What It Means for LGBTQ+ Americans to Leave — or Choose — Christianity

“I learned that if God had not wanted me to be this way, I would not be gay. And then I also learned the divine privilege it is in which to be gay. … that it is not anti-God,” he said. “It took me getting out of church to learn that.”

Although Smith visits churches occasionally, he’s not interested in going back — unless God calls him to back to a traditional church setting. He wants to reach people who have been pushed outside of the church, however that manifests. As a Black openly gay man, he feels that he’s different from many preachers; and he views his ministry the same way.

Smith said that he often gets calls and messages from queer Black people, especially older men, who consider the church their family, but who don’t feel safe or included. They don’t know where else to go. Many of them reached after he published his book, “Holy Queer: The Coming Out of Christ.”

“I offer them two journeys. You can stay, and I say please find a qualified therapist whom you can talk with, and a good friend whom you can talk with,” he said. “If you choose to leave, know that even as much as you may gain, please be aware you will also lose something.”

That loss can be a cultural one, Smith said. The Black church is more than a religious practice — it’s a culture encompassed with unique music and art. Finding an affirming congregation could mean leaving the Black church and losing that culture, he said.

But there are accepting spaces within the Black church, too. Dozens of churches across the country and various denominations are part of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, a Black LGBTQ+ affirming coalition that pledges to create safe spaces for queer and transgender people, as well as anyone else who has been “wounded by oppressive religion.”

“I don’t understand why, with the number of choices that we have, why people don’t choose to be fully free,” said Victoria Kirby York, director of public policy and programs at the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights group that advocates for Black LGBTQ+ people.

Like Smith, she grew up in the Black church, attending a nondenominational African Methodist Episopal church and a Missionary Baptist church with her mom. They were baptized in both traditions. York now attends a church that’s part of the United Church of Christ, and one that frequently works with the Fellowship.