Religion is not a popular subject in the queer community. And of all religions, Christianity probably has the worst rap. Bring up this topic, and we think of right wing anti-gay protestors holding horrible signs like “God is your enemy” and “Homosexuals are possessed by demons.”
At the forefront of this issue is 53 year-old Maria Caruana, pastor of Freedom in Christ, a gay affirming Christian church in San Francisco whose running slogan is “Christian + gay = OK”.
When I first met Maria, I was at a crossroads myself with my own faith. Just months prior, I had been forced to come to terms with my own sexuality, unwillingly outed to my family and friends, and requested by my pastor to leave my church community because of a relationship with another woman.
Maria greeted me with a hug the first time I walked into the sparse community center where Freedom in Christ holds its services every Sunday evening, and she has never let me go since. In the first periods of my coming out, Maria walked me through some of my hardest times as I grappled with my sexuality, my relationship with my parents, and my faith.
An animated Italian-American who gesticulates when she talks, Maria has dedicated her life to helping people bridge the gap between Christianity and sexuality. Her hands are seemingly tireless.
“Love knows no bounds,” Maria says, “The God that I know doesn’t see me as Maria the lesbian. Doesn’t even see me as Maria the Italian, or Maria the girl from Brooklyn. He just sees me.”
Maria does not believe that the Bible rejects gays. Maria explains, “There is nothing in the word of God that condemns homosexuality in a loving relationship. Nothing.”
Unfortunately, the church’s impact on the LGBT community has been very hurtful. “Most people are hearing that God hates them because they’re gay.” Maria’s voice rises with her passion on this subject. “But that’s not God. That’s people. That’s people’s biases, fears, and ignorance.”
For her beliefs, Maria has faced ridicule, the strongest of which has come from the Christian community itself. “I have been spat at, cursed at, and mocked by other pastors and Christians. I really try to respond in love. But it’s not always easy when someone is treating you that awful.”
Matters of faith aside, the religious debate on homosexuality has a huge effect on gay rights around the world. On a local scale, a significant portion of the financial support for the California Prop 8 campaign against same-sex marriages came from religious organizations. On a global scale, American preachers in Uganda were in part responsible for spreading homophobic views that led to a bill endorsing the death penalty for homosexual acts.
Maria expresses frustration on this, “It amazes me that there’s separation of church and state [in the U.S.], and yet the church has such influence on civil rights. But it’s done it before. It did it with blacks, when for years the church would argue that slavery was okay. And it did it with women, when the church said that husbands had authority over their wives.”
In her ministry, it’s not always easy for Maria to get through people’s hurt and anger towards the church. “People have just been beaten and very broken. When you know that this is who you are, and then you’re told that you’re no good, it just destroys your whole person.”
Yet she continues to minister to the queer community, taking time to make house calls and build personal relationships with people. As a grateful recipient of her tireless care, Maria is a Supergay to me in every sense of the word.
“As long as I have breath” Maria says, “that’s what I’ll do. I’ll remind people of how good they are, how God loves them, and how much worth they have.”
Photo Credits: Roland Luistro