August 30, 2016 1.11pm AEST on The Conversation
Author Mark Jennings Lecturer in Religious Studies, Murdoch University
It may seem like LGBT people and conservative Christians inhabit two different worlds. But with 40% of same sex couples in Australia identifying as Christian, LGBT people are likely to be a significant, if covert, presence in conservative Christian churches.
So, what is it like for people who are both LGBT and Christian? How do LGBT Christians see their place in conservative Christian churches? And how do pastors care for LGBT people in their congregations, and include them in the life of the church? To answer these questions I spoke to LGBT people, and pastors of LGBT people, from Pentecostal-Charismatic churches in Australia.
Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity, which emphasizes a personal experience of faith, together with ecstatic phenomena such as speaking in tongues and divine healing, is a fast growing global phenomenon. While there are many different denominations, Australia’s largest Pentecostal-Charismatic denomination, the Australian Christian Churches, boasts over 280,000 followers in over 1,000 member churches, including some of the largest “mega-churches” in the country, such as Hillsong Church in Sydney (20,000 attendees) and Paradise Community Church in Adelaide (6,000 attendees).
For most of the Pentecostal-Charismatic pastors I spoke to, a conservative approach to interpreting the Bible led them to be “welcoming, but not affirming” of LGBT people in their congregations. This means that LGBT people are welcome to attend, but their sexuality cannot be “affirmed” by allowing them to volunteer or minister. As one pastor I interviewed said:
At the moment our position is that if you’re going to volunteer here that we would hold to a fairly orthodox position of scripture… So yeah, we do have a line, and that line is drawn at volunteering.
Several pastors permitted LGBT people who committed to remaining celibate to volunteer for leadership roles within the church, such as leading Bible studies or small groups, or even preaching. Nevertheless, the LGBT people I spoke to felt understandably rejected by this position. As one put it:
I couldn’t even take up the offering. I was simply looking to be actively involved and become a member of the church… Because I was gay, that was sufficient for