I posted an article on my Facebook page this week and got a good question in response. Since I’m sure others have thought this, I thought I’d answer my friend in a blog post. The article that I posted was in the Advocate and you can read it here. If you don’t want to take the time to read it, the article explained why the difference between an affirming church and a welcoming church is huge. The person sharing their story had been through conversion therapy. Here is the question that I got:
It could be 300-600 or more people sitting in a church for mass or service. Who would know who is different, in what ever way?
Why does there even need to be a necessity to know anyone’s sexual preference, in a crowd, a bus, or in a church?
This always confuses me about how people complain about not being accepted.
Isn’t it someone who is unsettled or self-conscious about something that has the feeling of being unwelcomed?
I’m genuinely interested in the feelings people go through.
I’d feel unsettled or self-conscious say… if I’d enter a room of tall, slender runway models.
Of course, at my age now, it wouldn’t bother me as much because I’m much more comfortable being me. Authentic, shortness and all.
Great question right? And I love that this person stated that they are genuinely interested in the feelings that other people go through. Just like a skinny person may not understand why it might be a bit awkward to walk into a room full of runway models if you aren’t skinny…a person who is straight is not going to understand what it’s like to be LGBTQ walking into a church. So it’s good to have conversations to try to understand each other.
First let me say that I am straight. So I also don’t understand what it’s like to walk into a church being LGBTQ. I do, however, have some experience as a parent of a gay child. I’ve also been on this journey now for 10 years and I’ve been in lots of different situations, met lots of people, and heard countless stories of what others have been through. I just want to make it clear that I’m not an expert, but I think I can speak into this question at least a little bit. I am just going to scratch the surface on this because there are too many layers to go into in one blog post, but if you’ve been following me for a while you know that I’ve touched on many of these things in other posts.
We first need to understand the terms we are talking about. Churches may understand these terms in their own way, but generally this is what they mean:
A church that is welcoming, in the context of the LGBTQ community, is open to welcoming everyone. There is a distinction because there are churches that would not allow an LGBTQ individual to cross their front door (I will go into the question of why does anyone need to know in a bit). So if a person sees that a church is welcoming, they know that they can attend there if they are LGBTQ.
A church that is affirming is not only welcoming, but they are accepting of the LGBTQ individual completely. The church does not believe that it is a sin to be LGBTQ. The church would allow the individual to be married, and they can serve in whatever capacity God has gifted them.
Now to the question.
If you are LGBTQ, you have the right to keep that to yourself. No one expects you to announce it to the world…let alone the church. But not knowing where a church stands can be harmful. For instance, there have been pastors that have said that all LGBTQ people should be thrown in jail, some that have said they all should be hung, and some that praised the shooting that happened at the Pulse nightclub almost two years ago. These are normal, run of the mill churches…not extremists like Westboro Baptist that we are all so used to hearing about. If you know that a church is welcoming, you at least can be somewhat guaranteed that you aren’t going to hear something like that from the pulpit.
I was incognito as a parent of a gay child in my church for some time. If you asked people at my church what they thought about gay people, I think they would tell you that they loved them. But yet, I heard things like:
“Gay people are freaks.”
“Gay people are going straight to hell.”
Referenced as “He, she, it…whatever they are”
“It’s just gross…we don’t need to hear about that or see it.”
That doesn’t feel good. Call me names all you want, but don’t mess with my kid. I’m an adult and I’m not gay. Imagine hearing those things as a young person who is gay. So yes, they can sit in a pew of 300-500 people incognito, but is it a healthy environment for them? And what about when they do finally tell someone their secret? If it is not a welcoming church, they could be kicked out. Young teens have been kicked out of youth group when they come out because leaders think it is somehow contagious. People have been fired from their church jobs. So you could potentially attend a church for years…build friendships, and that is all stripped away when they learn this one thing about you.
So let’s now say that someone is in a welcoming church. People know that they are LGBTQ and they have felt loved. No one has said anything mean to them. There haven’t been any condemning messages from the pulpit. Life is good. People tell them all the time they have a beautiful voice and they really like singing. They decide to audition for the worship team. They are told that although they have a lovely voice they can’t be on the worship team. The church doesn’t want someone who is LGBTQ upfront on Sundays. Although the church is welcoming, they believe being LGBTQ is a sin and you must have your act together if you want to represent the church on stage.
That hurts, but you really feel connected in this church so you try to let it go. God has given you a passion for the homeless and the church has a ministry with the local homeless shelter. You sign up and once a month you serve this important ministry. God has grown you in ways that you couldn’t have imagined through your service there. Your life outside of church is going really well too. You’ve met someone and have gotten quite serious with them. When the church finds out, they tell you that you can’t serve any longer. You are welcome to serve if you stay single, but they can’t condone your relationship. You are willingly sinning and they can’t overlook it. In this church, that kind of love is not for you.
This is what it’s like to not feel accepted. It’s not a matter of being comfortable in your own skin. It’s dealing with this over and over again. It tears a person down. This is why affirming churches are so important. These things don’t happen because the person is fully accepted.
To go back to the article…this person had been through conversion therapy. The comment that someone from the welcoming church made to them reminded them of the horror they went through in that kind of therapy. Conversion therapy has many different forms. It could be “praying the gay away.” Being told that you just aren’t praying earnestly enough. You don’t have enough faith and that is why God isn’t “healing” you. It takes much darker forms as well. In some forms, they give the LGBTQ person a drug that makes them physically ill while they show them gay porn. And in others, they put electrodes on their genitals, show them gay porn, and shock them if they get aroused. Conversion therapy has been outlawed in several states, but there are many that still allow it to continue.
So that was a lot of info and it is just scratching the surface. I hope that this gives at least a little bit of a glimpse into why this is important. A church has the right to believe what it believes. Although I would love to see all churches be affirming, I know that isn’t going to happen. My son said he would never set foot in an non-affirming church. I wouldn’t want him to. I don’t want him ever to receive the message that God thinks less of him. I don’t ever want him to get the message that he isn’t loved completely.
Because love matters…