Coming Out as a Christian

Kim Klein is a legendary speaker on fundraising, taxes, social justice, and community-building. She is well-known as a leftist and open about being a lesbian. Here she comes out in a different way:

Recently I shocked some colleagues whom I like a lot. This is what happened:

Colleague A: Can you believe that Santorum? He's such a clear example of why any intelligent person leaves religion behind."

Colleague B: "There are some well meaning religious people, but you have to wonder about someone who believes all that stuff."

Me (here's where I shocked them): "Actually, I am religious." An embarrassed, awkward moment ensued.

A:  "You mean you are spiritual." (that's okay)

But the truth is that I am not only spiritual, I am religious.

Let me compare coming out as a lesbian with "coming out" as a Christian:

I came out as a lesbian when I was about 19, and as anyone knows who has come out or been close to someone coming out, it is rarely a one time thing unless you are famous enough to be "outed" by the media. You tell some people, and they tell some people, but you don’t know which ones they tell, so you tell some more. You are asked for the 1,000th time by a well meaning neighbor why you are not married, and you come out to them. Motives for coming out vary from pride to fear to exasperation.

Why do I hesitate to say I am religious?

So I have often asked myself why I am not more "out" as a religious person. The main one is that I am not an evangelist (although I'm not against trying to convert people). I truly believe that when Jesus said, "In God’s house are many mansions," he meant that there are many many ways to find God and plenty of room for all seekers, including those who seek to be good people without any belief at all. Also, although I am a Christian, I rarely go to church and do not have a regular worship setting.

I also hesitate to say I am religious because my behavior is so often not that of a religious person: I gossip; I am often snarkey and snide; I once found a $20 bill and didn’t declare it on my income tax . . . I am not a big sinner, but I am actually worse: I am a daily little hypocrite. Someone once asked me why I wasn’t a kinder person since I am religious, and I thought, "If I weren’t religious, I would probably be an extortionist or at least have run a few Ponzi schemes."

Coming out as a religious person has gotten harder as the religious right has become almost mainstream. Although there is a religious left, we have a very small voice in the religious arena and we don’t assert ourselves as we should.

Studying for the ministry

When I was 23, I went to seminary to study to be a Methodist minister. However, I could not be ordained in my church because I was open about being a lesbian. I was rejected as a ministerial candidate, but I remained a Christian.

Later I joined the Loretto Community, a Roman Catholic women’s order. I joined as a co-member, which distinguishes us from the women who have taken canonical vows.  Our community is now about half vowed and half co-members, and the co-members include a number of men. I am not Catholic, but I have found home here in this community, whose mission is "Acting for Peace, Working for Justice."  I feel at home and accepted in this community as a feminist, a leftist, a lesbian and a religious person.

My faith

I believe in God and I have had many experiences of God moving in my life. I read the Bible and pray every morning for about half an hour and I pray often during the day.
I believe that Jesus was sent by God and shows us by words and example how we are to live. I think the question, "What would Jesus do?" is a useful one for determing an action. (I also enjoy the joking variations such as “What would Jesus bomb?" and "Who would Jesus deport?" and so on.)

I have decided to counter the religious right by declaring the fact that I am a Christian. It is time for all of us who are religious (and not just spiritual) to come out, warts and all, and to say that we will not stand for all that is good in our religious traditions to be used to in the war on women and people of color. We will stand up against people claiming to be religious who also claim that corporations are people or that money is speech.

And like all coming out stories, the price we pay for being out will be far less than remaining quiet.

Kim Klein is the author of five books, including her most recent, Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times, which won the McAdam Book Award in 2010. Her classic text, Fundraising for Social Change, now in its sixth edition, is widely used in the field and in university classrooms. She was the co-founder of Grassroots Fundraising Journal and its publisher for 25 years. Kim is a member of the Building Movement Project where she is currently working on a project called Nonprofits Talking Taxes which helps nonprofit staff understand how fair and just tax policy is central to a functioning democracy. She lives in Berkeley with her partner of 23 years.

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Comments

Thanks for sharing, Kim!

This story struck a chord for me. Where I used to work one time a Jewish co-worker brought in matzoh and told the Passover story at a staff meeting and nobody said anything. But when a Swedish co-worker brought in Christmas candles and cookies and sang a Swedish carol at a staff meeting, people got all upset.

Let's Get On with it..Jewish have their Agenda. Christian's, and now then Muslim & Hindu that Lives in USA..So be it

You American..Make it our Place.You get paid i American $

Remember the next Generation coming to America are "Lationo"

In my experience, any expression of faith, regardless of tradition, can elicit either of the responses your co-workers had. The people who didn't say anything may have been just as upset that day as the day they said something. Going forward, we can only hope that we can have an honest conversation about all of these expressions of faith without alienating anyone who lives very well without any faith tradition.

Many of us are "Christian&." I.e. I am a Christian AND I am not like those Christians who are always in the media for negative reasons. My understanding of God and Jesus is very different from theirs.

Hurray, Kim! A great "coming out". Thank you.

I really appreciate this article, Kim! Thank you, Jan, for putting it in your newsletter. Such an encouragement to me as a fellow believer. Crystal Sinclair

That's an interesting question..am I a spiritual, religious, Christian, or perhaps just a moral person? Anyone who aligns themselves with Jesus Christ should be prepared to follow after him and him alone. Too many people today want to repackage Christianity in THEIR own image. We can't pick and choose what parts of the Bible we want to follow and what ones we don't

Actually, given the twists and turns and complexities of the Bible, we ALL pick and choose--we are just not all picking and choosing the same things. Following Jesus is not only loving the Lord God with all our heart and all our mind, it is loving our neighbor (even that difficult Samaritan) as ourselves. That trumps everything.... Linda Olsen

AMEN! John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Exactly. I'm headed out to buy some slaves...

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. (Leviticus 25:44-46)

This is a common mistake. Christians follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, as found directly by first person eye (and ear) witnesses in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the earliest church writings of the rest of the New Testament.
Leviticus is in the Old Testament, also known as the Jewish Torah. These are part of the Bible because they contain prophesies predicting Jesus' coming to Earth and they provide bonafides for His claims to be Messiah and Son of God. The laws in the Pentateuch - the first five books of the Old Testament, written by Moses as told to him by God - were for the fledgling Hebrew nation and directed them on matters from diet, to dealing with other nations, to internal conflicts (the reference to slavery you make is regarding a common practice among all Middle Eastern peoples of taking captives from defeated combatants, as well as dealing with individuals who chose to sell themselves into servitude to pay off debts or to make a living).
These laws are not part of the Christian faith, as clearly outlined in the book of Acts. Christians, especially non-Jewish believers, were only required to believe who Christ taught He was, follow His guidance, and avoid participating in sexual immorality or other religions. We have other directives, as given by Paul in his letters to the new churches, and these are important to follow, but the Old Testament is just that - the old religion just for the Hebrew nation being led under Jehovah God. The New Testament (testament means a statement or a will or an agreement or contract) is God's plan part two - first He established the nation of Israel, then He opened the doors to everyone else through Jesus. The "religion" of Christianity respects and honors the Old Testament as our past, but is not bound by those rules.

Thank you for this explanation.

thank you for this thorough and concise explanation of the connection between old and new testaments. as a Christian I have muddled through explaining this to nay sayers but now I'll use yours!

Parts of what you say are generally accepted by Christians, but others, like "written by Moses as told to him by God" are no longer in that category. A large part of Christianity find this and other claims related to biblical inerrancy quite mistaken and irrelevant to our faith. I understand that to inerrantists my faith seems weak and inadequate, but I feel the same way about those who can't believe any of it unless they believe every word of the Bible. More important, an increasingly common thread across the spectrum of Christianity is the understanding that faith is a lot more about how we live and treat others, about working with the Spirit to spread love, peace and justice than about believing in a prescribed list of interpretations.

Really appreciate the comment. I am a Unitarian Universalist, not a Christian but very much part of the religious left, and we so need these "coming out" stories to claim our existence!

Agreed! I am also closeted Christian--also among the liberal Christians. After realizing that being a liberal Christian opened me up for knocks from the left and the right (and knowing few others like myself), I went underground. My most glorious moments with my faith have been private times spent reading, praying, meditating, and practicing my beliefs in the private of my own confidence. But as I have grown, I also realize I have a need to commune with others in faith, as well as to "own up" to my beliefs for all the reasons you suggest and more. So thanks for sharing...I'm encouraged!

Kim! thank you. I'm 73, a divorced and remarried Catholic (to a different woman!), and a nonviolent activist and community journalist in my home town of Stockton, CA. I left The Whore of Babylon for 15 years, but found I needed the sacraments, Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, the Berrigans, John Dear, James Carroll and all that crowd.

Few of my friends and fellow activists are religious, let alone Catholic. When I tell them I go to Mass most Sundays they look at me funny, but I'm mostly politically correct so they tolerate me as a weird Irishman. Besides, I tell good Pope jokes. Have you heard the one from Brendan Behan, about the little convent in the West of Ireland...?

John Morearty, Ph.D. One of my favorite bumper stickers, amid the current rightwing "Christian" environment, is the one: Lord, save us from your followers.

Kim, I first learned of you through two good friends - Jean, who was ordained a Presbyterian minister and in the GTU when you were both students, and Rich, who is Jewish. Your faith wasn't just part of your life, it motivated you and propelled you - and I'm glad to know that remains so. Like you, the Lorettos are a huge influence on me; my spiritual director when I lived in Denver was Sr. Mary Luke Tobin.

You have named some of my most favorite people, who were also propelled by faith. Thank you for your comment and for making that distinction.

Religious people do not have the corner on nice, moral, or ethical behavior, and your comment that "If I weren’t religious, I would probably be an extortionist or at least have run a few Ponzi schemes" is a good example of the smug-sounding assumption that religion produces better people than atheism.

I hear you, but I don't think that's how this was intended. Taken in context, she's referring to her own moral compass, not extrapolating to all religious people in general. I agree with you though, that we should be careful not to equate faith with morality. One does not guarantee the other!

It's too bad that her own moral compass does not come from within, but from the fear of retribution from an outside source. We atheists don't murder, rob, terrorize, etc because we know it's the right way to be, not because some "higher power" is watching.

I am so sorry my comment read this way to you. I don't think religion produces better people than atheism---the evidence is quite clear that this is not the case.

Thank God for the Atheists or non religious people who speak out. Should I have said it that way?

I'm not sure if I'm an Atheist, but I don't believe in religion, and talk about "coming out," we who have no desire to be part of any religion are really seen as outcasts. Can you imagine an avowed Atheist every being president? How about a Gay Atheist? There's problems with religion & politics on both sides of the isle.

I am a very moral person, am on a non profit board, and volunteer for two other non profit organizations (time & money). Why can't we be acknowledged without being showered with scorn?

You are scorned because bigotry is an active force in personal and group behavior. Even when we overcome our prejudices in one area, it seeps out somewhere else. It's something that those of us who care--the religious and nonreligious alike--must struggle to overcome throughout our lives.

Thank you for this. Atheists are even more closeted than the "religious." My Catholic father-in-law once told me I was more Christian than most Christians he knows. It was his recognition of my positive characteristics and a challenge from a college to convince me to come out as an atheist. No regrets, and mostly positive and interested responses.

Thanks for "coming out" as a Christian Kim! For most of my adult life--and I am now in my late 50s--I have often found myself more aligned with those on the left of the social and political spectrum than with what appears to be a majority evangelicals on the other end. Thankfully, however, there are a growing number of "us", i.e., Evangelical Christians, who are also "coming out," albeit it bit less publicly than you. I applaud and admire you for your willingness and honesty to "put it out there." Shalom . . . Salaam . . . Peace! Jack

MANY thanks Kim, for all the ways you are a brave and bold leader, and for helping us challenge the assumptions we make. -- Another non-Christian, Unitarian Universalist, fellow member of the religious left.

Thank you Kim for being brave enough to come out and share on the topic.

Kim, This is wonderful! I am totally with you! Thank you.... Linda Olsen

Thank you Kim, for having the courage to come out, and to remind folks that Christianity can be, and has been, a force for good and an ally of justice-seekers from all traditions. There is no privilege in this, only partnership.

Thank you, Kim. You have inspired me to become more vocal about my faith... MB

Thank you so much for stepping out with this article. It is time we were all more tolerant toward others.It is what Christ taught his followers after all!

Thank you so much Kim for your courage and candor. Your faith is an inspiration, and a good reminder of all the self-aware and loving Christians there are in the world.

Thanks, Kim.
It isn't easy being Christian.

God bless you. I have become embarrassed to be associated with the kind of "Christians" so aptly portrayed in GCB or seen disrupting funerals of gay veterans, and why? Because "Christian" has come to mean a kind of elitist or country-club mentality- dishing out premature judgement right and left- who say in effect "I'm saved BECAUSE you are damned." As if there were limits to God's love!

My unchurched friends, like yours, find it difficult to get past the troubling stereotype. I suppose that's partially the fault of we non-judgmental Christians who keep quiet and let others rant without commenting or getting involved.

But I think Jesus would be more in sympathy with Edwin Markham's poem, which reads in part: " He drew a circle that shut me out... " "...But Love and I had the wit to win: we drew a circle that took him in."

You have given me more to think about. Thank you.

When I read "I have become embarrassed to be associated with the kind of 'Christians' so aptly portrayed in GCB or seen disrupting funerals of gay veterans," closely followed by "I suppose that's partially the fault of we non-judgmental Christians who keep quiet and let others rant without commenting or getting involved," it occurs to me that we progressive, social justice-pursuing Christians may not be as non-judgmental as we'd like to think.

It's easy to stereotype those whose beliefs we find distasteful, even repugnant. Yet, does GCB really "aptly" portray anyone? Or does it just rely on sensationalistic caricatures that allow us to feel morally superior to others? I think that nearly all Christians would agree that the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church (to whom I believe the writer was referring when she talked of Christians disrupting the funerals of gay veterans) run counter to the teachings of Christ, no matter what their beliefs on homosexuality. Is it accurate to allow the actions of a few to color our perception of millions of conservative Christians who have nothing to do with them?

I was raised evangelical. As an adult I attend a more progressive mainline denomination. I've also been active in Democratic politics, am a feminist, and have a strong interest in workers' rights. People from my childhood church often think that I picked up these ideas at the liberal college I attended. But I actually learned them from my devout, evangelical mother. She never bought cane sugar because she didn't think the workers were treated fairly; she wouldn't let me have a Barbie doll because such thought they promoted the objectification of women; she posits that people who commit human rights offenses "have lost the fear of God," in other words they don't believe that they will some day answer to a God who has made all people in His image and loves them as His own.

When we stereotype conservative Christians like my mother, we are falling into the same easy trap that Kim's acquaintences fell into when they assumed she couldn't be religious because she was too liberal or because she was a lesbian.

Anne Lamott once said, "You know you have created God in your own image, when He hates everyone you hate." I'm not trying to attach the writer of the previous comment; I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to leaping to judgments about people I don't really know or don't like. But I need to remember that God cares about those people as much as He cares about me and that through Christ, God challenges me to see them as He sees them.

Amen. Thank you for sharing this wisdom.

Thanks to everyone who has responded positively to this article for sharing your own faith. I hope it inspires us all to discuss who we are more openly. May we also remember that our job is to love each other, not judge each other.

Great article, I totally agree. I'm ashamed that I am not more forth coming about my beliefs. I do need to come out! Many thanks!

I am grateful to you, Kim, for sharing your faith and what it has meant to you. Alice Parman

Thank you, Kim! I appreciate your honesty. My Christian coworkers are always amazed when I admit to being atheist. We then discuss what is the meaning of faith, goodness, morals, etc. and what this is dependent upon. I liked your fresh reminder. Jane Cochran, Soulsbyville, CA 95372

Thank you, Kim, for sharing your story and your beliefs. This article is truly wonderful.

Interesting article and I applaud your conviction and bravery for "coming out." I belong to a non-profit orgaination that publishes a magazine. We are struggling with the argument to not publish anything that mentions religion in any form. A person submitted a article about an individual who has been motivated to do certain things by their faith in God.The article does not "preach" that others should do the same thing or to believe in God. The publication editor, who is following an unwritten guideline, does not want any references to praying or God our publication because a very small miniorty had complained in the past. Do we alow the miniortity dictate what can be published? Tim

Kim's article and your comment, Tim, have made me think more about all this. Just as being multicultural and non-racist doesn't mean pretending that we don't "notice" race, being multicultural and non-religious doesn't mean pretending that nobody is religious.

It's not easy to establish an organizational cultural norm where talking about one's faith or religion can be done without implying that one is trying to "convert" anyone, but simply sharing a personal belief. Surely our belief in the value of diverse views would mean that we would want to know the thinking and belief systems behind what our co-workers and colleagues do and say.

This Rhymes With Orange cartoon came out the same day we published this story . . . seemed like a good addition . . . :)  Jan

Love it! As a Christian I am finding it more difficult to actually say it. Now days it seems Christian=Conservative=Republican=Anti-Everything!

As long as we're coming out.

I am a more conservative type of Christian.

In a million years, I would never disrupt a funeral, or bomb an abortion clinic. Only crazy people do that sort of thing - and all movements attract a few of them.

I do however believe that we are separated from God by our selfish actions and choices.I believe we can only re-unite with Him by accepting Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and giving our lives to His leading.

I also believe in the Bible in its entirety - including its disapproval of homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, lying, gluttony, murder, and many other practices that make life harder than God intends it to be.

Having said that however - I believe it is my job to love you and point you towards God. It's His place to convict and change.

Please stop assuming all conservatives are ignorant, bigotted or foaming at the mouth capitalists. I have spent the majority of my adult life working in the social service field, giving and loving to the best of my ability.

I believe that my job is a gift from God.

He is the reason I have the ability to suit up, show up and show compassion even in times of shrinking resources and increasingly desperate clients.

It is my relationship with Him that allows me to go beyond my petty prejudices, hurt feelings, and threatening discouragement - to love folks where they are.

He's my power source

That's my truth.

So you believe in the Bible in its entirety.

Here are some of my favorite comments from an "Open Letter to Dr. Laura":

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan

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