Crystal Cheatham—writer, entrepreneur and Andrews grad—is working to create a hub for progressive Christians who may have felt excluded and judged by more traditional, conservative spaces.
Question: The Our Bible App, an app you are creating with devotionals, Bible translations and a forum, is set to launch in June. You describe your project as pro-women, LGBT-affirming, and social-justice oriented. When did you start this project?
Answer: I guess I started this idea in 2010 with the IDentity Kit Project. That was a resource to help queer Christian fundamentalist youth access information about gender identity and orientation. Really, I was just trying to bring together an isolated community. And I think isolation is what any believer who isn’t a conservative Christian has found themselves in.
Fundamentalists (aka closed-minded Christians), have hubs like the National Religious Broadcasters or the Trinity Broadcasting Network to pump their exclusionary theologies to people around the globe, but those of us who have a more accepting approach to spirituality and religion only have access to like-minded believers and tools that are within reach.
Our Bible App is a direct descendent of the IDK Project. In fact, the book I wrote for LGBT youth will be available on the app.
So you feel that other such resources are not inclusive, progressive, and affirming? Are there other apps that Our Bible App is modeled on?
Yeah, I modeled it after YouVersion’s Holy Bible App. It’s probably on your phone right now and the number one way you access the Bible in church and at home. Unfortunately, YouVersion shares the same values as Focus on the Family, Rick Warren, and the Family Research Council (organizations that have been included on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups). In fact, they regularly publish devotionals written by those organizations. That’s why I created Our Bible App, because I couldn’t take the exclusionary theology anymore.
Are you the technical expert behind the app? Have you developed apps before?
Haha! I wish! No, I’m an expert at everything else and have learned many trades in order to get to where I am today with the app. When it came to coding, I decided it would be better to hire professionals. The App Institute is puzzling together the working pieces of the app while I recruit authors, hire people, and build the other side of the project.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what resources will be available through the app and how you are sourcing these?
I’m creating a platform to help bring together the parceled community of progressive Christians out there. I want the app to be a place, unlike the Christian section in a Barnes & Noble bookstore, where those looking for progressive podcasts, video blogs, books, and devotionals can come and find what they need. I’m encouraging writers and creators to submit their podcasts, devotionals, books, and blogs for consideration. Just go to OurBibleApp.com and click on submissions.
How are you working to get the word out about the app? Do you have a target for the number of people you hope will download it?
I’m working with organizations and people all over the country. Organizations like Reconciling Ministries Network are teaming with us to spread the word. Rachel Held Evans and Kevin Garcia are tweeting and messaging their followers. We need all the help we can get.
Our goal is to launch with 10,000 pre-subscribers, and we are at 4,000. We want to be at 100,000 by the end of December. We are asking everyone to share news of the app with five friends. I think that way we can reach our goal and make a huge impact when we launch. I invite anyone who reads this to share the OurBibleApp.com link.
What do you hope the app will accomplish?
I think the app is bigger than me and my team. It’s churning up all kinds of feelings in people. I’d call it a business for social change.
How are you funding the development of the app? Will you charge for the app?
I ran two fundraisers last summer. With family, friends, and the help of many strangers, I raised $84,000. Most of that was spent just creating the app and paying for licenses. Now that I am working with a team, I need more funding to get this thing up and running.
Of course I’m looking for the right investor, but in the meantime folks can make personal donations online or they can buy a T-shirt of our mascot the Zebracorn. Go to the site and take a look because I love it. It reads, “For Believers of All Stripes.” Get it?
The app itself is free, but if folks want to get premium content and ultimately help keep the lights on and keep authors contributing then they can pay to subscribe to the app.
Are you mainly targeting the app to people in the LGBT community?
Absolutely not! While LGBT people have been targeted by the conservative right, they are not the only group to feel that burn of judgment. This app is for anyone who wants the tools to take back their spirituality and strengthen their personal walk with their God.
Your editor-in-chief is agnostic? Isn’t that rather curious for a spiritual app?
I think that as Adventists we spend a lot of time looking down on other kinds of beliefs, forgetting that the people who hold them can be every bit as loving, giving, and capable as we are. I know because I’ve been there. It took a while to shake off. That’s why Our Bible App promotes the affirmation of other faiths and belief systems.
In keeping with this mission, our editor-in-chief is worth her salt. I’ve watched her work tirelessly and oh-so-lovingly with the devotionals that come her way. To her credit she is quite tender in all the right places and pushes authors to give a little more when she knows they aren’t quite hitting their mark. And I’m convinced that being agnostic doesn’t necessarily mean that she isn’t more learned about faith and spirituality than I am. She truly is fantastic.
You are an entrepreneur with two big projects you worked on previously. Can you tell us about those? What else do you do currently?
Yeah, I’m always dreaming up something. This is by far the biggest endeavour I’ve taken on. Up until now, I was working as a ghostwriter. I spent some time as a singing artist as well.
You are a graduate of Andrews University. Do you still consider yourself an Adventist? When you were an Andrews student, would you have used an app like this?
I’m culturally Adventist, and I tend to have more conservative ideas about my lifestyle. I think 18 or 19-year-old Crystal Cheatham desperately needed this app. I think she would have benefited from knowing there were people in the world capable of unconditional love the way Jesus portrayed it.
Did you feel marginalized in the Adventist community?
The answer is yes. To be told that there wasn’t a place for me in leadership because of my orientation was heartbreaking to hear. I think the Adventist church is cutting off the hands and feet of Christ by pushing out diverse believers like myself. Unless 1 Corinthians 12:27 is wrong, then that’s no way for a church to survive.
Will you be targeting the app to Adventists?
Those who know me in the Adventist community won’t have a choice about knowing the app exists! I’ve always been a vocal person. But as far as targeting? I don’t think I’ll do that. I will, however, pray that God will melt the hearts of those leading the church.
In my mind, the men who lead the church have become a sort of Pharaoh of the Old Testament, refusing to allow God’s word to touch them tenderly, the way that only He can in order to change hearts and minds. I will pray that they hear the ever closer chant ringing from the empty pews: “Let my people go.”
How do you think the Adventist church could or should treat members of the LGBT community differently than they do?
Adventism was my first home, and I miss it dearly but you gotta know there is no such thing as loving the sinner and hating the sin. That’s what the church doctrines promote and is ultimately what drove me and so many others out. Adventists should reconsider number 23 of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs and include LGBT voices when they do. If you can find a way to incorporate the queer community in your doctrines, then you can truly practice what is preached about loving thy neighbor.
Crystal Cheatham graduated from Andrews University in 2009 with an English degree then earned a Master’s in creative writing at Antioch University-Los Angeles.