“I didn’t think I could have both,” she said, looking back down at the table.
We sat there for a while, looking outside at this place that had brought us together. It was a typical spring afternoon at Sarah Lawrence College, and the great hill that led down to the dining hall was illuminated by the waning sun.
Through the iron-paned glass, we could see our classmates shuffling up and down the golden image: Blue hair, red hair, distressed denim jackets, black jeans and shirts and combat boots; two guys kissed before they parted ways, a non-binary couple sat sunbathing, half-naked, in the grass.
It was a typical spring day at Sarah Lawrence College. Sure, there were some basketball bros at a table on the other side of Bates dining hall, but most of us that called this place our home didn’t fit the typical college scene that’s portrayed in the movies.
One of the many features that made that place unique is that it’s rated as both one of the most LGBTQIA+ accepting campuses and as one of the least religious campuses in the U.S. by the Princeton Review.
Sure, many people would call themselves spiritual… But religious? No way. To be religious means that you uphold the harmful beliefs of whatever faith you identified with, right? And as a very queer campus, you can imagine that there was a lot of apprehension about Christians on campus. And these apprehensions were justified.
A small group gathered weekly and was unofficially resourced by a national conservative campus ministry known as CRU (Campus Crusades for Christ). To be a leader in this group, which I was for a while, we had to sign covenants that included the usual “purity culture” rules: No sex before marriage, no drinking or gossiping, and of course, no same-sex relationships. And yet, here we were, on one of the most queer-affirming campuses in the country, and I was just beginning to learn how to reconcile my faith and sexuality.
My friend looked back up at me from across the table. “You know, I went to church when I was younger, and I loved it. But one day in high school I couldn’t stand not being fully present in worship. I shared with some church members that I was lesbian…” she looked away again, “… and they never saw me in the same way. They made me feel like I wasn’t welcome — that I had to choose between my faith or being myself.” She looked back at me and said, “I never went back, and I’ve been angry with them ever since for pushing me away from my relationship with God. They made me feel like God couldn’t love me as me.”
I held her hand as she teared up a bit, and then she continued: “But I know something’s missing, and I want my faith again. I know that you’re gay and a leader in the Christian group, so how do you do that? How do you reconcile being gay and being a Christian?”
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably wondered at some point whether you could be who you are and a Christian. Maybe you’re in the midst of that tension right now, still searching in the shadows for some direction or light. Maybe it feels as if the only way out is denial: Deny you’re a Christian, or deny your sexuality. Either way, it seems as if a choice must be made; it seems as if something must be sacrificed.
Or maybe you’re reading this and you went through that process years ago — decades even. Maybe you’re comfortable in your identities; you’ve explored the tension between your faith and your sexuality, you’ve studied and poured out your soul to friends who walked with you as far as they could, and now you’ve arrived at the conclusion that many of us eventually come to realize: The choice between our faith and our sexuality is an illusion. It’s like slowly understanding that night and day aren’t opposites, they’re two halves of a whole.
But let me pause here because it’s okay to say things, realize that they might be wrong, and then learn from that mistake. So, let me challenge what I just wrote. (This is the practice of accountability that’s at the heart of what people call “cancel culture,” but that’s a whole other article!) “Two halves of a whole” isn’t quite right — it still implies a clear distinction, two neat and separate aspects of one clearly defined object/concept/idea.
But you probably know from experience that you can’t be divided up neatly. To say “this part is the gay part/the queer part/the trans part of me and this other part is the Christian” just doesn’t work. And so instead of continuing the illusion that we must choose between two separate things, I invite you into the dawn.
Night doesn’t instantly become day — there’s a transition: Dawn. And this mysterious moment is proof that our tidy boxes and definitions are imperfect and arbitrary.
It’s okay not to know how to define yourself, and it’s okay to explore the creative possibilities of the dawn — the place where our faith and sexuality and other identities are in dialogue and can’t be separated out. No one can point to the dawn and say “here is the night, and there is the day” — they are wonderfully interconnected, and this unique moment creates something beautiful. You are that something beautiful.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing something that neither I, nor Whosoever, have done before: I’ll be writing a series of articles here that are based on my book, Reclaiming Church: A Call to Action for Religious Rejects.
It is my hope that these articles will offer some small dimension of wholeness for you or for queer folks you know as we approach and/or live more fully into the dawn together.
That spring day on campus was five years ago now, and my friend has been dating the girl she admired ever since. She doesn’t attend a church, but she has found her faith again.
Wherever you are in your journey, I’m glad that you’re here and that we get to journey together for a little while. My hope is that you’ll not only be able to reconcile your faith and sexuality, but that we’ll also all be able to reclaim the Bible and the church along the way.
For so long I thought that coming out as gay meant giving in to sin and temptation. That the perfect Christian boy I had tried to be would be tarnished. I was wrong. (Reclaiming Church, p. 83)
Preacher, public theologian, advocate and author J.J. Warren is currently earning his master of divinity degree at Boston University School of Theology and is a certified candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. After making an impassioned plea for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons at the UMC’s top law-making assembly, J.J.’s speech went viral, and his advocacy has been covered by news outlets around the globe. Today, J.J. travels to churches across the country spreading a message of radical love and forward progress. In 2020, J.J. founded Young Prophets Collective, a non-profit that focuses on equipping young queer leaders and allies to speak prophetically against injustices.