The Church and homosexuality? What to do? A way forward?

Whilst some Christian leaders have preached hatred and the media given oxygen to the fringe lunatics of Christendom, many others hoped if they just closed their eyes or buried their head in the sand, eventually the issue would go away. I’ve often said that the problem is not so much homophobia but subjectaphobia; they would rather just not go into the volatile space of the faith and sexuality ‘debate’. It’s such a divisive issue.

But now churches are having to come to terms with the fact that in a growing number of western countries marriage equality has or is becoming a reality. This means that gay and lesbian couples may come into their churches who have a nationally or state recognised, legal marriage. Some will be parents. They are no longer gay, lesbians or “homosexuals” they are believers, committed church members and families.

The longer churches put this issue on the back burner the further behind they become. Considering the progress made in scientific research, changes in the law, acceptance of diversity in the corporate world and that since 1973 homosexuality has not been considered a mental disorder; some churches are 40 years out of date on the issue of homosexuality. Church, you must catch up and make this a priority. Every day delayed means that LGBT people are harmed and lives lost.

If churches continue to hold on to the outdated Christian belief that homosexuality is a sin then it makes them increasingly irrelevant to those who have gay and lesbian friends, family members and work colleagues. The previous Christian labels of unnatural, perverse, evil and even abomination not only do not fit, they are offensive to LGBT people and their friends and family.

My hope and prayer is that this will be an ongoing conversation that takes ALL churches to a place where LGBT people are treated with respect and equality. Not just welcoming churches, or accepting churches but truly affirming churches.

Welcoming = you’re welcome BUT…….

Accepting = we accept you BUT……..

Affirming = we love you FULL STOP.

It’s a journey we MUST go on if we profess to serve humanity with unconditional love.

As we go on this journey, what would be truly amazing is that it not be ‘business as usual’, but that we pause for a moment and say ‘Sorry’ and acknowledge the devastation ignorance and misinformation has caused to countless individuals.

In 2008, in what was probably a world-first, lead by my Baptist pastor friend, Mike Hercock, 100 ministers (The 100 Revs) signed an apology to the LGBT community for the way the Christian church had treated them. Many marched in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade to demonstrate the sincerity of the apology. Even though the backlash was vitriolic and some ministers lost their jobs, it was a defining moment in progress.

In 2014, I was honoured to speak at the first Anglican Church in Australia to apologise to LGBT people, St Marks Fitzroy, Victoria. The Australian government apologised to indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation and later to the children of the Forgotten Generation for the terrible cruelty inflicted on thousands of individuals because of ignorance in less enlightened times. Sorry will never bring back the lives lost….and there have been thousands. Whilst for some, who have been deeply traumatized and damaged, it is too little, too late but for others, it will bring healing. Saying sorry does not automatically heal the past but it does create the potential for a better future.

People of colour were once told to go to the back of the bus. Women were once told their place was in the home.  The paradigm shift in understanding that happened in the western world regarding people of colour and women’s equality, is now happening in regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s important to remind churches that having a conversation about us without us will usually be nothing more than a recycling of preconceived ideas and misconceptions. Imagine a group of male church leaders discussing the role of women in the church without females present? We would call that misogyny. Or church leadership discussing indigenous issues without consulting indigenous people themselves. How could they have any insight into what their life experience is really all about? We would call that white supremacy/racism/elitism. The church has done a great deal of talking about us but rarely has spoken with us. So when church leaders discuss LGBT people, relationships and the community without speaking with or spending time getting to know LGBT people it does beg the question why. What is there to fear? Why the exclusion? Is this further evidence of homophobia that is regularly denied?

It’s time for the church to invite LGBT people into the conversation. For some this is a conversation about their thoughts and beliefs but for us it is about who we are.

Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International is committed to providing a safe and respectful space for Churches, Christian leaders and organisations to dialogue about LGBTI concerns and issues.  For more information check out our services page.

[The above is an extract from the epilogue “A Life of Unlearning – a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith” eBook and paperback available on  Paperback also available through major online book retailers such Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, Angus & Robertson, Fishpond, Booktopia etc. Order from your local bookstore. ISBN-13: 978-0994152411 or ISBN-10: 0994152418]