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I work for a nonprofit. That’s what I’ve been telling guys when I’m chatting with them on dating apps. It’s an accurate statement, but I’m ashamed to say it’s a line I use to skirt around the full truth: I am a gay man who works for a church.
For as long as I can remember, if I told guys I work for a church, I would get responses ranging from the finality of silence to anger and bewilderment.
The reality is I work for a church that is 100% accepting and affirming of LGBTQ people and their rights. Not in the sense that, “All are welcome, regardless of their sins,” but more like, “being gay is how God made you, and we love you for who you are.” It’s a place where lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender people can feel at home and comfortable, by themselves or holding hands as partners.
I recognize it hasn’t always been that way. For a long time, affirming churches were few and far between. The church has a lot of reconciling to do when it comes to its past treatment, and in many cases its current treatment, of the LGBTQ community. But just as there has been a paradigm shift in the church’s relationship with gays, there has also been a mood change in the strange world of online dating.
Over the past five years since Obergefell vs. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage, I’ve noticed a gradual shift in the way guys accept my vocation with less disdain and much more openness, curiosity and welcome. Not only that, I now see more and more men openly identifying and embracing their faith on dating apps, proclaiming their dedication and devotion to Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and all sorts of other faith traditions.
Whether swiping right or swiping left, I am bound to find many men who list their religion on their profiles. Some even shout their faithfulness from their digital rooftops, proclaiming, “man of God,” right between “family is super important” and “I love to travel.”
It both fills my heart with joy and reassures me that gay men are finding a way to return to their faith of their origin, or even a new faith altogether. Though it likely isn’t the same tradition of their childhood, it’s faith nonetheless.
There are, of course, those who can’t stomach religion at all. And I don’t blame them. They have every right to feel disdain for religion. Most religious institutions have both abandoned and mounted crusades against our community for decades, even centuries. But the churches that are truly open are emerging at an increasingly rapid pace, matching society’s increasing comfort with those who are marginalized.
As a chosen family that has been deprived of the luxury of fully displaying who we are for far longer than any of us can remember, it’s an exciting moment for the religious gay man. We are finally able to express our faith in the open with comfort and ease.
I no longer hide my vocation with vagueness, telling half-lies to potential matches and, if I am honest, to myself. I am open, having come out of my gay-Christian closet. I seek out those who openly express their faith, in hopes that we will have one more thing in common, that what might be the most important aspects of our lives might complement each other.
It’s now normal in the gay community for the faithful to be open about their religious convictions. So come out. Be comfortable in this new atmosphere of acceptance. Be who you are, who God made you to be. Be honest, be loved, and be your full self.
Judson Watkins is director of communications for Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.