Religion is impeding the decisions of too many people choosing to love who they want. Several depictions and interpretations of the Bible point to same-sex attraction in a negative light. But, the Bible nor God ever mention homosexuality as sexual orientation wasn't an established idea yet. Regardless, churches have debated the appropriate response to an increasing number of LGBTQ+-identifying members for years.
On one side, there are LGBTQ+ affirming churches that actively celebrate people's identities and sexual orientations. On the other, churches that believe an LGBTQ+ identity and a Christian faith are inherently conflicting, and people who experience “same-sex attraction” must choose one or the other.
On both sides of this stale battle, there are religious leaders who want to create a safe space for people who experience “same-sex attraction.” They both believe that God wants you to live a life of faith, but approach this issue in different ways.
A church that follows the affirmation model is the Old South Church in Copley Square. Katherine Schofield is the interim associate minister at Old South and has been a member since 2006. When I sat down with Schofield, my fear of churches was bubbling inside me. I didn’t grow up in a religious household, so this issue doesn’t apply to me in any life-changing way, but I’m gay. I know that an unaccepting faith can cause distress and self-hatred in teens and adults, to the point of driving people to suicide, so sitting down with church officials naturally made me nervous. I also knew Schofield identifies as a lesbian though, and I thought if she’s made it this far within an institution that may consider her a sinner, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
“I definitely had fear, fear around coming out, fear around being accepted,” she said. “[But] I never felt that God didn't love me, which is a blessing for me — that I grew up being taught that God is love.”
When I started this article, I planned to prove that it was impossible to be ex-gay. During the interview I brought that up, assuming Schofield would agree, but I assumed wrong.
She removed the issue from the context of faith and explained how anyone could go through an experience that changes how they see the world or how they love altogether. That opened my eyes because I never thought of looking at without the lens of faith. People’s experience and identity can both change for many reasons, and that’s all someone’s sexual orientation is. I now believe that anyone could go through anything and potentially be “ex-gay,” but let’s not use that term as it’s been disavowed by people in all communities.
As good as this mindset is that God loves you just the way you are and it does not matter how you live, not everyone agrees.
Brenna Kate Simonds is the leader of a Christian ministry called Alive In Christ, which aims to “offer hope for those who are impacted by same-sex attraction.” Alive in Christ hosts weekly support groups for Christians who are distressed by their attraction, as well as their family and friends. It's important to note that they do not actively recruit members — instead all of their members have come to them looking for this type of support.
Simonds is an amazingly interesting woman, who lived a part of her life identifying as a lesbian. She was both romantically and sexually involved with women, but then these temptations as she calls them were gone. She now chooses to live in a wonderfully-committed heterosexual marriage.
I felt some hostility while gathering background info on Simonds and Alive and Christ. The website was somewhat outdated and plain, which gave it a cold feeling, but seeing Simonds sitting in the Starbucks where we met had an instant calming effect. Through a computer screen, I couldn't see her personality well — I could only see her beliefs. Meeting her in person with a coffee and a smile on her face reminded me that she's a human just as I am, even if her beliefs conflict with my lifestyle.
Simonds explained that Alive in Christ is designed for people that want to reconcile their faith with their sexuality.
“I want them to feel like there are people who understand,” she said. “There are people who've been where they are. And [I want them] to feel heard, because I do think that's kind of a problem in the church in general.”
This statement made me happy because she was giving people a space to say what was on their minds. I just wasn’t exactly keen on the title of “Strugglers” that these people are given through AIC.
From both sides of this conflict, there was one thing that stuck out in a good way. Both Schofield and Simonds believe that knowing someone in the LGBTQ+ community as a person, regardless of their faith, is so much better than worrying about if they believe they are a sinner.
”You could go back and forth about biblical interpretation and what the text really means, but that won't make as much of a difference as actually knowing somebody who's LGBTQ and getting to know [them] as a person,” Schofield said.
I can write this article and argue with anyone who disagrees with it, but at the end of the day, we’re all just humans who have the same characteristics and share the same world. We can still get to know each other and become friends regardless of how we choose to live out our faiths. Though Simonds personally believes that she couldn’t follow her faith and be in relationships with women, she thinks accepting others’ choices is also part of her faith.
“Whatever your beliefs are — [Nathan] you have rainbows on your ears, and because you contacted me on Facebook I looked at your Facebook page, and you have a rainbow flag,” she said. “I kind of assume you identify as gay or queer or something like that. If I want to have the right to live my life, the way I feel God is telling me to live it, I need to give you the right to live your life, the way that you feel like is best.”
Both Simonds and Schoefield believe they are doing what God intended for them to do. I think this is important as God may speak to everyone differently. Personally, I draw the line at changing or twisting someone’s thoughts, and I’m sure they would as well, though one may argue that’s what Simonds does.
I started this journey trying to find out why Christianity is incompatible with homosexuality and I think I got an answer. At the end of the day, no one can save you but God. You were not born into this life to compete with the others for the worthiness of God’s love. You already have it. Remember that.