My entire life I have felt fundamentally different from my friends and family. Within every friend group, family event, and school function, I knew I wasn’t like the rest. There was something odd, unusual, and perhaps even special about me. Having an accepting and affirming Christian family, I still felt like the odd one, the rainbow sheep, if you will. Unlike many LGBT people I know, I’ve kept a firm stance within my church. I have publicly professed that I am a bisexual Seventh-day Adventist Christian man. The public acknowledgement of my identities has shone a light on this rainbow sheep, making me a target for some and a friend to many.
I'm now one of many participants in a nationwide dialogue, pro-equality activists on one side and traditionalists on the other, both trading shots while never actually stepping into each other’s camp. We have taken the multifaceted and complex topic of sexuality and condensed it into one large gay debate. When I mention homosexuality to those within the traditionalist camp, the first things said are sin, sex, and marriage (not always in that order). I have LGBT and heterosexual friends outside of the church who find it odd that I don’t work on the Sabbath, my day of rest and worship, or that I pray before my meals. They call me “conservative.” Meanwhile, my church views me as an extreme liberal attempting to change its theology.
I am in no-man’s-land, receiving not-so-friendly fire from both sides.
This entire conversation has one point of contention: religion. There are those of us with a foot planted in both or even multiple communities finding ourselves marginalized within them all. I have been silenced by both sides as I am told to keep my religion to myself or my sexuality in the closet. Both communities are guilty of attempting to eradicate what they fear, not truly engaging with one another, just yelling across lines drawn in the sand. What does this mean as the conversation inevitably continues for people like me — those of us in between?
The idea of turning this conversation into a national debate, equipping both sides with biblical stones, is misguided. By perpetuating the stereotypes that LGBT people and Christians are two different and opposing camps who could never live at peace, we solidify a binary way of thinking that has only divided us. Where can we reach a meeting point of common ground?
Just as I identify as a bisexual man, I identify as a Christian Seventh-day Adventist. When the church asked me to shake my sexuality off as a phase, it stuck to me like my own skin; and when LGBT individuals scoff at my beliefs, I refused to reject them as simply fairy tales. Neither group can compel me to change my identity, for an identity in its very nature is an essential part of a person’s being. Still, both groups label me as an outlier, attempting to dissect the parts they do not understand, like their fifth-grade science project. Like most fifth-graders, however, both groups involved are bright-eyed and still have a lot to learn. Both sides are unintentionally causing damage to those of us whom they seek to help. So here I stand an apparent walking contradiction to many, and a myth to the rest.
Leaving one side to be accepted by another would be an insult to me and every other LGBT Christian fighting for their identity to be legitimized by both LGBT folk and Christians. I will not and cannot change myself to appease either side. I stand firm. Just as I am proud of being a bisexual man, I am proud of being a Christian.
It’s difficult for some to understand, but just as I cannot change my sexual orientation, I cannot simply change my beliefs. Granted, there are definite differences with that comparison, as my sexual orientation is not something I have chosen and my religion is something that I have. Yet thus far my spiritual journey has made my religious beliefs align the closest with the Seventh-day Adventist church. I have intellectually reached my theological belief system, and I cannot simply leave my faith due to one disagreeing theological issue. Nevertheless, this one issue has become a deciding factor. My religious beliefs and my sexuality have left me metaphorically homeless on both sides.
I’m in the middle, and it’s time we bridged the gap.
In a devotional, Richard Rohr wrote, "Those at the edge of any system and those excluded from any system ironically and invariably hold the secret for the conversion and wholeness of that very group. They always hold the feared, rejected, and denied parts of the group’s soul.” Is it possible that those of us who have faced the balancing act of religion and sexuality inevitably hold the key to wholeness?
According to Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." A young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban, spoke recently at the United Nations. highlighting the importance of our voice. She profoundly stated in front of the General Assembly, “We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.”
I believe Richard and Malala both have a point. If we begin to allow the “in-betweeners” — those marginalized — to have a voice in this conversation, we will begin to see reconciliation. It takes both sides to build a bridge, and there are those of us who can help in the middle. My voice is important. Both sides have attempted to silence me, and those like me, yet we continue to speak up. Both sides need to start listening. I’m not at all trying to say that everyone should be religious or even spiritual (although I do highly encourage it!). Nor that people must change their biblical views (though I challenge you to intellectually evaluate what you do and don’t believe). I believe that if the voices that we have attempted to silence of those LGBT Christian allies and LGBT Christians begin to be heard, our societal barriers will come down. It’ll create a space that isn’t “me” against “them” but just “us.” Once we are able to humanize each other it is then that we will begin the process of understanding, accepting, and at last, unity.
ELIEL CRUZ, 22, studies at Andrews University and is the president of the Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition.