LGBTQ+ North Dakotans just can’t win
It’s like a tug of war. One group of Christians in Minot pulls on their side to tell everyone in this town that LGBTQ people are surely not acceptable in the eyes of Jesus. Then, on the other side, a group of Christians in Minot pulls the rope to their side, as in Pastor Janet Mathistad’s letter, in which she clarified that the goal is not to argue with people who aren’t willing to change their mind, but to make sure LGBTQ people and those who love them know there is a place for them in this community. I appreciate those letters by progressive Christians, because they assure me that it is not the entire state that is against my very existence–only an uncomfortably loud, small group of conservatives ranting about progress from their porch.
I have conservative Christian friends and progressive Christian friends. In my experience, progressive Christians live out their beliefs and display the love of Christ even when it’s hard, and even when it creates controversy. On the other side, I know that you can’t trust the supposedly unshakable values that conservative Christians claim to base on the Bible. Only twenty to thirty years ago, many of these Christians upset about gay marriage were just as upset about interracial marriage. The same folks that rant about abortion will shame an unwed mother into wanting one. They may deride “cancel culture,” but they have no issues with “canceling,” they just have a different idea of what is appropriate behavior, and thus, what deserves to be canceled.
My father is a pastor in a conservative Baptist church. When I first told my parents that I felt “same-sex attraction,” they asked me if someone had ever hurt me. When I told them no, they asked me if I wanted to be a woman. They didn’t have any friends who were gay, or bisexual, or transgender, so they just didn’t understand what it meant. Since I was their own child, and only 13 at the time, they knew it was silly to suggest I had chosen to be gay, but they never trusted me again. When I told them it was difficult for me to believe in Hell, since they had taught me God was perfectly good, loving, and had chosen who would go to Heaven before the first word of creation, my father told me I was just looking for an excuse to live however I pleased. When the mystical experiences I’d felt with God faded away, this shook my faith as well, and I finally told my father that I just didn’t know if I believed in God. Again, he accused me of rejecting God so that I could rebel against the faith and enjoy a sinful life of rampant lust and fornication. I was 14.
I did return to theism, eventually, but I never believed in Hell again, and I started to truly wonder why God would make me gay if it was sinful for me to even want to grow old and raise a family with another man. I also discovered that while my parents wouldn’t tell me as much, they did believe I chose to be gay, because they believed that if I would just turn from my wicked ways, and repent, God would grant me heterosexual attraction like a fairy godmother. Unfortunately, despite nightly, tearful prayers that God would just make me normal, despite friends and relatives interceding on my behalf, and despite “Biblical counseling,” I never stopped being gay.
Finally, at 18, I had enough. One Sunday night, I went to a progressive church, one of those churches my father would scoff at for hanging up a rainbow flag during Pride Month. There, for the first time in my life, I felt the unconditional love of a progressive Christian community.
Now, to address recent letters to the editor that precipitated my choice to write this one. To Nate Walther, who wrote, “Not all Lutherans are Lutheran,” I’d like to issue a correction. It is more accurate to say that not all Lutherans are you, Nate. And I thank God for that. To Matthew Richard, who wrote, “Argumentum ad populum and God’s Word?” I’d like to share a reminder: no one who agrees with you knows what that means. To Andrew Allis, who wrote, “This ain’t your grandma’s denomination,” I would like to offer my editing services, for a small per-error fee.
Can I be honest for a moment? It’s exhausting to be LGBTQ in this God-forsaken state. When I am out and about, I have to be mindful about the way that I might be perceived by those who do not believe I should have a right to live and to love. When I’m with my partner, I can feel the stares, sometimes, and I have to wonder what those stares might turn into. When I attended a church to provide occasional, volunteer interpreting for its Deaf congregants, I could feel the lack of acceptance in the air every time I walked into that church. I can guarantee you, your LGBTQ children feel it too, and they will probably flee this town as soon as they get the chance. The state legislature seems to believe North Dakota is a theocracy, and is considering bills that would take any book that offends them off of bookstore and library shelves. Fortunately for the first amendment, their bills are not specific enough, and would inadvertently ban the Bible, given its flagrant use of innuendo and prevalence of sexually explicit stories. I’m sure they’ll make a few changes, though, and those bills will be hindering business growth and youth mental health in no time.
I can’t tell you how many straight people have told me they left Christianity because of the horrendous treatment of LGBTQ people. And you can call those people weak, or insincere, or say, “they went out from us because they were never of us,” but at the end of the day, they’re not in your pews and their dollars will never touch your pockets. The tide is changing on support for LGBTQ people. Do you want your state to be a place where everyone feels safe and welcome, or where only the most conservative Christians write the law of the land, and everyone else must find refuge elsewhere? You get to decide today what your grandchildren think of you tomorrow. Do you want to be remembered with the segregationists, or do you want to be remembered with the good side of Christian history, with the ones who have called for freedom, liberation, and acceptance? The choice is yours.