Social media chaos tends to erupt whenever a popular Christian reveals to the world they have come to the conclusion that God affirms same-sex marriage and love. We’ve felt it twice this year as Jen Hatmaker shared with Jonathan Merritt her changing views on biblical sexual ethics, and just yesterday Merritt published a similar interview with Eugene Peterson, the writer of The Message, a popular paraphrase of the Bible. Peterson told Merritt he believes LGBTQ Christians have equally good spiritual lives, and he would be willing to perform a same-sex wedding. Both instances led to a swarm of tweets, posts, and articles as traditional and progressive Christians both rushed to add their voices to the debate.
I don’t know about you, but in these moments I can feel like a child sitting at the table while the adults argue—invisible, unheard, and unnoticed. And like many other Christian sexual minorities, I carry the emotional scars of religious traumas that can resurface and trigger as Christians debate our legitimacy in the church without much thought of sensitivity or compassion.
As I’m just at the beginning stages of my dissertation on religious trauma with Christian sexual minorities, I’m drawn to our collective experience of wounds inflicted by the people we loved and trusted. Some of these people taught us about a loving God, but perhaps out of their fear for our salvation or their need to be a spokesperson for God, they used faith to instill shame and anxiety, and left many of us questioning our worthiness and lovability in God’s eyes. Repeated messages of condemnation and hell could trigger panic attacks and generalized anxiety to the point that life became unmanageable and unbearable, and for many, jettisoning Christianity became the only viable solution to cleanse their minds of suicidal ideation, while others eventually committed suicide when hope had finally been extinguished by their faith communities. Our pain as a subculture runs deep.
Yesterday Rachel Held Evans asked LGBTQ Christians what they needed on days when prominent straight Christians become openly affirming. After reflecting on this question more this morning, here are a couple suggestions to nurture your soul and prepare you for the emotional impact:
Shut off the computer or phone. There are plenty of other people who share your perspective and will advocate for your dignity and your right to belong in the fold of God. You don’t have to enter every argument. When family and friends send you articles and ask for your opinion, you’re not obligated to give them an answer. Don’t fight every battle; take opportunities to rest in the peace and comfort of Christ. Speak up when you’re ready, preferably on a day when everyone isn’t activated by the latest controverisal story.
Reach out. Hopefully you’ve identified safe Christians who can minister to your aching soul. Don’t carry the emotions alone. Share with someone who will remind you how much God adores you and wants to be in relationship with you. Don’t waste your energy on Christians who make your faith toxic and shameful. Spend time with Christians who motivate you to love more deeply, and see your love as good and beautiful and needed.
Take a mental health day. Hopefully you know the activities that lower your heart rate and silence the ruminating thoughts of fear and depression. If not, try out some new things. Incorporate physical activity, like lifting weights, running, swimming, or dancing. Get outdoors and take in the sun and the sounds and sights of nature. Go see a new movie, take an art class, try a new restaurant, or take a long, warm bath. Remind yourself of the beauty and gift of living.
Consider professional help. As a developing clinical psychologist, I strongly believe in the effectiveness of therapy, especially if you don’t have social supports currently in your life and you don’t know where to begin. Maybe nothing is helping assuage the worries or cut through the fog of sadness. There are so many research-supported treatment options for anxiety and depression, and if money is an issue, ask about sliding fee scales. Find someone who can be a witness to your pain and can help you navigate the tough questions so you can begin finding congruence in how you want to live out your faith and sexual identity.
Find role models and resources. As minorities, it can be tough when there’s no one like us at church and we haven’t seen anyone live out an example of being gay and Christian in a way that demonstrates increasing spiritual maturity. We don’t know what it looks like to thrive as complete human beings. But if you’re reading this post, then you’re already taking a step toward listening to how one gay dude is trying to navigate his own spiritual and sexual journey. Find the voices that resonate with you and better represent your story and your struggles. Remember, you’re not in this alone. The Gay Christian Network and The Reformation Project have annual conferences around the country where LGBTQ Christians can connect, and GCN also has multiple Facebook groups to foster community for different age ranges, and even for different demographics, such as females or Side B/traditional LGBTQs. Additionally, the Episcopalian church has been awesome about supporting the LGBTQ community if you want to find some potential safe friendships and spiritual mentors.
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Overall, remember God’s love is steadfast for you, no matter the chaos of whichever Christian celebrity creates an uproar and renews the debate about the dignity of our lives. Find God in the stillness and pursue him in the mystery of faith, believing he is merciful, good, and loving, and that he will never leave or forsake you no matter how badly you screw up or how convicted other Christians are that you have no part in his kingdom. His voice is ultimately the only one that matters, so cling to him and don’t let him go. You’re going to make it, and God is ever at work redeeming your life.