Tomás Heneghan chats to Kate Stewart about being a member of two, technically opposing college societies, the Christian Union and the LGBTQ Soc, and explains how she intertwines the two.
Can someone be both a devout Christian and a member of the LGBTQ community? Can such people campaign for changes to how LGBTQ people are viewed and what rights they are granted?
For one University of Limerick student, Kate Stewart, the mixing of these two sides has been her reality for the majority of her adult years. From heading the university’s LGBTQ society as president to being involved in the university’s Christian Union, Kate has reconciled two, often publicly conflicting, sides of her life with each other.
Having left the Catholic religion by the age of 14, Kate rejoined Christianity in the form of a non-denominational church after hitting “a really bad rough patch” in her personal life.
After joining her new church she started what she describes as “really digging into” the parts of the Bible which traditionally condemn homosexuality and homosexual behaviour. She then began reading the work of the head of the Gay Christian Network, Justin Lee, as well as the work of Matthew Vines.
She explains: “Matthew did a really fantastic sermon on breaking down those passages and finding other passages in the Bible which kind of support that marriage isn’t just a method of procreation, that marriage is a reflection of the relationship that God has with his church - so it’s a relationship that’s based on love and that once begun, does not separate.
“So the theory being that once you have a relationship with God or once you are aware of God’s love and you love him back, that can not be broken anymore. So marriage should reflect that kind of dynamic in Christianity, because we’re born the way we are, we can only have that love for certain people.
“We fall in love with who we fall in love with, so why is it wrong that I want to reflect that amazing and spiritual connection, which is what marriage is supposed to do with someone that I love?
“Quite frankly the Bible, it’s simple but it’s not shallow, and you do really need to dig into the context and dig into the history to truly understand what the writer, of whatever book it is, is saying.”
The issue of homosexuality for Kate is not black and white in the Bible. She says that the context of what was happening in the world at the time the sections on homosexuality were written is important.
“But when you try and argue these points with very conservative, right-wing kind of Christians, they’re not very receptive to this and that can be a great difficulty when you’re trying to somehow explain to them how it is that you’ve reconciled your faith in Jesus Christ, with what they see as blatant and purposeful sin. That can be quite a task sometimes. It can be very exhausting sometimes,” Kate explains.
She says for Christians, homosexuality shouldn’t be central and that it is not the core issue of the religion. Unfortunately people make it the core issue, according to Kate. She says: “That can be really hurtful and someone approaches you like your identity is a choice and you can change it somehow. That’s really hurtful because you know you can’t.
“I know quite a lot of Christians who are very much on the ‘I know it’s not a choice’ page. But I also know a lot of Christians who would say, ‘We know that you can’t change this, but that just means you are being called to celibacy’ which I also don’t believe. I think that celibacy is its own calling and if you are called to that, then fair play, you can devote your life to whatever you want to devote it to without the distraction of sexy people, but it’s not for everyone.
“Eve was the perfect partner for Adam, but Eve wouldn’t be the perfect partner for every man on the face of the earth. If someone ‘Adam and Eve’s’ me, I get really thick about it - that’s one thing I can’t abide if we’re getting into a bit of a discussion and I’ll go on this long explanation about theology and someone will be like: ‘Adam and Eve though.’ So it can be exhausting sometimes.
“You could never, I feel, be an LGBTQ Christian and not face the reality that is: ‘This is what I believe in and these are the consequences of what I believe in and this is how it affects the world and this is how it effects my eternal destiny.’
“I don’t think God has a sexuality to be honest. I think God is not as humanistic as we make him out to be. I don’t think God is a version of a dude. While we’re made in his image, I still wouldn’t say that he’s a really big white dude with a beard,” she explains.
“I think when it comes to Jesus, he remained celibate his entire life so you can never know what his inclination was really.”
Speaking critically of some aspects of Christianity, Kate explains: “I don’t necessarily think that you can rationalise sending your child to ‘reparative therapy’ to fix them of their brokenness. With the Bible when we are told to judge actions by their fruits, do you know what? A depressed child coming out of ‘reparative therapy’ is not good fruit - It is bad, bad fruit. A depressed, running into a highway, child because they’ve gotten ‘reparative therapy’, you can never rationalise that - that is horrific.
“Be critical of everything you read and be discerning. We are called to be discerning - We are not called to be idiots who follow blindly, we’re not. There’s faith and then there’s blind following of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Overall for Kate, being an LGBTQ Christian is, “a mixed bag.” She explains that it’s a challenge, but for her it’s a challenge worth pursuing.