Navigating Christianity and Grief as a Queer Person

3 min Article
Rachael Ward, Co-founder of Bible Queery Collective and Marketing Manager for EOL, sat down with us for an intimate talk about where they, as part of the queer community, hope for improvement in end-of-life and grief care.
Navigating Christianity and Grief as a Queer Person

We started with origin story, asking Rachael what growing up was like for them.

"I come from a place with very few traffic lights, a lot of potatoes, peanuts, and tomatoes, a very small school system. It's a small town at the bottom of the state of Georgia. I started thinking about death perhaps earlier then some children are interested in it because my mom has multiple sclerosis. MS is at this point an incurable disease, so that was the entry point for my thinking about death.

I was raised in a very binary environment where if a woman graduates high school and stays there and has a baby, then cool, you've done your work. A man in supposed to provide in this certain way, so my upbringing and environment was very patriarchal in that regard. I was raised southern baptist, so I was raised to think that anything outside of praying in a certain posture and wearing clothing that covered yourself was inherently wrong.

I was definitely raised to think that homosexuality, which is not a term I ascribe to, was an abomination. 

I was bible thumping, like 'meet you at the pole,' where we had prayers and bible studies at the flagpole in front of the school. I was involved in all of that, very indoctrinated into a certain faction of christianity that today I would tell you I'm horrified I participated in. But, there are some useful pieces and fragments of the framework that I was raised in that I keep, and there are other parts that needed to die. Sometimes we need to let things die so other things can be born. 

In high school, I was always at church and when I wasn't, I was with that friend group. When I went to college, you know, college is where you want to figure yourself out, I was like 'Oh, (laughing) I'm hella gay. I really am attracted to women. And also, I'm not supposed to be living in turmoil.'"

I can tell you that right now: I don't know what it means to be christian, and that's ok.

Wow. Yes. 

We naturally wanted to know how Rachael handled moving beyond their upbringing and religious conditioning to self-acceptance, and being an adult who is pursuing ordination.

"For the four years I was at school and for years after that, I was working through and detaching from some of the core values that my family gave me, but that didn't match up with the desires I have; the desires that I consider holy and sacred. I've gone through a lot of struggle about what it means to be christian which has translated into not knowing what I even think about that word anymore. I'm in seminary,  pursuing ordination, and want to be a pastor—I can tell you that right now, I don't know what it means to be christian, and that's ok. 

I do know what it means to be spiritual. I do know for me that prayer can look like taking walks with my dog, riding my bike, journaling, spending time in spaces like this feel spiritual to me. A lot of things had to crumble, a lot of angst and unnecessary dying, and not living, and unnecessary severing of my person to please family, to align with the values I'd been raised in. There was unnecessary wilderness-walking when I could have been liberated much sooner."

Last, we circled back to talk about grief and end-of-life care.

"This is why end of life care is so fascinating to me, and informative for the type of death and grief that queer folk experience. The compassion that hospice and palliative care nurses, death doulas, and therapists who work in grief is something that many pastors and christian counselors have no orientation to. I don't know that they spend enough time in death and grief with us, or listening to us to understand the types of experiences we have. Actually, let me restate that: they could never understand, but they could learn to hold space and listen to the stories. There's an opportunity to say, 'That sucks' and 'I'm here.'

The compassion that hospice and palliative care nurses, death doulas, and therapists who work in grief is something that many pastors and christian counselors have no orientation to. 

Instead many of them say, 'Here are these scriptures,' and they send you back off into the wilderness when you're still dealing with all of the traumas that have happened from family, church, and society, without realizing or acknowledging that we're not okay; we're not solidified here in the queer community. "

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Header Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez