The Moment The Christian Church Acknowledged My Queerness

For the first time I felt as if there was a deliberate call for that congregation to stand with the queer community in their time of mourning.
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Walking into Forefront Church in Gramercy Theatre last Sunday, I had come in with a few expectations.

I knew the worship music set would include electric guitars and the always quiche touch of the violin and that the pastor's wife would come on stage and make a family friendly joke that the congregation would feel obligated to laugh at.

I knew that there would be a moment in the service of "forced fellowship" when you have to talk to your neighbor/a complete stranger for five minutes. This week's topic was favorite father memories...I snuck away to the bathroom to avoid the situation all together.

It was my first time stepping foot in that church in three years, but it was just as I had left it.

After graduating from my Christian university and, in turn, leaving conversion therapy behind, the future of my faith was in the air. Encouraged by my New York City gay therapist to continue to go to church since "it was a huge part of me," I started going to Forefront on a regular basis.

Everything was fine at first, but things changed once I started working for a men's underwear blog. I had taken the position for the free underwear as well as the somewhat gay, smutty aspect to it. At times when you are used to such conservatism, you need the exact opposite in your life to break you out of your shell. And that's what the job did for me.

One Sunday during "forced fellowship," I was asked about my work by a girl with a septum piercing, fedora, and flannel. You know, the "I am a Christian but also approachable and hip" look.

"I'm a writer," I replied.

"Cool...what kind?"

One of my favorite episodes of How I Met Your Mother is the one in which Ted dates a girl who talks too much. When it is made apparent to him, you can hear a glass shatter, representing the shattering of the illusion he created of her as the perfect girl.

"Fashion," I said. The glass shattered.

It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't my fabulous truth either. Outside of the walls of the church I was being me, but, inside, I was still tiptoeing around my identity. I had come to feel as if it was the one place I couldn't say the name of my community. The cohabitation of organized religion and my queerness was a shattered illusion.

As the weeks went on, church became a temple full of glass shards. My cynicism grew. I started to feel claustrophobic. It was as if my queerness was stuck in the trash compacter in Star Wars with the walls closing in. So, I left.

Three years later, the mass shooting in Orlando at Pulse Nightclub that left 49 (prominently gay, prominently Latino men) dead had happened. As I read through the names, it was the first time that I felt like it could have been me. I was shaken.

There is something about tragedy and mourning that propels one toward familiarity. In these times, I've always turned to God. So, I found myself in the back of Forefront somewhat emotionally numb from the week and fully ready to pick apart the church's predictability.

That was until the associate pastor began to pray. "We pray for all who are afraid, and all who mourn. We pray for those throughout history who have suffered violence and death because of their sexual orientation. Today we honor those who died in the Orlando massacre," he read off the screen, holding back tears.

In college, I worked for a leadership organization where my advisor would supply his team with packets full of names and pictures of people who we would be leading. We had to memorize these names before meeting these people. His reasoning was that he wanted us to be able to welcome people into our organization by saying their name. It makes people feel like they are a part of something.

In light of that, I can see why, after the shootings, the video of Florence and the Machine performing "Spectrum" and singing the lyric "say my name" while holding the rainbow flag started to circulate. As the media began to spin the story of the shooting, there was a sense that some didn't want to acknowledge it was a hate crime toward the queer community.

I experienced the same spin from people I used to go to church with, yet, when I heard the church lift the queer community up in prayer Sunday and heard words like "LGBTQ brothers and sisters," I wept.

For the first time I felt as if there was a deliberate call for that congregation to stand with the queer community in their time of mourning. It was a time my community was mentioned in a way that wasn't reserved for a "hot topics" sermon about how to ~deal~ with homosexuals. It was coexistence.

Jesus, giving his sermon on the mount, said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Being a gay man, I am still processing what happened a week ago and welcome prayer because I feel like consolation, support, and an open ear are equal parts of helping those who are grieving. For a moment, in a church where I once felt ashamed, I felt authentically comforted.

While meditating on the service that night, I was filled with a need for more however. The Christians who are usually the most vocal about the queer community are usually extremist groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church. They are leading the anti-LGBT narrative for the church while other church groups are keeping their opinions and messages of love toward the queer community behind closed doors. It's just time for the church doors to be opened.

It's time for more churches to come out.

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