Our Bible app aims to support LGBTQ Christians who feel excluded
Crystal Cheatham was 23 when told she couldn’t be gay and a Christian.
Cheatham, who had grown up attending and singing in a Seventh-day Adventist church, was about to graduate from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Hearing that her lesbian and Christian identities might clash, she said, was heartbreaking.
“When I went out, ministers way above me told me that I couldn’t be a lesbian apart and also be on stage as a leader, and that crushed me. It crushed me so much, “she said.” I felt like I was at a dead end in the road of my life and had to choose between this love for my God and my personal identity.
Now an activist and writer, Cheatham set out to create a digital space for LGBTQ people to explore their own spiritual practice without having to give up part of their identity. She leads the effort to create Our Bible, an app slated for release this fall that plans to offer at least 20 Bibles and over 300 devotional readings, meditation exercises, articles and podcasts for LGBTQ Christians and others who feel marginalized by the traditional christianity.
Christianity is perhaps the most practiced religion by lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the United States A 2014 Religious landscape study by the Pew Research Center surveyed over 35,000 people who identified as LGB and found that 48% of them identified as Christians, with most of this group identifying as Protestant (29%) and Catholic (17%).
But their identities are often controversial among Christian religious leaders who point to biblical passages that they say condemn homosexuality – contested interpretations by other members of their community. And while different Christian denominations have different positions, major Christian groups, including the Roman Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as many evangelical groups, continue to condemn same-sex marriage. and LGBTQ rights.
As a result, LGBTQ people tend to view major religions in the United States as “unfriendly” towards their communities. Another Pew Research Center survey of about 1,200 LGBT adults in 2013 found that 79 percent of those surveyed said the Catholic Church was not friendly towards them, and 73 percent called evangelical churches hostile, while 29 percent said they did not feel welcome in religious institutions.
Meanwhile, the largest ever survey of transgender people by the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2015 showed that 39% of the nearly 28,000 people surveyed who had been part of a religious group had left the country. community “for fear of being rejected because they were transgender. . “People of color were particularly likely to do this.
Cheatham saw several reasons for this up close. In 2012, she toured with Soulforce, a progressive Christian organization that works for racial justice and LGBTQ acceptance in Christian institutions. The group visited religious universities whose policies allowed them to discipline or expel LGBTQ students. They held Bible studies and educated students about LGBTQ identity, encountering frequent resistance from school officials, some of whom forced them off campus or called the police.
When Christian schools and other institutions exclude LGBTQ people, it leaves LGBTQ Christians with a difficult choice between hiding their identities in religious spaces or forgoing social support for these groups, Cheatham said. And existing devotional apps tend to feature conservative readings and interpretations of the Bible, reflecting a lack of acceptance of LGBTQ people in Christian institutions.
“Often times, religious spaces and spiritual resources exclude us from narrative and exclude us from their content, or their content is actively hostile,” said Eliel Cruz, a bisexual Christian activist, writer and communications director for Our Bible.
But research shows more Christians are embracing LGBTQ people. Between 2014 and 2016, the Religious Landscape Study found a 10 percentage point increase among Christians who believe LGBTQ people should be accepted. Much of this change is attributable to young Christians who have come of age in a period of increasing visibility for LGBTQ people and as political movements for LGBTQ rights have garnered greater support.
“There are so many Christians who want to accept LGBT people but don’t know how because they haven’t received the resources,” Cheatham said.
Meanwhile, LGBTQ Christians have found community in forums and online conversations, such as through #FaithfullyLGBT, a hashtag created by Cruz. Our Bible will also have a social component, with users being able to add friends who use the app and send them messages. “We are using these online spaces for the community right now,” said Cruz.
Rodney McKenzie, a pastor who organizes the readings offered on the app, grew up in a holiness church that held a daily testimony service, where the faithful could talk to the rest of the congregation about God’s role in their lives. .
“When I got up in church and came out as gay, I expected people to clap and celebrate, and people not to clap. People weren’t celebrating. People were horrified, ”he said. “That’s why it means so much to me. Every Sunday LGBTQ youth go to church services and they hear messages not about how perfect they are, not how good they are, but that they have something wrong. These messages are antithetical to the biblical text.
To counter this message, McKenzie helped find readings for the app that incorporated several elements of daily practice, including devotions and inspirational readings. He said he wanted the readings to connect people “with the love and truth that are ubiquitous wherever they are.”
Last year, Cheatham hosted several fundraisers for Our Bible and raised thousands of dollars through online donations. On June 30, the app will be available in beta for a small number of people, including those who have donated $ 10 before this date, with a larger release slated for September.
Cheatham said she received a “very small” amount of negative messages about the app. But above all, “what I’m feeling right now is a heavy silence, and I’m waiting to find out the truth about how people react to it,” she said.