There are several reasons why churches and church leadership should consider making LGBTI a priority issue.
1. The Churches witness to the LGBTI community.
Christine Sneeringer said in the Christian Post, “The greater tragedy is that Christians have misrepresented God’s character to the gay community and have alienated them from the Gospel, It’s no wonder that the average homosexual expects rejection from Christians. There’s not a homosexual in North America who doesn’t know the Evangelical viewpoint on homosexuality. But do they know there’s a God in Heaven who loves them and who sent a Saviour to die for them too?” Taking time to learn and understand the LGBT community demonstrates we genuinely care.
2. The Churches witness in world.
In 2011, research by Olive Tree Media revealed that the No.1 blocker to Australians looking at Christianity is the perception that the church is anti-homosexuality. Earlier research by The Barna Group in the US revealed the same thing; Christian Churches are perceived as anti-gay and judgemental. Among people ages 16-29, 91% of non-Christians said Christianity had an anti-gay image. Even 80% of active churchgoers agreed with the anti-gay label. It is no longer just gay and lesbian people who are impacted by a Christian anti-gay message or silence on the issue but also their families, friends and work colleagues who love and respect them. How do we respond to this?
3. Ensuring our Churches are places of safety and not harm for LGBT people.
Sadly, lack of understanding, grace and compassion has caused much unnecessary suffering in the lives of gay and lesbian people from faith backgrounds. We’ve lost and are losing lives through suicide, others are been rejected by families and friends whilst many no longer have contact any with the household of faith. The majority of gay men and lesbians who married, believing this would solve their ‘problem’, have found the relationship unsustainable. These eventual break-ups have left all involved with much hurt and pain. Recent research, Writing Themselves In 3, has demonstrated something I have been highlighting for some time, that LGBT youth from religious backgrounds are at higher risk in several key areas, compared to youth from non-faith backgrounds. In addition, the very places where Christian young people should feel safest (in their churches, Christian homes, schools and with friends) can actually be the sources of greatest harm... How do we ensure these tragic outcomes are a thing of the past?
4. The one sheep principle.
Talking with a pastor of a relatively large church recently about sexuality he said ‘This is not relevant to us. We don’t have any gay people in our church’. I wasn’t sure whether this was a boast or just a statement of ignorance as I knew of five. Three of those were in some form of leadership and unfortunately, as they had never heard anything affirmed about gay people in the church, were fearful to disclose their identity. If they disclosed would they be stood down from leadership, even though they were not sexually active, as has happened in other churches? What would they do then with their calling of God to serve? Another pastor indicated the topic was irrelevant as the numbers of gay people in his church was small. Of course this group would be small as the best estimates we have are around 3-5% of the population are gay or lesbian. This would be the same in your congregation, possibly more depending on your style of worship and the area you live in. Jesus taught the parable of the shepherd leaving the ninety nine sheep to go out and rescue the one for a reason. Even though numbers are small, God still cares for these individuals and to ignore their needs is un-scriptural.
5. Being prepared.
Of course the four previous reasons are definitely the most important but this should also be a consideration. In this day of social media platforms, a well earned reputation can be destroyed in a matter of days. Regarding the gay issue, this could be the suicide of a young gay person in your church, a moral scandal, the outing of a closeted church leader, affiliation with an anti-gay organisation or outdated documentation. Any of these events has the potential to take off in social networks or the media. The Salvation Army and Gloria Jeans are just two examples of this. Because of poor understanding about sexuality and the LGBT community, some statements that came from organisations during media frenzies only made matters worse. They will ill-prepared to handle this specific situation and a well-loved and respected organisation immediately felt the impact of a drop in donations. The perception that the Salvation Army is anti-gay still exists in mainstream society and continues to have an impact since the media frenzy mid 2012. A reputation that has been built over decades can be unnecessarily harmed overnight if we haven’t done our homework or kept up to date.