When I first came out to my parents, I apologized*. I wrote that I was sorry for the inevitable emotional pain it would cause them and I truly meant it, even though coming out and being with my now wife was and is absolutely the right thing for me.
I didn’t come out in order to hurt them, but it still did so I apologized for that pain–not for being gay or for being honest with myself and them, but just for that unintended emotional pain.
Now, as churches begin to discuss LGBTQ+ inclusion on various levels (see my previous post) and disclose their policies (which is great #clarityisreasonable), they begin to dismiss the hurt that LGBTQ+ people experience as a result with “we are just being clear”.
Not the being clear part (that’s good), but the dismissing of genuine hurt that their policies cause. Clarity doesn’t mean callousness.
Again, I’m not concerned about theology–I’m concerned about human decency. In the same way my apology to my parents wasn’t about apologizing for my beliefs/identity but about recognizing unintentional pain and mitigating hurt caused, churches can acknowledge and mitigate the unintentional pain their non-affirming policies will inevitably cause LGBTQ+ parishioners.
If a church feels convicted that they cannot allow LGBTQ+ people to serve, or to be married, or ___________, they can still practice sympathy in how they share those convictions and empathy when their parishioners express hurt. Anything less of that is cruelty, whether it is intentional or not. Non-affirming churches that insist they are loving and welcoming to all need to show basic decency by recognizing the effects their policy has on any LGBTQ+ parishioners, members, or guests.
Instead of empathy, most LGBTQ+ people encounter some of the following when they learn of their church’s non-affirming policies, whether that happens in a closed-door office meeting or in a sermon:
- public announcements or rumors through the entire congregation about their orientations and identities
- exclusion from prayer, communion, and fellowship meetings that would allow for solace and spiritual support
- quips and jokes about being LGBTQ+ embedded in sermons expressing non-affirming theology
- promises to be welcoming “when you realize your mistake” (a.k.a. become straight again**, this seldom means adopting Side B theology)
- prohibitions from sharing your experiences with leadership with others in the church
When someone who encounters these situations expresses the inevitable hurt from both the policies and the way the situation was handled, there is no empathy. Churches shrug their shoulder saying “we love the sinner, hate sin.” But love without empathy… doesn’t exist.
I’m not asking for churches to grovel or apologize for their convictions.
I’m asking for churches, especially those who want to welcome and love everyone while being non-affirming, to recognize the hurt caused by their policies. The first step of healing is finding where the hurt is. If churches can’t recognize where LGBTQ+ people have been hurt by the policies, there is no hope of healing across theological differences.
Actions have consequences. Church policies have consequences. Churches need to take responsibility for those consequences. I don’t run a church. I don’t know exactly what that looks like.
Nevertheless, here are a few ideas:
- Avoid everything on the above list
- Learn proper respectful terminology to refer to people in the LGBTQ+ community
- Offer support for LGBTQ+ members who are Side B and want to practice celibacy (for starters, get rid the preponderance of events labeled as “singles” or “couples” and don’t dedicate a whole sermon series to being a good husband/wife)
- Be able to point people towards non-religious LGBTQ+ resources in the community, such as an LGBTQ+ Center
- Be willing to recommend other denominations and churches that are affirming
- Listen, without offering judgement, to the experience of LGBTQ+ people (think the behavior of Job’s friends for the first 30 days)
Those things take work, but, as the 1990s Christian rap song by DC Talk taught me years ago, “Luv is a verb”. If non-affirming churches want to love and welcome LGBTQ+ people, it will take some work.
*Note: I am not here telling all LGBTQ+ people to apologize to the people who are potentially emotionally hurt by their coming out. I was in a safe situation with my parents where I had the capacity and privilege to have a nuanced relationship. I had the emotional support, financial independence, and mental health to engage in that apology. Not every individual does. Churches, made up of many people, always have more power than an individual member, especially LGBTQ+ members. They do not have any excuse to ignore the pain they cause.
** To be abundantly clear I don’t support or condone any kind of conversion therapy or believe that God makes people straight as a result of faith/prayer/etc.
*** I stumbled across this church‘s list of resources for their members regarding LGBTQ+ policies. While they are still discerning their policies, I hope they leave these resources up once they have come to their conclusions.