By Pieter Niemeyer
Susie has called me a “coming out tank” Why? Because I have come out to well over 200 hundred people, mostly face to face, and in a rather short period of time. What seemed to be the path was to have one on one and small group conversations, or correspondence. We would ask people to guard our conversations by holding confidentiality to allow this to unfold until our faith community was fully informed.
When I relay this process to others, there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the remarkable gift of confidentiality offered, so as to allow this process to unfold.
Over the course of sharing my story I have heard words of encouragement. Often expressed through comments as “It doesn’t matter,” “It makes no difference,” or “It’s not my business,” or “it doesn’t change anything.” What I understood by these comments is that the relationship isn’t negatively affected in any way with this disclosure.
Recognizing that people have often ended relationships over the sharing of such information, I am grateful for affirmations of relationship.
As I heard these comments many times over, however, I began to think to myself, “Well it really does matter, and it does make a difference and it is your business.” I began to feel that these phrases actually needed to be unpacked more for all of our sakes.
My goal is to explore the faith reasons for why it matters, and why it makes a difference, and why my coming out is really your business.
Right now it matters. Relationally, theologically, spiritually and sexually… it all matters. A time will come when we can say, “It doesn’t matter,” “It makes no difference,” or “It’s not my business,” and that will be totally fine, but it isn’t now.
You see, It matters because we believe we are the body of Christ. Therefore, we are interconnected. Paul’s argument is that when one part of the body suffers, or conversely honoured, it affects the whole body. I as a member of the body of Christ suffered as a gay person. We together as LGBTQ Christians, experienced pain and suffered invisibility and open discrimination as members of the body.
So it matters, because we are members of the body of Christ, and we are to care for each other.
It makes a difference because there is a difference. I am not the same as you, if you are straight. Growing up straight in a straight person’s world is no struggle for you. Growing up gay in a straight person’s world is all about struggle. It makes a difference because there is a difference. The Church celebrates your relationships and offers rituals and positive role modelling and encouragement, virtually none of this is offered to the it’s LGBTQ children. I look forward to a time when it really doesn’t matter. But we are not there yet. So it makes a difference because we are members of the body of Christ and in our difference we are to care for each other.
My Story, our stories, as LGBTQ Christians are your business. Business as usual only benefits straight people, as power within Church systems and rituals and blessings of milestones and relationships benefit you. The status quo doesn’t allow for generous space for LGBTQ Christians to be who they are, without being at variance to our various confessions of faith and Church doctrine. Because we are members of the body of Christ it is your business as we care for each other.
So what does it mean to care for one another?
It means to me that you listen and hear my story and don’t assume things regarding honesty or dis-honesty regarding being the closet. Let me illustrate this through a conversation with my oldest brother. He didn’t congratulate me about “finally being honest” about myself. No. Instead, what he offered me was an apology, saying he was sorry our family had not been a safe place for me to come out. He understood.
I didn’t always know how to hold my truth, but I held it. The larger world wouldn’t hear it. For those courageous enough to come out, or who were forced out, or who had no option of ever of being in a closet in the first place, the larger world often punished them. Therefore the wisest thing was not necessarily to come out, but rather to stay safe.
The lack of safety did not come from LGBTQ people.
Has I shared my story, many people were concerned and afraid for me and my family. I was often told that I was being very courageous.
It really isn’t an issue of dishonesty. It’s an issue of safety.
That’s why people are in the closet.
So it does matter. It does make a difference. And it is your business.
I was afraid. There are others who are afraid within the body of Christ. Because we are a body, it matters how we care for one another.
Caring requires creating safe communities.
Caring requires educating ourselves and reevaluating assumptions.
Caring requires honest reflection regarding power, privilege and responsibility of action. Is it the responsibility of LGBTQ people to be brave and come out, or is it the responsibility of straight people to make safe places for all, and not just themselves.
Caring doesn’t require agreement, it requires generous and gracious space.
Caring doesn’t ignore problems in the body rather it pays careful attention.
Caring requires us to model the radical hospitality of Jesus.
Caring requires listening carefully to ones who have been marginalized because it matters, and will make a difference in our business of caring as Church.