Recently, I did something that I was afraid to do. I talked with a local pastor about LGBTQ people and their relationship with the church. I was scared before I went, even though I know this person and knew the content of the conversation, that it was going to be about trying to convince one another of opposing views. Here’s what I learned:
1) Bridging is bumpy.
One of the most helpful things we did for one another at the start of the discussion is define our terms and our lack of exhaustive knowledge on the material we were about to discuss. We laughed a bunch and admitted that it felt weird to talk this openly about being “not straight” (as I put it) and loving Jesus.
2) Something’s got to change.
The reason for today’s conversation was the recognition that when people come out as LGBTQ they feel, for one reason or another, they need to leave the church. LGBTQ Christians feel like they have to choose between fellowship with people who love Jesus and worshipping/serving together and their sexual orientation. We both recognize that conversations need to be had at an open table. This table needs to have listening ears on both sides–not to convince each other about theological ideologies but to listen to one another with empathy and understanding. There will be an “us” and “them” as long as we talk past one another.
3) People are hungry.
Pastors and lay workers within the church (read many churches, not one specific church) are meeting outside of Sunday services with LGBTQ community members to learn how to engage with people and begin ministering out of a place of love. What’s being discovered is the amount of people who were raised in church, attended youth group, and even went to Bible College who identify as other than straight and left the church. They desire greatly to worship alongside other believers without being seen solely for whom they love. They want to be seen as God’s children walking out faith.
4) We don’t agree on every sin.
In the course of our conversation, we discussed whether or not conservative and mainstream Christian churches would be able to understand that LGBTQ Christians do not believe that their orientation is sin. We talked about how wide the spectrum is within the LGBTQ community–where some hold to traditional male/female marriage teachings opting for celibacy as the way to honour God with a same gender orientation and others hold to same-gender long term committed marriage. Similarly, Christians don’t all agree on alcohol consumption, secular movies and entertainment, swearing and modesty.
5) One important question remained.
How can we remove the stigma, isolation and fear for those who come out in faith communities?
There’s a few ways to do this. All of them take a long time.
First, sexuality regardless of straight or LGBTQ needs to be discussed in the context of church teaching. How can we expect a conversation round sexual orientation and inclusion if we can’t even discuss sex in the context of marriage? It is astounding the amount of young adult Christians who didn’t know how their body worked…or why it worked that way when I was at Bible College–because it was dirty and taboo.
Second, we need to create a culture where someone disclosing sexual orientation, sexual confusion or gender related questions is met with compassion and not solutions. Thank them for sharing with you. Admit that it must have been scary and difficult to talk about. Let them know that your love for them has not and will not change. Maybe consider waiting until later to discuss they why and how they know or are questioning. First just hold them and tell them it will be okay.
Third, how can the church make space for LGBTQ people and families to participate in church? We discussed the various reformations in church culture: women in ministry, divorced leaders, children outside of marriage–and how the church has embraced and including those once marginalized groups (some better than others). In light of those revelations of grace, how can the same attitudes be applied to the LGBTQ people in our communities.
What about you? Did you feel at one time or another like you had to choose between living authentically and being accepted? How can we walk with you?