Where Have They All Gone? Part 2: Facing Facts on the Exclusion of LGBT in the Church

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird for my expository writing class. It’s stretching me as a person and as an author. I cried my way through the last chapter a few weeks ago, and I want to share just a snippet here with you:

And this is another reason to write: people need us, to mirror for them and for each other without distortion—not to look around and say, “Look at yourselves, you idiots!,” but to say, “This is who we are.”1

We’ve been talking about the Church (i.e. the Christian community). My sincerest hope here is not to spread around shame and call people idiots, though I confess the thought has crossed my mind. Rather, I want to create a space where we can talk about us, where we can evaluate our heartbeat and ask some important questions. I think the Church is big enough for this. I think our faith is big enough to doubt.

WSU Campus McGregor Reflection Pool
McGregor Reflection Pool, Wayne State University

My time on campus has given me a unique perspective on the message of Christians seeping into these diverse communities. And frankly, we couldn’t be more irrelevant. (Before the critics come knocking on my door, please note that I’m not arguing for a commercialized Gospel.)2 The reality is that I’m stuck between two worlds. My friends in the LGBT community find churches worthless—and it seems most churches find them the same. These communities are completely missing each other. So where does that leave me?

Stephanie Reynolds, a bisexual Christian, author, and dear friend of mine said this:

I stopped attending Christian churches regularly over a year ago. I couldn’t do it anymore. I still can’t. Every time I hear someone speak about Christ from a platform, it makes me sick to my stomach. The church’s actions–its hypocrisy, its prosperity gospel, its lack of faith in the Holy Spirit, its surface-level community-building, its emphasis on services over service, its emphasis on the family unit rather than the community of believers, its greed, its segregation–broke me. And once it broke me, I found myself outside its walls, clinging to a dying faith.

Then Bernie Sanders ran for president. His ideas were so revolutionary to me, and so compassionate, I felt I had found a way to invest myself in something truly good. He seemed authentic and kind, and he said things I wished I would have heard in church. I went to his rally at Eastern Michigan University, and for the first time, I heard someone in power talk favorably about queer people as if he actually believed we were worth something. I had hope.

And she isn’t alone. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that millennials are leaving the Church in droves, and church attendance is falling dramatically across America.3

Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing.

Greg Boyd has mentioned in various writings and sermons that the politically-infused Western Church is “gasping its last breaths.”4 My hope is that the body of Christ will follow God’s direction wherever it leads, even if it’s taking us outside the church doors.

I think this may explain why, in the mass exodus of those leaving churches, some are turning to politics to see real actionable change. Stephanie is slowly rebuilding her faith. But I wonder how a political socialist apparently manifests more hope than the entire American church. You can read Stephanie’s beautiful article here.

I recently Googled “Christian perspective on transgenderism.” Let my lay it out for a moment (excuse the forthcoming expletives). This was one of the most fucked up shameful searches I’ve ever conducted. Nearly all the articles and editorials I found were grossly insensitive at best and mostly just plain fucked up shitty. Understand, again, that I actually interact with people who identify as transgender. Prejudices and theological arguments usually fall to shit crumble when actually confronted with real and wonderful people standing before you.

I asked Stephanie about this. She said:

I get really tired reading things written by people who are not part of the community who are sensitive to the subject and knowledgeable about the subject but who have an impulse to have a comprehensive theology that accounts for us. It is tiring because it seems quite strange that someone would have to construct a logical argument to accept our presence or service in the church.

I grow tired of having to give a defense of myself.

I finally found this breath of fresh air, an article on gender dysphoria written by a Christian scholar and counselor. It’s not perfect, certainly. But he actually approaches the topic talking about real people. He offers balanced perspectives. And mostly, he advocates that the church should be welcoming transgender people.

In the article, he talks of a study he conducted on Christians with gender dysphoria:

We asked many questions about issues they faced in their home, workplace, and church, such as, “What kind of support would you have liked from the church?” One person answered, “Someone to cry with me rather than just denounce me. Hey, it is scary to see God not rescue someone from cancer or schizophrenia or [gender dysphoria] . . . but learn to allow your compassion to overcome your fear and repulsion.”

From my perspective, American Christians treat sexual sins as unforgivable. The evangelical culture is hypersensitive to abnormal sexual behavior and gender identity. But we don’t necessarily see this with other shortcomings. Regardless of our beliefs, why would we allow any sin to compromise our capacity to love unconditionally?

As a community, we treat transgenderism and the LGBT community broadly as an evilness that we must stay away from—to protect our kids, as if these people have some sickness that we can “catch.” I’ve literally heard this conversation take place: one that suggests a rigid intolerance of transgenderism so our children don’t get “confused.” How are we raising our children, they suggest, if we leave this evilness unchecked? My reply is the same.

How is our bigotry teaching our children to perceive people who were formed and crafted in God’s image? These people aren’t a sickness—they’re our brothers and sisters. Anyone who suggests we should give these people a wide birth is following in the footsteps of the Pharisees.5 Need I remind anyone that Jesus called the religious leadership a brood of vipers and asked them how they were going to escape hell?6

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”7

Broken Door.jpg

I talked with a dear friend the other day. She’s struggling with the Church, too. Se said, “I’m not struggling because I hate the Church. I’m struggling because I love it—and I want to see it better.”

I don’t know of a single openly gay or non-normative gender person in my church. And it’s certainly not that we don’t have queer or transgender persons in our community. So where are they?

When Jesus handed out the keys to the Kingdom, he didn’t qualify his authority.8 He gives it all to us. We have the superpower of God’s redemptive power at our finger tips. There aren’t any qualifications—just commandments. And he gives this authority freely, even to those of us who doubt it.9

Paul says God chooses the foolish, weak, and despised to bring his Kingdom.10 Our authority isn’t based on our merits but rather on God’s.11 It’s not how well we love or how poorly we speak or how we identify that defines us. It’s just our willingness to listen to God’s quiet call in our life, which is to claim our testimony—that we’re loved.

Jesus gave the Church power to do his work—to manifest the reality of hope that is heaven—and this authority is equally given to our lesbian and gay and bisexual and trans brothers and sisters and in-betweens. How are we partnering with them?

If they’re not in our churches, where are they?

[1] Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (Random House, 1994): 234.
[2] See #14 and #15: http://www.johnpiippo.com/2009/01/jesus-wants-to-save-christians.html.
[3] See http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.
[4] See the ReKnew Manifesto: http://reknew.org/about/.
[5] See Luke 11:37-41
[6] Matthew 23:33
[7] Matthew 23:13
[8] Matthew 28:17-20.
[9] Ibid. see v. 17
[10] 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
[11] 2 Corinthians 3:5talking about the Churchtalking about the Churchtalking about the Church


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