Sophia Bouwsma shares her story as a letter written to those in the CRC, the denomination in which she grew up. She especially wishes to have her letter read by those in the CRC who support the Human Sexuality Report (HSR).
Most of my life has been spent in the Christian Reformed Church. I was born and baptized in the CRC. I attended all my catechism classes (of course memorizing the answer to What is your only comfort in life and death? “That I am not my own…”). I made profession of faith when I was eight. My family lived in China for years as missionaries with Christian Reformed World Missions. Then I went to Wheaton College, the “Harvard of Evangelicals,” because I thought it was a place where people genuinely cared about their faith and relationships with God. I lived by the most extreme versions of purity culture, believing this was what God wanted of me (I was “not my own,” after all).
I didn’t become aware of my queerness until my mid-twenties. In some ways it feels like a mercy that I didn’t realize I was queer until after I had left non-affirming beliefs behind. Honestly maybe that’s WHY it took so long. Maybe it was some kind of deep denial turned self-protection mechanism, or maybe I just truly had no concept of what being queer actually meant and could mean. Because I was an earnestly reverent little kid and young adult. And I would have tortured myself about it if I had known. I would have been drowning in shame and guilt.
After a lifetime of growing up in the thick of purity culture, the CRC’s recent Human Sexuality Report says nothing I haven’t heard a million times before. And all that doctrine has been for me, over the course of my life, a cage. A cage I thought would protect me, a cage I thought I was meant to be in, a cage in which my soul wilted and I didn’t even realize it.
But in spite of the ways the CRC and the HSR and the church in general frame queerness- as part of the fall, as something to be struggled against- my queerness is one of the most exciting, expansive, rich, beautiful things in my life. And maybe that’s exactly why it’s so threatening. If queer and trans people exist and live outside the neat structures the CRC has relied on for generations while knowing ourselves to be followers of Jesus, what else about your beliefs and structures are up for reassessment? What else can be challenged? To affirm and celebrate queer and trans people is to admit that yes, the church has been wrong to exclude us and that the assumptions you’ve neatly arranged are not so absolute as you thought.
Don’t you think it’s possible that God can express God’s wonder and diversity and creativity in queer and trans people in our queerness and transness (not in spite of it)?
God is so much bigger and more beautiful than we can imagine. And that’s what queerness feels like. Queerness continues to teach me what God is like. It feels like an open expanse of sky with fresh air filling my lungs and a dynamic breeze guiding me into adventures and beautiful stories. It’s peaceful and joyful and grounding and (yes) pleasurable. It feels like life.
And the HSR feels like the opposite of that. It feels like empty dead weight. Things that are alive are dynamic. They respond and grow and shift and transform and metamorphize. In contrast, the HSR acknowledges harm the church has caused to LGBTQ people and then continues to double down on those same harmful theologies. I suppose it’s stable, and probably comforting to many, but there’s no life in it. Yes, God is the same Being, but God is not stagnant. Not rigid. Not dead. And the HSR is all of those things: stagnant, rigid, and dead.
Tell me, what good fruit has doctrine like the HSR produced? Because the only fruit I see is suffering. What is the fruit of you condemning the LGBTQ community? Is it love? Joy? Peace? Goodness? Gentleness? Because from where I’m sitting (and from most of the stories on this page), that’s not the fruit of stances like the HSR. Instead the fruit is shame, depression, separation, judgment, self-loathing, and yes, self harm and suicide. And if that’s the fruit, what does that say about the tree?
I’m angry. I need the CRC to understand that at the end of the day this isn’t about them. I am angry because people are dying. Because people are being shunned. Because people are being condemned. Because transphobia is running rampant across the US and Canada and the church is silent or an active contributor. Because queer and trans people are treated as “the least of” church communities, and this is about more than getting your doctrine right. It’s not a theological exercise or an intellectual discussion. We’re people. We’re not an ideology or an opinion or an “issue” for you to debate.
LGBTQ people have “struggled with sexual sin” because you’ve told us we have to struggle and that our beautiful dreams are instead temptations. What if we don’t have to struggle? What if we don’t have to martyr ourselves for your approval?
It’s so patronizing and insulting to read the HSR in which being queer or trans is seen as a state to be pitied and suffered through, like some mark of sin and the fall that has been branded on us. How dare you? Using words like “Wounded, vulnerable, young, weak, straying, lost” means you don’t take us seriously. You don’t believe us about our own experiences. There have been MANY of us telling you over decades that the church has caused us harm in this regard. We feel wounded and lost and vulnerable because of what you believe about us and the way you’re treating us, not because of our queerness. Even if you advocated for non-affirming beliefs with perfect care and love, you have already started with the assumption that our sexuality is disordered. Are you listening to us? Have you heard a word we’ve said? How can you truly hear us when you’ve already made your judgment? You’re condescendingly implying that of course you know God’s plan for us better than we do and that of course your interpretation is the right one. It’s insulting and cruel to insist that what you’re doing is loving when we’re telling you that all it has done is inflict pain.
You write in the HSR, “These sins threaten a person’s salvation.” And so I see. You’re fire-and-brimstone in the CRC too, you just like to cushion it in gentle academic language. But politely damning people with righteous moralism is still damning people. And even all the kind words of support without action to back them up are effectively meaningless.
Part of me wants to beg you, to compel you to listen, to construct flawless arguments or tell you the most moving stories to make you understand. Because if you’re going to stand by the HSR you should understand the impact it has on people. Whether you think it “should” or “shouldn’t” have a negative impact, it does.
But in the end, I can’t convince you to see the beauty and holiness in my queerness and in the queerness and transness of all my 2SLGBTQIA+ siblings. I can only declare it. And I hope that you will take my words as one representation of the flesh and blood human side of all your meetings and debates.
And on the last day they will say to him, “When did we see you discriminated against and cast you out and not help you?” And he will reply, “Whatever you have done to the least of these you have done to me.”
Because you did see us.
And you sat securely- defending your theology- while we died.