Queer + Christian // Facing Internalized Oppression While Attending Church

Queer + Christian is a monthly column by Shae Washington, in which she explores the blessings and challenges of both having a deep faith and a beautiful wife.

Being gay makes me disgusting.

Maybe God doesn’t approve of me.

Maybe something is wrong with me.

I guess I’m not a real Christian.

Am I saying God made a mistake if I transition my gender?

God will disapprove if I alter how God made me.

Being gay is a sin.

I’m committing the worst sin.

If I prayed more or believed harder maybe, I could be straight.

Am I actually going to hell?

Are my talents and experience not good enough for this church?

There’s no place for me at church.

I’m definitely staying in the closet.

I shouldn’t get into a relationship.

I’ll modify my behavior to show I’m a “real Christian.”

I’ll modify my behavior so I don’t seem “too gay.”

Internalized oppression is a dark force to be reckoned with — can I get an Amen?! The dominant culture — with its power and standards and invisible (to them) privileges — sets the norms for society. Anyone outside of those norms is determined deviant, and this perception of “deviance” is then reinforced in a myriad of destructive ways. For example, the Christian Church, which is a dominant group in America, decides who’s in and who’s out. They decide whose faith is real, whose doctrine is sound, and how people can or can’t participate in spiritual community.   

For the LGBTQ community, when we internalize this oppression from the Church, it can cause us to act, feel, and think in the ways listed above and much more. Even when we become increasingly aware that the things on the list aren’t true, they can still lurk in the back of our hearts and minds. This is a dangerous and heavy load that we were not meant to carry. It understandably drives many of us out of church for good and sometimes away from God. But when I step back from the earthly powers that be and actually consider God, I remember that Jesus said this:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. ~ Matthew 11:28-30

Take a deep breath, family. Inhale rainbows……….exhale glitter……

My wife and I attend a church that considers itself “welcoming,” but “non-affirming.” The “welcoming” part means that if you’re gay you can attend and feel pretty sure that you’re not going to hear anything hateful from the stage or have anyone be mean to you for being gay. The “non-affirming” part means that their stance as an institution is that being gay (“being” meaning “acting on it”; collective eye roll) is outside of God’s will. We can participate in a number of ways in the life of the church, but there are still restrictions. Recently I participated in an interview on the NPR show “1A” entitled, “Evangelicals Rethinking LGBT Rights and Inclusion,” which really illustrates these differences among churches. I share more of my journey in coming to terms with my sexuality and why my wife and I choose to attend our church.   

Even in this space that has welcomed and cared for us in many ways, it takes a lot of energy and courage to show up. There is still this looming knowledge that some of the people in power think something is wrong with us because we aren’t straight. It’s hard not to feel like there’s a spotlight on us as we walk down the aisle to our seats on Sunday, or wonder if there are people in the congregation who assume we aren’t true Christians when they realize we are a queer couple. It’s challenging to feel like a real part of a community that decides for you how much you can be involved. These thoughts and feelings aren’t because we’re full of ourselves and have a pride issue. The root is the oppression we have internalized.   

But, this is what I want us to remember fam: God is for us, our queerness is a gift, and there are things God wants to accomplish through us in this world. And, because I specifically need to hear this, I say: Your presence and gifts are needed in church. The journey is hard, and the pain can feel immobilizing at times, but we can resist internalizing heterosexism and homophobia. As we start to become aware of what we’ve internalized, we can begin to offload the baggage that weighs us down and trade it in for lighter, more fashionable attire. The God I know and love wants freedom and equity for us all. God wants weights lifted, chains broken, and anything holding us captive to cease.

A couple tips for the resistance:

1.    Keep talking to God — this message has been showing up in my life a lot lately.  Regardless of what anyone says or does, the ability you have to talk with God cannot be taken from you. Exactly as you are right now, with all of your joy and pain and doubt and fear, is exactly how you can come before God in prayer. Think prayers in your heart, say them aloud, write them in a journal, dance them out if you want. I believe God accepts prayer in all forms.  

2.    If you’re into the Bible, find organizations that are explaining how the Bible actually affirms being LGBTQ. Here are two awesome ones: The Reformation Project and Many Voices.

3.    Community is key. If you participate in non-affirming faith communities, also make sure to surround yourself with people who affirm your queerness and sharpen your faith.

4.    See number 1.


We got this, Queer Fam!

Meet Shae Washington: Obsessed with podcasts, coffee and her wife, Shae lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She writes and speaks about social justice issues and her life as a gay Christian