The Religious Value of Coming Out

In the US, October 11th is “National Coming Out Day”. By now, the value to LGBT of coming out is well accepted. It’s valuable to the individual, as good for emotional and mental health – psychotherapists recognise the process as one of psychological growth. It’s also good for the community. As the number of openly LGBT people has steadily increased, the greater visibility has contributed directly to increased public recognition of the need for LGBT equality in law.

What is less widely recognised among LGBT people of faith, is that precisely the same arguments and more, apply to the importance of coming out, in church. Just as psychotherapists acknowledge the process as one of psychological growth, a number of see it as one of spiritual growth. David Helminiak, an academic with doctorates in both psychology and spirituality for instance, describes this in “Sex and the Sacred”. The theologian and psychotherapist Fr John McNeill does so in “Sex as God Intended”, and Fr James Empereur SJ, does so in “Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person”.




After the senior Vatican theologian Msgr Krzysztof Charamsa came out publicly as not only gay but partnered, he described the process in a newspaper interview as a “profoundly Christian step”.

And I am convinced that it is a profoundly Christian step, because it reflects our truth and allows us finally to dedicate our hearts to God and to others free from complexes and guilt.

Several notable commentators see Jesus’ command to Lazarus to “come out” of the tomb, as a metaphor for the LGBT coming out process. Back in 2010, the Equally Blessed coalition of Catholic LGBT organisations spelled this out in a public statement:

The story of Lazarus in John 11 resonates with GLBT Christians’ coming out experiences. In this story, Jesus visits the home of his friend Lazarus, who has died and been buried in a tomb. When Jesus arrives on the scene, he calls forth Lazarus from the tomb, with the words, “Come out!” Modern GLBT Christians see in this call of Jesus a call to new life that strongly parallels the call that they have experienced in coming to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. The closet symbolized a kind of death for them. In coming out of the closet, they are answering a God-given call to live a new life.

Catholics can even see this not only as a Gospel command, but also as a requirement implied by the Catholic catechism:

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)

and

“Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)

It’s not only Catholic theologians who see a religious value in coming out. For the US Episcopal priest Patrick Cheng, there’s a parallel with Christ’s own coming out, which makes it a sign of grace:

God “comes out of the closet” in the person of Jesus Christ; it is only through the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we understand the true nature of God (for example, God’s solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed).  Indeed, the notion of the Out Christ as the revelation of God is supported by Jesus Christ’s description in the Fourth Gospel as the logos or Word of God.

Protestant theologian Chris Glaser is another who sees a parallel with Christ’s coming out. For him, this makes the process sacramental – and has devoted an entire book to the subject (“Coming Out as Sacrament”).

The Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley observes (accurately) that the simple act of coming out can save lives – by providing a counter narrative to the religious based homophobia that can so easily lead to suicide, hate-fuelled homophobic violence, or other forms of destructive behaviour.

Finally, in the Jewish tradition, the lesbian theologian Rebeccah Alpert sees coming out as a religious obligation, implied by the well-known verse from the prophet Micah:

Do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God

-Micah 6:8

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