Pride and Prejudice
As I’m sure you’ve realized by now, June is Pride month. Just like many other commemorative months, Pride month is a time to recognize and celebrate the history and experiences of those who do not identify as heterosexual and/or don’t fit into the binary genders of male or female- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+). The “+” is important because it offers people the freedom to define themselves in ways that might not have made it to the acronym.
As a mental health professional, my personal values and my clinical training allow me the opportunity to bear witness to the multiplicity of ways people express both their gender and their romantic or sexual attraction. I identify as an Ally, a person who actively stands with LGBTQIA folks in the quest to have the same rights and opportunities as those of us who happen to identify as straight. As a Christian, I am grieved by how often LGBTQIA people are asked to bring only pieces of themselves into churches for fear of being persecuted, ostracized, or even excommunicated. I have sat across the room from countless gay, lesbian, or bisexual folks trying to reconcile their awareness and deep hope that God loves them with their feeling that God’s people do not. I remember a teenager in a church youth group asking me a pointed question that brought me close to tears: “Does God hate me?” It is heartbreaking to hear people share the tension of feeling that God hates something that feels intrinsically a part of them, and something that they simply cannot change. At this point, some readers might offer a standard refrain: “We love the sinner and hate the sin.” I am not a theologian, and countless others have written about whether or not homosexuality is in fact, a sin. So, I will leave that work to them (see references below). Here’s what I do know: if we conceded that it might be a sin (to be clear, I do not), why would LGBTQIA folks be forced to atone for and be figuratively stoned for such sins when the rest of us have uninterrupted access to communities of faith, despite our many sins? This logic is deeply flawed, and ultimately goes against a very command from Jesus about how we should love each other:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Matthew 22:39b, NIV)
To deny people this simple privilege is a way of “othering” people who deeply need our love and support because the world is a hostile place!
For me, the deeper issue is not necessarily a theological one but a relational one. When we send messages (through words, attitudes, and actions) that people are not welcome in the church, we run the risk of aiding their disconnection from a God they desperately need! Ultimately, our responsibility is to respect and honor what God created, regardless of how we think it turned out. Last year, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Pastor of City of Refuge United Church of Christ, and LGBTQIA Advocate. came to my church as we tackled our personal response to LGBTQIA issues, and something she said struck a chord with me: “All of my stuff is good. Everything I have, God made it and it’s good. None of my things are shameful. Flesh hatred does not make flesh behave.” Ultimately, that should settle it! We believe that everything that God made is good. Start from there, and let God handle everything else. Our despising of gay, lesbian, and trans folks does not make them revert into what we wish they were! It only lets them know that we are not safe people to be in relationship with.
When we label, judge, and exclude, not only do we run the risk of damaging people’s relationships with God, but we limit their ability to engage in healing communities of faith. For those of us who identify as believers, community is a big piece of the way we understand God, receive revelation, and find love, support, and encouragement. How can we in good conscience rip that away from people we say we love? I know that the stuff of doctrine gets messy. Which rules apply? Who do they apply to and when? But here’s the thing, the church stuff might be complicated, but the God stuff is simple: Love people. No matter what. Let’s start from there!
The Black church in particular has a reputation for being homophobic as a cultural organization. Frankly, much of that is warranted because it’s a very real part of the way many of us show up. The cultural and historical factors that fuel that reality are many and complex. But still, I believe that we can do better. I believe that we can be places that welcome and love ALL God’s children, not just the straight, cisgender ones. (Note: cisgender is a term that denotes people who dress and behave in ways that are consistent with the sex they were assigned at birth. For instance, I have female reproductive organs, and I like to wear dresses and heels, so I’m cisgender). Black folks who identify as LGBTQIA deal with the double prejudices of being both sexual and racial minorities. Then, if you add to that a person who identifies as religious but does not feel safe in a faith community, this is a recipe for disaster! The shame and despair that can go along with getting persistent messages that you are not what you should be can be overwhelming and devastating. I see it every day in my practice- shame, anxiety, depression, confusion, and even suicidal thoughts. This is not a game. People’s lives are at stake.
I know that for those who might not share the position laid out here, the possibility of shifting your views might be easier said than done, but here are some simple places to start:
Remember that everything God made is good. Just like I didn’t choose to be straight, LGBTQIA folks didn’t choose who they are attracted to. If God loves you and accepts you as you are, then the same applies to everyone else.
Our language conveys our values. You can start by simply not assuming people’s gender or sexual orientation. Use inclusive language such as “they” instead of “he/she” or “partner” for romantic partners until you know better. It sends a message that you are open to the many ways people can identify.
Remember that at the end of the day, we are accountable to God for our love of others, not our judgment and categorization of them. Start with love, and the rest will fall into place.
If you choose to be affirming, do your homework and learn more! There are plentiful resources about appropriate language, biological questions you might have, and what it means to be an affirming church. Read up, and then get to work!
If you get nothing else out of this, I hope a simple message has come through. Start with love. When that love is genuine, the rest can fall into place. My prayer for all of us is that our churches will be safe havens rather than places of judgment! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!
Resources to get you started:
“It’s Not the Church’s Job to Decide Who Belongs” by Arionne Yvette Williams
Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective by Kelly Brown Douglas
What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak