Rev. Brandan Robertson: “As a Christian Minister, I Believe That Queer People (and All People) Are Created in the Image of God”

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Rev. Brandan Robertson: “As a Christian Minister, I Believe That Queer People (and All People) Are Created in the Image of God”

Christian pastor explores the tensions and intersections of his sexuality and faith

Photos by
 

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, USA

Oct 27, 2020

This blog is part of a series for the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum’s program on LGBT* and Faith. Read more here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/LGBT/blog

As a gay Christian pastor, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the ways that my queer identity intersects with my Christian faith. Early on in my faith journey, as I grew up in an American evangelical context in Baltimore, Maryland, I could never see how these two integral pieces of my person would ever meet. I believed that in order to maintain my authentic faith, I needed to sacrifice my sexual identity so that I would remain in faithful standing before God and the Church. Later on in my journey, after I was publicly outed in TIME Magazine as gay after losing a book contract with a Christian publisher for my sexuality, and subsequently was condemned in the national media by the American evangelical community, I found myself no longer willing to make that sacrifice, and instead began to wonder what many LGBT* people do: why should I seek to maintain my commitment to a religious tradition that didn’t seem to have room to accept me as I was created? 

It was in the tension created between these two moments in my journey that led me to see just how important progressive, inclusive religion could be to the healing and advancement of the human rights of LGBT individuals around the world. 

"This is a photo from the Sister Act Pride Mass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA, where I preached on the spiritual importance of coming out in 2019. This was a transformative moment for me of total welcome and acceptance in the church." - Rev. Brandan Robertson

Despite the common narrative in Western society, affiliation with religion is not declining. In the global South, thousands of people are converting to various religious traditions, including Islam, Pentecostal Christianity, and Mormonism, in record numbers. And even in the Western world, while attendance in institutions of organized religion is declining, the amount of people expressing an interest in and exploring faith and spirituality broadly continues to increase. Religious and spiritual communities have been an integral part of human civilization for as long as we have been conscious, and they form the foundation of one of the most powerful tools for influencing and organizing people towards a collective goal. 

In nearly every major civil rights movement that has happened in the world, there has been a strong religious component that helped to educate, empower, and mobilize the masses to take action to overturn unjust systems and structures in their lives and societies. Even in the LGBT rights movement globally, religious leaders such as Bishop Paul Colton, Reverend Kapya John Kaoma, Bishop Joseph Tolton, and Bishop Gene Robinson, have played an integral role by being strong allies and supporters of the queer community, and by working to change the hearts and minds of their congregants who may use religious justifications for their opposition of queer rights. 

As the LGBT rights movement continues to expand around the world, we need to support our queer siblings globally who lead the fight for more equality in countries that are significantly more religious, and often times, more fundamentalist. In order to support our queer siblings in their struggle for more equality and dignity in their countries, it will be essential that we as a global movement organize and empower affirming religious leaders of all traditions to live fully into their roles as allies, advocating and demanding equity for LGBT people both within their religious traditions and in their societies as a whole. 

But it is not only the LGBT community that needs the partnership of the religious community. Without the presence and contribution of the queer community, religious communities themselves are left greatly lacking. In my book, True Inclusion: Creating Communities of Radical Embrace, I note the following theological truth is relevant not only to the Christian tradition, but to all of the Abrahamic faith traditions: 

“True inclusion demands that we recognize that only in our diversity do we more perfectly reflect the divinity of our expansive Creator. Whenever we are compelled to declare that someone doesn’t belong, whether it’s because of their sexuality, ethnicity, background, beliefs, political affiliation, disruptiveness, neediness, inconvenience, struggles, immaturity, etc., we are
dehumanizing ourselves and the one(s) we are excluding.”

The Abrahamic traditions declare that all human beings have been created in the image and likeness of our Creator. These same traditions also declare that the Creator is eternally expansive, diverse, and creative in their very nature. In Islam, for instance, one of the six names for God is “Al-Badi” which means the one who is indescribable. Muslim writer Haya Muhammad Eid describes this name of God in the following way

“He creates all His creatures bursting with variety and uniqueness, so one creature is not perfectly similar to another. This infinite variety in God’s creation is a physical manifestation of God's absolute creative power.”

In order for our faith communities to reflect this uniqueness and creativity that is part of the very nature of our conception of God, we must, then, welcome the full diversity of humanity into our midst. When we exclude LGBT people from our faith communities, we not only participate in their own sense of dehumanization, but we also dehumanize ourselves, because to be fully human is to reflect God in all of their creative expansiveness. 

As a Christian minister, I believe that queer people (and all people) are created in the image of God. I believe that our gifts, perspective, and experience is vital to helping faith communities understand God and themselves more fully. Our very presence within faith communities offers them yet another perspective on their faith and worldview, and without us, they are left lacking. 

My life is evidence of the fact that queer identity and religious faith do not have to stand in opposition to one another, and my journey shows that when they are brought together, they become a powerful tool for social and spiritual renewal in our world. 

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Rev. Brandan J. Robertson (he/him/his) is the Lead Pastor at Missiongathering Christian Church, San Diego, Calif., USA.
 


As part of our program on LGBT* and Faith, we are inviting Fellows of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum of different sexual orientations and gender identities and of different faith communities to address the questions of what is needed for religious communities and leaders to be instrumental in promoting the wellbeing, equality and inclusion of LGBT people in faith communities and society and how do LGBT people, today and throughout history, enrich and change the religious communities of which they are a part? 

The articles and comments represent opinions of the authors and commenters, and do not necessarily represent the views of their organization or institutions, nor of Salzburg Global Seminar. We thank our blog contributors for their generosity in sharing their personal stories.

* LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is currently widely used in human rights conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity in many parts of the world, and we would wish it to be read as inclusive of other cultural concepts, contemporary or historical, to express sexuality and gender, intersex and gender non-conforming identities.