Bisexual Christians & Mental Health:

: Why the Church needs to be more welcoming

  • Carol Shepherd

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

In 1978, Fritz Klein, author of The Bisexual Option, noted: ‘Bisexuals are sociologically non-existent, invisible in church, society and science (F Klein, 1978).’ My aim in this research project was to examine whether bisexual people were still invisible within church communities, specifically within the Christian church in the UK and USA, and how this impacted on their wellbeing. This was with a view to addressing my central research question: is it possible to be bisexual and Christian and live holistically?
I was keen to see whether bisexuality was invisible in real terms in the period 2014-2017, the time-frame for this research. To this end, I interviewed a total of 83 participants, divided up into four research cells: Bisexual Christians in the UK, Bisexual Christians in the USA, Pastors and Supporters of Bisexual Christians in the UK and Pastors and Supporters of Bisexual Christians in the USA.
Interviews with pastors and leaders of LGBT faith organisations revealed a distinct lack of bisexual awareness, expressed through a dearth of bisexual pastoral resources and an almost total silence on bisexual issues in the public sphere. This was the case in both the UK and USA. Bisexual Christians themselves, meanwhile, reported an almost blanket silence on bisexuality within church environments and the Christian conference circuit, including, significantly, at LGBT-affirming services and events. These interviews confirmed the existence of bisexual erasure as a sociological phenomenon, flagged by academics and demonstrated by theologians at literature review stage. Yet, whilst erasure and stigmatisation were unambiguously reflected by bisexual Christians within this study, it was not possible to say with any degree of certainty that these stressors were solely behind the huge rates of depression and suicide ideation expressed by bisexual participants (89% UK and 100% US). Other factors, such as family break-up, childhood bullying, Seasonal Affective Disorder and autistic spectrum disorders were all reported as causational factors in poor mental health.
Interviews with both pastors and congregants alike revealed that bisexual Christians thrived best within fully inclusive faith communities, where middle sexualities and non-monogamy were accepted without prejudice and certain ethical boundaries surrounding honesty and mutuality observed. Such congregations appeared to be far more prevalent in the USA than in the UK, though intolerance of LGBT Christians was significantly higher, too, than in the UK. Whilst the US church culture was far more polarised than that of the UK, both countries revealed a disparate bisexual community, suggesting that bisexual Christians perhaps needed to network and mobilise themselves at national level and beyond, in the same way that trans Christians have done in reaction to the recent spate of bathroom bills.
To summarise, this research confirmed that bisexual Christians still appeared to be ‘sociologically non-existent’ (Klein, 1978) within church environments and church resources in the UK and USA, despite progress in acceptance of lesbian and gay Christians (and to a lesser extent, transgender Christians) within these same communities.
Date of Award27 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorEric Anderson (Supervisor) & Hazel J Brown (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • bisexulity
  • Christianty
  • mental health
  • church
  • depression
  • suicide
  • intersectionality
  • sexuality
  • identity erasure
  • biphobia

Cite this

Bisexual Christians & Mental Health: : Why the Church needs to be more welcoming
Shepherd, C. (Author). 27 Aug 2017

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis