I grew up believing certain things. I believed them because in my rural, southern environment, such beliefs were common. What I believed included:
~ God was male.
~ God was Christian (or at least, God wanted everyone else to be Christian).
~ Heterosexual love and attractions were OK…homosexual love and attractions were not.
~ Men were to be the head of their households (and mostly, they were to be in charge of everything else).
But something happened early in my life. By the time I was nineteen, I had to admit to myself something that had been obvious to others since I was about 4 years old: I was gay. This wasn’t a phase; it had been with me my entire life, and it wasn’t going away. Denying it only delayed my ability to experience joy in my life as the person I was. Accepting that I was innately and unchangeably gay meant that I had to reconsider all of things that I thought I knew.
After studying scripture, theology, sociology, psychology, and my inner-most self, I came to believe that homosexuality is a normal part of the diversity of life; but that means that the people who had taught me the things I was meant to accept as true were mistaken about the sinfulness of homosexuality. Once I really embraced that fact, I then naturally had to ask, “What else did they get wrong?” Maybe they were wrong about God’s preference for Christians. Maybe they were wrong about men having a divine right to rule the church, the home, and the world. Maybe “God” wasn’t a boy’s name.
The Apostle Paul (who is not my favorite biblical figure, but even a broken clock is right twice a day) wrote, “Test everything. Hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5.21). In other words, there is real value in asking honest questions and holding on to discoveries that offer hope, courage, strength, healing, dignity and joy. And, holding on to what is good means that we can also jettison what is life-diminishing, soul crushing, joy smothering, or insulting to our personhood.
This is one of the many gifts gay and lesbian people have to offer the world. We were fortunate enough to have to question the negative views others held against us. We were blessed to have the opportunity to discover our sacred value. And once we did that work, we then had the skills to question other beliefs…especially beliefs that give privilege or power to one group over another (men over women, the U.S. over other countries, straight people over LBGT people, Christians over non-Christians, cisgender people over transgender people, etc.).
Queer people have the ability (and perhaps the responsibility) to demonstrate the courage it takes to ask questions and to believe that our questions are more important than pre-packaged answers. And those of us who call ourselves religious must also ask the questions that will keep religion from being a tool of oppression ever again.
Durrell Watkins holds a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary
and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Episcopal Divinity School. He is the
senior minister of the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.