Two weeks ago I went to a conference in Baltimore called “Our Shared Humanity.” It was a conference about a couple of things, but the main focus was racism in the church and what the church can do about it. Yep…racism in the church. Just doesn’t seem like the church should have that problem…but sadly it does.
One of my favorite parts of the conference was what they called a Baltimore immersion tour. I grew up in Baltimore, but I learned a lot from the tour. We were in a passenger van and went neighborhood to neighborhood and noted the visible changes in each area. You could tell which neighborhoods were invested in and which were not. We got some history as we drove through and the problems that were shared seemed insurmountable. And really they didn’t need to be pointed out…they were easily seen. I liked this part of the conference because it really gave me a visual of the things that were talked about. Although it was hard to see and hear about, we also learned about some really cool things that some churches are doing to make a difference.
During the tour, we stopped and got out of the van in a wealthy neighborhood. We were asked to take notice of our surroundings. We each took a turn and mentioned what we noticed…large, beautiful houses with pretty landscaping. Big trees with singing birds in them. It smelled like recently cut grass. It was peaceful. We walked a block to a big stone wall that outlined one side of the neighborhood. Even though it had an opening for the road, it was clear that it was used to create a separate space. On the other side of the wall was a different section of the city. A not so wealthy part. The smells were of exhaust from the traffic. There weren’t any trees or singing birds. It was noisy and dirty. What a comparison.
The thing that struck me the most about this experience was the fact that we entered this neighborhood on a one way street. This street took us to the stone wall. We entered the neighborhood in a safe part of the city and it ended in a less safe part of the city. The message was clear to the people on the other side of the wall…you aren’t welcome here. In fact, there is only one way in and one way out and from your side of the wall you can’t come in.
Staring at that sign that day reminded me of the church and the LGBTQ community. Many churches believe there is one way to be…and that is straight. In some cases, all it takes it checking their website to see whether or not the LGBTQ community is welcome. It can be tricky though because many will say that they are welcoming…and they very well may be…but when it comes right down to it they want the gay person to change. They believe it is possible. I’m not going to say that it’s impossible, but it’s very unlikely. Thousands of people have tried.
Unfortunately one of the methods of this change is the “fake it to you make it” mentality. Just date someone of the opposite sex and eventually you will begin to be attracted to them. Now I am guessing if you are straight, thinking about being with someone of the same-sex is uncomfortable. It may even gross you out. It seems so unnatural. Imagine being gay and marrying someone of the opposite sex to try to change your same-sex attractions. They have all the same thoughts about being with someone of the opposite sex as you do of being with someone of the same-sex. Can you imagine how damaging it is to their psyche? Many have tried this approach out of desperation and with council from the church. It destroys both lives. There is more than one way to approach love…and sometimes it’s happens between people of the same-sex.
This Thanksgiving, like every Thanksgiving since beginning this journey, I saw story after story of families that were hurting. Children not allowed to come home for the family gathering if they brought their partner. Grandparents refusing to accept their grandchildren. People in the LGBTQ community with no place to go. All because people think there is only one way to handle disagreement. Only one way to interpret the Bible.
One of the other topics of the conference that I attended was acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the church. This particular denomination had voted a year or two ago to allow LGBTQ pastors and same-sex marriage. The congregations that have accepted this have grown tremendously. There are some that are opposed to it and are not as accepting of this new “normal” for their denomination.
In Andrew Marin’s book “Us Versus Us“, he reports his findings on some research he did regarding the LGBTQ community. He found that 86 percent of LGBTQ people spent their childhood in the church. More than half of them have left..but his research showed that three out of four would be happy to come back.
Three out of four.
Church there are a lot of people out there longing for a community of believers to belong to…but not at the expense of not being who God created them to be. Do we want to be a group of God’s people who build one way roads and stone walls? Do we want to be a group of people who believe there is one way to deal with someone different than ourselves? Are we going to continue to make the LGBTQ community feel left out? Discarded? Unworthy of God’s love?
If we are going to be a “one way” community, then for me that way is love.
Because love matters…