Hello, it’s me, that person who used to post bigoted memes on Facebook five years ago, and is now bombarding you with articles on LGBT+ inclusion in the church. I know, it’s freaking weird for me too. But maybe the lingering memory of that former me, the crappy one who told gay people that they were sinning with their “lifestyle choices”, will be what convinces you to keep reading. Even just out of intrigue at what could possibly have caused me to have such a massive shift in opinions on this subject.
Earlier this year, my husband and I decided that we needed to find a new church. There were a number of reasons for this, and it was a difficult decision as we deeply cared about the church we’d been attending. Looking for a new church was tough as well. There are so many churches in our city, and it was exhausting just looking at all of them and trying to figure out what they actually believed. After a while, a lot of the statements of faith began to look the same. We get it, you think Jesus is awesome and you want to reach out to people in the city and build authentic community. Cool. But, like, do you hate gay people?
I was supportive of LGBT+ rights before this year, but not actively and loudly and (sometimes) obnoxiously. Then I had three friends come out to me in the space of a month. All of them were Christians. Two weren’t supported by their families, or the churches they’d grown up in. This drove me to be more intentional about my support, to be aware of just how important it can be for LGBT+ Christians to know who their allies are, and where they will be safe to express themselves. The selves they might be forced to hide in churches who are ambiguous about just what they believe about sexuality and gender.
I get it. Being ambiguous might seem like the best option. If you don’t speak against LGBT+ people, you don’t upset people who fall into any of those categories. And if you don’t speak in support of LGBT+ people, then you don’t offend the people who are on the “Homosexuality is a sin, the biggest sin, the worst sin, there’s a Gay Agenda!” train and cause them to leave your church in a huff because you won’t condemn the gays. Because there are a lot of straight cisgender Christians who genuinely believe that churches who support the LGBT+ community are unbiblical and not real Christians. Even though I grew up in that environment, I still can’t figure out why this was our Big Issue that we had to talk about all the damn time. I really wish I could provide some insight, but I’ve got none.
Anyway, ChurchClarity launched this week and I was super excited because this is the resource I needed when we began looking into churches in June. There were so many churches that we were intrigued by but didn’t actually visit because they didn’t mention anything about their views on LGBT+ matters on their website. We basically assumed that unless they had an openly inclusive stance, they were non-LGBT-affirming. And I’m sure there were some churches that were actually inclusive, they just didn’t mention it. Sure, we could have asked when we visited, but there’s nothing more awkward than turning up at a new church with your noisy three year old who won’t attend the kids’ ministry because he doesn’t know anyone so you have to attempt to keep him quiet in a strange location with toys that are supposed to be quiet but a three year old can somehow turn a colouring book into the noisiest thing ever, oh and you missed the memo about the dress code so you’re all in jeans and look super out of place, plus you don’t know the format of the service or any of the standard prayers, THEN you go up the minister and say “Hey, nice service, what are your views on gay people?” Then repeat that scenario at the next church on your list. And the next. Looking for a new church is hard enough without having to quiz unknown pastors about their stance on LGBT+ people. And let’s be honest, some people won’t outright admit that they believe that being LGBT+ is sinful. They’ll talk around the subject and give you vague non-answers. So you might actually like the church and end up sticking around, only to be stunned six months later by a sermon on how marriage is absolutely, unequivocally, only between one man and one woman.
Now imagine that you’re not just someone who wants to support your LGBT+ friends, but someone is LGBT+. How much worse would it be to have attended a church for months or even years and suddenly discover that your church doesn’t affirm your sexuality and/or identity? Or to not know if they’re affirming and feel like you have to hide this part of yourself in order to remain part of the church? No one should have to experience that. People should not be forced to hide a crucial part of who they are in order to participate in a church. It’s not healthy.
If LGBT+ Christians want to attend churches that affirm their sexuality and gender identity, they should be able to find them. And know which churches to steer clear of.
Some people seem to have this idea that ChurchClarity has been created in order to draw attention to non-affirming churches so that they can be attacked and persecuted. Because it’s not like LGBT+ people are the ones constantly experiencing persecution? Like, can straight cisgender (and white, it’s generally white people who do this) Christians stop acting like they’re the ones under attack all the time? You’re really, really not. Donald Trumps is the President of the United States and his second in comand is Mike Freaking Pence and he’s made it very clear that he’s eager to strip rights off LGBT+ people, so yeah, the government is not going to crack down on non-affirming churches and strip them of their tax-exempt statuses. You guys have more support than ever before.
Stop making this into a conspiracy theory about how “Real Christians” are being attacked. This is a resource for LGBT+ people to find churches where they are safe to be themselves. Where their rights are supported and their marriages are recognised. Where they are able to participate in all facets of church life–Communion, Baptism, Church Membership. Where they can be pastors and worship leaders and utilise whatever skills they bring to their community. Where they are recognised as human beings with just as many rights as the the straight cisgender members of their church family.
I keep seeing people arguing that it’s unfair for non-affirming churches to announce their views. That they don’t want to be seen as unwelcoming and bigoted. That they’ll look like the bad guys. Maybe…maybe people think you’re the bad guys because refusing to affirm someone’s sexuality or gender identity is just a really crappy thing to do? I say this as someone who used to be like that. I used to be one of those crappy people. I fully recognise that. I was highly homophobic and transphobic. I hurt a lot of people. It took me a long time to realise that my views were actually incredibly unkind and unloving. Despite all of my activism of late, I’m aware that I still have a lot of learning to do.
Some women are attracted to other women. Some men are attracted to other men. Some people are attracted to people of some genders, or all genders. Some people aren’t attracted to anyone, or they aren’t interested in sexual or romantic relationships. Some people deeply feel that they are not the gender they were assigned at birth, and take steps to change this. Some people feel that their gender identity changes from day to day, that it’s fluid. There are so many different options along the spectrums of gender and sexuality, and I get it, it can be super overwhelming when you’ve been raised to believe that everyone is cisgender (a word I didn’t know existed until last year) and straight. But these people exist. You probably know a whole bunch of them without even realising it. Because let’s be honest–if you’re not affirming of non-cisgender, non-straight people, people might not be entirely comfortable revealing their true selves to you.
This is why ChurchClarity is so entirely essential. People deserve to be able to express their true selves within their communities. And, dare I say it? Churches can not be true communities if they don’t allow people to express their full identities. And it’s clear from the many LGBT+ people who have spoken out in support of ChurchClarity that LGBT+ Christians want a resource like this that will enable them to find churches where they will be safe, supported, and affirmed.
It’s not divisive to ask churches to declare whether or not they are LGBT+ affirming. It’s helpful. If you can’t see how entirely necessary this project is, you’re probably unaffected by the kind of policies ChurchClarity is asking churches to disclose. Which means that this really isn’t your issue to shout about. Pipe down, and listen to the many, many people telling you why this is something they genuinely need.
In the end, my family found a church that’s openly, actively and intentional supportive of the LGBT+ people. They have rainbow banners on the wall, are part of the Inclusive Church network, host an LGBT+ support group, and have their own booth at Pride. It’s really hard to miss their stance on the issue. I would have no qualms about inviting my LGBT+ friends along to this church, which was one of the things that mattered the most to us when finding a new community. I wish all churches were as open about their policies as this church. It would make life a lot easier for LGBT+ Christians and their allies. That’s literally all this is about–helping people find churches where they feel safe. How can you argue against that?