A common phrase in the Bible is “Fear not”. This is especially present in the gospel of Luke in his telling of the nativity. Of course, fear is normal and it protects us from danger. If angels came down from the sky while you were minding your own business looking after your sheep to tell us some kid was born in a manger, that would be a pretty fearful experience for most. Fear can build up over time through experiences and perceptions of a person or an organisation. This fear creates a wall to protect us, to ensure that we are not hurt by what we perceive as dangerous. But what happens when we take those angels’ advice and “fear not”?
I remember I was 11 years old when I went on tour with my primary school choir to Brisbane. We were due to sing at St John’s Cathedral, a stunning church that holds a five second echo that our choir loved. It was there that I had this sudden urge to attend church more regularly. I started praying during the rest of the tour and upon returning home I asked my mum if she would take me down to our parish church of St Margaret’s. Mum said she’d prefer to sleep in and have a relaxing Sunday morning, so the idea was quickly brushed aside. As I got older though, the tension between my sexuality and my limited faith became so incredibly tight it nearly snapped.
It took a long time for me to reconcile the perceived contradiction between being gay and being a person of faith. Being from a non-religious family, the only exposure to church teachings ranged from stories of LGBT vilification, homophobia, and transphobia, to the idyllic yet humorous scenes of ‘the Vicar of Dibley’. To me the church became the Australian Christian Lobby and their attacks on marriage equality or Safe Schools. It was the Westboro Baptist Church with placards saying “God hates F**s!” This left me angry, confused and frustrated as there was always a part of me that wished to heed to that calling I’d had at St John’s, but that was incompatible with being gay.
On the other side, I didn’t know any queer Christians. Discussions with queer friends about religion were often filled with cynicism. Turns out when you persecute people for their sexuality for two millennia you don’t always have the best PR. My view of the church began to change to be an institution that only sought power and control, not love, justice and mercy.
It was only until I saw certain churches calling for marriage equality during the plebiscite that I began to gain the courage to go to church. I started going to a church while on exchange that a few of my friends attended. I originally used the excuse that it was for research, as I was taking a theology elective while overseas. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, I didn’t know if they were affirming, nor did I even know how I’d even ask that. I had my friends with me who knew my reservations, but I felt like I was creeping back into the closet again. My boyfriend was referred to as “partner” with “theys” and “thems” in order to avoid any issues. The church was welcoming and there was never any homophobic sentiment in sermons. But, the fear that builds around church and being gay is hard to shake off, it sticks to you and hardens like cement.
I started looking for resources for LGBT Christians and speaking to members of a beautiful intersection between faith and sexuality. To feel the comfort that you are not alone, that there are many churches and congregations that love you for who you are and value your unique perspective on the world. This certainly wasn’t what I had imagined the church to be.
Upon returning to Canberra I found a church near my apartment. While it is steeped in the deep, ancient Anglo-Catholic traditions of worship, the parish has shown to be a more inclusive, diverse place than one would imagine. Queer people are on the parish council and they partake in worship. The priest will ask if my partner and I have marriage plans and if I could do a reading or two during mass. I have finally been able to let that seed of faith given to me all those years ago grow. That heart of stone, hardened by the hatred and bigotry of the minority was replaced with a heart of flesh. I no longer fortified myself behind my wall built of fear and instead decided to cross the threshold. Of course, it’s not easy, and there are times that are difficult, where views and opinions differ. But theology, religion and faith wouldn’t be much fun if there wasn’t an element of difficulty and challenge.
So, is fear stopping you from taking steps to walk through that door? Fear not. Start that club or society. Put your hand up for election. Start going to Church, Temple, Mosque or other. You never know what’s going to be on the other side of that door.