During Christmas-time, I acutely feel the low hum of loneliness that LGBTQ Christians in un-affirming spaces experience in and outside of their families, their “home” churches, the spaces where they were spun lovingly like silk until they were spurned.
I often imagine the kin-dom of God as a home where all the queer children of God have a place – function, relationship, purpose, and rest. But until the closed spaces open – until the Church opens – the kin-dom will remain unbuilt.
With permission from the author, we’re republishing a call to action: if you are a Christian who does not affirm the full inclusion, membership, and leadership of LGBTQ Christians, these words are not for you. We’re calling on our allies.
In the midst of moments worth celebrating in Christendom (the SBC’s denouncement of white supremacists and the alt-right, the growth in numbers of affirming congregations), backlash to queer inclusion grows. Now more than ever, allies and advocates are needed to do what queer Christians often can’t: queer your church. This is my challenge to my allies attending non-affirming places of worship.
After shaking off our non-affirming Christian communities, my wife and I deliberated between attending an affirming or non-affirming church. At an affirming church, we’d belong. At a non-affirming church, we’d be second-rate congregants, but we’d have opportunities to “witness” to non-affirming people. (We couldn’t help it; we’d been steeped in the evangelical brew for too long.)
In the end, we chose affirming congregations because we sought healing from the non-affirming kind. And we are healing. Through healing, we’ve learned this:
The call to expand the circle and establish more LGBTQ-affirming places of worship should not fall on queer Christians alone. Perhaps the call does not fall on us at all. This is the work of LGBTQ-affirming Christians that attend non-affirming churches.
Allies, you are welcomed and given authority in spaces where queer Christians are not. More than ever, you are needed to do the work of opening the church doors. It is not enough that LGBTQ Christians stand outside those doors and pull. In your great numbers and with your strength, you must push.
If your institution exists to reflect God, then you must consider how upholding the status quo (read: cisheteronormativity) says to LGBTQ Christians that you are uninterested in extending to them the inclusion and full membership that you enjoy. God is best reflected in the daring work of inclusion — of justice and welcome and love. In such a time as this, you are called to challenge your church:
1. ASK YOUR CHURCH TO CLARIFY ITS POSITION ON LGBTQ INCLUSION.
I’ve often asked a church about its policies on inclusion, membership, and leadership of LGBTQ individuals, and I get some variation of “why don’t we grab coffee and talk about it.” (In other words, “We’d like to avoid putting our exclusionary nature on paper,” or, “You could use some evangelism in an awkward one-on-one setting.”) Encourage your church to put its policies in writing. If your church experiences discomfort standing by its exclusionary policies, consider this an opportunity to start a larger conversation. One way – and as far as I know, the only way – to catalogue churches’ positions for the public good is through Church Clarity, a user submission-fueled database of churches’ positions on LGBTQ inclusion.
2. CHALLENGE “LIMITED” WELCOME.
Written policy and church culture are two prongs of the same pitchfork. Some churches claim to welcome all, provided that queer folks remain celibate, seek to change unchangeable parts of themselves, or else disqualify themselves from full belonging in church life. If this sounds like sufficient welcome, ask yourself if you would accept that welcome. Challenge spoken and unspoken markers of your church’s culture that exclude LGBTQ folks. Cultural barriers manifest as brazenly as sermons that condemn LGBTQ people or as insidiously as complementarianism, emphatic gender roles, and insistence on God’s constructed masculinity.
3. SEEK THE CAMARADERIE OF OTHER ALLIES.
Actively lean on those in your church who affirm the dignity of other human beings. Allyship is hard and scary work. All good things take hard and scary work. You’ll know that you’re doing it right when you feel discomfort.
4. TAKE A STAND FOR THE LGBTQ PEOPLE IN YOUR CHURCH.
Many LGBTQ Christians belong not to affirming churches but to your church — the unaffirming church. This means that there’s a lot of work for you to do. Learn. Listen. Pray. Then, be the answer to the prayers you can answer. Have the hard conversations with church leaders that LGBTQ Christians cannot have. Go with your LGBTQ friends when they are invited to closed-door conversations with pastors and act as their witness and support. Rally for changes to messages, music, and community building when they promote the dehumanization of your LGBTQ siblings.
The holy work of queering the church benefits the whole church. A queerer church includes. It blesses. It rebukes evil and challenges principalities. It prays and works against oppression. It thinks and feels critically. It protects its own, but not at the cost of the world outside. Its people are unfettered and unafraid. A queerer church may even begin to look like the body of Christ.