Navigating faith as an LGBTQ+ couple is often even more complicated than navigating family.
Unfortunately many religious organizations don’t support a doctrine that celebrates and accepts members of our community. Or if individual churches are accepting, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the broader faith denomination is as accepting.
**You can find a list of religious denominations that support LGBTQ+ weddings here.
I’ve heard countless stories of challenges reconciling faith with being LGBTQ+, but since I don’t have my own personal story to share, I wanted to bring in another voice who has struggled with that relationship.
Meet Heather (aka my wife).
I’ve asked Heather to share some of their experiences with the church over the years. I don’t share this because it’s the only narrative of church experience out there, but to help you remember that if you’ve been struggling, YOU’RE NOT ALONE.
Being Gay in the Church
- Tell me about your faith practices growing up.
I didn’t really practice any faith as a younger child. I would occasionally go with my grandma to her Lutheran church and I would go with my Step-mom to her mega church on weekends when I was visiting. In the house I grew up in I would say we practiced Christian holidays, but we never prayed outside of Thanksgiving or Easter dinner and never attended church. I remember being baptized a couple of different times as a young child, but I wouldn’t say I really had any sort of Faith or Christian beliefs until I was in High School. I started attending an Evangelical Reformed Church with my Aunt and Uncle on occasion, mostly because my aunt asked me to play on the church softball team (hello Lesbian stereotype!). Through High School and Early College my faith and church community were really important to me. I made close friends and found adult mentors that I had never had in my life. I feel like before I found the church I was on a path of self-destruction and finding some bigger meaning in life was really what I needed at that time in my life.
- When did you start to feel that your sexual orientation and gender identity would be at odds with your faith practices?
I knew from early-on that the churches that I attended thought that being gay or “homosexual” was a huge sin and not something that was allowed.But I didn’t come out until I was 19 and as soon as I started to acknowledge that I might be gay I knew it was not going to be okay with the church I attended.I had never met any gay Christians, or really any open-minded Christians for that matter.Sadly, I knew that if I came out I was likely to lose my entire faith community and a lot of relationships that were really important to me.
- Did you choose to come out to members of your church? What happened?
I didn’t choose to come out so much as my family outed me. It started when I was approached by my pastor when I was home on holiday break from college. I remember so vividly he walked up to me on a Sunday morning and put his arm around me and said, “So I hear you’re in a relationship with a girl.” Up until then, I hadn’t planned on telling anyone at the church, but when I came out to my parents my mom told my aunt and uncle who attended the same church. That Sunday I was asked not to participate in communion and then asked to set up a time for a conference with our pastor to talk about my sins.
- How did those experiences shape you in the year or so after you came out? Was it a struggle?
Well, initially after the meeting with my pastor I was really confused. I knew that I was gay and didn’t really understand why God would make me gay if I wasn’t supposed to be. My pastor told me that although God may have made me gay it was my cross to bare and that I was not supposed to act on the temptations. Unfortunately, at the time, I believed and trusted him.I called a family meeting that same night and apologized to my family for being gay and said that I was going to try to be straight. I broke up with my girlfriend (now my wife—sorry Jennie!) and started the process to withdraw from my college. My pastor had convinced me that my woman’s college had made me gay. Luckily I had an amazing Dean at my college who listened to what I was going through and encouraged me not withdraw from school.In January I went back to college and everything was tough. I knew that I was in love with my girlfriend, but I also loved my family and loved and trusted my church family. I didn’t know what to do.I would say it took about 2 months before I realized that I could not be untrue to who I was and began dating my girlfriend again. Once my family and pastor found out that I was dating a woman again I was notified that the church Deacons were having a council meeting to excommunicate me.It hurt to lose my friends and church community. The worst part of the whole excommunication was that it wasn’t just a physical ban from the church. What they actually said was that my actions had shown I didn’t believe in God.
Even at 19 I knew they didn’t have the authority to tell me whether or not I believed in God.
Gay Wedding Planning | Religion and Your Wedding
- Did you feel a pull to include faith in any part of your wedding?
I would say in most ways we had a traditional wedding ceremony, however we didn’t integrate anything having to do with faith or Christianity into our wedding day. My wife grew up Christian as well, and while she didn’t have the traumatic experience that I had, she didn’t feel the need to have religion be a big part of our day.
- How do you view faith now? Have you found a new community?
This is a tough question for me. I think I believe in some kind of higher being(s) and generally ascribe to Christian morals and values but it’s not an important part of our life. We generally celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, but we don’t celebrate any of the religious pieces of those holidays. Every once in a while we go to a Christmas Eve Church service for the songs. I have not found a new church community, because after all of the pain and hurt I felt after losing my church family and being excommunicated I have a hard time believing in organized religion. My wife and I have attended a service at probably 10-15 different churches over the last 10 years, but have never felt safe or comfortable in one. I feel really uncomfortable walking into most Christian churches or being around Christians because I fear they will reject me.
- Do you have any advice to share with other members of the LGBTQ+ community who might be struggling with faith and their sexual orientation or gender identity?
Well I can only speak to my own experience with a Christian church. But my advice would be that if religion and faith are really important to you, please find an open and affirming faith community that you can be part of. There are some great websites like gaychurch.org that can point you in the right direction of finding a new faith community.There are several articles and books that you can read about how people have reconciled their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with their faith. One of my personal favorites was Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality by Mel White. But there are many others.The Reformation Project is also doing great work to try and reform church teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bottom line is, don’t believe what people from non-accepting faith communities tell you about your sexual orientation and gender identity. You are beautiful and perfect just the way you are. I usually just reassure myself that God made me who I am and how could the love I have for myself, my wife and my beautiful family not honor that God. I know how hard this can be if you’ve been hurt by your faith community, but just remember “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).
A big thanks to Heather for being willing to be vulnerable in sharing these words with the world. <3
Find other resources about planning your LGBTQ+ wedding celebration here.
Want to talk about your wedding with me? Let’s connect!