The Call to be “Out” in the Church

*Editor’s Note: This blog is in response to a call from Queer Theology to participate in a “synchroblog” where LGBTQ+ Christians can reflect on their “Queer Calling”. “What does your queerness or transness call you to do and be in the world?” To read more submissions from around the world go here!*

At the Laurelville Mennonite Music and Worship Leaders’ Retreat this January, Goshen College professor Regina Shands Stoltzfus asked us, “What is your work?”

I’m very publicly out as bi: I came out to my congregation during worship from the front of the church after Saskatoon 2017, I talked about LGBTQ+ advocacy and came out in the Canadian Mennonite “10 under 30” feature last January, and last March I wrote a piece for PiE about being queer in the church, and the founding of Queerly Christian.

Recently, I’ve come to see that being “out” queer in the Mennonite church is a part of my work.

A simple refusal to silence my identity as a queer person and as a beloved child of God is a form of advocacy. This is not to say that every queer person in the church needs to be publicly “out” — it is work, and not everyone is called to this work.

A queer disabled activist I follow on Twitter, Bree Mae, talks about “Bi Joy” as a part of her activism: by talking about the wonderful parts of being bisexual, she hopes to present positive view of an often-stigmatized identity — an identity that is often erased and excluded both in the queer community and in “mainstream” culture.

Like Bree, I’m married to a man, and often feel that going places with my partner erases my queerness. Sometimes, I feel like I am perceived as an ally in queer spaces.

Also like Bree, I find joy to be an important — perhaps an essential — tool in my advocacy.

Finding the parts of my identity as a queer Christian that I unapologetically love, and talking about those, is much less emotionally taxing advocacy for me than endlessly debating a couple verses out of Leviticus. Celebrating queer joy renews my spirit, and helps me reframe narratives too often controlled by the exclusionary side.

After the Mapleview Mennonite Church insert on human sexuality (which presented an exclusionary theology) in the Canadian Mennonite, I wrote to the pastor at Mapleview about joy, and about the fruits of the spirit. I don’t know if it made a difference to him, but it was important to me to be able to frame the discussion in that way.

I wrote,

I have found so much joy, hope, peace, and love in inclusive church settings, and in community with other queer Christians. The only times that I have seen queerness connected to pain, brokenness, and mental illness are when queer people encounter theologies and social norms that tell us we are in some way less-than, that God doesn’t love us as we are and want us to live into the fullness of our identities. When fully welcomed, we have so many gifts to share — but when we must constantly defend our very selves from exclusionary theology, we use up the energy we could otherwise use to share these gifts. I sincerely hope that you will learn and grow as a congregation,  and find a way to truly embrace all your members, including those of us “somewhere on the rainbow”. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

At Laurelville, as we returned to the whole group after our small group discussions on her questions, Regina asked for some of us to share a bit.

Someone else in our group highlighted our discussion of bridging different communities, and I decided to elaborate a bit. “As a queer Christian”, I began, thus coming out to 150-odd Mennonite leaders.

At the end of the weekend, one of the resource-people there shared with me that it had meant a lot to him that I had come out. He told me that his parents were there that weekend, and he didn’t think they’d ever knowingly been in the room with a queer Christian before; he thought this was probably stretching for them, but good and important.

He said, “I don’t know what it took for you to come out”; what I didn’t say was, “at this point, less than to stay in.”
A note on the word “queer”: I know that for some members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially older people, use of the word “queer” can be painful, since it has been used against our community. I acknowledge that pain. I also acknowledge that many members of our community have worked very hard for the last 30+ years to reclaim the word, and make it a positive celebration of counterculture and non-normative gender and sexuality. For me personally, queer is the word that best fits my identities and alliances, and I fiercely love it. Bisexuality is not my only identity under the LGBTQIA2+ umbrella, and some of those identities are uncertain or fluid, but “queer” holds them all. It is an affirmation of my own non-normativity and nonconformity, a celebration of diversity, a political alignment towards dismantling the injustices of the status quo.

Sylvia Hook is a graphic designer, part-time student, year-round cyclist, and bisexual-identified Mennonite. She is an involved member of Erb Street Mennonite Church, and spends her spare time cooking, playing board games, and hanging out with her spouse, Michael.

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