This week, Pope Francis made international headlines potentially stating the most progressive views towards homosexuality in the history of the Catholic Church. The Pope’s message to a young man named Juan Carlos Cruz—a Chilean victim of priestly sexual abuse was short but important.
“God made you that way and loves you as you are.”
A message so simple, yet so powerful that could forever change the ways homosexuality within the world’s largest religion is viewed, potentially creating a shift in other religions who may be more willing to follow their lead.
As a Black queer man, I’ve longed to hear those words before. Unfortunately, what I’ve received most often surrounds the statement of homosexuality being an abomination—which seems to be even worse than that of a sin. I’ve had my fair share of struggles with the Black church around my homosexuality—something that is not new within the Black community. I even had a moment of seeking solace from a Black pastor who told me he could accept me as a Black brother, but “can’t accept you as my brother in Christ.”
Many of us in the LGBTQ community have sat through the sermons that condemn our existence relegating love to a thing that can only exist between a man and a woman in the eyes of God. These institutions preach a “come as you are” doctrine, yet leave out the asterisk (*but only if you are NOT gay, bisexual, trans, or other), while all the while still accepting our tithes, donations, and most importantly, our labor across various missionaries within the church. When we are forced to leave our identity outside the front doors of the church, we are also being asked to deny our relationship with God. Thankfully, views within the Black church have gotten better, but there is still a lot of work to do.
Be clear, the Catholic Church has done absolutely no favors around homosexuality and the scandal of priests molesting young boys feeds directly into those archaic views. Rather than address the problems around sexual abuse within their churches, they hid it. Homophobia trumped logic and ruined the lives of thousands because of views of masculinity, and gay priests doing in the dark what they were being denied in the light.
This story is one that is shared in many communities. Homophobia within the church is much deeper than just the denial of a relationship with God or finding a church place to call home. Homophobia, not homosexuality, breeds sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, adultery, as it makes for an environment where the unaccepted identity must do things in secrecy. Acceptance of homosexuality could potentially create a shift in religion—one that is conducive to an environment that actually allows people to not only come as they are but be who they are.
In case you’re having a bad day!
During a convo abt homosexuality, Pope Francis told a man: “That you are gay does not matter. God made you like that, loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.” https://t.co/vElJkez0Tw #Resist
— nicki ? (@nickiknowsnada) May 20, 2018
Did you guys just hear that loud popping sound? That was the sound of every homophobic evangelical’s head exploding when they read this story. I’m not religious but I really like this Pope.
— Tommy Want Wingy (@MajorCraigA) May 21, 2018
As someone who also went to Catholic school for four years, I remember the Catholic school scandal very well. The conversations with my parents like “if any of those priests try something with you, you better tell us immediately.” I recall my days in Catholic school knowing that I was queer, but suppressing it because it just wasn’t an acceptable thing to be. Today, I can only imagine what the Pope’s words could mean to queer children who currently attend Catholic schools around the world or who are practicing Catholics. The small acceptance of knowing that they genuinely have a spiritual home.
This is about unlearning all that we thought we knew because of interpretations of the Bible, and actually applying it to what actually exists—and that is people who are non-hetero and non-conforming. People who are born this way, and the acknowledgment that it wasn’t because of a mistake or mental illness, but that it was by God’s design.
Think of it this way: if God truly is the embodiment of love, then we were all perfectly made in that image which embodies every sex, gender, race, and sexuality.
We have gone thousands of years using religion as a weapon against those who don’t fit into society’s tightly confining box of acceptability. Theological violence is dangerous to the existence of not only queer people, but any group that is marginalized under patriarchy—as the goal posts of oppression continue to shift upwards towards less marginalized groups. Where would it end?
Hopefully, with this statement made by Pope Francis an end is in sight. Black churches have also been much more accepting of those from the LGBTQ community as more parishioners continue to identify and the environment becomes more inclusive. We have a long way to go before fully welcoming a blackness that includes queerness in the Black church and break the constraints religion has put on the mind, but each step in validating that God made us this way is another step closer to a place where the church, despite religion can be a home for us all.
George M. Johnson is a Black queer journalist and activist located in the NYC area. He has written for TheRoot, ET, HIVequal, TeenVogue, NBC News and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram