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.

Comments (90)

  • Anonymous

    Your questions are all good and pertinent, but asked of the wrong group. You need to direct them to a practicing Jew, not Christians. Those laws do not apply to us. You are confusing the Old Testament, which is the history and laws of the Hebrew nation, with the New Testament, which is the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection and the creation of a group of followers of His teachings (called Christians). We Christians respect the Old Testament and Judaism as the forebears of Christ, but we are not part of that group, nor are we bound by their laws (see the Bible, New Testament, book of Acts, Chapter 15, verses 6-29 - if you don't have a paper bible handy, you can look it up on Google) for a clear explanation of the difference between the two. The Christian faith, as taught by Jesus Christ and promulgated by the earliest church founders, teaches love, respect, forgiveness, and tolerance for everyone. Jesus equated loving and serving God with doing so for our fellow men and women. Those who call themselves "christians" and do otherwise are just as false as those who call themselves vegans with a mouthful of ground beef! Don't let the fakers mislead you - read the first four books of the New Testament yourself to see just what Jesus said and did as reported by those who walked alongside him.

    Apr 20, 2012
  • Anonymous

    I guess I am confused, I didn't realize there are two Bibles...... When someone states "I also believe in the Bible in its entirety -" I didn't understand "entirety" only meant a portion of it. Oh well, maybe I can just go to confession and admit everything bad I have ever done and be done with it. No hypocrisy at all. Religion, you gotta love it!

    Apr 20, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Why do you feel compelled to mock other posters?

    May 03, 2012
  • Anonymous

    I thought we were talking about allowing people the freedom to express an opinion. The previous comment is full of sarcasm and close minded. Why not read the WHOLE BIble. What is referred to as the Good News is that because of the sacrifice of Christ, we are no longer living under Old Testament law whereby forgiveness of sins could only be gained by sacrificing a lamb. The New Testament still refers to behaviors that God deplores. God loves us but He didn't allow His only son to die so we could keep on living sinful lives. Read the New Testament, my friend.

    Apr 21, 2012
  • Kim, you have helped so many of us grow in our non-profit work. Now I realize you are a double blessing! Thank you so much for the way you reflect our God! Sister Pat Davis

    Apr 18, 2012
  • Thank you, Kim. And thanks, Jan, for reminding us that diversity is only valuable if we openly share our qualities that our different from others...and appreciate - perhaps even learn from and take joy in - qualities of others that are different from ours. Who wants a greyed-down 'diversity' when we could live in vivid technicolor? Julien Phillips

    Apr 18, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Liberal neo-pagan here, but raised in the evangelical church with extremely conservative and religious parents. (Which is mostly why I am where I am. :) I work with several liberal Christians and until this job, I didn't know such a thing was possible. I agree that you need more of a voice to counter the religious right. Those of us in minority faiths need a voice, period.

    Apr 18, 2012
  • Most down to earth piece of writing I have read in a long time. Thank you young lady. You are precious indeed. David

    Apr 18, 2012
  • Anonymous

    "All roads that lead to God are good" was in a poem I read as a teenager. People of faith have strengths that support improving life and valuing others.

    Apr 18, 2012
  • Anonymous

    I think it is problematic telling people you are a Christian or a Muslim, etc. nowadays, without also specifying that you absolutely don't support the particular religion or denomination, or saying which aspects that you strongly disagree with and are working against. For instance, for myself, I find it absolutely chilling when people say they are Christian--without mentioning the above-type disclaimers--because I know how flat-out against women in leadership the majority of Christian denominations are. I am of an age, even possibly younger than Kim, when jobs used to be advertised BY GENDER in the newspaper! I'm not kidding; it was not that long ago. It's amazing that a secular government called out gender Discrimination and outlawed it, while so many supposedly loving Christian organizations stood by doing nothing, and still discriminate internally. Finally, I love the recent New York Times article by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, asking how in the heck Catholics can remain members of the Roman Catholic Church, given that particular church's values and implementation of such. Even if you were to declare all the above disclaimers about how you disagree with them, it is an absurdity if you have liberal social values. At some point, you/we can't have it both ways--you're either with them or against them. (Personally, I wish American Catholics would leave and start their own American Catholic Church--it would be a great institution!) http://ffrf.org/publications/freethought-today/articles/its-time-to-quit... So, I hope everyone with liberal social values will be very cautious when discussing their faith so as not to contribute to the longstanding ongoing oppression practiced by the religious institutions that share their faith.

    Apr 18, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Well said! I am a religious theatre techie, which even in the fairly religious State of Texas puts me in the minority of my profession. Like you I'm neither right nor evangelical, but when I taught Stage Management last Fall, I spent 15 minutes of one lecture on being a Christian techie and being open to everyone's beliefs. Several students thanked me, one profusely as he was really struggling with the issue. Keep the faith!

    Apr 18, 2012
  • About 4 years ago, I chaired a meeting at Evergreen Baptist called "Can We Talk?" to have a public dialogue with an open Asian American Christian gay man and his journey; it was an eye-opening event for many people who came to hear (about 300 attended) without judgment and to try to understand with more compassion. We are trying to get a video made of that meeting but it has been moving slowly.

    We are also thinking of having a one-time helpline call-in session directed to Asian American Christians who are struggling with sexual identity and try to gauge the extent of this concern. It is certainly one of the key issues within the Christian church and needs to be addressed more openly. Bill Watanabe

    Apr 18, 2012
  • Anonymous

    First of all, thank you. Second of all, as some of these comments will suggest, we have a long way to go before religious tolerance is truly embraced -- in this sector, in our culture.

    Apr 18, 2012
  • Anonymous

    "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."" Oh hey there intrinsic bias and judgement. You really tried hard, you did, but this line clearly exposes you as yet another Christian-who-is-religious-to-feel-superior-to-others. You might be less specifically harmful than people like Santorum, but I still cannot wait for the day when the earth is rid of your holier-than-thou kind.

    Apr 18, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Read this in context. The author is talking about her perception of her own weaknesses. There is no reason to think she is extrapolating this to everyone else who is not a Christian. You seem to be so certain no Christian can be broad-minded and humble that you read things into her words that confirm your own bias. This kind of judgmental attitude, seeing someone as no more than a stereotype of what you expect them to be, is exactly what people deplore the typical evangelical Christian for, so don't fall into that trap yourself.

    Apr 21, 2012
  • Anonymous

    As a lesbian minister in the wonderfully open and affirming United Church of Christ, I can appreciate your story. In the UCC, we honor anyone's baptism as well as whatever position they may find themselves in on life's journey. Thank you for the reminder that the religious left (or the perceived left, might I say) needs to continue to speak out against the fundamentalism that is taking over the definition of "religious." Here here! Keep up the good work!

    Apr 19, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing this! This is often a topic of discussion among folks at First Presbyterian Church Palo Alto... how hard it is for "progressive" Christians to out themselves during a conversation when it really is their faith that is guiding them on a particular issue/topic. It would really help if more left-leaning people who operate, in some part, based on what their faith has taught them, were able to comfortably say that. But... I think the more liberal/progressive people of faith are uncomfortable claiming the "religious" title because we want to be open to all ideas, all sides, and we don't want to exclude others.

    Apr 19, 2012
  • Excellent reflection! Thank you for sharing this. As an Episcopal priest, I can say that there are more people that think along these lines than it seems. Like you say, we don't tend to be as loud and vocal as members of the Religious Right tend to be. Again -- thanks for sharing this. - David

    Apr 19, 2012
  • Anonymous

    I wear a cross every day during the season of Lent as I go about my business. It's a way for me to proclaim my faith without necessarily saying anything or proselytizing. As the Director of a non-profit I come into contact with all different types of people, so I hope that my Christian identity can be linked in their minds with the service-oriented life I try to lead, whether they are on the left or on the right.

    Apr 19, 2012
  • Holy Moly! get your VooDoo on! This is the weirdest thing I have read in this forum yet. I read this to get away from fairy tales and "belief" and to get facts that will help nonprofits and their genuinely needy clients--Please keep your personal magic to yourselves. Andy M --How about them "anonymous writers?!?!

    Apr 19, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Andy -- No one forces you to read the posts or to comment. If you don't care to read them, you are free to pass by, but it seems a bit much for you to take the time to hop in and mock the posters. I hope you enjoyed it.

    May 03, 2012
  • Anonymous

    The problem with the religious right is that they have been co-opted for political reasons and reproductive justice is the rallying cry to get them to vote. I, too, am a person of faith AND I work at a women's health clinic, preventing pregnancy and terminating it if a woman so chooses, precisely because of my faith. My religious faith does not lead me to believe that life begins at conception. And rebgardless of their religious fervor, Catholics and other evangelical Christians are not entitled to impose their religious belief on me. I am entitled to believe as I do, without judgment, without political repercussions. And I can argue with every bit as much moral certainty as the radical right that women are entitled legally and morally to control their own bodies.

    Apr 19, 2012
  • Anonymous

    In my opinion, being a lesbian is not a choice, being religious is a choice. There's a distinct difference between coming out about something that is and something that is not a choice. I'm generally nervous when someone discloses their choice of religious affiliations or beliefs to me without any context.

    Apr 19, 2012
  • IW can appreciate Klein 's previous reluctance to "come out" as a Christian.....especially in the left -liberal Bay Area of California. I do believe faith of any kind is a bunch of hooey...but we non -believers need to be a little bit less snarky and judgmental about others ' ways of coping with the trials and tribulations of this world. Karen Aitchison

    Apr 20, 2012
  • To accept Jesus Christ as "Lord" will establish a relationship with Him as my God! Therefore, I must seek to do all that He commands me to do. This is not being religious! This relationship is a matter of Obedience to the Will of God. In the New Testament book of Romans Chapter 1, a lesbian lifestyle is condemned by God. No immoral person will inherit or reside in the Kingdom of God. A homosexual lifestyle does not make you or me acceptable to Almighty God. You must repent and turn truthfully to God, accept the totallity of His God Breath Word the Bible. Seek to be Santified, and Washed by the Word. Then, you can live a "Christian Life", that is following Jesus Christ as our example. You can then, and only then, please God by your lifestyle. No amount of good works will be sufficient to reside in God's Mansion. There is only one way, As Jesus said, John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by Me ( Jesus). Dr. Napoleon Washington, Jr.

    Apr 20, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Dear Dr. Washington, I am Christian, and, as it turns out, heterosexual. When I read Jesus' words and the reports of Jesus' actions I see someone who was showing by word and deed that love is a miracle, and that compassion, kindness, and care are the most important thing next to loving God, and honoring the flicker of his Spirit within us. Indeed, Jesus horrified the faithful of the day by doing something they considered breaking the sabbath (and, therefore, the 4th commandment) in order to love and heal. I do believe that we must enter into relationship with the expectation of honoring the love that is there, and that truly honoring the miracle of enduring, respectful love will require further help from God. I don't think God much cares where that love appears. After all "God created men in His own image, male and female he created them." When it comes down to what kind of underpants the person I married wears.... I think that is a detail far less important than the love, commitment, and respect we aspire to. I think God has got to be concerned by the appalling behavior of the uncommitted and disrespectful, and by those who treat marriage as much as a great way to celebrate that they've been dating a while, and they'd like to throw a big party and get some good gifts. In that context, can you help me better understand your statement above? How do we know Jesus is against homosexuality? Why are American Christians so particularly focused on homosexuality as the most horrifying of all the sins over even, say, serving profit over God, or, if we're focusing on the sexual, promiscuity?

    May 04, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Well said!

    Apr 21, 2012
  • Anonymous

    I figured the "Church Lady " was due to make an appearance sooner or later..Napoleon fills the bill. Thanks for the comic relief.

    Apr 21, 2012
  • Anonymous

    I'm appreciative of this discussion and have found it causing me to reflect on my beliefs about Christianity and other religions. Thank you Kim for sharing such a positive experience in a very complex time.

    Apr 23, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Kim, Thanks for your courageous "coming out!" As an out lesbian pastor of the Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, I am wondering if you would come and share your "coming out as a Christian" story with my congregation? It's a very progressive congregation made up of a very theologically diverse group of people. Those who identify as Christian are not all out! We would love to hear your story and your encouragement. Our website address is www.mpcfamily.org if you'd like to contact me. Thanks!

    Apr 23, 2012
  • Anonymous

    I would have appreciated this article more if it had been more directly connected to not-for-profit workplace issues.

    Apr 25, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Therefore, we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 I'm saved by grace, by the sacrifice of Jesus, and live in newness of life because of His resurrection and the empowering of His indwelling Holy Spirit. However, salvation isn't a free ticket allowing me to live however if I like. I make it my ambition, as Paul says, to live a life that's pleasing to Him. I know one day I will have to answer for the way I've lived my life, not out of fear that I would somehow lose my salvation, but motivated because I love Jesus and have been entrusted with the responsibility of sharing the hope of eternal life, not only with my words, but with actions that should be evidence of Him living through me. I am glad to know that I am not alone in the nonprofit world following Jesus - only sorry I've taken so long to get around to reading this article!

    Jun 07, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Faith situations tend to adapt themselves to the times in which they live. Of course, there will always be different stripes of practice and belief based on Scripture, Koran, Bhavagad Gita, Confucius, Dao De Jing, etc. That doesn't mean we shouldn't always get along. The noted Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen (Life is Worth Living) once noted, "We may not always meet in the same pew, but at least we can meet on our knees" A lot of times, faithful can see an immediate common cause and take action. Keep in mind that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had not only Christians, Catholics, and Jews, but he also had some Muslims, Buddhists, Daoists, Hindu, Sikhs, and Ba'Hai along with him. We can still learn from King's example.

    Jun 12, 2012
  • WOW -- first I read Kim's article and was moved to respond with grateful thanks, as I am a "closeted" Christian and wish I could be more open about my faith. And then I read all of these comments and am motivated even more to be expressive of my relationship with God. And also received a confirmation of my belief/love of the New Testament and the grace and freedom that Jesus has given to us. Now, to find some fellow "religious" people so that I don't feel alone.

    Feb 13, 2013
  • Anonymous

    Thank you Kim. This was amazing and I am so glad that you addressed it. I have noticed how uncool it is to be Christian. But you are right, We all need to come out.

    Feb 14, 2013
  • What a great conversation! I'm reading this article loooooong after the time it was written so comments may no longer be being taken. I just want to comment on the general tone of the back-and-forth exchange. Often conversations about faith and activism (or faith and anything really) quickly degenerate into name calling and angry exchanges. I truly appreciated the thoughtful responses by so many people. As an ordained United Methodist minister who has served in non-church settings most of my career - i.e. nonprofit justice organizations - my advocacy work grows directly out of my faith. For me, following Jesus necessitates working for justice. I would also add that many of my Jewish and Muslim friends, gay and straight, find that the long traditions of justice and love in their faith traditions under gird their work for justice. The fact that Scriptures have been misused to to beat people up is sad, frustrating and the cause of great pain for those of us who draw strength from that which is good in our traditions. Kathryn Johnson, Washington, DC

    Jun 20, 2013
  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this stimulating, provocative, insightful discussion. As a retired, "recovering" United Methodist pastor, I have long affirmed everyone who is open, uncloseted, religious and spiritual. And gay! Very proud father of a daughter who went through "the biggest" church wedding, only to work through, ended in divorcing, then coming out in her 20's, then partnering over 30 years now - both of them Ph.D's in women's studies and criminal justice, tenured in a Chicago universities, heads of respective Sociology departments, and adoptive parents. Now only 80 years young ourselves, we're approaching 59 years of wedded bliss, tempered by reality. Considering myself either a "pragmatic mystic" or a "mystical pragmatist," I still practice disciplines within a local church, but thoroughly committed to interfaith, inter religious connections - beyond the boxes, if you will. God blesses us "to be a blessling."

    Jun 28, 2013
  • Anonymous

    Religion is the opiate of the masses, opium is the religion of the masses.

    Dec 18, 2013
  • Anonymous

    Enjoyed reading ALL of the above comments, the ones I agreed with, the ones I didn't and everything in between. (The Lord must really chuckle over his creation, then like the Father he is "oh those kids, they just don't get it!" BUT I love each and every one of them.

    Jul 17, 2014
  • Kim, thank you SO much for this post. I've been struggling with the idea of "coming out" as a Christian for the very same reasons that you put so succinctly. I have a more liberal point of view, and in this day and age, it seems that to be a Christian, you have to be at war with immigration or a woman's right to proper family planning, for example. You have given me a roadmap with which to navigate these treacherous waters!

    Sep 13, 2015

Pages

Leave a comment

Fill this field in if you want to post a name a user login

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <small> <sup> <sub> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h1> <h2> <h3> <h4> <img> <br> <br/> <p> <div> <span> <b> <i> <pre> <img> <u><strike>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

subscribe (free)

 

Donate to American Nonprofits, sponsor of Blue Avocado