The Church and our LGBT Brothers and Sisters (Part 1)

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" - John 1:12

I'm beginning a series on the Church and our LGBT brothers and sisters. It's a three-parter. The first post will focus on the current atmosphere in the United States when it comes to equality, as well as my personal experiences that helped lead to my position on equality. The second post will focus on Matthew Vines' Reformation Project, a new organization working towards ending homophobia in the Church. The final post will be my thoughts on why the Church needs to rethink how it addresses the LGBT community, particularly LGBT Christians. Before I get started I just want to mention that this issue has been very close to my heart for years, but because of where many people in the Church have stood, and my personality to not pursue conflict, it's been difficult for me to always speak my mind. The easiest thing for me to do was leave, instead of engage in dialogue with people who disagreed. I'm now at a place in my walk with Jesus that I understand how important it is to stand up for my convictions that are based on what Jesus has taught me.  To me it all comes down to loving God and loving others, and that means being an ally for our LGBT brothers and sisters who are not being heard in the Church. So here goes!

There’s a storm a ‘brewin. I don’t know if you can feel it in the air… but right now it feels as if American society is on the brink of a new awakening regarding our LGBT brothers and sisters and their rights.

The wave of states in the last year or two that have approved legalizing same-sex marriage has risen to nine, with an additional ten offering legal unions for same-sex couples with varying degrees of responsibilities and protections.  Almost all the remaining states have some sort of ban on same-sex marriage and/or civil unions.

There have been a lot of pinnacle moments in the LGBT fight for equality, beginning all the way back in 1969 with the Stonewall riots. However, it’s taken a very long time to get to where we are now. I would argue that each generation has made way for the next so that now most kids growing up don’t really think anything is unusual about having gay or lesbian friends or seeing same-sex couples married and raising families. And yes, I believe that is a good thing.

When I was a child, it was common to make gay jokes without even realizing what you were saying. But as a teenager, I was exposed to people from the LGBT community on TV and in my personal life and it became apparent that they are just people looking to get along with others, be successful in their work, and live happy, healthy lives with their families. My first real exposure to this was through Pedro on the Real World: San Francisco in 1993. I remember watching his wedding ceremony to Sean (although not legally sanctioned by California at the time) and thinking, “wow, these two men love each other so much, this is a beautiful thing!” Besides, who couldn’t be on Pedro’s side after all Puck did to disgust and insult him!  One day in Social Studies class in 9th grade, a student made a gay joke about Pedro and my teacher defended Pedro and told the student she wouldn’t allow that type of joke in her classroom. It was then I truly realized that this was a human rights/discrimination issue, so of course I was on board.

But everything becomes much more real when it becomes personal. When I was 15, I was sitting in my living room with my mom and cousin, Jeannie, and my mom began talking about how she just wants us kids to be happy. Then my cousin told me she was a lesbian. Considering myself open-minded and liberal, I was surprised by how awkward I felt at first. She was the first person I ever personally knew to be openly gay. I guess the big thing to me was not knowing when to talk about it. I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable by bringing it up or on the other hand ignoring that she told me. But eventually the initial awkwardness passed and my cousin was still my cousin. I loved her like a sister and it didn’t make any difference to me. Twenty years later I was excited to attend her wedding reception and so thankful that New York State provided her the right to make the same commitment to her beautiful wife that I was allowed to make to my husband when we got married.

Impassioned about civil rights as a teenager, when I was in my senior year I wrote an editorial in my high school newspaper about how I thought same-sex marriage should be legal.  This was right after Ellen Degeneres came out and Hawaii was considering legalizing same-sex marriage.  In a school where people liked to use derogatory words for homosexuals, I was surprised I didn’t get more backlash. I was grateful to see there was more support than opposition to my point of view.

Fast-forward five years, I was 22, had a born-again experience and become a Christian… a follower of Jesus Christ.  

I feel horrible admitting it, but one of the first concerns I had about my own “coming out” as a Christian to my family was that they would think I was homophobic. 

Even with the progress that has been made since then, over a decade ago, many people still hold to this idea that Christians are anti-gay.  In fact, in the book UnChristian, Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman revealed that 91% of young adults who do not identify as a Christian said the church is homophobic and anti-gay. But even more telling is that 80% of young adults who do identify as Christian think the church is anti-gay or homophobic. This is a major reason young adults are leaving their faith or at least no longer attending church. My husband and I have left two churches partly because of how they approached the topic of homosexuality, and have walked out of at least one other that we were visiting because of the immediate negative reaction we had to it focusing on (and politicizing) homosexuality as a sin.

But I’m here to argue that in the last few years, and especially the last few months, there is a revolution of sorts beginning to form in regards to LGBT equality that transcends the “secular” space and has finally infiltrated into the “sacred.” I also believe that Christians do not need to change their basic theology regarding the Gospel to get on board with equality, but instead be more intentional and contextual when studying scriptures for answers on what God desires for homosexuals in the church. 

Before I discuss my thoughts on how the Church can better engage with our LGBT brothers and sisters, I would like to make a few observations about what’s been going on and to show how the tide has been turning in favor of equality:

  • First US president ever to declare that same-sex couples should have the legal right to marry.
  • Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell so gays and lesbians can openly serve in the armed forces without fear of discrimination and/or discharge
  • Several Republican politicians have recently spoke in favor of same-sex marriage and/or civil unions
  • Supreme Court hearing two cases on same-sex marriage statutes with a real possibility that they will overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, especially after usual tie breaker Justice Kennedy spoke about how important this issue is to the children of gay couples all over the country
  • Matthew Vines video on rethinking how the church views homosexuality and the Reformation Project, which is looking to train church leaders on ridding the church of homophobia

The second post in this series will focus on Matthew Vines and the Reformation Project. Here is the video I will be referring to if you want a head start on my next post.

Click here for part 2 in this series, focusing on Matthew Vines and the Reformation Project, and here for part 3 in this series focusing on why the Church should rethink its treatment of LGBT persons.

I would love to read your comments!  How did you feel about homosexuality growing up? Have your views changed? What observations have you made regarding this topic lately, either in the "secular" or "sacred" space throughout the United States (or around the world)?