It’s a personal story that illustrates a sad but powerful truth about LGBTQ people, Christianity, and mental health. I wish I didn’t have to tell the story, but I do, because people who should know better seem unable to walk in the shoes of vulnerable, perfectly moral, traditionally persecuted people.
I woke up Saturday morning feeling bright and cheery. Pain from a chronic health condition had lessened a bit, I’d had a nice dream I actually remembered, my cat was purring on my chest, and the sun was shining.
I whistled a little tune as I made coffee, got caught up with a couple friends who were also in cheery moods, and the world was good.
Then I opened Medium and my day came crashing down. Yet another Christian in a long line of Christians had taken it upon himself to comment (under one of my own stories) that he doubts my intrinsic morality, that he can’t be certain I’m not a “sinner” because I’m gay, and that he “lacks the hubris” to know that LGBTQ people are perfect just the way we are.
If you want some vulnerable truth, I did cry, and for more than just a few moments.
This Christian wrapped up his deadly personal insult in typical Christian “kindness,” bringing up the old shiboleth about Jesus associating with whores and publicans, implying that associating with morally broken LGBTQ people would be OK too. Feel the love, brother, feel the love.
Note: that last sentence is sarcasm.
By the time I’d finished reading this Christian’s cruel comment, I had gone from whistling to cursing under my breath. The morning sunshine no longer filled me with cheer but with an angry fighting spirit, a fierce determination to denounce Christian condemnation of entire classes of innocent, loving, intrinsically moral, good people.
My anger mingled with despair, though, and exhausted me. My stomach tied itself up in knots as I demanded an apology from the Christian who so openly insulted me on such a fundamentally personal level.
My gut soured even further when instead of apologizing and recanting, my Christian accuser doubled down, insisting he cannot “know the mind of God,” cannot know I am not a sinner because I’m gay, cannot know I am a moral person.
My intestines writhed harder upon this Christian’s implication that his message was meant kindly, with his assertion that he stands against discrimination despite thinking my homosexuality might be sinful.
I wanted to scream, but I also wanted to cry – and if you want some vulnerable truth, I did cry, and for more than just a few moments.
I’m so tired and stressed, so sick of being branded a sinner, so fatigued in my very bones from knowing that if I stray outside my queer communities, I’m not just likely to be exposed to deadly personal insult, I absolutely will be.
If you’re a Christian who thinks or suspects that LGBTQ people are sinners because of our gender identity or sexual orientation. I wish you’d think about that. I wish you’d understand that it is never OK to call us sinners because of our identities. If you need more help understanding why, then just my personal story, please check this out:
For LGBTQ people in the U.S. Christianity correlates to clinical depression and increased suicide attempts
Yes, you read that right, and I’m going to back it up with data. For most people in the U.S., church attendance is linked to better mental health and happiness. For whatever reason, from community support to spiritual fulfillment, cis/straight people who go to church usually see an objective, measurable benefit. One large meta study links positive mental health benefits to church attendance among young adults and adolescents, and another has found church attendance decreases the incidence of depression and suicidal ideation among adolescents.
But this data comes with a giant ‘gotcha.’
LGBTQ people who attend church, unless we attend fully affirming churches, suffer rates of clinical depression and suicidal ideation that closely track our attendance. The more we go to church, the worse off we are. Suicidal ideation among LGBTQ adolescents who attend church zooms off the charts, but adults get badly hurt too.
Because fully affirming churches make up only a minority of all U.S. churches, it boils down to this: Queer people are not just exempt from the general rule that church-going improves mental health. Church-going actually hurts us.
We LGBTQ people are not interested in debating our inherent morality, so don’t take it upon yourself to do so
Obviously, exceptions exist, but most queer folk take great offense at having “sin” labels thrown at us. We do not grant you permission to debate our moral worth with us, except possibly in specific academic or religious settings designed for that purpose — settings we can stay clear of.
By the time we’re adults, most LGBTQ people have come to terms with our religious or spiritual choices. We either go to church (probably an affirming one) or we don’t. We either embrace some form of religion or spirituality, or we don’t.
Check this out: when you hear our slogans “Love is Love” and “Born Perfect,” we aren’t just making cute noises. We really mean it.
We reject sin labels and moral condemnation. We won’t even consider them. We certainly aren’t going to debate with you about the worth of our love or our essential moral goodness. We ARE born perfect, end of story.
Want a racist example that might clarify things?
Within my own living memory, a majority or large plurality of U.S. Christians believed interracial marriage was a sin. Remember the Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision? It was in response to a Virginia judge who cited sinfulness in criminally convicting Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, for getting married.
In his 1965 opinion , Judge Leon M. Bazile wrote this:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
This kind of statement shocks most Americans today. We find the idea of the “sinfulness” of interracial marriage so alien we don’t even discuss it, even though legal battles over it in Christian institutions lasted right through the late 1970s and early 1980s, by which time I was already an adult. We queer people are just as shocked when you call us sinners or suggest we might be sinners.
Would you dare call a Black person a sinner for marrying a white person?
This is a serious question. Would you comment under a story about a married couple that you can’t be certain God approves of their marriage on racial grounds? Would you suggest they might be sinners? Would you cast doubt on their fundamental morality by saying you can’t “know the mind of God?”
I think not. I think you know better. I think you wouldn’t dare.
I think you understand how that comment would be taken as the most stinging and unacceptable of personal insults.
Suggesting that being gay might make me a sinner is exactly as stinging, precisely as insulting, every bit as unacceptable.
If you’re a Christian, the one thing you must never say to LGBTQ people is that we are or might be sinners because we’re transgender, gay, bisexual, or any other variety of queer.
You don’t have the right to question our morality and basic human dignity because of your religion. You must stop now.
Look, I know plenty of Christians who affirm me and other queer people as fully moral and fully equal with zero equivocation. Some of them are fellow writers like Esther Spurrill-Jones, Ken Wilson, John A. Giurin, Dan Foster, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, all whose work I recommend.
If you can’t emulate them by proclaiming that LGBTQ people are not sinners because we’re LGBTQ, then I ask that you at least exercise the common human decency to be silent, to keep your moral condemnation to yourself, or at least to keep it in church behind closed doors where people liable to be harmed by it can’t hear you.
If you’re feeling argumentative, go look at those mental health links again. Think about the harm you’re doing. Ask yourself what Jesus would do, if that helps.
But whatever you do, do not under any circumstances comment by telling me why it’s OK to say we queer people are or might be sinners because we’re queer. We really have had enough. Please put your swords down.
Former Air Force intelligence analyst, longtime LGBTQ activist and alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, James Finn is an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, an “agented” novelist and a runner, Marine, Airman, polyglot and self-proclaimed “middle-aged, uppity faggot.” He blogs at Medium.