Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church
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Religious faith reduces the risk of suicide for virtually every American demographic except one: LGBTQ people. Generations of LGBTQ people have been alienated or condemned by Christian communities. It's past time that Christians confronted the ongoing and devastating effects of this legacy.
Many LGBTQ people face overwhelming challenges in navigating faith, gender, and sexuality. Christian communities that uphold the traditional sexual ethic often unwittingly make the path more difficult through unexamined attitudes and practices. Drawing on her sociological training and her leadership in the Side B/Revoice conversation, Bridget Eileen Rivera, who founded the popular website Meditations of a Traveling Nun, speaks to the pain of LGBTQ Christians and helps churches develop a better pastoral approach.
Rivera calls to mind Jesus's woe to religious leaders: "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them" (Matt. 23:4). Heavy Burdens provides an honest account of seven ways LGBTQ people experience discrimination in the church, helping Christians grapple with hard realities and empowering churches across the theological spectrum to navigate better paths forward.
Burden 1: Sex . . . err . . . Celibacy Is Great!
1. The Protestant Sexual Revolution
2. The New Sexual Order
Burden 2: Sinners Saved by Grace
3. Perverted Identity
4. Freud's Lasting Influence
Burden 3: Folk Devils
5. Political Christianity
6. Hellfire and Judgment
Burden 4: The Bible Is "Clear"
7. Culture and Context
8. Double Standards
Burden 5: "Real" Men, "Good" Ladies
Burden 6: Made in the Image of God Sex
11. Gender Essentialism
12. More Than Just Monkeys?
Burden 7: Jesus Saves Damns
13. Vessels of Wrath
14. Grace for Me but Not for Thee
A Better Way
15. Recentering the Gospel
16. Setting Down the Burdens
17. Weights of Glory
"This is an essential book, one I wish we'd had forty years ago, as I believe it would have greatly reduced much unnecessary spiritual and physical destruction. It eloquently and convincingly argues that we open our hearts to recognize both the humanity of queer people and our need for queer people. It opens doors not to threatening theological changes but to the church's own history--doors many would rather keep shut because they reveal our hypocrisy and our nearsighted obsession with sex as well as our slavery to secular norms. Rivera is a clear thinker, a scholarly but accessible writer, and a gentle but firm guide who simultaneously educates, challenges, and cares for her readers. She invites us to imagine a world in which God's LGBTQ+ children are given the space and safety they need to ask questions, seek God's will for their lives, and flourish, no matter where the Spirit and their consciences lead them. What a gift this book is to the body of Christ. I suspect that it will be a game changer for the church."
Kristyn Komarnicki, director of Oriented to Love dialogue program, Christians for Social Action
"We've needed a book like Heavy Burdens for a long time. Bridget Eileen Rivera shares the stories our churches urgently need to hear. She shows us how Christians have wounded the LGBTQ children of our churches. This is a book that can begin to bind up some of those wounds and guide us, in humble love, to build churches in which the next generation of queer Christians can truly flourish. To use Rivera's terms, this book will help Christian leaders stop 'obsessing about the sins' of gay people, and start 'obsessing about the grace' God is pouring out through their lives. And it will help LGBTQ people who have been harmed by Christians realize that they are not alone--not only because others have experienced what they've been through but because Jesus has always been by their side, always faithful, always cherishing them."
Eve Tushnet, author of Gay and Catholic
"In spite of--or just as often because of--my position as a 'conservative' on marriage and sexuality, I have seen firsthand the ways the evangelical movement has devastated the faith of many of its LGBTQ members. Not everyone will agree with every argument in this account of that devastation (I don't), but every Christian who reads this book will no longer be able to ignore the real harm that has been done in the name of the gospel--or to avoid grappling afresh with the repentance and justice-seeking that the gospel continues to ask of us all."
Wesley Hill, associate professor of New Testament, Western Theological Seminary; author of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian
"Rivera's dauntless and nuanced voice fills a significant void in the Christian debate over sexual identity. Combining tender storytelling with a keen analytic eye, she deconstructs our current status quo to reveal both its fault lines and its mutability. This book challenged me to think more deeply about the logics that underlie my own convictions. I have a hunch that, no matter where you fall along the spectrum of belief, these provocative pages will challenge you too."
Gregory Coles, author of Single, Gay, Christian and No Longer Strangers
"Rivera has gifted the church a thoroughly researched and carefully written account of how LGBTQ+ Christians have been harmed by legalistic and culturally driven beliefs concerning sexuality and gender. Regardless of your sexuality, gender identity, or sexual ethics, this book will challenge you to reexamine your assumptions through the lens of the gospel."
Bekah Mason, executive director, Revoice
"Few people writing at the intersection of faith and identity embody Rivera's mix of clarity, challenge, and conviction. We would all do well to heed her invitation to a Christianity where LGBTQ+ people can put down the burdens heaped upon them by the church and instead live into the fullness of the gospel. This is an important book."
Matthias Roberts, psychotherapist; author of Beyond Shame
"Many if not most Christians think that the gospel is something that 'those other people over there' need. In truth, it's people of Christian faith who are the ones in most desperate need of hearing the good news of Jesus Christ, and this is nowhere more so the case than in the church's treatment of LGBTQ persons. Heavy Burdens is the gospel the church needs to hear. As such, I don't just recommend that you read it; I dare you to. I thank God for Rivera's wit and winsomeness, and I pray that we all have the courage to heed the wisdom of her words."
Kutter Callaway, associate professor of theology and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary
"For too long, what should have been a collective rush to compassion and care for the LGBTQ community instead became a screaming match over theological fine points. Heavy Burdens cuts through the noise so that we can truly see. This manifesto rings out in the key of love, the kind that lives in our actions and disrupts our judgment, fear, and oppression. Bridget Eileen Rivera is a prophet for the ages, calling us to the clear-eyed way of Jesus and igniting our shared imagination for the lightness of Christ, alive and at work in all of us."
Shannan Martin, author of The Ministry of Ordinary Places and Falling Free
"Though the church would prefer to simply call them 'biblical,' the theological origins and contemporary practices around LGBTQ+ people are in reality complex and cultural. In her debut work, Rivera gently unweaves the tapestry of Scripture, history, and psychology to unveil the 'heavy burdens' the body of Christ often lays on its LGBTQ+ members--revealing how, in actuality, the church's actions are anti-biblical and anti-Christ. This book can serve as a starting point for conversation with evangelical Christians who have not yet come to understand how the church wounds its LGBTQ+ members."
Rev. Emmy Kegler, author of One Coin Found: How God's Love Stretches to the Margins and All Who Are Weary: Easing the Burden on the Walk with Mental Illness
"Heavy Burdens is the book about LGBTQ+ people in the church we've been hoping for. It clarifies why Christians are in such conflict about human sexuality today, offers practical ideas for how we can do better, and sounds an urgent call for the church to bring hope and reconciliation to all God's children, including gender and sexual minorities. As a survivor of a spiritually abusive church, I could feel a tightness in my gut as Rivera shared firsthand experiences of the harmful things well-intentioned people say about sexuality, and my heart was gripped by the stories of other LGBTQ+ Christians interwoven throughout the book. Rivera's grace, commitment to truth, balanced approach, and deep knowledge of Christian history shine through every page. Every follower of Jesus who has a heart for LGBTQ+ people can learn a lot from the wisdom she shares here."
Darren Calhoun, worship leader, church advocate, and vocalist in The Many
"Many will read this book's title and make up their minds before turning a page. But this is why Heavy Burdens is desperately needed. Whatever your view on sexuality, it should make us all uncomfortable that gay young people are 38 per cent more likely to contemplate suicide if involved in faith communities. . . . [Rivera] takes the reader on a journey through Church history, highlighting the hypocritical treatment of queer people in the Church, and ends with a call to humility and hope."
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