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Queer, Christian, and Ready to Serve: Putting the Pieces Together

Nikole Mitchell is a first year student at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, where she is pursuing an M.Div. with a concentration in Social Transformation: "My whole life I’ve had to choose between social justice and my faith," she explains. "I never had a place where those two came together. So, when a friend of a friend suggested I check out United, I went on the school's website and saw they had a  Social Transformation program. Plus, was interfaith and affirming. It was everything I’d been looking for!"

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Nikole is a public speaker, blogger, and a vlogger, currently producing a YouTube series of videos about the intersection of LGBTQ people and Christianity.  Being queer and Christian is central to her work.  She has spoken on a number of panels of queer Christians sharing their stories, and helped organize monthly LGBTQ worship services.  Eventually, Nikole would love to move from a local sphere of activism to making a broader impact.

"I think a lot of queer people have been told to choose between their faith and their identity. And through our monthly worship services, we want to bring those together. With what we're doing, you have both. You get it all. We’re going to use your pronouns. We’re going to see you. And we want to get to know you. We’re making an intentionally safe and life-giving place that I would love to see reach more people." 

But Nikole has not always been able to incorporate her activism and faith.  Reflecting on her journey, Nikole says, "Probably 6 or 5 years ago the word activist came into my vocabulary and it was like a lightbulb went on: that’s who I am; that’s how I operate. But I had no way to process that. When I would bring up Black Lives Matter or Transgender Day of Remembrance to my church leaders, they would respond, 'This isn’t the place, Nikole. Work it out on your own.' And I’m thinking if we’re the human family, and we’re supposed to manifest the Kingdom of God why are we not talking about these things?"

This struggle with her church community continued as Nikole began thinking about seminary.  "I feel like my pastors at my last church knew that I would have loved liberation theology, but they always kind of tabooed it for me, like 'Yeah, this is not the real Gospel,' or something like that. They never gave me resources even though they knew the kind of person I was and they knew what would have fed my soul." 

When Nikole was deciding between United and a more conservative seminary, her community steered her away from United, even though they recognized Nikole's passion for feminism and social justice: "When I told them that I was interested in United," Nikole reminsces, "one of my church leaders actually said: 'Well, I’m sorry to say that we won’t be working together in the future.' He just dropped me because I expressed interest. There was no integration, it was just either/or."

Nikole feels some resentment for how she was treated and for her rigid education in her community. "I’ve never read Audre Lorde before. I’ve read very little Martin Luther King before. And all the stuff I’m reading, I’m thinking, where has this been all my life," reflects Nikole on readings from her Spiritual and Personal Formation class.  "Basically every class I walk into my mind’s blown in a really good way, and I’m left with pieces that I have to bring together." 

While she says it's been challenging, Nikole has had an incredibly positive experience at United so far: "I’ve been floored by the people who are here, both students and faculty. Sometimes I wish all my people who are not here at United could meet all my United people because I love here so much!" 

The Social Transformation curriculum has been especially helpful for Nikole as she develops her plans for the future.  "I would love to be a public speaker and help organize national conferences.  Sometimes I wonder if starting a nonprofit is in my future. I would also like to write a book some day. So right now I’m in a stage of trying to absorb and learn and grow and form relationships with people different from me.  I would love to see all of this organically become a team of people that will travel the U.S. in helping equip communities with the tools needed to help make this world a more beautiful, inclusive place." 

Comparing where she is to where she has been, Nikole reflects: "United is the best thing that has happened to me. And I’ve only been here fourteen weeks."

 

Max Brumberg-Kraus

Max Brumberg-Kraus is originally from Providence, RI., but moved to the midwest when he attended Beloit College, WI as an undergrad. There, he majored in Theatre Performance and Classical Civilizations with a minor in Critical Identity Studies, and was the Artistic Director of Beloit Independent Theatre Experience (BITE). He moved to St. Paul in July 2016, where he continues to pursue his artistic goals as a performer, playwright, and poet. Max is the Digital Content Specialist at United, where he is also pursuing an MA in Theology and the Arts.

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