As we see the affiliated "none" numbers rise, religious shifts, from doctrinal reforms and latest church cultures, are criticized for their apparent hollowness. But what is to make of the other stat reports? Specifically, Evangelical Christianity and those who identify as gay Christians are also increasing. That's right. More Christians are "coming out" despite the falling out of their straight brothers and sisters from the more accepting mainline churches.
Evangelicals and gay Christians. Climbing. Together.
Well, so to speak. Affirming evangelical churches are few and far between. So what does this say about these LGBTQ devotees and Christianity?
In Lubbock, Texas, these two striking identities convene with Lisa, a lay preacher and evangelist of 35 years, and her wife, Franziska, who's adept in contemplative prayer. Their partnership creates a safety net embracing those who haven't altogether rejected their faith despite the rejection from their faith community. Together, they write as well as offer a safe space of spiritual refuge through their Wetfeet Ministries.
Lisa acutely remembers her dwindling, seventeen-year-old self coming to grips with her same-sex attraction. After the failed efforts of ex-gay therapy her parents insisted on, she eventually left home certain she could no longer live with her Church of Christ, Texas family. Despite genuinely loving them, she knew she had to go.
Yes, that was in the 80's when gays were more likely treated as lepers, such as when a funeral home was unwilling to take Lisa's friend who had died of AIDS. She and her friends were left having to wrap him in a blanket and take him away in her station wagon.
Having experienced the desertion of her dying friends, Lisa notes the indifference for the struggles of this current generation of LGBTQ young people. Indeed, it's news to most that upwards to 40% of homeless youth today identify as a sexual minority, most of which run-aways from "corrective" mishandling, including cruel forms of physical and verbal abuse. And then there's the other troubling numbers of suicide resulting from the more obscure forms of shame.
"I've never been in a situation where I had to hide." Franziska continued, "When I tell people that, I always get applauded."
As a German raised Lutheran among the Protestant Kirchen in Martin Luther's country, Franziska describes seeing the wedding band on her minister's hand as a child, never thinking anything of his male partner and never thinking twice about her own realization of her bi identity at age fourteen, sixteen years ago. Perhaps that's not surprising considering the recent reports of German churches overwhelming support of same-sex marriage despite some non-consensus among the handful of evangelikal churches (akin to America's renown kind). Nevertheless, Franziska's been jolted by her new reality since coming to the States, clarifying, "When I came here, I was horrified... I hadn't met an LGBT [American] Christian who had not been hurt by their church, family or friends."
Religious faith isn't necessarily the problem but how it's applied.
Take Franziska's Protestant church father, Martin Luther--an activist dismantling the religious abuse of his day in the early 1500's. His big idea? Sola Scriptura is the basic reason why bibles are available in nearly every language.
Translated, "the scriptures alone," as the only religious authority on one's life is the predominant theme held by many conservative evangelicals today. But it only captures half of Luther's intent. His aim was to remove all stumbling blocks to faith and salvation, including limited access to the texts. Along with Sola Scriptura, his 95 Theses challenged the Latin Vulgate's literal interpretation of Jesus words, "Do penance." In so doing, he confronted the problem of selling indulgences promoted to reduce the punishment of sin (and also profiting the Church).
Luther was shoveling off the pile that had gathered on the core foundation of Christianity--salvation by faith alone. Ironically, his famous declaration now corresponds with absolutist mindsets and behaviors characteristically undeterred by other's perceptions and their related context or circumstances (e.g. "God said it, I believe it, that settles it").
However, the pangs felt by many LGBTQ is a global occurrence in even some of the least Christian countries.
A recent study in Japan (which has a Christian minority of less than 1%) reported 70% of LGBTQ youth admitted having been bullied and 30% contemplated suicide. In fact, internationally, these youth are twice as likely to consider or attempt suicide than their straight peers. Except, while Japan ranked 17th out of 25 on the World Atlas' total highest suicide rate overall, the United States didn't even make the list.
Accordingly, studies show religion as a protective factor against suicide in general, however, a suicide risk factor for sexual minorities. Fitting then, as Franziska highlights the very reason for her shock amidst Christian America.
So why the draw for sexual minorities to maintain their Christian identity, or more, add it to the mix among societies blatant snub?
We could leave it with those who perceive the difference between the fundamentals and fundamentalism--the difference between embracing and gripping. Certainly, not all Christians operate in their faith equally. But as Luther points out, getting back to the basics is key to spiritual renewal, not merely religious reform.