As an out member of the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve had my (un)fair share of Bible verses quoted at me to try to convince me of the inherent sinfulness of my sexual orientation. The portions of scripture used for such events are almost always the same: a misinterpretation of the situation at Sodom in Genesis 19, an angry snarl of “abomination” from Leviticus 18, and the ever-popular “Well it just isn’t natural!” from Romans 1. These are the most typical clobber passages I’ve had to endure, but occasionally other parts of scripture have been thrown into the mix as well. I believe the strangest was the verse my Baptist pastor chose to share with me when I first came out.

I grew up in a Baptist church. Looking back, I can see that the preaching was theologically questionable, at best. And yet, that church is where I first learned to love God and to love God’s people. It was also where, as I grew older, I first learned that I was much more interested in having a girlfriend in the youth group than a boyfriend. I never acted on this interest, but instead waited until I was far away at a music school in New York to come out. I was 18 and I came out with gusto, complete with the requisite haircut for young lesbians in the late 90s. (In my memory it was something short, spiky, and ridiculous-looking to our 21st century sensibilities.)

When I came home for Thanksgiving break that year I was called into my Baptist pastor’s office to have a chat. The chat. To my surprise he didn’t jump right into the “You’re going to hell!” rant, but instead he just sat there behind his desk, and slowly and silently thumbed through his very large King James Version Bible - as if he were looking for just the right passage. When he finally started to read, I was fully expecting Genesis 19 or Romans 1. But he chose First Corinthians 11:15:

“If a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”

Aside from a few disapproving glares and a little more mumbling about hair length, that was the extent of his contribution to our meeting. I left feeling equal parts annoyed, confused…and curious about the eternal fate of all the old ladies with short hair in that congregation.

When I return to this moment, and to the countless other challenges along my faith journey, I can easily stay stuck in annoyance and confusion…or anger or sadness. All of these seem appropriate at times, but today as I look at this strange verse in First Corinthians I’m intrigued. Today I’m not interested in exegeting the passage or curious about what it would mean to apply a queer hermeneutic to it. Today I’m simply caught up in the poetry of the words, and what they echo back to me when I put them in conversation with my lived reality as a person of faith in the LGBTQ+ community.

“Her hair is given her for a covering…”

My Christian faith has been a journey of delightful discovering. I’ve discovered faith communities that have fully embraced me. I’ve discovered that my faith and my orientation are mutually compatible. I’ve discovered that staying in relationship with people who disagree with me can sometimes help with the process of reconciliation. Four years ago, I discovered gifts and graces that have led me to pursue a call to ministry. Over the last three years I have attended seminary and pursued ordination, discovering all sorts amazing things about my faith.

“Her hair is given her for a covering…”

My Christian faith has also been a journey of intentional uncovering. Coming out was, and continues to be, a spiritual practice – an uncovering of who God has created me to be. Pursuing ordination in a denomination not yet ready to fully accept me as an ordained minister has raised all sorts of issues with covering and uncovering. I’ve been told over and over again to cover myself, to divorce my wife, to hide and lie so that I can serve the church. But each time I speak the fullness of the truth of who I am (a Christian lesbian), and who God is calling me to be (an ordained minister), the Spirit uncovers deeper insight about what God is up to in my own journey and in the church.

“If a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”

Some days I feel like I still don’t know who I am or where I’m going or who God is. But I do know that God is with me, and that I am God’s beloved. And I absolutely know that I don’t want to be that woman with the glorious long hair – because, for me, God is all about uncovering!

Dr. Joan Van Dessel will graduate in May with an M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. She currently serves as Director of Music at Genesis United Methodist Church in the Grand Rapids area . Joan and her wife have two nearly perfect dogs, Samson and Lily.