By the time I’d turned 19, my home address had already changed six times. My father was a pastor and church planter with the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), and true to the denomination’s values, I made my way through three Christian schools and followed in my parents’ footsteps by enrolling at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. At age seven, I was rotating overhead transparencies marked with song lyrics at church and by 11, I was singing harmonies on the worship team. At Calvin, a liberal arts university, I steeped myself in reformed theology, refined my understanding of liturgy, relished the opportunity to boldly integrate my faith and intellectual life, and playfully deconstructed everything I thought I knew. The CRC—the denomination, the culture, and the people that grew up in it—was my home.
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In 2016, the Synod (the annual general assembly of clergy and lay leaders) of the CRC reaffirmed the church’s position on homosexuality (that “homosexual activity” is sinful), and commissioned the Human Sexuality Report to clarify the CRC’s theological position on sex, sexuality, and sexual behaviour. In early June, as a result of this report, Synod voted to affirm that “the church’s teaching on…homosexual sex already has confessional status.” Declaring confessional status means that teaching anything other than that “homosexual activity” is “sexually immoral” is a violation of the Church’s confessions. In other words, sexual morality is not a matter of discernment and disagreement but should be understood as a core doctrine.
Affirming these heterosexist teachings as confessional not only holds immense and destructive symbolic weight for LGBTQ+ people in and outside of the CRC, but also provides the denomination with the grounds for discipline against those who might act contrary to this position.
Today, despite its integral part in my story, I rarely find myself thinking about or interacting with the CRC. After graduating, I moved back to Kitchener-Waterloo and, at 25, I slowly came out as queer, first to my friends and later to my family—the year before my father died from leukemia. I am now a PhD student studying sociology at York University with a focus on queer religiosity. When asked if I still call myself a Christian, I still say yes—however, my understanding of what this means has changed significantly.
I no longer attend a formal church community and I no longer believe in a God that is bound by human theology. I encounter the divine in gatherings of queer family gathered around homemade food and plentiful libations; amidst joy-filled dance floors celebrating the grittiness of moving in a fleshy body; while bathing in the dappled sunlight of a forest walk with my dog; and in the quiet moments of compassion, vulnerability, and solidarity that occur in day-to-day living in community.
This varied and sporadic landscape is my church; my home. I have made it with the help of a chosen family marked by difference, disagreement and a whole lot of love. God, Jesus, faith…these things are rarely spoken about in my church without a healthy portion of skepticism and bitterness. And yet, these queers practice love, grace, forgiveness, and compassion with a particular gay huzzah that my friend Robbie Walker would say “smells like Jesus.”
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A few years ago, I had the opportunity to learn from Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh, two scholars, theologians, and mentors who also have roots in the CRC. They offer a way of interpreting the biblical narrative through a framework of homemaking (creation), home-breaking (fall…or something like it), and homecoming (redemption). Homemaking, home-breaking and figurative homelessness have been central themes in my story. The recent synodical vote marks a further act of attempted domicide for me and so many other queer and trans Christians.
I believe that the biblical homecoming story continues and that our longing for homecoming is characteristic of our humanity.
Synod’s decision serves as a poignant reminder of all that remains broken in the contemporary church and that doctrine about who belongs and who does not only serves to comfort the comfortable and impede the belonging of those who need it most. This vote reeks of home-breaking and once again threatens LGBTQ+ Christians—those who are out and those who remain hidden in the pews—with figurative homelessness. Once again, I find myself turning to queer family to help make home anew.
I have little doubt that the church Jesus envisioned will persist, and I am more confident than ever that it will not resemble what so many churches have become in 2022.
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