Imagine a congregant who is commited to a straight, traditional marriage, coming to you, the pastor, distressed by finding homoerotic websites on a spouse’s computer. Or what would you think, or do, if a teenager in the youth group where you are an advisor, comes out, one evening, as bisexual?
The new study guide, “Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities,” begins by asking us to imagine situations like these that are becoming more common. They illustrate why the goal of the Religious Institute is to educate people in the faith community about bisexuality and to equip them to truly love bisexual people as God does.
This goal is based upon the fact that most people—many of them religious–know nothing about bisexuality or the experience of bisexual people. That was certainly true for me. I was confused about my identity as bisexual for a very long time.
When I was growing up everyone I knew—including in the church–talked only of “heterosexual and homosexual.” When I was a young adult we began to use “lesbian, gay and straight.” I was invisible to myself and to the world around me, including the church home where I grew up.
There was nothing in our vocabulary to help me articulate questions and fears raised when I felt drawn, as the guide says in its definition, “toward people of more than one sex or gender.” It was the emergence in the early 1990’s of “LGBT” as a commonly heard word for people different from the straight, male/female norm that finally helped me click: I am the “B” in LGBT.
With that click came immediate clarity and peace. Finally, long doubt and fear dispelled like mist. My body and soul came into harmony because I knew myself fully for the first time. This freed immense energy in me to love myself and, therefore, to love others in ways I had never experienced before. This is how important making visible that which has been invisible can be for bisexual people and for all of us.
I was a well-loved and respected leader in a very progressive (even declared pro-LGBT) congregation when I came out. My congregation said, “Oh” and we continued our witness for justice together. But they expressed no curiosity. There was no invitation to explore this further together, even from them. There was silence and I sunk back into invisibility in the church.
Still, my experience has been better than many. The study guide reports on the high rates of mental and physical illness, poverty and risky behavior, especially among young bisexuals. It also documents that “people who fit into some category of bisexuality broadly defined (identity, attraction and/or behavior) make up the largest portion of the LGBT community in the United States.”
The guide testifies to the crying need for both true understanding of bisexuality, and practical welcome to bisexual people in our own congregations and neighborhoods. It will help congregations of many traditions create communities where bisexual people will feel embraced as God’s beloved children, just as we are.
It does this through three sections. First it provides basic education on the myths and facts about bisexual experience. Then, there is an introductory exploration of sacred texts, religious traditions and denominational policies related to bisexuality. Finally, the writers offer practical strategies for action that will equip a congregation to become partners with bisexuals as we seek justice in the world. They begin in the congregation, itself, with suggestions for bi-friendly worship, pastoral care and youth ministry, and then branch out to possible community action to improve the lives of bisexual people.
Is every faith tradition in the United States considered in this study guide? No, its focus is on the “Abrahamic” faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who share the Bible as a sacred text. Nevertheless, the guide’s treatment of bisexual experience and congregational action for justice for bisexuals can be helpful to faiths beyond these three.
Does the guide share every nuance of queer social theory or theology? No, but it makes no such promise to do so. Its purpose is to start congregations of many traditions on a journey toward larger understanding so that they come not only to have the eyes to see bisexual people who have suffered from long invisibility, but also to claim us fully as their own.
Why is this focus on educating and inspiring faith communities, in particular, important to both the bisexual community and the wider LGBT community?
I know that the terribly wounding experience of many at the hands of religious people has left them eager for religion to wither and die. At the same time, faith perspectives continue to influence people’s views on all kinds of concerns, especially in the area of sexuality and gender. However difficult or awkward this engagement with religious faith or faith communities may be for bisexual people, justice for us depends on faith communities being inspired to step out on this road of education, exploration and action.
I am grateful to the Religious Institute for taking on this challenge and commend their effort. They lead the way to a compassionate understanding of the bisexual experience that will move religious folk toward a far better faith witness to loving our neighbor as God loves. And this will help us all create a better world for everyone, especially God’s bisexual