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Pride & Prayers: have churches truly become safe spaces for queer folks?

OPED Angela Yarber queer author rainbow LGBTQ pride flag Trinity Church New York City
Courtesy Dr. Angela Yarber; Shutterstock Creative

After facing hate and threats, a queer pastor left the church for new pastures. Now, some communities of faith are embracing LGBTQ+ inclusion, celebrating Pride, and protesting for our rights. Will this newfound acceptance truly welcome all?

I ducked as an offering plate whizzed past my head. With a rainbow stole draped over my narrow shoulders, clad in a stodgy clergy robe, I stood in a sanctuary that seated 2,500. I was pastor of an "open and affirming" church, which is essentially religious jargon claiming they welcome and affirm queer people, something most churches prohibit. I mean, they had hired me, a queer clergywoman, as pastor.

And I'd suffered the consequences from within the congregation and without. A thick hate mail folder bulged in my filing cabinet. Sometimes, the letters described how my flesh would smell when I burned in hell, not to mention a couple of death threats. For my own mental, spiritual, and physical health, I decided to leave.

The church. The faith. Religion. All of it.

Some queer congregants begged I stay and fight. But I'd fought valiantly for fifteen years, and those stained-glass walls were caging me in, contorting me into a version of myself that was depressed, anxious, and sick. I didn't want to live like that. And I certainly didn't want to raise my child in that world.

After nearly fifteen years as a pastor, with a Ph.D. in the field, I realized that institutional religion was toxic for queer women like me. So, I left to traverse the American landscape with my wife and toddler, researching the lives, legends, and legacies of revolutionary queer women of color for two years and writing about my experience.

Rather than decrying the "sin" of homosexuality, pastors are donning rainbow stoles and dedicating worship to diversity and inclusion. From Drag Story Hour during a children's sermon to Pride-themed worship services, congregations across the country are embracing LGBTQ+ inclusion. From Baptists to Episcopalians, Methodists to Presbyterians, massive city cathedrals to tiny country churches, and almost everywhere in between, queer folks are flocking to church to celebrate Pride this year.

OPED Angela Yarber queer author MCC LGBTQ pride parade contingent NYC 2010LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES/Shutterstock

This isn't necessarily new. I've been part of this movement for two decades, and denominations like the Metropolitan Community Church have celebrated Pride since the 1960s. Additionally, there are records of queer people of faith dating as early as the 3rd century with the diary of Perpetua and her lover Felicity. And don't even get me started on the many queers in the Bible! But this recent wave of queer folx, young and old alike, waving Pride flags in sanctuaries is relatively new.

Many relish celebrating diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging by uplifting our community in worship. I think of several Methodist churches that have been affirming LGBTQs long before the United Methodist General Conference voted to do so this spring. Allendale Methodist in St. Petersburg, Florida, dedicates worship to Pride throughout June, ending with their standard fifth Sunday Drag Worship celebration. The United Methodist Church, outside of Baltimore, Maryland, partners with a local Unitarian Universalist congregation to host a concert featuring Flamy Grant, a drag queen and Christian billboard-chart-topping singer-songwriter. Meanwhile, in Wenatchee, Idaho, a cohort of Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Disciples, and United Church of Christ congregations are co-hosting a queer movie night, followed by a Q&A with the film's director.

I think of the First Baptist Church in America in Providence, RI, going viral when their church sign read, "Jesus had 2 dads and he turned out great!" The subversive history of Baptist inclusion, despite the heinous practices of the Southern Baptist Convention, prompted this church to invite me into their pulpit. There's an entire organization dedicated to queer Baptists in the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, which has over 170 member congregations.

OPED Angela Yarber queer author Baptist pastor love sign Washington DC Capital Pride Parade LGBTQ supportNicole Glass Photography/Shutterstock

Beyond celebration, many churches go out of their way to honor the protest origins of Pride. All Souls Unitarian Universalist in Colorado Springs hosts not only Pride Worship but also a photography exhibit dedicated to advancing health equity for elderly lesbians and transwomen by acclaimed photographer Carey Candrian. At Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, I will join Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis to preach about the links between Pride and Juneteenth, remembering the wisdom of one of Pride's founders, our beloved Marsha P. Johnson, who proclaimed, "No pride for some without liberation for us all." The legacy of Johnson and many others reminds us that the celebration of Pride must be intersectional, centering Black and brown voices and honoring trans and nonbinary kindred.

From the soaring cathedrals in big cities like New York, D.C., and San Francisco to smaller churches across the country, countless faith communities are dedicated to repenting for the religious trauma impacting LGBTQ+ people, celebrating Pride, and protesting for our rights both inside and outside the church.

Yes, I bolted ten years ago—literally quitting my job, selling my home, and driving my queer little family's camper away as fast as I could—but these recent efforts have restored some of my lost faith. Maybe more churches mean it when they say, "All are Welcome." Perhaps when Jesus told them to "love your neighbor as yourself," the church has finally realized that some of their neighbors are queer.

Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber is an 8-time award-winning author and founder ofTehom Center Publishing, a press publishing feminist and queer authors with a commitment to elevate BIPOC writers. Her memoir,Queering the American Dream, was listed in QSpirit's Top LGBTQ Religion Books, and her work has been featured in Forbes, NPR, HuffPo, the television show Tiny House Nation and more atwww.angelayarber.org.

Voices is dedicated to featuring a wide range of inspiring personal stories and impactful opinions from the LGBTQ+ and Allied community. Visit Advocate.com/submit to learn more about submission guidelines. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on any of our stories. Email us at voices@equalpride.com. Views expressed in Voices stories are those of the guest writers, columnists and editors, and do not directly represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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