Bottom line: the church should not be in the business of excluding people.
The Church is hurting and as all too often is the case, this wound is self-inflicted.
It’s familiar friendly fire; an injury we are doing to ourselves over and over and over again.
We’re willingly bringing the bleeding to our own sacred body.
I recently had a conversation with the distraught mother of a 19-year old. Danny had grown up always wanting to be a youth minister. He’d spent countless hours after school and on weekends volunteering at his church. He’d led worship with the student band, was personally mentored by his youth pastor toward his chosen vocation, and was excitedly preparing to attend seminary following his Senior year.
One afternoon three years ago, after several years of concealing it, Danny came out to his pastor.
That was the last time he stepped foot in that or any other church.
Upon his revelation, Danny was instantly removed from ministry, made a pariah in his peer community, pummeled with Scripture passages by domineering church elders, and given an ultimatum of conversion therapy or expulsion.
I still remember his mother’s words, delivered through heavy sobs to me, a complete stranger until just moments earlier:
My son loved Jesus. All he wanted to do his whole life was to serve God and care for people, and now he wants nothing to do with the Church or Christianity!
I’m not sure how any professed follower of Jesus could declare this a win, how they could find any moral victory for the Church in a story like Danny’s. In fact, there’s no doubt that it’s been a horrible loss on so many levels.
And the truth is, it’s a story that is being repeated with terrible regularity.
People who dearly love God and who desire and deserve to participate in local faith communities are being driven from churches every single day (either explicitly or more subtly) simply because of who they love. They’re being removed from pastoral or lay leadership, disqualified from volunteer roles, made to feel unwelcome in small groups and invisible in the pews.
And yes, without question it’s a tremendous personal tragedy for them; one that alters the path of their lives, burdens their families, and disrupts their relationships with God. It’s also a vicious blow to the Church: the worst kind of self-violence and it’s doing more damage than most of us realize.
When we exclude LGBTQ people from fully engaging in the life of our churches, contrary to what some may say, we are not preserving or purifying or protecting the Church. In fact, we are gradually destroying it and here’s how:
1) We are robbing the Church of the gifts of all its people.
LGBTQ Christians are as creative, gifted, intelligent, passionate, and skilled as any other believers on the planet. Every time we deny an individual access to the Church based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, we are saying to God that what they have to offer (those very specific things God has planted within them) is not of interest to us. We are cutting them off from a community that they so need, while simultaneously leaving that community far less beautifully diverse without their presence.
2) We are killing off future ministers.
Over the past 19 years as a pastor in the local church, I’ve been honored to have hired and served alongside openly LGBTQ folks. I’ve watched them design worship services, craft messages, plan mission trips, counsel hurting teenagers, and lead people to Christ’s presence in countless ways. They have ministered to me. Their sexuality never once hindered God’s ability to work through them. In fact, many times these folks had an even greater capacity for compassion precisely because of the difficult road they’ve had to travel just to follow Jesus. Thousands and thousands of people with a similar personal call to ministry have been made to feel they are not worthy to serve, and as a result the beautiful work they might have done in this world never came to pass and Humanity suffers because of it.
3) We are telling the world that our God is not big enough.
The Church’s continued preoccupation with the LGBTQ community is demonstrating to the watching world, a clear desire to do work that God seems not to desire or be capable of doing. Though we preach a God who created everyone and can do all things, in practice we seem more concerned about what we want to do with people who make us uncomfortable. As we scream from the pulpit and mount legislation and badger people in the pews, we are sending the message that we really don’t trust God to make or renovate humanity alone. The Holy Spirit’s fine and all—but we really need to step in and do what God can’t or won’t.
4) We are misusing the Bible.
The Bible does not speak to gender identity and sexual orientation. It simply doesn’t. It doesn’t do so, for the same reason it doesn’t talk accurately about physics or anatomy or world geography. The Bible is a document made by a people in a particular place and time in history, sharing their experience of God with the knowledge they had about the world at their disposal. There isn’t a reliable understanding of human sexuality in the Bible, just as there isn’t a reliable explanation of the central nervous system or global weather patterns. When we continue to perpetuate our inherited stereotypes and use the Bible to try to justify them, we are distorting the Bible; making it say things it never claims to say and proposing it addresses things it does not address.
5) We are creating Atheists.
People are looking at the way organized Christianity is so violently clinging to the institutional and personal biases that so many others have evolved beyond—and they’re passing on it. Our testimony in the world is not a powerful declaration of the Gospel anymore, as much as it’s a monument to historical discrimination in the name of God. In an age where people have access to more information than ever, our shared resistance to utilize that information to course correct our theology of sexuality, is causing people to reject faith because we are showing them that religion and intellect are incompatible. Forget making disciples. We’re making Atheists.
6) We are betraying the very heart of Jesus.
Theology aside, at the end of the day we really need to ask ourselves just how someone else’s gender identity or sexual orientation or love life:
1) is our personal business as believers?
2) does anything to reflect the character and commands of Christ?
How is our continued, angry obsession with the LGBTQ community, in any way honoring Jesus’ command to make loving God and others our primary spiritual task? Just how on a practical, rubber meets the road level, are we really loving our LGBTQ neighbor as we desire to be loved? (And before you tell me that you’re “loving them by telling them ‘the truth’ “, ask yourself how often you do this with any other group of people).
I hope Danny finds his way back to a faith community where is welcomed and appreciated and allowed to be fully authentic. He deserves it. Those he might minister to deserve it to.
If the Church continues to hinder the participation of LGBTQ people who are committed to following Jesus and professing themselves faithful, it will succeed in editing out its diversity, making itself more and more irrelevant in the world, and actively pushing people from faith; not because it emulates Christ but because it trades the compassion of Jesus for a cheap culture war with a convenient enemy.
The only Church that will survive will be one that truly loves itself enough—to stop hurting itself.
LGBTQ people don’t just belong in the Church.
They are the Church.
It’s time we acted like it.
This article was originally published on Stuff that Needs to be Said.