something a person does, it’s who we are. To “tolerate” difference reaffirms hegemony, compounding both privilege and marginalization.

What Kasich’s comments did illuminate, however, is that tolerance is not merely a question of faith; it is also one of humanity and dignity. By inviting all to “share in this great American dream we have,” Kasich attempted to underscore the fundamental concept of full and equal access to society, while not actually advocating for that to be the case. The words sound nice, and feel better than those of some of his colleagues, but I’m left wondering if that is enough.

Is it good enough to dress up prejudices in softer language to hide “sincerely held beliefs”? Is it good enough to tolerate difference rather than to abhor it? Is it good enough to function at an impasse? I don’t know.  

Header image credit: Truth Wins Out


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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