7 Reasons Why LGBTQ+ People Don’t Want to Go to Your LGBTQ+ Inclusive Church


SWEDEN-GAY-MARIAGE

So your church is LGBTQ affirming. Congratulations, your denomination has most likely endured years of internal strife and division, and come out on the side of inclusivity. This isn’t something to be taken for granted – entire denominations have split over this question, and still others seem not at all willing to budge on their centuries-worth of LGBTQ intolerance. Yet, as you go to church week after week, you ask your gay or trans friends to join you and you receive a bewildering response. They’re just not interested.

They may seem blasé about it. They may feel a tinge of embarrassment, as if you’d asked them to lunch at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Still others may seem threatened, if not hostile to the idea altogether.

“We’re not those kinds of Christians!” you reassure them, in vain. “We welcome everybody!”

That may be the case, and your church may have made great strides attaining inclusivity and ally-ship. You might march in the Pride parade, and you might be versed in the contributions of queer theology. You might celebrate same-gender weddings regularly. But I speak as a queer person whose relationship with church communities has always been described as “it’s complicated:” at the end of the day, you’ll still find that many LGBTQ+ persons just aren’t interested in going to church, of any kind at all, and you probably won’t know why that is or what to do about it.

So let’s start with listing the reasons why LGBTQ+ individuals might not want to go to church at all. This isn’t to tell you in every case what to do about it, but to get you to understand and think a little deeper about the perspective of queer people in the face of religion, Christianity in particular. The more you understand that position, the more dialogue you can foster with us.

1. In general, people aren’t going to church anymore

It’s a simple number’s game: fewer people are attending church weekly now than they were even 10 years ago, while the number of people “seldom” or “never” going to church is rising. There are several reasons for this.

For one, the culture wars have turned off a great many people to church attendance altogether. People who don’t support the political agenda of social conservatism and the Christianity of those loudest in the public square will not align themselves with those causes. Who really wants to join organizations seen as filled with and run by moral hypocrites and judgmental bigots? Who wants to accept as an option for their life the superstitions, irrationalities, and magical thinking of religious belief? (Or so the thinking goes.)

But more profoundly, the very structure of society is changing before our eyes. Churches used to anchor communities, and were a space where people met outside of the routine of daily, commercial life. Parishes were determined by geography; Protestant churches were determined by denominational affiliation. Nowadays, people form their communities through other means. People develop their values more privately. People no longer go to church out of a social commitment, but out of a personal (some would argue consumptive) one. People go to churches where they feel like they’re being “fed.” Church is a commodity, and an optional one at that.

And for some people, that might mean not going to church at all, because nothing about religious devotion is going to “feed” them in their daily needs, concerns, or values.

No church can simply turn back the clock and return to old ways of building community and meeting the needs, concerns, and values of its people. Our world has changed too much to let the old ways remain effective. Instead, the church has to realize how people are building community, and meeting their needs, concerns, and values. Given the landscape of online communities, fandoms, social movements, and identities that people find meaningful and important, churches have to start taking these seriously as locations of encounter, even, spiritual encounter. By looking at what these spaces are doing, and how they’re doing it, churches can see what they’re called to be doing right now too.

2. As inclusive as yours may be, churches are overwhelmingly cisgender, heterosexual spaces

Your church may be doing well on the question of LGBTQ+ inclusivity, but two millennia of erasure, discrimination, violence, and outright hatred do not simply go away. Churches as organizations are not just filled with cisgender, heterosexual ways of thinking, but in history were specifically built and developed as cisgender, heterosexual spaces.

Imagine a developer who’s taken an old automotive garage and wants to turn it into a bistro. Think of the structural, aesthetic, and functional changes they’re going to have to make to the space. It’s not enough to move some tables in and start serving customers – all the old equipment, all the junk, the oil stains, the rusty tools, all of it are going to have to go, and habitable fixtures are going to have to take their place.

Likewise, if you take an institution that has structurally and theologically opposed LGBTQ+ inclusion for centuries, you’re going to have to do more than just change your theology. You’re going to have to change the very atmosphere of the church itself. You’re going to need to look at the language, preaching, unspoken yet strictly enforced social norms–practically every aspect of your church’s life–and address how they might exclude LGBTQ+ persons.

Do you overwhelmingly design your programming for families with children?

Do you have separate Bible studies for men and women?

Does your church’s social and devotional life presume marriage to be a goal of every person?

Does your church’s youth program have and enforce anti-bullying, safe space policies?

Does your church specifically address and discuss the “texts of terror” found in the Bible, Catechism, and/or institutional documents?

These are just a few of the questions that are important to discussing ways to make the church LGBTQ+ friendly, and dealing with the transformations needed for that process.

3. Many LGBTQ+ persons have experienced religious trauma, some of it profound

When I was 14 and my parents found out about my sexuality, my mother forced me to read out loud the passages in Leviticus and Romans condemning “homosexuality” (a term which never appeared in any biblical translation until 1946). In the same event, my stepfather threatened to kick me out of the house. That was a moment that profoundly affected the way I would come to relate to religion in the years to come.

Others had it worse, sometimes even way worse. Gay conversion therapy is still legal in the majority of U.S. states, and despite the deadly cost of these programs, many parents still force their LGBTQ+ children into such torture. As LGBTQ+ people, we are intimately familiar with the feeling of being condemned to hell from the pulpit, of having the name of Jesus brandished as a weapon against our very selves, of never being able to achieve a moment’s peace as our religious upbringing and our sexual selves fight bitterly, sometimes to the death. We are the targets of forced exorcisms, ostracism, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in very high percentages across denominational lines. For a great many of us, churches have left us with a legacy of varying degrees of trauma.

For some of us, this literally means coping with a traumatic illness. Religious Trauma Syndrome is a PTSD-like illness that affects people who have suffered chronic abuses in religious communities. Sometimes the impact of leaving such a community causes a deep, lasting trauma. In the same way that surviving an experience that threatens one’s physical integrity can leave a person with deep trauma, so can an experience of losing one’s sense of meaning, coherence, or sense in the world itself. 

For us, any religious setting or language has the potential for causing a triggering event. Their day-to-day functioning may suffer, and we may adopt maladaptive habits such as alcoholism. Yet, even for those of us not quite so severely affected by religious trauma, many simply do not have the ability to conceive of church as being anything remotely resembling a safe space.

The first Mass I went to years after I left the Catholic Church was a very painful experience. The liturgy itself brought back deep, long-held memories and habits of feeling I thought I’d left behind. It was so intense I zoned out, dissociating, realizing only after several minutes that I had tears on my face. I specifically refused Communion, and spent the better part of the rest of the day re-centering myself from what had happened.

I couldn’t even consider going to church again for another few years.

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4. Religious belief in general fundamentally disrupts the ways that many LGBTQ+ persons have learned to find meaning in their lives

One of the worst habits of Christianity is its tendency to assume that it and it alone is capable of providing meaning into the lives of those to whom it preaches. We LGBTQ+ persons, in fact, have been finding and creating meaning in our lives with and without Christianity throughout human history. If any church wishes to include us, it’s going to have to take seriously and be aware of our vehicles of meaning.

Most importantly, it’s going to have to be fundamentally non-judgmental about them.

We have for so long been excluded from churches and the spiritual lives of faith communities that for many, the idea of making meaning out of our experience is impossible through Christianity. Instead, we may look to New Age, Wicca, neo-Paganism, secular atheism and agnosticism, various “scenes” such as the leather or bear scenes, communities of gamers, intellectual pursuits, personal fitness, and so on. You will find it not uncommon for us to have developed full, rich, and deep mechanisms for living meaningfully in light of adversity, prejudice, and rejection. You will find deep and poignant understandings of what it means to be a family, to be in relationship, to be sexual, to be spiritual.

This is not to unrealistically idealize the inner lives of all of us. There is indeed emptiness and futility here, as there is anywhere. It is to say that the spiritual agency at work in our inner lives cannot be shortchanged or insulted by trite and scripted preaching. We need and deserve respect and recognition. We deserve to exist just as much as Christian spirituality does. We have our own integrity and our own experiences of ultimacy and divinity. To fail to recognize and respect this, even in dialogue with Christianity, is nothing short of the colonization of the LGBTQ+ soul.

5. Church institutions tend to submit everything and everybody to the “pastoral gaze”

Imagine for a second that you’re on an elevator, and halfway to your floor the elevator stops and a stern-looking man wearing a clerical collar gets on. After a few more floors the elevator stops and gets stuck. It’s just you and him. What’s going through your mind? What are you feeling?

Chances are you’re going to relate to this man far differently than you would to almost anyone else. Your emotions are going to be a tad more complex as you both consciously and unconsciously self-censor and subject your inner self to a kind of surveillance that is completely different from self-reflection and self-awareness. A priest or minister may not be judgmental per se, but their very presence incites a sort of self-judgment. It’s like a revered grandparent, phlegmatic schoolmarm, and police officer all in one, and you don’t know whether any given offense is going to offend them or offend yourself more in that moment.

This is the “pastoral gaze”: it contains a moral authority, a therapeutic soothingness, and an overarching totality that overtakes one’s whole sense of self in moral insecurity. All of a sudden, you’re no longer acting in the moment, but you’re self-conscious. You’ve moved from “is” to “should,” and your chief motivation in that moment is to be a “better” person.

Churches themselves are spaces defined by perpetual surveillance by the pastoral gaze. This is not to say that they are necessarily authoritarian or totalitarian, but that values and morals operate as the primary priority of thought. The challenge for any church is to channel the “pastoral gaze” into the “contemplative gaze,” one marked not by judgment of inadequacy but a peaceful resting in a spiritual centeredness.

No matter how progressive your church, such a pastoral gaze is exhausting. Some of us simply don’t want to subject ourselves to an environment with the subtle but constant pressure to be something or someone different. Churches are, quite simply, not particularly great spaces for LGBTQ+ persons to integrate their whole selves, and that self-surveillance can be toxic. We need, instead, spaces of love defined, not by some moralism, but on the contemplative grasping of the goodness of God and neighbor.

6. Churches tend to micromanage even healthy sexual expressions

Now that the entire U.S. has marriage equality, the general social expectation for all LGBTQ+ persons is that we will at some point get married. While not a bad thing in itself, this does not represent the full spectrum of options that we have for our relational lives. Marriage, in a sense, renders sex invisible–making of it a private act between spouses, in the privacy of the bedroom, apart from public eyes. The theologies and practices of marriage in churches tend to aid and abet that invisibility by micromanaging the sexual expressions of it members, even in LGBTQ+ affirming churches.

This doesn’t mean that such churches necessarily dictate the exact sexual positions and dates of acceptable sexual activity (though there’s certainly historical precedent for that). It means that, even among progressive Christians, the ground of ethical reflection isn’t on the sexual lives and desires people actually have, but on some script of how they should be. Very few churches have the conceptual, pastoral, or theological space necessary to support the non-monogamous, polyamorous, or BDSM aligned relationships, nor to explore the significance of non-platonic, non-romantic relationships.

We largely don’t go to church because church doesn’t allow us to articulate, explore, and deepen the meaning we find in our actual sex lives. Churches more often than not assume without any actual inquiry that our non-monogamous, non-vanilla, non-traditional sexual expressions are transitory at best or pathological at worst. Queer sex scares people in churches, and largely only allow it when hidden behind the veil of marriage. We want and need to integrate our sex lives with our religious lives. Moral prudishness tells us either we have to give up our sex lives, or go home.

7. Your church isn’t as LGBTQ+ inclusive as it thinks it is

It’s a little disconcerting the amount of times I’ve encountered a church that claims to be LGBTQ+ inclusive, but has no actual queer members. I’ve seen churches that claim to be LGBTQ+ inclusive, but through some theological sleight of hand, resist actually affirming LGBTQ+ identity or expression. Some will refuse to hold same-sex weddings in the sanctuary but allow them in the parish hall (I’m looking at you, UMC congregations), others will “welcome” LGBTQ+ persons but still expect them to be celibate or closeted.

Even actively affirming congregations stumble by hiring only straight, cisgender people for ministry positions. Some denominations will ordain LGBTQ+ persons, but those ministers will then struggle to find a job in any church within that denomination. Your denomination may profess inclusivity, but individual congregations may resist or reject it. Put quite simply, your ostensibly LGBTQ+ affirming church, may not be as inclusive as you think it is.

If LGBTQ+ persons express concerns to you about this, listen to us. It can be very difficult to understand where we’re coming from because you have such a different position, but in pretty much every case assume what we say is honest, valid, and legitimate. Only then can the church begin to have the necessary – and difficult – conversations about where it’s failing and how it can do better.

For further reading:

Cody J. Sanders, Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow: What All Christians Can Learn from LGBTQ Lives

David J. Kundtz & Bernard S. Schlager, Ministry Among God’s Queer Folk: LGBT Pastoral Care

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40 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why LGBTQ+ People Don’t Want to Go to Your LGBTQ+ Inclusive Church

  1. not saying I disagree with this, but a lot of these points seem to say something like: Christian churches should abandon any sense that Christianity should have certain prescriptive ethics when it comes to LGBT sexuality. And maybe it’s because I grew up in a very strict tradition, but I just don’t understand what’s left of religion when you jettison these things.

    I think this comes through in many of the points here, but I think point 4 kinda encapsulates the sense most. I mean, let’s say that Christianity did not assume that it alone was capable of providing meaning — let’s say instead that Christianity acknowledged that other things were capable of providing meaning, but simply expressed that it thought those other forms of meaning were inferior, incomplete, or incorrect.

    If this is not a problem, then Christianity would still assert prescriptive ethics on a number of topics (including sexuality) based on its system of meaning.

    But if even this perspective is a problem, then what the heck is Christianity? Like, I don’t understand, per point 5, what Christianity is without a pastoral gaze?

    (Coincidentally, this may be one really huge stumbling point for many people. Like I said to begin, I don’t disagree with you on most of these points. I would agree that because of the homophobic ethics of my childhood religion, I have come up with alternative ways of situating meaning. So, this does keep me from meaningfully re-engaging with religion — because I understand it as a way of situating meaning with an ethics that I disagree with, and I see attempts to water down those ethics as counterfeits of that religion.)

    • I think you touch on one of the biggest problems, not only with Christianity in light of LGBTQ+ persons, but Christianity in contemporary society as a whole.

      The question isn’t “Is Christianity offering prescriptive ethics?” but “What is the basis and the character of those prescriptive ethics?” Any ethics, sexual or otherwise, is going to have a degree of prescriptivity to them. The problem has been that Christianity’s prescriptive sexual ethics, at least in its most dominant form, has been based on patriarchy, homophobia, and unjust social structures.

      How might a prescriptive Christian sexual ethics look once Christianity has emptied itself of these perspectives?

      It comes down, at the very least, to love of God, and love of neighbor: honoring the Other in your sexual behavior and identity. What this looks like, and how to conceptualize it, is a big undertaking that’s going to take a generation to establish.

      But for further reading, Margaret Farley touches on this with depth, grace, and clarity in Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.

    • “I just don’t understand what’s left of religion when you jettison these things [prescriptive ethics]”. I can’t speak for religion in general, but Christianity has never been primarily about prescriptive ethics, although admittedly some Christians have made it look that way.

      Jesus announced the coming of God’s Kingdom – an upside-down realm in which the ruler is a loving servant, not a tyrant; a kingdom that brings true liberation and healing. It was the Pharisees that specialized in prescriptive ethics, and Jesus angered them by consistently breaking their burdensome rules and regulations. He also angered the political authorities because he spoke up for the poor and challenged the rule of money and power.

      When the churches embrace the way of Jesus, many of the barriers that put off LGBT+ people (and many others too) will no longer apply. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone will flood back to church, in fact it probably means that a lot of people will leave in horror. But that may be no bad thing.

    • You just said in your first paragraph: “I just don’t understand what’s left of religion when you jettison these things.”

      That is really the problem. So many religious people think their religion is all about hating and controlling gays, and if you take that away, you have nothing. That is a poor excuse for a religion.

      Read the parable of the good Samaritan. THAT is the heart of what Christianity SHOULD be. If you jettison the idea that you MUST have an enemy to hate and concentrate on the idea of helping others, you have the purest and best form of religion.

      It would help if the sermons reflected the reality of what is in the Bible. Take the story of Sodom, for example, It is one of the strongest arguments against homophobia you can find. (To try and find 10 righteous people in the city, God sends two young men traveling together with no female companions and that fact provokes the entire city into massive mob violence. Since less than 10 stood up against that homophobic response, God destroyed the city.)

      Or take into account the fact that every single same-sex couple in the Bible is shown in a positive light.

      Or for that matter, how many churches preach that Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus, had two fathers? The Bible lists both of them and gives each of them a completely different lineage.

      Not one of the presumed anti-gay verses hold up as anti-gay when examined. How many churches actually promote that fact?

      Since the Bible does not support homophobia, why should homophobia be so critical to the Church that it would not exist without it?

    • Maybe I’m misunderstanding you.

      “Christian churches should abandon any sense that Christianity should have certain prescriptive ethics when it comes to LGBT sexuality. And maybe it’s because I grew up in a very strict tradition, but I just don’t understand what’s left of religion when you jettison these things.”

      That sounds like you’re saying that religion is all about sex.

      If I was going to look at the Bible and pick out one thing to simplistically reduce religion to (and totally ignore that “true religion is looking out for orphans and widows” bit) to, it’d be an economic system, with how much of the Bible is about money (between the tithes and the jubilee) and Jesus in particular talks about wealth and poverty.

      Now, I wouldn’t simplistically reduce it to that. There are many other important themes found throughout the Bible and especially in Jesus’ teachings, but sex still doesn’t really rank up there on the list. It didn’t even make it into the separation of the sheep and goats.

  2. So much truth here.

    I’m hoping no church leaders were reading the points and smugly saying “that’s not us.” Almost certainly, to some degree, it is. It’s important that folks read all the way through it, because #7 hits every denomination I know.

    “Not ______! We’re not that way!”

    Yes, your denomination is, to some degree, regarding at least some portion of the LGBTQ+ community. Yes, even you.

    • Are you including the Metropolitan Community Church denomination in your sweeping generalization? You as well as other commentators here are painting with too broad a brush. The author of the article reflects deep personal experience – moving and authentic. But the author too, falls into the error of generalization. For example, the idea of “pastoral gaze” lacks perspective. Many of my fellow clergy are gay – married and unmarried – and are certainly sensitive to the broad human range of sexual expression. Most of my colleagues who are “heterosexual” would never engage in the kind of puritanical “pastoral gaze” described by the author. Again, too much generalization weakens an argument. If you claim, “#7 hits every denomination I know”, I would challenge you to broaden your knowledge.

  3. Can’t listen to you if you’re not there. You make lots of interesting valid points for consideration but your premise seems to be that willing inclusive churches need to listen and learn from LGBT individuals but that has to happen by some ethereal osmosis. How does that square with the principle of no conversation about you, without you?

    • I guess that means you have to look instead of wait for people to come to you. In general if you want to reach out to others, you have to find them. In the 80’s I was on CompuServe’s Religion forum and discussed these issues in depth. You would be surprised to what length people went to in order to hold on to anti-gay misinterpretations of the Bible.

    • Well, perhaps you could seek out LGBT people on their “home turf” and listen to them there rather than waiting for them to come to you.

  4. Thank you for this. I am the cis-gender, straight, woman pastor of a small town church in a denomination that is currently actively struggling with this (UMC). My particular church is decidedly affirming in an area where most churches are not (southern Delaware) but we do struggle in lots of areas and I can see from this article ways that I/we need to improve.

    We have a few from the LGBTQ+ community attending so people in the community know we are inclusive but we don’t make a big thing of it. I’ve wondered sometimes if we should but that hasn’t been our history. We have not joined Reconciling Ministries or done a big campaign or put up a rainbow sign because we just want to be the church who reaches out to everyone not to any specific group. It’s our hope that all who come will be able to look past our flaws and forgive our awkwardness to see our hearts.

    I/we are quite missional when it comes to hunger and clothing and those who are in need. We love Jesus and want others to know that following him can make your life richer now and that heaven will take care of itself. I would love to see more folks from the LGBTQ+ community join us for worship and activities but I’d love to see more everybody join us. There are many who have been wounded by church for lots of reasons. We just hope we don’t contribute to that.

    • The trouble with this is that when the default is churches holding toxic theological beliefs toward LGBTQ+ people, the lack of a welcoming statement is in and of itself a statement. It tells us to stay away. And while the idea of welcoming everyone has good intentions, if this means welcoming people who think we are evil or subhuman, than you are de facto siding with bigotry. Nice intentions are nice, but we and our churches don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a world where Christian theology is by and large actively toxic. This means active course correction, not inertia, is needed.

      • Christine, I had a choice and knew the trouble that was coming in the UMC when I became ordained. I could have navigated to a different denomination that was more progressive but my thought was, you can’t rock the boat if you’re not in it so here I am. I would say to my LGBTQ+ siblings, please, come rock the boat with me. Join with my congregation to make a difference in the UMC. Teach us, help us, allow us to learn from you. We can’t do that if you stay away.

  5. You made a reference to the UMC and one portion of your comments. The only way the policy within the united Methodist church will change is if the general conference makes those changes. There are many within the church who would like to see changes implemented, especially when it comes to the use of church sanctuarys for same gender weddings and the ability of UMC pastors to perform them. Based on the guidelines of the united Methodist church has set down in the discipline, pastors who performs same gender weddings could lose their credentials. However, there are some pastors who secretly officiate in these ceremonies anyway because they feel that is a part of their calling. Vision Unfortunately, it may take the division within the UMC for changes to take place. But to get back to my point, it is not up to the individual congregations when it comes to the use of church property for same gender weddings. I wish it was otherwise.

  6. I am a queer cis-woman (raised Methodist) who as an adult is now an active member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. All of your points makes sense to me (either based on my own experience, or those of queer friends and family), and many apply to even UU congregations (one of which seems to be in the image between #3 and #4 of a sanctuary showing a “Side With Love” (UU social justice campaign) banner), though UU is not actually a Christian denomination.

    Even in the most affirming and inclusive of non-queer communities that I have experienced, hetero-normativity has been a fact, baked into the assumptions and structures of the community, which leaves me less able to be 100% “me”. I can understand why queer folk might not choose to be a part of a community like that, even if they do not have a trauma background associated with religion as so many do—it simply doesn’t meet their need to be their authentic selves, which, for me, is the foundation of any kind of search for spiritual meaning.

  7. I had a conversation with the pastor of a church we attended a decade ago, a man we considered to be fairly progressive. When the topic of the church’s stance on homosexuality came up, he stopped me cold after I mentioned the words “arbitrary” and “hierarchy”. He proceeded to link homosexuality, via reductio ad absurdum, to bestiality, incest, and pedophilia. It didn’t sit well with me, but I couldn’t put words to it until years later, when I ran across the brilliant “So You Say You Don’t Hat Gay People” blog series by Libby Anne (Love, Joy, Feminism on Patheos). The “Two Boxes” framework in part IV – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/08/so-you-say-you-dont-hate-gay-people-part-iv.html – was specifically very helpful to me. I’ve had to repent of, and consciously work to reverse and make reparations for my former attitude toward LGBTQIAP issues, best described as unconcerned ambivalence.

    Thanks for engaging the church with this dialogue. We need it. The church needs queer people far more than queer people need a church.

  8. This is very good, but I think you missed an important one. It’s not just that church attendance in general is falling. Religious belief is falling. Rates of nonbelief are rapidly rising. And among LGBTQ people, rates of nonbelief are even higher than among straight/cis people.

  9. I must add another reason: ‘Inclusivity’ is a statement of identity, not of service. A congregation has taken the vote, but not done the work. Example: I’m trans. I went to a particular church that proudly proclaims themselves as inclusive. They have a banner stating this (inside, not outside. Some people beamed when I showed up in a way that feels to me as if I was affirming their identity. BUT: People felt comfortable staring. A lot. They didn’t bother disguising it. People rearranged themselves, even in pews in front or behind themselves, to place adult bodies between me and children as if I was likely to grab a child and run shrieking for the door. One of the laypeople who served communion would turn his head and scowl when it was my turn. From the pulpit, no awareness of trans was mentioned, and very little proficiency in discussing gay issues was present. “Everything was ‘gay and lesbian’. Even an individual, male or female, would be a ‘gay and lesbian’ person. They took the vote to be inclusive. They bought the banner to affirm this as part of their identity and hung it away from the gaze of neighbors. And they didn’t do a lick of work educating themselves or doing any work at all to make themselves inclusive in deed. Being inclusive in words was enough. And that’s why I don’t go there anymore. Calling themselves inclusive was a statement of their identity. It was about them, and how they see themselves. It wasn’t about service. It wasn’t about the people they claimed to welcome. It was about themselves.

  10. Hi Nathan, greetings from NYC. Thanks for this thoughtful work — really appreciate it. We have SO much to learn . . . and this helps!

  11. I am heterosexual and proud of it. I agree that the church and society at large thinks everyone has a goal of getting married. I do not share that goal but I would welcome it if God puts the right person in my midst.
    In regards to LGBTQ+ inclusiveness, I am all for it as everyone is a child of God and deserves the respect of that title. That being said, I want to make sure that we don’t put the LGBTQ community on too high of a pedestal. All of us need to worship as one body, knowing that each part of the body has a purpose and we cannot operate without each part of the body. What good is a head without a neck? Or a foot without a leg?
    My point is that we need to be careful to not exclude our centuries old traditions in order to attract more people. Our love is the only thing that can bring us together!

  12. As a homosexual person and a follower of Jesus. I know first hand the ‘church’ needs to change the way they speak about ‘sin’. Which as a matter of fact simply means missing the mark. Of course we all agree no one is perfect. But the way the church speaks about salvation and God’s love needs to change for anyone, straight or gay to want to go to ‘church’. Jesus said it would come to a time where it would not matter where we worship. I was heavily involved in a gay church. But became disillusioned with it because they still avoided the issue of the totality of God’s love and Christ’s fulfilling the law. So now I worship my own way, just about every day. It is sad still that the ‘church’ has to fight the rhetoric of the past ‘hell and damnation’ preaching that is still the under current of most churches. Unfortunately people reject the love of God because of the followers of God not being very good examples of that love.

  13. Love this piece. Well, everything except the conclusion: “Only then can the church begin to have the necessary – and difficult – conversations about where it’s failing and how it can do better.”

    The church CAN’T do better. Homophobia is in the very DNA of the Abrahamic religions. It’s not an accident, it’s part of the design! Assuming that Christ actually existed, if he were here today he would be firmly against gay rights! Sensible LGBTQ people know this. That’s precisely why they don’t bother with religion.

    Let’s be really honest here. The whole push for LGBTQ Inclusive churches is really just an effort to assuage the guilt of heterosexuals who have gay friends and family. Please. I beg y’all to drop the act. It’s okay to have homophobic beliefs. The only problem is your twisted desire to have us there in the pews with you. Let it go already!

    • Just exactly how wise do you think that is? The strict separation between church and queer will in the end only empower religiously motivated bigotry. There’s not such thing as separate but equal, and if we remain that separate, bigoted Christianity will prevail.

      And children who grow up queer won’t have a choice but to endure religiously motivated abuse.

      Queer people have always been in Abrahamic religions. Oppressed, marginalized, and abused, yes, but always present. That’s because forcing people to choose between parts of themselves for the sake of own group never has worked in all of history. It’s violence.

      And no, it’s not okay for ANYONE, religious or not, to have homophobic beliefs.

    • Wow. What makes you think Jesus would be against gay rights?

      Have you ever read Mark 7 and wondered what Jesus was saying?

      He spoke loudly against the “traditions of men” which were promoted as being the Word of God, but actually weren’t. He then said that everyone with ears to hear should listen, and he gave a test to be used to determine when what you were hearing was NOT the Word of God but rather the Tradition f Men. That test was: “There is NOTHING from without a man, that entering into him can defile him.”

      Think about it.

      The Church has been homophobic a long time, and there are plenty of examples of attempts to CHANGE the words of the Bible to try and twist it into an anti-gay message. It appears Jesus created this one to get past those censors and to still be there when the Church was finally willing to become more humane.

    • I just saw some research yesterday that said half of LGBTQ+ Americans are Christian. Many of us believe Jesus would be right there with us, favoring LGBTQ rights just as much as he favored Jews and Samaritans hanging out together. We are already in the pews with straight people. We want inclusive churches so we can have safe religious spaces.

  14. There’s not a lot I disagree with here. Since adulthood (I’m 41), I’ve largely avoided church as much as possible. I’m confirmed UMC and there is a large, active, Reconciling Ministries congregation in Houston where I live.

    And as hard as I’ve tried, I just don’t feel comfortable attending. It’s not the congregation itself, it’s the thought of providing tacit and monetary support for the overall denominational structure and belief system. They may belong to this great network of inclusive congregations, but at the end of the day they’re still supporting the UMC hierarchy.

    But the main problem I have with progressive denominations & congregations is they speak softly of their support and acceptance WHILE THE CONSERVATIVE DENOMINATIONS & CONGREGATIONS SCREAM FROM THEIR RADIOS AND TVs AND PULPITS NONSTOP PROCLAIMING THEIR BIGOTRY. It’s tiring and demoralizing.

  15. One basic problem is that acceptance of homosexual (or bi) orientation and relationships (including marriage) are one track (or maybe “front”) and the range of sexual expression is another. Let’s dismiss fundamentalist/conservative churches altogether. Even liberal churches have yet to deal fully with the issues of the sexual revolution, which started in the 1960s but went into a kind of public hibernation with Reagan conservatism and the AIDS crisis. Now it’s beginning to reassert itself, and with even further dimensions (gender identity and trans). So, as always, churches are struggling to catch up. I mean, does “affirming” mean that LGBTQ individuals and couples apply themselves to the same rules and expectations concerning sexual moderation, monogamy and chasteness; or do churches expand horizons for all people–straight, gay, bi, etc? I would imagine that there are some progressive churches out there which are actually quite accepting of “recreational sex” among gay men in their congregations but not straight individuals or couples. A lot has not been talked about. Maybe the experiences of LGBTQ people can be a source of conversation for all people’s sexuality and for reassessing the very idea of relationships and human needs.

  16. I agree with the general thrust of the argument. As a Christian I feel often that my faith has been usurped by angry frightened people who feel their power to demand compliance with their values slipping away.
    The trouble with christians embracing the supposed need to be be Christ-like,leads too often to harsh judgement of both oneself and others.The beleif that one is better than other people is the high road to hypocrisy.
    The Catholic church has been holed below the waterline because you fundamentally can’t preach the Gospel of Jesus with your hands in a CHILD’S pants.I have no difficulty understanding that many LBGTQ’s may not be able to overcome their experience of rejection by the institutional church, but those who can have much to teach us.Some of the most convincing , compassionate,and truly spiritual beings that I have encountered in my 80 years on earth have been gay.Some have shared my habit of going to church and some haven’t which is entirely cool with me.

  17. Reasing your article makes me appreciate how very, very fortunate I am to have been raised attending a Unitarian Universalist church in the 1980s and ’90s. At the time, I very much disliked going to church but I am so glad now to have been brought up UU, in such an inclusive space where ethical and theological debate were encouraged and all the sermons, though couched in Christianity, were delivered and received in a philosophy of inclusion. Even 30 years ago, we had several openly gay congregation members( even one of the Sunday School teachers was a lesbian) that I grew up never realizing just how unusual that still was. UU congregations can serve as excellent examples of how inclusitivity need not be anathema to religious philosophy.

  18. Thank you for this article. Becoming inclusive is more than saying so. The old model of dividing people by gender is not welcoming whether it’s Bible studies or dividing up responses to the Psalm (Episcopal liturgy) by men/women. Some of our trans folks have a hard time with these binary choices and many times, curriculum for small groups assumes hetero relationships. And thank you for mentioning the cis-hetero norms in staffing.

    As a church finder for wounded and/or LGBTQ+ seekers, the damage that has been done takes a long time to get over. If you haven’t been wounded by the church, you cannot imagine how difficult it is to set foot in a church even if you want to be part of Christian Community again.

    I like to think my Episcopal church is inclusive with our 15 or so LGBTQ people/families but we still don’t do same sex marriages. We straight folks have no experience with the pain of our relationship not being eligible for sacramental rites and celebration. It is a journey (too slow at times) and an acknowledgement of the undone work is constructive.

  19. I don’t want to critique; I just want to say Thank You for sharing your thoughts on this. Our family left the traditional Catholic church years before our daughter identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community, but I cringe when I think of the many years that non-affirming messages were part and parcel of her religious teaching. We found an alternative church, which I believed was truly affirming and inclusive, and I asked her to attend with us through high school. One of the pastors was a gay man and about a quarter of the population of the church is LGBTQ+, so I though it was a good fit. She doesn’t come any more, except on occasion. Your essay offered me some insights as to why she might resist and all the ways “church” can’t be a comfortable place for her.

  20. This was the only thing that made me a teensy bit uncomfortable:

    “Even actively affirming congregations stumble by hiring only straight, cisgender people for ministry positions.”

    I know it’s completely true. I don’t argue with it at all.

    I’m just thinking about the fact that I’ve been pondering church planting, and the pressure to out myself on the staff page on the church website if I do, and the odds of my family seeing it.

  21. Comments are officially closed on this post. Too many straight people making it about themselves, and too many defensive progressives. Too much missing the point.

Comments are closed.