By Clayton Jarrard
Still shots of the documentary and artist reflection was published in the Dec. 2019 edition of Live Ideas. View it HERE.
There can be a disconcerting silence surrounding LGBTQ+ topics in many Christian spaces, and for LGBTQ+ individuals that grow up within such settings, the silence can be damning, manifesting in shame, self-hatred, anxiety and depression, self harm, and even suicide. Within our culture, queerness and Christianity often seem to be at odds, and LGBTQ+ Christians exist at this point of tension, having to grapple with their faith and their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Through a series of interviews, this short film explores the stories of seven LGBTQ+ Christians from diverse backgrounds that have labored to reconcile their faith and their identities. The struggle of questioning certain Christian teachings and presumptions, internalized oppressions, and social expectations in order to approach a place of self acceptance are characteristic of these accounts, and where there was not support in their physical lives, internet resources were able to provide opportunities for community and belonging. Yet the mission of these individuals has not stopped at personal reconciliation. In sharing their stories and creating digital content for other LGBTQ+ people of faith like them, they are part of a movement to create and reform spaces for queer inclusion within Christianity.
The process for creating this film ended up being much longer and more arduous than I had originally expected. It started as a project for a research methods class I took this past spring, Digital Ethnography, and I had planned on interviewing just one person, a queer Christian podcaster, and creating a film around their story. But I quickly came to realize the story needed to be told in a more expansive way, as it is not just one person creating digital content but an entire community cultivating an online space for connection and belonging.
From the beginning, I wanted to create a film about LGBTQ+ Christians. If you listen to people’s stories, you can see that there is more at stake than simply “right” or “wrong,” but LGBTQ+ topics can often be reduced to theological debates in Christian settings. Because of this, it can be difficult in our culture for someone to claim both an LGBTQ+ identity and a Christian faith, which can be seen in the interviews. As I was doing research, I came across a term that Thomas Bohache, in “Embodiment as Incarnation” (2003) uses: “Christophobia,” which is meant to capture the fear that LGBTQ+ people can often face, a fear that Jesus and Christianity are not viable options for them based on their sexual orientation or gender. This, coupled with the homophobia and transphobia that can be prevalent within Christian communities, can make it difficult for LGBTQ+ individuals to navigate faith spaces.
My goal for this film was to side-step the theological exchange and capture more of the experiences of LGBTQ+ Christians, existing within this tension and trying to reconcile their faith and their identity. All of the individuals I interviewed for this film had powerful personal stories, and all are also actively creating podcasts, blogs, vlogs, websites, music, and engaged in other forms of activism, The film not only shows this process of integrating faith and identity, but it incorporates ways in which people have gone forward from this struggle and the community that is being built as a result.