Pope Francis has clarified his recent comments about homosexuality and sin, saying he was merely referring to official Catholic moral teaching which labels any sexual act outside of marriage a sin. And in a note Friday, Francis recalled even that black-and-white teaching is subject to circumstances which might eliminate the sin altogether.
Francis first made the comments in an interview on January 24th with The Associated Press, in which he declared that laws criminalising homosexuality were “unjust” and that “being homosexual is not a crime”.
As he often does, Francis then imagined a conversation with someone who raised the matter of the church’s official teaching, which states that homosexual acts are sinful, or “intrinsically disordered”.
“Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime,” Francis said in the pretend conversation.
“It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another.”
His comments calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality were hailed by LGBTQ advocates as a milestone that would help end harassment and violence against LGBTQ persons.
But his reference to “sin” raised questions about whether he believed that merely being gay was itself a sin.
The Rev James Martin, an American Jesuit who runs the US-based Outreach ministry for LGBTQ Catholics, asked Francis for clarification and printed the pope’s handwritten response on the Outreach website late on Friday.
In his note, Francis reaffirmed that homosexuality “is not a crime”, and said he spoke out “in order to stress that criminalisation is neither good nor just”.
“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” Francis wrote in Spanish, underlining the final phrase.
But in a nod to his case-by-case approach to pastoral ministry, Francis noted even that teaching is subject to consideration of the circumstances, “which may decrease or eliminate fault”.
He acknowledged he could have been clearer in his comments to the AP. But he said he was using “natural and conversational language” in the interview that did not call for precise definitions.
“As you can see, I was repeating something in general. I should have said: ‘It is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of marriage.’ This is to speak of ‘the matter’ of sin, but we know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter, but also evaluates freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin,” he said.
Some 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws.
Experts say even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatisation and violence against LGBTQ people.
Catholic teaching forbids gay marriage, holding that the sacrament of marriage is a lifelong bond between a man and a woman. It reserves intercourse for married couples while forbidding artificial contraception.
In his decade-long pontificate, Francis has upheld that teaching but has made outreach to LGBTQ people a priority. He has stressed a more merciful approach to applying church doctrine, to accompany people rather than judge them.
Once again, Pope Francis has called on Catholics to welcome and accept LGBTQ people.
“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” the pope said in an interview with The Associated Press on Jan. 24, 2023, adding, “let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.” He also called for the relaxation of laws around the world that target LGBTQ people.
Francis’ long history of making similar comments in support of LGBTQ people’s dignity, despite the church’s rejection of homosexuality, has provoked plenty of criticism from some Catholics. But I am a public theologian, and part of what interests me about this debate is that Francis’ inclusiveness is not actually radical. His remarks generally correspond to what the church teaches and calls on Catholics to do.
‘Who am I to judge?’
During the first year of Francis’ papacy, when asked about LGBTQ people, he famously replied, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” – setting the tone for what has become a pattern of inclusiveness.
He has given public supportmore than once to James Martin, a Jesuit priest whose efforts to build bridges between LGBTQ people and the Catholic Church have been a lightning rod for criticism. In remarks captured for a 2020 documentary, Francis expressed support for the legal protections that civil unions can provide for LGBTQ people.
And now come the newest remarks. In his recent interview, the pope said the church should oppose laws that criminalize homosexuality. “We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” he said, though he differentiated between “crimes” and actions that go against church teachings.
Compassion, not doctrinal change
The pope’s support for LGBTQ people’s civil rights does not change Catholic doctrine about marriage or sexuality. The church still teaches – and will certainly go on teaching – that any sexual relationship outside a marriage is wrong, and that marriage is between a man and a woman. It would be a mistake to conclude that Francis is suggesting any change in doctrine.
Rather, the pattern of his comments has been a way to express what the Catholic Church says about human dignity in response to rapidly changing attitudes toward the LGBTQ community across the past two decades. Francis is calling on Catholics to take note that they should be concerned about justice for all people.
The Catholic Church has condemned discrimination against LGBTQ people for many years, even while it describes homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” in its catechism. Nevertheless, some bishops around the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality – which Francis acknowledged, saying they “have to have a process of conversion.”
As the Francis papacy now nears the end of its 10th year, it is becoming more and more common to hear Catholic leaders attempting to make LGBTQ people feel included in the church. Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich has called on pastors to “redouble our efforts to be creative and resilient in finding ways to welcome and encourage all LGBTQ people.” New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan has welcomed LGBTQ groups in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, against the wishes of many New York Catholics.
In this most recent interview, Francis emphasized that being LGBTQ is “a human condition,” calling Catholics to see other people less through the eyes of doctrine and more through the eyes of mercy.
A new ‘political reality’
The rapid change that has happened in prevailing social attitudes about the LGBTQ community in recent decades has been difficult to process for a church that has never reacted quickly. This is especially because the questions those developments raise touch on a gray area where moral teaching intersects with social realities outside the church.
In 2018, for example, German bishops reacting to the legalization of gay marriage acknowledged that acceptance of LGBTQ relationships is a new “political reality.”
There are signs that parts of the church are moving even more quickly. Catholics in Germany, in particular, have called for changes to church teaching, including permission for priests to bless same-sex couples and the ordination of married men.
The next chapter
But those actions are outliers. Francis has criticized the German calls for reform as “elitist” and ideological. When it comes to the civil rights of LGBTQ people, the pope is not changing church teaching, but describing it.
I believe the challenge the Vatican faces is to imagine the space that the church can occupy in this new reality, as it has had to do in the face of numerous social and political changes across centuries. But the imperative, as Francis suggests, is to serve justice and to seek justice for all people with mercy above all.
Catholics – including bishops, and even the pope – can think, and are thinking, imaginatively about that challenge.
Roman Catholic organizations celebrate the Respect for Marriage Act signing into law by recognizing the values of family and equality shared between Catholicism and the LGBTQ community.
Organizations like New Ways Ministry, DignityUSA, and religious leaders like Father James Martin speak to that strength through shared values, while advocating for the LGBTQ community and wanting more from equality. All these people and organizations have worked with GLAAD to advance LGBTQ acceptance within the Roman Catholic Church.
Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, a 45-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the church, reminds the people that even Pope Francis has said that LGBTQ couples deserve protections.
“Catholics want same-gender couples to receive the same societal protections and benefits that opposite-sex couples enjoy. Family stability and equality are strong Catholic values,” said DeBarnardo in a press release.
DeBernardo also says that two Catholic politician powershouses heralded RFMA into law.
“We are particularly proud that this bill was shepherded through the House of Representatives by a Catholic, Honorable Nancy Pelosi. That it was signed into law by a Catholic, President Joe Biden, is an even greater reason to be proud. They are leaders who have imbibed Catholic Social Teaching, and their beliefs in the human dignity and equality of all people are inscribed in this Act,” the New Ways Ministry executive director said.
Catholic support in today’s LGBTQ current events sheperds a new layer of hope among advocates in a time of religious extremism against LGBTQ communities and couples.
The US Conference for Catholic Bishops believes the Act works to slice away at religious freedom. “Obergefell created countless religious liberty conflicts, but the Act offers only limited protections,” said Chieko Noguchi of the USCCB Public Affairs Office in a statement. “Those protections fail to resolve the main problem with the Act: in any context in which conflicts between religious beliefs and same-sex civil marriage arise, the Act will be used as evidence that religious believers must surrender to the state’s interest in recognizing same-sex civil marriage.”
However, to DeBernardo this is the perfect time for the Catholic hierarchy, for bishops, for USCCB, to open up to the long-requested, and long overdue dialogue about equality for LGBTQ people.
“The Catholic bishops’ opposition is based on the idea that the bill does not provide enough religious exemptions, yet other religious leaders, legal analysts, and politicians who value faith are confident that the bill protects religious institutions,” said DeBernardo.
Some conservative Christian denominations like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Seventh Day Adventists have come to support laws like RFMA. They aren’t the only ones.
Over the last six years from 2015 to 2021 diverse support among various religions have increased their acceptance for LGBTQ legal protections, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
Of all Americans 79% are in favor of LGBTQ protections. As for Catholics of color the support for LGBTQ protections has increased by 16% since 2015 (87%), Latine Catholic support has grown 8% with 83% in favor of LGBTQ protections, with white Catholics showing 7% growth at 80% in favor of LGBTQ protections, according to PRRI research.
The growing support shows as DignityUSA, the nation’s foremost organization of Catholics working for justice, equality, and full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in our church and society, believes the RFMA affirms that the majority of US Catholics of all political affiliations believe that same-sex marriage should be a legal right.
Yet, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, believes that this isn’t a complete victory.
“Moreover, it fails to address the ongoing inequities, legal and cultural, that continue to push LGBTQIA+ people and people of color out of the center of many communities.
“Indeed, DignityUSA is deeply concerned that the final version of the Respect for Marriage Act will in some ways actually work to perpetuate the inequity that interracial and same-sex couples have long experienced in our country,” said Duddy-Burke in a press release.
Unfortunately the RFMA comes to Pres. Biden’s desk under the fear that interracial marriages and LGBTQ marriages are threatened by the current Supreme Court majority. Many are preparing for Obergefell v. Hodges to be overturned, in turn, resulting in LGBTQ and interracial marriages a state-by-state issue. RFMA allows for couples to travel to states where it’s legal to marry with nationwide recognition regardless of the state law of a couples’ home states.
Ross Murray, Vice President of the GLAAD Media Institute, and a deacon in an Evangelical Lutheran Church, told the National Catholic Reporter that the fear of Obergefell overturning makes the Respect for Marriage Act’s passing as imperative as it is.
“Knowing that we have heard justices signal their intent to want to review and potentially roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans is what made this legislation so incredibly important,” said Murray.
However, Murray also notes that the implementation of religious freedom was important to the political process.
Sec. 6 No Impact on Religious Liberty or Conscience of RFMA protects religious groups who oppose LGBTQ marriage from having to provide “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.” Additionally, the law prevents churches and religious nonprofits that decline recognition of LGBTQ marriages from having their tax-exemption status revised or revoked.
Anne Tropeano is ironing her clothes in preparation for a busy day ahead. She gets out her white alb and her ornately embroidered chasuble, garments worn by Catholic priests around the world. On a calendar on her wall, bold red pen marks that tomorrow is “Ordination day”.
But she is also on the phone hiring a security guard for the service in a church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she lives – as she anticipates there could be hostility.
“It’s a tense issue, not everybody is open to even considering the possibility of women being called to priesthood,” she says. It’s not only harassment in person that Tropeano is concerned about. Since sharing her hopes of becoming a Catholic priest, she says she’s experienced “breath-taking” online harassment.
Tropeano is one of over 250 women across the world who are part of the Roman Catholic woman priest movement, a group who are taking part in unauthorised ordination services to become priests, in an act of defiance against the Roman Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church does not allow women to be priests. In fact, the Vatican sees it as a serious crime in canon law that is punishable by excommunication. This means the women, once they’ve taken part in an ‘ordination’, are unable to receive the sacraments, including communion, or have a church funeral.
“Excommunication was the reason I wasn’t able to entertain becoming a priest for a long time,” she says. “I was going to mass every single day. I worked for a parish, my whole life was in the church. So to think about giving that up, I couldn’t even really imagine it.”
Tropeano is a devout Catholic, who after years of doing other jobs including managing a rock band, felt the call to priesthood: “I would hear this. You are my priest, you are a priest. I want you to be a priest.”
The only option open to her as a woman was to serve the Church in another role – such as a nun or as a lay contributor to her diocese. Or she could walk away from Catholicism entirely, to another Christian denomination that would welcome her as a priest.
After years of personal discernment, she realised the limitations of the Vatican rules were not going to let her live out this call: “Once I recognised that this was the next step, the excommunication was just part of the journey.”
Tropeano, and other women like her, are also seeing their choice to be ‘ordained’ as a way to campaign against what they consider a sexist rule by the Church.
From Reform Judaism to many Protestant denominations, other faiths are open to the ordination of women. Yet for the Catholic Church the ban on women’s access to priesthood is based, among other arguments, on Biblical records that Christ chose his 12 Apostles only from among men, and the Church has gone on to imitate Christ ever since.
For Tropeano, the impact of this rule is far-reaching.
“By the Church teaching through its actions of excluding women from [priestly] ordination, it’s teaching that women are inferior. Women learn this, little kids learn this, men learn this… So they go out into the world and they live that way.”
Ceremony on a cruise
The movement for women priesthood gained visibility in 2002. A group of seven women took part in an illicit ordination service aboard a ship on the Danube River, on international waters to avoid conflict with any ecclesiastical region.
Yet there were reports of previous secret ‘ordinations’, such as Ludmila Javarova’s, who during the Communist rule of Czechoslovakia in the 1970s took part in a service led by a Roman Catholic bishop.
The women’s ordination movement is now mostly a European and US group, but it has expanded its representation in other parts of the world.
Colombian Olga Lucía Álvarez Benjumea was the first female ‘priest’ in Latin America, a bastion for the Catholic Church with more than 40% of the 1.3 billion global Catholic population.
Her ceremony in 2010 was a secret, but she says she has got support from the Church’s local hierarchy: “There was a bishop… a Roman Catholic whose name we do not say so as not to get him in trouble with the Vatican.”
“I was very afraid that people would suddenly start insulting me or throwing things at me at the altar, in this very conservative society I live in.
“So the support I received from people was a great surprise, and that strengthened and reinforced my mission,” says Álvarez. She has now been promoted to bishop within the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP), which is not recognised by the Vatican.
Álvarez comes from a very devout Catholic family but had the support of her mother, a former nun. Her brother, a priest, gave her a gift of a chalice which she sees as a form of silent support.
Álvarez is insistent that there is nothing in Scripture to exclude women from the priesthood: “It’s a human law, a Church law, and an unjust law need not be adhered to.”
This is a sentiment shared by the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), a group that lobbies the Vatican for women’s access to the priesthood through calls for dialogue and demonstrations.
Executive director Kate McElwee says her favourite work is what they call the Ministry of Irritation – which has seen supporters doing everything from releasing pink smoke during the Conclave to lying in the road as the Pope’s motorcade came through the city. For their actions, they have been detained by Vatican Police.
“We walk with these women in their vocation and they’re waiting for the Vatican to open its doors and really confront its sins of sexism,” says McElwee. “But meanwhile for other women it would be impossible to wait, the call is so loud and so clear from God that they have no choice but to break an unjust law.”
A ‘closed door’
The Church sees these ordinations not just as illicit but also invalid.
After the Danube Seven story became public, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict, declared that since the women gave no indication of repentance, “for the most serious offense they have committed, they have incurred excommunication”.
Pope Francis has himself ruled out a woman ever serving as a priest. In 2016, when asked about any chance this could change, he referenced a 1994 document from John Paul II that said that the “door is closed” to women’s ordination, which the Pope said “stands”.
Sister Nathalie Becquart works from an office in Vatican City, with a picture of her and Pope Francis behind her. In February 2021, she was the first woman to ever be appointed as an Under Secretary to the Synod of Bishops, a body which advises the Pope.
She puts the current position on women priests simply: “For the Catholic Church at this moment, from an official point of view, it’s not an open question.”
“It’s not just a matter of you feeling you are called to priesthood, it’s always a recognition that the Church will call you to be a priest. So your personal feeling or decision is not enough,” says the French nun.
Sister Becquart is one of a few women given key senior roles under Pope Francis’ pontificate. Her position makes her the first woman in the Vatican with voting rights.
She believes there is an evolution happening, allowing more women to take up leadership roles, yet roles that are “disconnected from ordination.”
“I think we need to broaden our vision of the Church. There are many, many ways for women to serve the Church,” Sister Becquart says.
But she also notes that change is never easy, and always faces “fears and resistance”.
What does the Catholic Church say?
Catholic doctrine, or its legal interpretation, reference priesthood as being a prerogative of men – stating that “a baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly” (Canon 1024).
A 2021 revised version of Church law (Canon 1379) explicitly criminalized conferring sacred orders on women latae sententiae – a legal term which means that the penalty is incurred automatically, without the need for a judgment.
Pope Francis previously appeared to open the possibility of ordaining women as deacons, who cannot celebrate mass but can officiate funerals, baptise and witness marriages.
In an unprecedented move, Pope Francis has asked ordinary Catholics for their views on the future of the Church, in a two-year consultation process called the Synod on Synodality. And in a move that made headlines, the Vatican included resources from the Women’s Ordination Conference on the Synod’s website.
A recent working document suggests women’s role in the Church will be high on the agenda when bishops gather in Rome next October to discuss the results of the consultation.
Sister Nathalie Becquart told BBC 100 Women that “through the Synod on Synodality, we will continue to discern and the Pope will see what will be the next step.”
A different way
In a hushed Cathedral Anne Tropeano approaches the nave, faces her bishop and proclaims full of emotion, “Here I am, I am ready.”
It’s a day she has waited for for 14 years. The ‘ordination’ ceremony follows a similar liturgy to that which men becoming Catholic priests would experience – including the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration.
During the ceremony, Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan lifted Tropeano’s arms and presented her to the clapping congregation. The newly ‘ordained’ Anne said she felt “embraced”.
Tropeano prides herself on being the face of a different ministry, one with more participation and less hierarchy. As well as one that is open to groups traditionally questioned by the Church.
“Nobody is turned away from communion. Whether or not you’ve been divorced, none of that matters. Everybody is welcome, LGBTQ people are welcome at the table,” she says.
Anne Tropeano was ordained in a church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the US
Olga Lucía Álvarez also sees female priesthood as an opportunity to redefine the relationship of lay Catholics with their altar representatives.
There is an opportunity in the current state of the Church, says the Colombian woman ‘bishop’, given the dwindling number of vocations and the clerical sex abuse scandals that have severely damaged trust in priests.
“How can they say they are the sole representatives of God on Earth? They have no shame,” she says about the series of abuse allegations worldwide.
Pope Francis has apologised to the victims of sexual abuse committed by clerics, and has condemned the Church’s “complicity” in hiding the “grave crimes”.
Álvarez sees women’s ministry as an answer. At 80, she spends her time mentoring younger women who are hoping to become priests.
“It is urgent to show another face of the priesthood. We cannot let history repeat itself.”
The movement for women’s ordination wants an open debate on the ban, as they are confident to have the support of lay Catholics.
In Brazil, the country with the largest Catholic population in Latin America, almost eight-in-ten Catholics said they were supportive of women priests. In the US, the figure was six-in-10, according to a 2014 survey. Yet the movement for women’s ordination has not yet taken off in Africa, the region with the fastest-growing Catholic population.
When it comes to the possibility of change, Tropeano appeals to the Pope himself to open up a dialogue.
“You need to have an audience with women who are called to priesthood. Whether they have been ‘ordained’ as part of this movement or not, you need to hear our experience and take that into your prayer.”
While the fight for women’s ordination to priesthood still looks as though it could be a long one, Tropeano thinks it is vital for the future of the Church.
“The Church will not be able to fulfil its mission unless there’s equal participation. At the moment there is nothing more important.”
— From LDS to Catholics to Jews to Muslims — find ways to belong where doctrine rejects them
“I embrace my faith,” says former leader of Affirmation, a support group for queer Latter-day Saints, “but I don’t fully embrace the institution.”
By Kathryn Post
When queer students at Yeshiva University sued the school for discrimination in spring 2021, critics were quick to question why LGBTQ students would opt for an Orthodox Jewish university in the first place.
But for many LGBTQ Orthodox Jews, as with believers of other faiths, their religious identities are as nonnegotiable as their queer identities.
“A lot of people ask, why would somebody who is queer stay Orthodox? It’s like saying, there’s conflict in your family — why don’t you just leave?” Rachael Fried, a Yeshiva alum and executive director of JQY (Jewish Queer Youth), a nonprofit that supports Orthodox Jewish queer youths, told Religion News Service.
In churches, synagogues and mosques, as in families, religious teaching and texts are often cited in rejecting LGBTQ members, and many queer believers feel they have no choice but to leave. Many end up rejecting religion as a whole; others find meaning in accepting faith communities. But some LGBTQ religious people are reconciling parts of themselves that their faith’s doctrines frame as incompatible, continuing to serve and worship even where they are officially considered in violation of divine law or are barred from leadership.
For Madeline Marlett, it was the Jesuits who first showed her that being a Catholic, queer transgender woman was possible.
Growing up in Texas, in a devoutly Catholic household of 10, Marlett told RNS, she would pray every night that she would wake up the next morning in a different body. Years later, as a student at the College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school in Worcester, Mass., the body dysphoria hadn’t subsided.
“I was hoping that this trans thing would disappear, but through Holy Cross, the Jesuits showed me a different flavor of Catholicism. It was more about ‘God is love,’ less about ‘these are the rules,’” said Marlett, now 25 and living in Boston.
In a class called “Understanding Jesus,” Marlett said she first encountered the idea of a radical Christ who ministered to outcasts. “That became my barometer as I was unpacking what I believed. Is this rule loving? That’s what helped me rebuild my sense of religion to include myself and the people next to me.”
After graduating, she joined Dignity USA, a Catholic LGBTQ advocacy organization, changed her legal name and began presenting as Madeline.
Jodi O’Brien, a sociology professor at Seattle University, said many LGBTQ Christians have had the ‘aha’ moment Marlett did when she encountered stories of Jesus ministering to those on the margins.
“They rewrote themselves in the script of Christianity,” said O’Brien. “Instead of being the sinners, or the cast off, they were the ones who most embodied the love of Christ.”
A Latter-day Saint
For some, pursuing an accepting version of their faith means leaving institutional religion behind. For Randall Thacker, a Latter-day Saint and former president of Affirmation, a global organization that supports LGBTQ members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, separating God from the church was key.
“I would say I embrace my faith, but I don’t fully embrace the institution,” he told RNS. “That’s pretty hard in this kind of faith, where everything revolves around (the church).” Over the years, Thacker has learned to treasure doctrines he loves while ditching harmful teachings, a move that allows him to claim a faith that “feels like it’s in my DNA.”
Jordan Jamil Ahmed, 31, takes a similar approach. “Organized religion, not just in Islam, is often a way to express political power over people. Whereas, for me, the idea of faith is more innate or intuitive.”
Ahmed is a Shiite Muslim who grew up in a multiracial, multiethnic household in central Ohio. After years of wrestling with their queer and Muslim identities, Ahmed joined the Queer Muslims of Boston in 2020 and eventually connected with Union Square Halaqa, a group of marginalized Muslims who gather to study Islam.
“The halaqa is the first space where I’ve really come into my understanding of queerness and Muslimness together,” Ahmed said. The expansiveness of the divine, Ahmed believes, can’t be limited to the male-female binary. This widened view of spirituality has also allowed them to experience God, said Ahmed, who uses they/them pronouns, in everything from prayer to tarot cards to dancing at gay clubs.
But Ahmed’s spiritual fluidity, as much as their gender, has meant exile from some Muslim settings. “I’ve definitely built my community outside of traditional institutions. There aren’t really mosques where I feel comfortable.”
Tyler Lefevor, a counselor and psychologist, has found that queer believers can face exclusion in and outside of religious contexts. In a study published by the American Psychological Association this year, Lefevor and his co-author found that more than half the LGBTQ Latter-day Saints responding to a survey said they lacked belongingness in their faith community, the LGBTQ+ community or both.
The struggle to belong is what leads LGBTQ believers to create explicitly queer religious spaces like Affirmation, JQY or Dignity USA, Lefevor said. “A lot of these communities provide some of the theological tools queer religious folks need to stay within these conservative congregations. They are a group of people who get what it’s like to constantly explain yourself to people on both sides.”
The groups often go beyond theology. During the standoff at Yeshiva, JQY stepped in to fund the Pride Alliance, the student club at Yeshiva, after the university refused. It also hosts a weekly drop-in center in Times Square, where LGBTQ youth get free pizza, check in with social workers and have game nights.
Sergio Guzmán, who belongs to the San Fernando Valley chapter of Dignity USA, was emboldened by his participation to adopt what he calls a “Hell no, I’m not gonna go” stance toward the Catholic faith he loves.
After years of drifting in and out of church, Henry Abuto, a celibate gay Christian, found his way to the Side B community — a loose network of Christians who embrace queer identity but believe God designed sex for marriage between a man and a woman. Abuto, who attends a nondenominational church in Fort Worth, Texas, chose celibacy eight years ago as the best way for him to be true to himself and his faith. Like many on Side B, he’s since been called both a sinner for being gay and a self-hater for choosing celibacy.
In 2018, Abuto stumbled upon Revoice, an annual Side B conference. Suddenly, he was surrounded by people whose journeys mirrored his own. “Without that community, my walk would not be flourishing nearly as well as it is,” said Abuto, who is now a Revoice staffer.
Not all people reconcile their faith and queerness. A 2013 study from Pew Research Center found that nearly half (48%) of LGBTQ people are not religiously affiliated — more than double the share among the general public (20%). A third of religious LGBTQ people reported a conflict between their sexual orientation or gender identity and their beliefs.
Eric Rodriguez, an associate professor of psychology at City University of New York who has studied LGBTQ identity issues for decades, said faithful LGBTQ people can reject their religious identity, attempt to eradicate or suppress their queer identity, compartmentalize both identities or integrate them.
“The folks who did the best were either those who identified as being integrated, or those who identified as being secular,” he said. “That’s regardless of whether you are talking about somebody with a Christian background, Jewish background or Islamic background.”
The issue of belonging is complicated by the wide range of attitudes toward LGBTQ inclusion, even when a faith is non-affirming on paper. In the Catholic catechism, homosexual acts are called “intrinsically disordered,” but in 2019 the Pew Research Center found that 61% of Catholics said they support same-sex marriage. In 2017, Pew reported that 52% of U.S. Muslims said homosexuality should be accepted by society.
“It’s the guys in the gowns and funny hats that have the issue,” as Guzmán put it.
Jeff Chu, author of “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America,” said that affirming and nonaffirming labels are overly simplistic. Chu married his husband in the Reformed Church in America and is an ordained elder there, but his ordination process, which for most people takes three years, has dragged on for six due to the denomination’s broader debate over LGBTQ inclusion.
“To just say ‘nonaffirming denomination’ does a disservice to the reality on the ground, which is the truth that we are individuals, couples and congregations who are wrestling through a lot of complicated political and social terrain.”
A Christian Reformed Church member
Natalie Drew, a trans woman, never expected to land in a Christian Reformed Church congregation. The CRC, a close cousin to the RCA, codified its opposition to homosexual sex at the denominational level this summer. But Drew doesn’t choose churches based on whether they’re affirming.
“I don’t want to belong simply because they have an official policy. I want to feel like I belong because the people there treat me as if I’m truly their family,” Drew said. “It could have happened in a lot of places. It just happened to happen at CRC church.”
In light of the denomination’s opposition, Drew’s church, like many others, is reconsidering its future in the CRC. Drew said she’s not part of those conversations and doesn’t care to be. She loves the church’s commitment to ancient creeds and social justice work, and what ultimately matters is that she, her wife and her kids are welcome.
“For LGBTQIA people out there, who are struggling right now, there are churches out there,” she told RNS. “You don’t have to give up your faith to be who you are.”