Friday, January 06, 2017

why I no longer believe in lgbtq+ friendly churches

I used to be in favour of lgbtq+ friendly churches.

My denomination, according to head office, has at least four lgbtq-friendly churches in this area1. Generally, these churches are welcoming of people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, allow involvement in ministry at all levels and have pastors who are theologically progressive.

Despite being lgbtq-friendly, these churches are uncertain spaces to many people, in that they have not declared if and how they value and embrace diverse peoples. To be specific in this context, these churches do not say anything about being lgbtq+ friendly, their website gives no indication of their welcome and there are no rainbows on the sign out front. The effect is that people in the neighbourhood and, in fact, even people inside the church itself, might have no idea.

And so initially I had thought that they needed encouragement to move toward becoming churches that openly declare that all people are welcome and valued. This is particularly important so that people who are at the edges and who belong to minority groups would know which churches will walk with them on their spiritual journey.

That's what I used to think. But now, I no longer believe in lgbtq+ friendly churches.

It’s not because they are hesitant to proclaim that the good news they believe truly includes everyone. It’s because just as lgbtq+ friendliness is absent from the signs and the website, so are all things lgbtq+ absent from the culture and structure of the church.

Where are the lgbtq+-related events, recognition of special days, characters in sermon illustrations, representation in the pulpit, participation in community events, acknowledgement of broader tragedies and joys, out and proud staff and lay people, and so on? Usually nowhere to be found.

These churches welcome people who are lgbtq+ but ignore the fact that they are lgbtq+.

They claim to love people who are queer but do not love their queerness.

Lgbtq+ people are welcome to become part of the existing dominant cisgender heterosexual religious culture, but the dominant culture is not budging.

Here’s more of the problem:
Little understanding of what it's like to be lgbtq+.

No sense of the pain that most lgbtq+ people have experienced.

No acknowledgement of the harm the church has caused historically and is still causing.

No recognition of the need for reconciliation, repentance, asking for forgiveness. They might want the fruit of reconciliation but are unwilling to do the hard work that is involved. (Jarvis Williams)

No understanding of the need for structures to change.

No sense of needing those who are different from us.

No valuing or recognition of the importance of authenticity for people to be healthy.

No affirmation that “God’s best for people is them recognizing they bear the very likeness of God.” (John Pavlovitz)

No grasp of being enriched by diversity.

No concept of being incomplete without our lgbtq+ siblings.

No sense of celebrating one another.

No vision of being the kingdom of God together.

It is possible for a church to be lacking all these things and yet be considered an lgbtq+ friendly church. This makes the term “lgbtq+ friendly” essentially meaningless, and that’s why I no longer believe in lgbtq+ friendly churches.

I am compelled to say more despite having written what could be a logical closing paragraph.

Claiming to be lgbtq+ friendly while having little or nothing to show for it might seem preferable to being actively hostile and rejecting, and at an overt level, it is. But at a deeper level, it still erases people and ignores their experience and uniqueness. Erasing people is violence, and when structure - in this case, the structure of the church (its policies, beliefs, hierarchy, etc.) - is the cause of erasure, it is referred to as structural violence. That violence isn't changed or mitigated by the fact that a church’s clergy and individual members are friendly and accepting.

Furthermore, asking people of a minority group to fit into dominant structures and cultures is privilege and assimilation. It’s a way of saying “your voices don’t matter”, “we speak for everyone”,  and “you should become like us”. This is unacceptable and subtlely excludes people rather than embracing them. This isn't friendly in any sense of the word.

It might make us feel good about ourselves as a church to say that we are lgbtq+ friendly - to suggest that we are “not one of those anti-gay churches”. But “friendliness” - declared or undeclared - is not worth much and does not reflect Jesus. He was not just some friendly guy. He broke cultural norms and mores in obvious and public ways. He challenged the religious leaders with their prioritization of rules. He embraced those at the margins and treated them with respect and dignity to the point that religious folks of his day were unhappy with him. He gave up his privileged position as the son of God to become a servant to all without distinction or discrimination.

Like him, we are called to reach from the centre to the farthest margins and beyond (Flunder). We as the body of Christ are called to embody the living Jesus Christ who was and is concerned with justice and inclusion, who publicly embraced those at the edges of society, who did not shy away from confronting the religious authorities with their rules and prejudices. Sadly, many churches do not grasp this and act like welcome wagon hostesses instead of the bride of Christ.

The time for friendliness is over. The time to embrace and celebrate all of God’s children - a time since forever - is still here and waiting for us to respond.

rob goetze, january 2017

  1. The count of four is from a year and a half ago, when I telephoned and inquired. At this point, that number might be higher. For the record, at this time there is another congregation whose name was not given in the original four, which seems to be genuinely taking steps to declaring themselves and to being an lgbtq+ affirming congregation.
  2. Jarvis Williams in
  3. John Pavlovitz in
  4. Bishop Yvette Flunder in Where the Edge Gathers

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