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 snarky 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.
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 determining 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.