Being Christian and queer in a world where these two categories are endlessly pitted against each other isn't easy. As a bisexual man of faith, I'm in between. I’m the orphan child that no one wants to take in. When I came out as bisexual within my Christian community during my early teen years, the assumption was made that I must not be a Christian. Because being a Christian and bisexual would be an impossible mix, right? Yet, there I was.
In Christian communities, most try to force my sexuality back in the closet, and in queer communities, most try to put my religious beliefs back in the closet. I’ve made the connection before between my sexual orientation and religious beliefs, and both “sides” have been really, really upset. And although I do realize that I do not choose my sexual orientation and do choose my religion, being a Seventh-day Adventist is still very much a part of my identity. Even more so than a lot of conservative Christian denominations, as beautifully captured in the documentary Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film About Faith on the Margins. I cannot simply denounce my religious beliefs. They are also part of me. And this makes coming out as a Christian in queer communities just as hard as coming out bisexual in Christian communities.
As I come out to more and more people in the secular LGBTQ community, I get the same remarks and stares. I’m told I believe in fairy tales, that I’m self-loathing for remaining in my Christian community, and, better yet, that it’s a phase. My faith and religion is a phase that I’ll "grow out of," which is almost the exact same verbiage I hear from Christians who attempt to impose a life of celibacy on me.
I hear from the LGBTQ community. I respect those who actually don’t believe in the Bible or any organized religion. I’ll even agree that the Bible has been used more than any other thing for marginalization and rejection, particularly against LGBTQ people. A wrong has been done. But the Bible has also done a lot of good around the world and especially in my life. So when people make sacrilegious jokes or patronize me for my faith, it hurts the same as when someone judges my sexuality.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is my family. And like most real families, it too casts out its LGBTQ children for lack of understanding. I’ve been hurt by the church, a lot. I’ve lost friends and have shed tears from the actions and words that have come from the pulpit. But I’ve also found my salvation at the church and have made new, affirming friends.
In my family, we argue, fight, and we’ll disagree a lot. We may even need to step away from each other for a while. But we don’t ever stop loving each other and we never leave permanently. We’ll come back, and together, work through our disagreements.
After a couple years in my teens when I was angry at the church, I realized that my faith still remained. I never lost my spirituality, even if my church had tried to lose me. I realized that the conditional love presented to me by my Christian spiritual leaders and God’s unconditional love was very different, and that is what helped me begin the journey of reconciling my faith and sexuality.
Two years ago I founded a 501(c)3 organization, the Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition (IAGCAdventist.com), which is dedicated to working toward making Seventh-day Adventist educational institutions LGBT-friendlier. Our mission states:
In the spirit of Jesus' ministry of love and Paul’s directive in 2 Corinthians 5:20 to be ambassadors of reconciliation, the Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition (IAGC) seeks to promote understanding, compassion, education, awareness and community for those who wish to integrate their faith with their sexual and gender identities. Therefore, IAGC is a student-run organization that seeks to bridge the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) community and the Seventh-day Adventist community within the academic setting. The members of the IAGC strive to create a community of fellowship that affirms diversity while sowing seeds of love.
We currently have six unofficial gay-straight alliance groups on different Seventh-day Adventist university campuses nationwide and are working with LGBTQ students and supporting faculty to create three more groups, expanding us internationally. Our goal is not to change the church's theological stance on homosexuality, but we do want to dialogue and help spread awareness that we are a part of the community too. And we want to create safe spaces for LGBTQ students to find community. Most recently we launched the Leaders for Equality scholarship to help ease the financial burdens of paying for a private Christian education, and we also also work numerous hours to help make campuses safer, kinder, and open to dialogue.
My two biggest identities seem to be at war with each other, and neither my LGBTQ community or my church community completely accepts me for who I am. And yet, here I am. I'm out as a bisexual man. I'm out as a Christian. And it's my hope and my prayer that speaking up about who I am and what I believe will help other LGBTQ people of faith know they are not alone.
Friday is National Coming Out Day. It’s a day that's internationally observed to celebrate individuals who publicly identify as LGBTQ. We encourage young adults to “come out of the closet” because then we can be authentic. Then we can be honest. True connections are formed only with transparency and trust. So here I am, coming out, Bible in hand. My name is Eliel. I’m a sinner. I’m a Christian. I’m a queer man of faith. I’m part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and I’m part of the LGBTQ community. I’m proud of all sides of my identity because they’re what make me, me.
ELIEL CRUZ, 22, studies at Andrews University and is the president of the Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition.