I spent a good chunk of my college career working on different interfaith committees – primarily focusing on LGBTQ+ inclusive spaces and the sanctuary movement. As someone who had very little experience with different faith backgrounds and had until then really rejected religion and faith, my experiences then truly opened me up to the idea that God is love and that faith communities should be the cornerstone of community and support.
**I’m specifically talking about the US for this post because things are different in different parts of the world.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Starbucks holiday cups and how some saw the lack of design to be an attack on Christmas and a further ploy in the war on Christmas. And the creeping sensation with Christmas means that the discussion and related controversies of the war on Christmas happens earlier each year.
Every year, there are many things that people get excited about as far as Starbucks drinks – pumpkin spice lattes in October/early fall and the holiday drinks and cups are probably some of the biggest. (Living in Washington state and so close to where Starbucks began means I never escape the chain…)
For nearly two decades, Starbucks has had decorative red cups to celebrate the holidays and winter. This year has been a little different than past years though because instead of the festive decorations of prior years, this year’s red cup is just red.
Pope Francis’ visit to the US has been all over US news lately – so far Papa Frank has visited President Obama in the Oval House, he’s taken lunch with people experiencing homelessness in DC, and he’s spoken to Congress. At one point yesterday, when Pope Francis was waving to crowds in the capital, a young girl by the name of Sophia Cruz broke through the barriers to share a letter about her fear that her undocumented parents will be deported and asked that the Pope address the issue of immigration reform to Congress.
Once again, the erasure of Native American & First People’s struggle from history. This is not ok. http://t.co/oGpTvYNWLN
— Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo) September 23, 2015
But one thing that has gained a lot of controversy is the fact that Pope Francis has canonized the late 18th Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra, who is known as the architect of the California mission system, which violently converted tens of thousands of the native population to Christianity and (directly and indirectly) killed even more. Many people have been decrying the decision to and ultimate act of canonizing Serra because of the brutal nature in which he treated the native population of California during his time there.
Today’s canonization of Junipero #Serra is a celebration of the aggressive Christian domination and subjugation of Native Americans.
— Simon Moya-Smith (@SimonMoyaSmith) September 23, 2015
I’ve written before about how it’s impossible to expect people to be perfect all of the time and saints are far from exempt from that. But, as Ijeoma Oluo points out in a tweet, there is such a big difference between making mistakes and actively participating in the genocide of native people and culture (which Serra actually did).
This is the first time I’m personally hearing of Serra himself but the story behind the man (now saint) and the missions he started is an unfortunately familiar tale in US history. Dara Lind wrote about how Serra was a brutal colonialist and how his mission was one of conversion and assimilation of the Native population to Catholicism and European culture. The Trail of Tears is another example of the violent ways in which Europeans (and later the US government) treated many of the native populations.
Ultimately I think that the outcries over the canonization of Father Junípero Serra was justified because of the violent colonialism and forced conversion that occupied much Serra’s life in California.
I’ve written before about struggling with faith and my own queerness -coming out while attending a particularly Catholic university made things difficult from time to time. And having attended a Catholic elementary and middle school didn’t particularly help either. I was constantly being told of the love that God had for people but also that who I am went against God and nature. My queerness was and continues to be an abomination in the eyes of the Catholic governing power of my university, whether they fully admit it or not. I, along with so many others, survived numerous microaggressions and lived through the constant feeling of being unwelcome by many peers and educators.
It took me a really long time to acknowledge the fact that it is totally possible to be religious, of faith, and queer all at the same time. Those identities, while they can be at conflict at times, are not mutually exclusive and they don’t have to exist in conflict. It took me even longer to realize that there are churches and faith communities that fully embraced, accepted, and celebrated the lgbtq+ community.
I’m not the only one who has struggled with faith and my queerness, not by a long shot. Noha Elmohands wrote about how being queer made her a better Muslim and Carolyn Wysinger wrote about 5 ways to reclaim Christianity after coming out as queer. Lamya H wrote about how she is not your tragic queer Muslim story and among many other things, writes:
… My queerness and my Muslim-ness do not need to be reconciled mostly because they cannot be disentangled from each other. I can’t remember ever not having been both.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t struggled with my queerness and with Islam, because I have and continue to do so. But when the imagined narratives are stripped away, my struggles are, if not universal, at least familiar: how to avoid disappointing my parents, how to resist assimilation, how to live a fulfilling life. I suspect these will never be resolved, but in the end, this is a story about trying.
In the end, this is a story about living.
Being queer and religious or belonging in a faith community is not a universal experience nor is it an impossible one. No two people will experience faith and religion the same way – some might reclaim their childhood faith, others might not, and even more might have different relationships with faith.
One of the reasons I haven’t been back to church or joined a faith community in the last year or so is because I have personally found the lack of activism in some faith communities to be extremely disappointing. For me, there’s no better call to action, no better reason to be protesting or changing the world than faith and religion. I want to go back to the revolutionary Jesus, the one who would have been on the streets supporting the call that #BlackLivesMatter. I want to see faith communities use their faith and foundations of community to stand with the most marginalized, as God so often calls for us to do.
I do want to preface this and say that I can only come from a mostly Catholic background – my experiences with religion fairly limited to Roman Catholic and an extremely small number of different christian denominations. My own experiences are extremely whitewashed because of my own whiteness and living in two primarily white communities. Amit Singh wrote about the whitewashing of climate change solutions and how Pope Francis’ call for action regarding climate change and other call to actions are not original and often very white.
I think faith and activism can very easily go hand in hand. At the very least, I think working in the streets, walking the talk to say, should be an integral part of faith communities. The seven themes of Catholic Social Teachings highlights the Catholic teachings towards building a just society, many of which call for dignity, solidarity, and care. The Catholic Social Teachings, for me, are an important call for Catholic communities to step out of the church and into the streets.
The AFL-CIO has a section on faith and labor, which has resources about why faith communities should support labor groups. Additionally, there’s the Interfaith Worker Justice, which is an interfaith organizing group rallying around economic justice and also has a resource center for faith support of labor. Some of these resources include:
- Islam and Fairness in the Workplace
- Labor and Jewish Traditions
- What Faith Groups Say about Workers’ Freedom to Choose a Union
- Raising the Minimum Wage
- Worker Justice Matters
Faith groups are also rallying behind immigration reform within the US for various reasons. The Sanctuary Movement was a political and religious campaign that began in the early 1980s as a response to Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict and at its peak, there were over 500 congregation that declared themselves official sanctuaries.
There has also been a rise in a new Sanctuary Movement over the last several years. Places like Portland, OR, Boston, New York City, and many others have formed coalitions to provide sanctuary and support for immigrants, allies, and faith communities. Some resources and faith support for immigration reform and immigrants include:
- Immigrants in Christian Texts
- Immigrants in the Jewish Texts
- Immigrants in the Muslim Texts
- Welcoming the Stranger: Immigration and the Church
- Top 10 Immigration Myths
There are also faith communities and interfaith groups that work towards providing food for those in need and ending hunger. Lift Urban Portland in Portland, OR is one of those interfaith groups, working to help fill in the gaps in the pantries of low income individuals and families in part of Portland. There’s also the Faiths Against Hunger group, which had evolved initially from Muslims Against Hunger Project. And some resources for why faith groups should support ending hunger include:
I’m not particularly religious, despite spending most of my life in a religiously affiliated education setting and writing my senior thesis about religious denominational stances on homosexuality. (12 ish years of Catholic school – ugh.) I’ve had a weird personal relationship with both religion and faith, mostly it’s a love/hate relationship and conflicting beliefs. Growing up in a mostly Catholic setting will do wonders for your guilt, let me tell you. And most of my own experiences with religion and faith are heavily based on the fact that I was raised in that mostly Catholic setting during some of my most formative years.
But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus and how I really do think that he seems like a pretty radical guy. I do really think that he would be on the front lines of the #BlackLivesMatter protests, that he would also be arrested for feeding the homeless, that he would be an avid and outspoken feminist. (Also not a white guy. Definitely not a white guy.)
I mean, this guy regularly hung out with known sex workers, advocated for the rich to give more to the poor, and frequently called out people he thought were being hypocritical. The image to the left is from John Jugelsang and reads:
Jesus was a radical nonviolent revolutionary who hung out with lepers, hookers, and crooks; wasn’t American and never spoke English; was anti-wealth, anti-death penalty, anti-public prayer (Book of Matthew, Chapter 6, Verse 5); but was never anti-gay, never mentioned abortion or birth control, never called the poor lazy, never justified torture, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, never asked a leper for a copay; and was a long haired brown skinned homeless community-organizing anti-slut shaming Middle Eastern Jew.
Some articles about Jesus and how he would be signficantly more radical than many conversative Christians would like include:
In my life, I’ve spent a large portion of my educational career at a Catholic school – my elementary/middle school was a tiny little Catholic school in my hometown and my oh so lovely college alma mater is a tiny Catholic university in north Portland, OR. Despite spending plenty of time at mass or in religion class or even in a Christian youth group for some time in high school, I never really felt connected to my own faith. Today is, of course, Easter Sunday, meaning that I’ve spent the last few days of Holy Week really reflecting on my own history and struggle with faith.
Particularly after coming out as queer in college, it was really hard for me to try and have faith and my identity coexist. Resources at my school never made it particularly easy for me to resolve the struggle – in fact, they usually made things worse. I spent a lot of time thinking the many negative things I faced as a queer student were my fault but soon realized I wasn’t alone in my struggle. During the last semester of my second year at the school, I decided to interview and film several friends who were LGBTQ+ or an ally. I ended up getting an incredible amount of footage and even though it has been a few years since the interviews, I doubt much has changed on many religious campuses.
In my junior year of college, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a task force at a Portland non profit looking to maintain a bridge between religious and queer communities and provide a community for those who were faithfully LGBTQ+. We met once a month in a downtown building conference room and it was through that wonderful and consistent group of people that I learned about love and forgiveness. Through these lovely people, I finally found a home and a chosen family to call my own. And it was through this group that I really got to know a diverse group of faithfully LGBTQ+ and allied folks.
Currently though, being out of school and away from the support system I built up over years means I’m spending a hell of a lot more time being religiously and faithfully ambiguous. I don’t have a church or faith community to call my own in my hometown but there is still a part of me that still feels unbelievably connected to faith.
There are a few people who are open about being faithfully LGBTQ+ that I regularly follow. Eliel Cruz is definitely one of those people – he regularly writes about being a bisexual Christian and the intersection of faith and sexual orientation for several different platforms. My first introduction to him came through a spoken word video he did a few years ago:
Another person has been J Mass III, someone I originally heard about through Nia King’s podcast We Want the Airwaves. J Mass III does some really amazing spoken word poems, writes about several issues, and also does a regular conversation on Twitter on #qfaith. Below is one of my favorite poems from J Mass III:
It has taken me a really long time to realize that the bigotry I was fed about religious homophobia is not the constant reality, that God does not hate me for being queer. There was one night in particular in which I remember opening up to the task force I mentioned earlier and ended up breaking down in tears because I finally admitted how much it hurt to constantly hear how much God apparently hated queer people. And when I finish, there was a moment of silence before the woman across from me looked right at me and said:
God loves you. God loves you so much.
And it hadn’t been until that moment that I really believed that God loved me, that I was worthy of love and acceptance. It’s been two years since that moment but I still remember it so vividly. Ultimately, it has been a very long time since I went to church but the acceptance and love I remember from the faithful people I’ve interacted with over the past few years still makes me feel whole and worthy.
So to all those who are struggling with faith and sexual orientation/gender, believe me when I say that you are worthy, you are unbelievably wonderful, you are most certainly not broken. You are life and loved and wanted in this world. ❤ ❤