Jeff Baker, 36, was a pastor in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec for nearly a decade. He kept his queer identity a secret while working in the Baptist church. He left a year before the pandemic. In July 2020, he and his spouse founded their own online church, Chosen Family Church. He said a good number of their members are queer clergy who are currently part of churches that don’t affirm LGBTQ persons.
“In 2020, in a global pandemic, seemed like a great time to start a church with no budget and no building,” said Baker with a laugh over the phone.
Chosen Family Church uses TikTok to livestream weekly services. Baker had a background in marketing and was familiar with TikTok. He knew the key to drawing attention would be cracking the code of what the algorithm liked and what would work for them.
“Eventually we landed on super obscure theology and tying that back into LGBTQ issues,” he said. His first video that got hundreds of thousands of views analyzed the etymology of the Hebrew word for serpent.
“A lot of people have questions. And you have a coherent answer that tracks historically and doesn’t just rely on the argument ‘you need more faith.’ People like that,” Baker said.
Baker’s erudition shows throughout his page. He has made videos that cite Derrida and dive into esoteric literary critiques. And he cites theologians Aquinas and Anselm in conversation.
On his page, Baker addresses viewers with an avuncular delivery that’s both sardonic and welcoming. In a fedora or newsboy cap, often sporting floral shirts with a clerical collar, and sometimes wearing purple or green eyeshadow, Baker will offer biblical critiques or perform quick skits about Jesus’ love for queer people. He’s passionate about TikTok’s ability to tell stories in a new way.
“The internet is a great communication tool. As communication styles shift, people are able to share their stories in new ways. And we get powerful new movements out of that. The last time we had a communication shift this drastic was the printing press and that gave us the Protestant Reformation.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to change “ordained minister” to “pastor.”