In his song “Cause of a Scene,” Jake Wesley Rogers laments the struggle between wanting to come out to his community and fearing the social consequences of being publicly gay. He sings: “I wish I could be like a baby and scream; Without anyone staring at me; Like a freak show” as he builds up to his first chorus.
Although this song does not offer an explicitly Christian perspective on the coming out experience, Rogers provides a creative lens through which many LGBTQ listeners can identify secularly. He has stated in interviews that he grew up in organized religion and now considers himself a spiritual person but not necessarily religious.
His nervousness over coming out described in the song is echoed in the personal lives of many Christians, as they fear that coming out to their families, friends and pastors will “cause a scene” in their community.
Christian music addresses a vast range of difficult and relatable issues, such as depression, suicide, self-consciousness and other struggles of faith. But LGBTQ representation is a relatively new aspect of the Christian music community, with artists like Semler who are growing in popularity online.
Christian ministry in general also addresses many relevant issues, and depending upon church membership, denomination and theological orientation, churches choose to address LGBTQ issues in different ways.
However, there is something to be said about the feelings in this song, especially through the lens of the gay Christian experience. According to a survey done in 2021 by the Ozanne Foundation, only one-third of LGBTQ Christians in the UK felt safe coming out to their local churches. Even less — one-fifth of respondents — felt comfortable coming out to the wider Christian community.
This survey also asked respondents how seriously they felt their physical, spiritual, sexual, psychological and social safety were taken at the church where they usually worship. Only 42% said their physical safety was taken “very seriously” by churches, while 8% said it was not taken seriously at all. Further, only 27% of respondents said their psychological or emotional safety was taken very seriously, while 20% for each category said it was not taken seriously at all.
The other categories, spiritual and sexual safety, had slightly higher rates of positive response with 31% of respondents feeling spiritually safe and 35% of respondents feeling sexually safe.
But many churches market themselves as “come as you are” institutions and view their communities as welcoming to all people. So, why is it that LGBTQ Christians feel unsafe in the house of God, the one place wherein every person should be able to take refuge as an image-bearer without judgment?
These Christians are feeling the same way Rogers feels in his song. They love God and care for their community, just like Rogers cares for his friends and family. They also are gay.
However, they are so well-acquainted with their Christian community that they know how others will react if they come out publicly. They will not be met with loving kindness or tender hearts of compassion.
Instead, they fear — or know — parishioners will whisper when they walk in or make judgmental remarks. They may lose their opportunity to sing for the church band, even though they feel their voice is a God-given gift. Their pastors may expose them publicly with an altar call, shaming or hypersexualizing their identity as LGBTQ in the church’s public sphere before they themselves fully understand what their sexuality means amid their faith.
Coming out will make them a “freak show” in their beloved place of worship and refuge.
“Telling a gay Christian, ‘I will pray for you’ when hearing about their sexuality, is not productive.”
What many heteronormative Christians don’t realize is that telling a gay Christian, “I will pray for you” when hearing about their sexuality, is not productive. This often comes across as judgmental, especially when it is delivered in a way meant to encourage a gay person to reject or squash their feelings.
In fact, ex-gay ministries that promote a change in sexual orientation for the sake of one’s relationship with God often claim success stories, yet these programs typically fail in the long term. Participants either continue having feelings of same-sex attraction and attempt to ignore them by leading a heteronormative lifestyle or later recant their statements of success so they can be openly gay.
What is better is to sit down to have a conversation with someone who has just come out to you, not with the intention of “praying the gay away” or convincing them to abandon their feelings, but with the intention of listening to and learning about them.
They already know about that Bible verse you have on hand from Leviticus, and chances are, they already have spent a great deal of time agonizing over it. What they need is a loving embrace, not a divisive, argumentative debate about their own feelings.
“They already know about that Bible verse you have on hand from Leviticus, and chances are, they already have spent a great deal of time agonizing over it.”
As a fellow image-bearer, it is important to know that someone’s journey to understand their own sexuality amid their spiritual life is no easy task. LGBTQ Christians have not asked for the task of discerning feelings they know will be viewed poorly by their church communities. They are nervous to talk about it because they fear you might give up on them, and as a bearer of the image of God, your judgment and disownment is a profane misrepresentation of God’s infinite love.
We sometimes forget just how beloved we all are by our creator. The kingdom of God is not exclusive, and when we make our church communities so, we create environments in which our sisters and brothers in Christ cause a scene by simply walking inside to join us in fellowship.
Mallory Challis currently serves as a Clemons Fellow with BNG and is a senior at Wingate University.
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