As an ordained minister, I get asked funny questions on forms sometimes. This is one of them, and this is my response.
Homosexuals in the church? A wonderful idea! There should be many more, and there could be if we showed even the basic respect of getting our nomenclature right. I don’t know anybody who calls themselves homosexual. It’s largely considered an offensive term, only used by people outside the community. The people in our congregation call themselves ‘gay’, ‘queer’, ‘bi’, ‘trans’, ‘non-binary’ or ‘allies’; as a group, they are members of the LGBTIQA+ community (and Sanctuary).
Of greater concern to me are straight cisgender people in the church, and how some use their power and privilege to ‘kill and destroy’ (John 10:10). That is, some act as gatekeepers, denying entry to or driving out queer folk with no concern for the terrible impact of rejection and marginalization. Some use ignorant hate speech; some place their queer siblings in intolerable situations. A gay friend was thrown out of home at 17 by her ‘good Christian parents’ with the blessing of their church; others have been publicly refused communion then excommunicated; still others have been asked not to attend worship at all; and far too many have experienced the horrific damage of ‘exorcism’ and conversion therapy.
Indeed, the destructive words and actions of some Christians lead many LGBTIQA+ people to internalize feelings of self-hatred or unworthiness, which in turn can lead to isolation, fragmentation, destructive behaviours, self-harm, even suicide. The fruits of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic judgements are rotten, indeed.
That Christians should engage in such harm is bizarre to me, because our call is always to love; indeed, it is the greatest commandment. According to Jesus, the gate into his sheepfold is not closed to anyone who recognizes his voice. There are no exceptions. Quite simply, he says, those who come through him will be saved / healed / liberated (it’s all the same word) (John 10).
Which raises the question: When straight cisgender people are speaking and acting in hateful, harmful, damaging ways, are they actually listening to Jesus’ voice? When their words and actions tear people and families apart, are they entering through the gate? Are they embodying the generous, joyful, abundant life promised by Jesus? I am not convinced.
So this International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), I suggest those of us who are straight and cisgender stop talking about ‘the gay issue’, ‘the trans issue’ and so on. Instead, let’s focus on ourselves and consider all the ways we continue to create barriers to acceptance, participation and leadership for LGBTIQA+ people in the church.
Let’s ask ourselves and our churches questions such as these: Are we using human precepts regarding sexuality and gender to keep people out, or is Christ the only entry point? If we say the latter, are LGBTIQA+ people actually full members of the community? Are they invited to share their testimony? To preach? To consider leadship?
Are diverse spouses acknowledged and relationships honoured? Do we provide gender neutral bathrooms and opportunities for connection? Do our words and actions create safe and welcoming spaces, or does hostility persist? And what is our denomination’s position on the marriage and/or ordination of LGBTIQA+ folk – and do we need to challenge it?
Because discipleship is not about maintaining the kind of religious boundaries which Jesus himself constantly crossed. Instead, it’s to listen for Jesus’ voice and follow his lead: which inevitably takes us to the marginalized and rejected of this world. So let us follow the good shepherd beyond fears and phobias, beyond human precepts, beyond law, and beyond pinched and conditional conceptions of grace, and let us find our way to the lush green pastures of God’s overflowing hospitality and love.
PS – If there are continuing obstacles to participation at Sanctuary for LGBTIQA+ folk, please let me / us know.
Emailed to Sanctuary 17 May 2023 © Sanctuary, 2023. Photo by Cecilie Johnsen on Unsplash. Sanctuary is based on Peek Whurrong country. Acknowledgement of country here.
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