Gays and The Church

I’ve never been this open about being gay in church…it’s weird to be here…I feel nervous…My heart is pounding just hearing the worship music …I feel dizzy…I’ve never held my partners hand in church before…I cried the entire service…I’m not sure I feel safe enough to worship God as an openly queer person…I feel like I’m going to puke…I’m kind of freaking out inside…I kept expecting someone to yell from the pulpit that I’m going to hell.

It’s hard to find the right words to help you feel the degree of anxiety, gut wrenching pain, destabilizing fear and yet in spite of this, the same measure of desire for connection and community that a gay person experiences when it comes to church. Condensed like this, the above might sound a bit dramatic but they are actual expressions of the feelings and experiences that real LGBTQ people have on a regular basis. As a gay person, it is a bit easier to enter a church when you know it’s “open and affirming”, but because of how the church has traditionally treated the gay community, it still doesn’t feel like a safe place. No matter how “open” a church says it is, there is almost always a degree of doubt and suspicion. When my patients talk about such feelings it’s usually within the context of experiencing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) around or within the church. In fact, even when I get asked by a church to come and speak, I still get nervous just walking through the doors of a church – and I’m the guest speaker! I’ve been invited! The church, in most cases, is experienced as a dangerous and scary place. And yet, I think we need one another, the LGBTQ community and the church.

I’ve never been this open about being gay in church…it’s weird to be here…I feel nervous…My heart is pounding just hearing the worship music …I feel dizzy…I’ve never held my partners hand in church before…I cried the entire service…I’m not sure I feel safe enough to worship God as an openly queer person…I feel like I’m going to puke…I’m kind of freaking out inside…I kept expecting someone to yell from the pulpit that I’m going to hell.

Early in college I was a part of a small group that often went out into the streets of downtown San Diego to witness to others about God. Our goal was to tell people about Jesus, how he died for their sins, and to provide an opportunity for them to pray “the Sinners’ Prayer” and accept Jesus into their heart. As you can imagine, starting conversations with strangers on a street corner on a Friday night surrounded by dance clubs, bars, and movie theatres isn’t exactly easy. To help with the awkwardness and nervousness of it all, we started these conversations by handing out tracts.

I’ve never been this open about being gay in church…it’s weird to be here…I feel nervous…My heart is pounding just hearing the worship music …I feel dizzy…I’ve never held my partners hand in church before…I cried the entire service…I’m not sure I feel safe enough to worship God as an openly queer person…I feel like I’m going to puke…I’m kind of freaking out inside…I kept expecting someone to yell from the pulpit that I’m going to hell.

I’m sure most of you know what a tract is, but for those of you who are drawing a blank, it’s a folded piece of paper with cartoon pictures depicting people realizing they are sinful and going to Hell. It typically ends with a sketch of Jesus at the gates of Heaven inviting them in. We had what I thought at the time was the mother load of all tracts, the coolest tract ever! It looked just like money – cold, hard cash! Who doesn’t want free money? It super easy to hand out and our intentions were good; we truly wanted people to find God. But as I look back, I’ve begun to wonder more about those experiences. How were we really the Church? What were we doing to show those people Christ? And what if they had something of God and Church to offer us? Could we mutually give to one another as a way of finding Christ in deeper ways? The God in me could meet the God in you.

I’ve never been this open about being gay in church…it’s weird to be here…I feel nervous…My heart is pounding just hearing the worship music …I feel dizzy…I’ve never held my partners hand in church before…I cried the entire service…I’m not sure I feel safe enough to worship God as an openly queer person…I feel like I’m going to puke…I’m kind of freaking out inside…I kept expecting someone to yell from the pulpit that I’m going to hell.

Now many years later, as a therapist, I hear stories every day about people’s experiences of Church and those who make up the Church. I hear stories about the members of the Church who call themselves Christians and those who don’t. The Church’s job is to offer Christ’s hope, healing and peace to the world. This might sound heretical, but what I’ve learned since those days in college is that it doesn’t mean you have to be a Christian to offer these things of God to the world, to be the hands of God. As I sit with my patients, I get the honor of hearing so many stories of hope and pain. I count it a gift when someone is willing to share the stories of their lives, especially if they are stories they’ve not yet shared with anyone. How lucky am I that I get to be the story keeper?! Some of these stories are from people who don’t call themselves Christians, yet offer a sense of belonging and love to someone who are alone, insecure and dejected. It completely humbles and moves me to want to be more like Christ and these “non-Christians.”

I’ve never been this open about being gay in church…it’s weird to be here…I feel nervous…My heart is pounding just hearing the worship music …I feel dizzy…I’ve never held my partners hand in church before…I cried the entire service…I’m not sure I feel safe enough to worship God as an openly queer person…I feel like I’m going to puke…I’m kind of freaking out inside…I kept expecting someone to yell from the pulpit that I’m going to hell.

I think to be the receiver of stories of pain, confusion and trauma is scary for those in the Church. Scary because we don’t know what to say, or do with someone who is so “other” than us. So much of the time the receiver gives simple antidotes in order to “fix” the problems of the dejected one. “You just need to trust God with it.” This leaves the person feeling bad because of their lack of trusting God and further isolated realizing even God requires something of them in order to get help. It feels cheap like our fake money tracts. But don’t we really just want people to be with us in our grief and trauma? We want to have someone strong enough not to break when they hear about our painful places.

I’ve never been this open about being gay in church…it’s weird to be here…I feel nervous…My heart is pounding just hearing the worship music …I feel dizzy…I’ve never held my partners hand in church before…I cried the entire service…I’m not sure I feel safe enough to worship God as an openly queer person…I feel like I’m going to puke…I’m kind of freaking out inside…I kept expecting someone to yell from the pulpit that I’m going to hell.

As someone who is a part of the LGBTQ community, many times I have to look outside of the Church for Christ. I don’t mean to make this an argument about “us” and “them”, but I’m wondering what is the Church doing if we have to find Christ somewhere else? What’s the point of it all then? We need to remember that one of the major complaints of Jesus’s opponents was that he spent too much time with those he shouldn’t have; the “others”- sinners and outcasts. This was against the strict Judaeo-Roman society. I fear as the Christian Church we have aligned ourselves with a strict exclusivity rather than a radical inclusivity (Deuteronomy 10:19 & Leviticus 19:34) I wonder, could the Church be a place where Christians and non-Christians give to one another in order to be mutually built up? Wouldn’t that exchange be a place where we both experienced Christ? And if we both experience Christ, isn’t that the very definition of Church the Bible gives us? This takes me back to the tracts we handed out on those downtown street corners hoping people would find Christ.

I’ve never been this open about being gay in church…it’s weird to be here…I feel nervous…My heart is pounding just hearing the worship music …I feel dizzy…I’ve never held my partners hand in church before…I cried the entire service…I’m not sure I feel safe enough to worship God as an openly queer person…I feel like I’m going to puke…I’m kind of freaking out inside…I kept expecting someone to yell from the pulpit that I’m going to hell.

Matthew’s account of Jesus feeding the thousands with loaves and fish highlights where we as young college students missed the boat. Jesus did not pick and choose who ate, nor did he send the people away to find their own physical nourishment. He did not shame, nor say their physical needs were bad, but met and exceeded their needs. They ate until they were full without reservation or interjection. Jesus shows us all are welcome. Something the Bible doesn’t talk about that I’m curious about is what it was like for Jesus and the disciples to help feed those people. I have a feeling they were ministered to. In other words, Jesus and the disciples received God’s love from those who were receiving the food; a place where both the giver and receiver experience something of Gods love. Now thinking back, I wonder how we might have met their needs more accurately, not according to what we thought they needed and in that have open ourselves up to receiving Gods love from them too? And I don’t mean this in a cliché way but in a really real and profound way.

I’ve never been this open about being gay in church…it’s weird to be here…I feel nervous…My heart is pounding just hearing the worship music …I feel dizzy…I’ve never held my partners hand in church before…I cried the entire service…I’m not sure I feel safe enough to worship God as an openly queer person…I feel like I’m going to puke…I’m kind of freaking out inside…I kept expecting someone to yell from the pulpit that I’m going to hell.

This leads me back to the LGBTQ community and the church. You might be asking in a rather exasperated way, “If a gay person still experiences anxiety entering a church that is open and affirming, what more can we do?!” I don’t have the perfect answer, but here are a few places to start.

  • The first and most important is by respecting the uniqueness and humanness of those in the LGBTQ community who attend your church. You can do this by asking each one of those attending your church how you can better support, welcome and make your church safe for them.
  • When you know someone is transgender, ask them what their preferred pronoun and preferred name is.
  • If there is a same sex couple with a child and you don’t know what to call both moms/dad, just simply ask them— “Do one of you prefer mamma, over mommy?” etc.
  • Make your church’s website (or even your personal website, blog, Facebook, etc.) clear about your stance on homosexuality. Vagueness is dangerous and, in a way, threatening.
  • Ask those whom you know are LGBTQ in your church to serve in leadership roles, or serve communion. These are places they’ve most likely experienced strict stances of exclusion from and it is a very powerful way for them to share in the power of Christ’s redemption.
  • Treat them just as you’d treat anyone else and ask normalizing questions. “How’d you meet” to a couple, “are you dating anyone” to a single person, “where do you work”…It’s so nice to be asked normal, everyday questions.
  • Lastly, ask them what their experience has been like in the church. Hear their stories and just sit with them. Don’t try and change the pain of the past by giving simple statements like, “Gods grace is sufficient for all”, but be with them in their sorrow. Tell them your sad with them and grateful they’d trust you with their story.

As someone a part of the LGBTQ community I thank you for doing even just one of these, or taking the time to create your own list with someone you know in the LGBTQ community. May we mutually be lifted up by the other.

 

5 thoughts on “Gays and The Church

  1. Nice to get another blog from you Candice, I have missed hearing your thoughts. Please check out my new email interview in Huffington.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janet-mason/the-evangelical-christian-church-and-the-lgbt-community-winning-the-battle-but-losing-the-war_b_7155650.html?utm_source=Alert-blogger&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Email%2BNotifications&utm_campaign=naytev&utm_content=5541477be4b0cc25a0ef5d50
    Thanks again for your encouragement. I can’t tell you how much what you said describes my thoughts and feelings.

  2. As someone who was kicked out of church for my sexuality this post hits it on the nail. I have tried throughout the years to get back into church but have never found one that felt like home.

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