Only in Iceland: a bisexual priest accidentally outs himself on TikTok and couldn’t be happier about it. After centuries if not millennia of harsh condemnation and repression, you might think that religion and sexual or gender difference don’t mix well. And truly, it’s blatantly obvious that in most cases you wouldn’t be wrong. But in some places, things seem to take a turn for the better. Sindri Geir, now priest of the Church of Iceland (The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland is the national church of Iceland, or Þjóðkirkjan), had his fair share of struggles. He tells the story of his somewhat rocky spiritual journey and shares an inspiring message of hope and reconciliation.
When did you become a priest of the Church of Iceland?
“I was ordained as a priest of the Church of Iceland on December 1st 2019, but in 2016 my family and I moved to Norway where I served as an unordained pastor for two years in the Lutheran Church of Norway.”
“I made a video about progressive faith where I shared for 1.8 seconds that I was bi. I thought no one would see it, at least no one I knew. I was mistaken.”
Did you know you were bisexual back then?
“Yes, I’ve known since elementary school but it was not something I had talked about openly. I sometimes wonder if I kept quiet because of my roots in the Pentecostal Church. I was indeed active in their youth club and remember that we talked about gay marriage as a sin. It was truly an emotional crisis when I was 14 or 15 years old and thought I was gay. I didn’t understand my feelings and remember that I was relieved when I found out that I also had those feelings towards girls and could therefore choose to be “normal”. When I look back I can see that I carried a lot of shame and self-hate with me. But in junior-college (menntaskóli) I told a few close friends, including my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife.”
Where does the Church of Iceland stand on LGBT+ rights today?
“Now I don’t think you will find a priest within the Church of Iceland who would openly talk against LGBT+ rights. There might be a few conservative ones that would not be comfortable with the subject, but our bishops have taken a rather progressive stance and followed Lutheran Churches around the world that have done the same. Trying to make the Church change its stance is like making an oil tanker take a turn. It happens slowly, but we are getting there. Before same-sex marriage was allowed in Iceland a group of priests, deacons, theologians, and laypeople within the church fought vigorously to change the Church from the inside, and their hard work paid off.
Today I would describe the Church of Iceland as open and affirming, and the project “ein saga-eitt skref” that the Church and S’78 launched together is a real step towards acknowledging and atoning for our broken past regarding LGBT+ people.”
Was the Church always as progressive?
“In 2006 when our parliament was debating whether to allow same-sex marriage, the Church weighted heavily against it. The bishop at the time said it would ruin marriage as the foundation of the family and even though he has repeatedly apologized for his words, they still show that the Church was not at the forefront of defending human rights as it should have.”
Knowing that the Church wasn’t as supportive as it is today, what made you take the jump and become a priest anyway?
“I did not enter the theology department to become a priest and I was sure to find students and professors there that were conservative and judgmental. I did not know much about the Church of Iceland, most of my biases and opinions were based on a deep resentment towards conservative and hateful Churches that I had read about in the US. I remember that I was almost eager to pick a fight to discuss progressive topics but soon found that there were few who held views much different from mine. At the time, there were at least five other queer theology students and I remember that I was almost disappointed that there were no judgmental or conservative people to confront.
My thirst for confrontation and debate is not as strong as it was, but I entered the theology department right after the debate about same-sex marriage was settled and the Church had changed its position. It was a pleasant surprise that theology education in Iceland was progressive and I had to take some time to work on my own prejudgments about the Church and Christianity.
For a while I had my mind set on becoming a teacher or pursue a PhD. in ethics, but I had an experience that pushed me to finish seminary and become a priest. After working with two queer priests in Norway, in a Church that is more conservative than the Church of Iceland, I better realized that the Church needs diverse pastors.”
Have you always been out as a seminarian and later as an ordained priest?
“No, until last summer when I accidentally came out on TikTok I had never talked openly about it. During seminary I had only told two other students who were both queer.”
What kept you from being open about it?
“I am sure that the shame I felt when I found out I was bi has had a huge impact on why I never allowed myself to be open about this. But I remember that I was once taking a course on sexual ethics in seminary and read an article by a pastor who had come out as pan and how her identity shaped her view of God. She also talked about how important it was for queer people to be visible, so that others can be comfortable in coming out and not hiding who they are. I struggled for a while and wanted to come out, but I did not. I was afraid. But I’m not sure what I was afraid of. Probably judgement, maybe my own judgement.”
How did you come out eventually?
“This summer I joined TikTok and before my content blew-up I made a video about progressive faith where I shared for 1.8 seconds that I was bi. I thought no one would see it, at least no one I knew. I was mistaken. But this was a good mistake.”
Have you ever felt rejected in the Church community because of it, either by members of the clergy or believers?
“I have not received any negative feedback, or been rejected, but since this came out, I’ve been contacted by queer people who have struggled with faith and the Church and trust me with their thoughts, so I truly believe that this was something that was meant to happen.
Today I’m a priest in Glerárkirkja in Akureyri, the only church in Iceland where both of the priests are queer, and it does not impact our work in any negative ways.”
Does the steady growth of the Catholic Church in Iceland these past few years worry you considering its views on LGBT+ rights?
“The Catholic Church is diverse, and I have got Catholic friends in Europe and the US that are progressive regarding LGBT+ rights, and they’ve got a pope now that has been trying to take steps in the right direction. But still, here in Iceland the Catholic Church is more conservative, and its growth is mostly due to an increase in the Polish population in Iceland. That is not a negative thing, and I know Polish Catholics here in Iceland that do not agree with the Church, so I am confident that this will not have a negative impact on LGBT+ rights.”
What do you want to say to LGBT+ people who have faith but feel like they wouldn’t be welcome in the Church of Iceland?
“I really am sorry that the Church has let you down, either personally or by our history that is filled with mistakes and wrongdoing against the LGBT+ community. But for me, the Church is a place for imperfect people who want their lives to be dedicated to justice, peace, and love. It is my core belief that we are all loved by our creator, no matter our gender or sexual orientation, and since we are all made in the image of God, our creator carries within her all the diverse elements that make up our humanity. God is queer, just as God is straight, trans or cis.
Seeing all of us as imperfect grants me some serenity when looking at the mistakes of the past, and I want the Church to learn from its mistakes, so they will not be repeated. In trying to follow Jesus I feel that we need community to grow in faith and in life. I truly hope that, if you have faith and want to pursue it, then you’ll find a Church that speaks to you and gives you a welcoming community, and I am confident that the congregations of the Church of Iceland will do so.”
“I really am sorry that the Church has let you down, either personally or by our history that is filled with mistakes and wrongdoing against the LGBT+ community. But for me, the Church is a place for imperfect people who want their lives to be dedicated to justice, peace, and love.”
Any message you’d like to share with LGBT+ people who view Churches of all kinds as natural enemies?
“I believe I know where you are coming from. I went from loathing Christianity to becoming a priest: that journey had some unexpected turns. My perspective is that there are many toxic and bad Churches around, and the Church of Iceland is certainly not perfect. Without people who are willing to speak their mind about the Church nothing changes. Even though I do not pursue debates as I did before, I love when I meet someone who has a completely different opinion than I do and through our talk we both learn something about our self and our differences.
As Leonard Cohen sang, “there is a crack in everything and that is how the light gets in.” When we are open to dialog, open to learning from each other and trying to understand different points of view, we are letting a light shine in, and the Church should always welcome that.”