15 Mar Church Policies About LGBT Christians

Most of our current conversations about LGBT people in the church focus on theology. Theology is important, but in our focus on a theology of sex and marriage, we often neglect the practical changes churches need to make regardless of their theological identity at the moment. Every church, liberal or conservative, has room to grow in terms of making the actual LGBTQ human beings in their communities feel like valued members in the life of the church. I’m going to suggest one small step churches can take to affirm the humanity of LGBT people in their communities.

If you’ve served in leadership at a church or a Christian organization, policies about LGBT people have surely come up. It comes up when a lesbian couple asks to have their baby dedicated or baptized. Policies are questioned when a boy in the youth group begins to experiment with eyeliner. Leaders in the organization want to provide clarity, so they move to create guidelines that articulate exactly how LGBT people are allowed to exist within the community. I’m asked about policies every time I speak or sit in private meetings with church leaders, and I’ve officially heard the very best response to the question.

A senior pastor at a church outside of Los Angeles wanted to create a place where LGBT people felt safe to follow Jesus in community. He shared his hope with his congregation and, naturally, LGBT church members started to come out and bring their friends. The influx led to the creation of an LGBT small group, a place for them to find community and support.

It wasn’t long before church members approached this pastor with concerns about the number of out LGBT people sharing in the life of the church. They wondered what this meant about the church’s theological beliefs, and to what extent LGBT people would be included. (Can they volunteer? Lead worship? What if they publicly show affection?) They thought policies might clear up the confusion.

In a flash of brilliance, the pastor responded, “Okay, we’ll have our LGBT members draft a policy proposal and go from there.” Startled, the church members were like, “Wait. No. That’s not what we meant.”

Which brings us to the issue of people wanting to write policies about a group of people without including those people in the process. If you’ve ever wondered why LGBT people don’t feel loved in communities even when church leaders say they want to be compassionate, this is why. When statements about love and compassion don’t lead to concrete changes, they sound like empty words––often hypocritical assertions made to sooth the conscience of church leaders rather than the people they’re talking about. What do these Christians mean by compassion, and how does it play out practically in the life of the church?

A simple way for organizations to move from empty words to action would be to include LGBT people (more than one!) in conversations about LGBT people. Ideally, sexual and gender minorities would be invited to shape conversations about worship, outreach, and sermon outlines, because we have unique insights into the overall culture, but a good start would be to include LGBT members whenever you’re discussing things that directly impact them.

Resistance to these kinds of changes highlights the underlying issue: power. Church members often do not want LGBT people influencing policies because they fear where it might lead. There’s a lack of trust. It should come as no surprise, then, when LGBT people don’t believe churches that say they want to be compassionate toward the community. If LGBT members are not trusted with any level of influence, why would they feel valued?

If you’re afraid these kinds of changes would challenge your church’s theology, then look for LGBT Christians who share your sensitivities and put them in positions of leadership. If you don’t know any LGBT people who are out in your church, it’s important to ask why they haven’t felt safe to tell the truth about themselves. I hear from people all the time who dread the thought of coming out to the Christians in their lives. And when they’re in those kinds of communities, positive messages from Hollywood do not make it easier for them to tell their Christian neighbors that they’re the ones church members have been ranting about on Facebook. LGBT Christians will not come out in your church until they hear you, in small groups and on the main stage, affirm their humanity.

Get to know your LGBT neighbors and invite them into conversations about how your church can grow. Be curious about them and believe them when they tell you about their experiences. Trust them to be better guides than the straight people in your congregation, who have never once known what it feels like to be in a group so frequently disparaged by fellow Christians. You will learn how to better love your neighbors, and you’ll avoid the mistakes that happen when you talk about a group of people without listening to them.

8 Comments
  • Laura Jean Truman
    Posted at 12:22h, 15 March Reply

    This is excellent. The difficulties that I’ve had with my non-affirming church have all revolved around issues of “how much am I allowed to be involved.” The leadership, pastoral staff, elders etc have never included me in these conversations. I have to constantly be making sure I’m connected, getting coffee, getting lunch, “listening at doors” (metaphorically) to learn about the new policies that will or won’t affect me and my ability to serve and participate in the church. Most queer folk have left this church, because it’s too much work to constantly be doing the legwork.

    But the start has to be a desire to integrate and include, and that seems like something that not a lot of churches in the middle have. Pray for the Spirit to put soft-hearted pastors and elders in leadership across the world.

    • Julie Rodgers
      Posted at 14:39h, 15 March Reply

      That’s such a hard place to be. You shouldn’t have to constantly assert yourself and put yourself in the right place to hear what’s being said about LGBT people so you can offer vital feedback. At the same time, I’m so thankful for people like you, who do the difficult work of connecting, grabbing coffee, going for lunch, and answering the same questions over and over again. It’s not easy, but it’s how people are moved. I hope you’re taking care of yourself in the process.

  • Katie Melone
    Posted at 18:46h, 15 March Reply

    I wish all churches could take this and learn from it.

  • Ashlie Mueller
    Posted at 15:46h, 16 March Reply

    I really enjoyed this post. For whatever reason, The LGBT community is the “sin” the church has chosen to die on a hill for. They lose all rationality when this subject is brought up, but yet claim to want to reach this group. I know if I was a part of a community the church as a whole was vehemently against, I would not feel very inclined to step into such a place. There are ways to include this group in a way that doesn’t ostracize them and force them to wear a giant G for gay on their chest, the leadership just has to put in the legwork. If it truly is a sin, as they are integrated in the body of Christ and practicing being a Christian, it will work itself out. Answer fear with love and things begin to radically shift.

  • Craig Maynard
    Posted at 16:45h, 16 March Reply

    I am touched by the amounts of thoughts that were put into this and the gentle approach. I’ve been to church where the visiting pastor came and spoke against Gay – I’ve never been back there since and they felt it and they’re ashamed but I held my head up and moved on. I think we should be using the word “inclusive” and “best practices” to reduce the traumatic experiences that have been inflicted on us. It was always about “LGBTI” and not with us. People look at me and see a sincere Christian that it made the visiting pastor look like a total jerk. I always came back to “what would Jesus do?” And a lot of people feel uncomfortable because they know I was offended and angry and I rose above it. The church is still there and they’re loosing good hardworking people. One outstanding person wanted to be in leaderships was blocked simply because his brother is gay. He organised youth events and is a trained sport teacher, abseiling, rick climbing, understand youth issues. He was offered a job in the outback and took it without hesitating and left apparently no longer interested in church.

    This is in Australia.

  • Vicky Poulin
    Posted at 10:28h, 22 March Reply

    Hello Julie. I love your blog and what you stand for. About a year ago I was the kind of person that was against homosexuality but loved the person (so weird to even write that today). Even as I believed that, I was secretly in love with my best friend and actually we were secretly in a relationship for 7 years (or struggling with homosexual sin as I thought at the moment). We were leading worship together, prayer meetings, we were doing missions and counseling, we were teachers in sunday school, etc… About a year and a half ago, she met a man and there it was, my chance to get rid of that sin, so I encouraged her in her relationship with him and pushed her to keep seeing him… until I realized that nothing went away. I was still in love with her, and realized that I was actually attracted to women. (They got married 2 months ago by the way, I was the maid of honor). Also, I had stopped going to church because of many reasons, but I really needed to stop and I ask God who he really was and that I needed to know the truth about him. One of the things that He did in my life during my time away from church (I still prayed and worshipped with my family), is bringing me at peace with who I was and my sexual orientation. It is a big deal for me to even accept it, and now i’m getting ready to tell my family that I decided to accept it (I told them this week about what was going on with me and my best friend) and encourage christians to accept LGBT people. Please pray for courage as I want to stand up for that and bring a much needed change in the christian community. I’m not thinking about going back to church for right now… maybe start a christian group though or a mouvement…? I would like to know your thoughts about that. Thank you for having the courage to do that and giving us hope and courage to stand up also! (Sorry for my english by the way, I’m from Quebec and my first language is french!)

  • DJ
    Posted at 07:56h, 27 March Reply

    YES! A thousand times YES! As I’m moving swiftly along through the analysis phase of my dissertation, I’m struck by how much this is true even for L/G celibates, for whom I should think it would be easy for churches to include in conversations…but it’s not. I know Christians bristle at the term homophobia, but what else could you call that? I’m not sure I have much optimism that a large swath of churches will move in the direction you describe here…but I’m hopeful for it.

  • Michael Schweizer
    Posted at 16:25h, 26 June Reply

    In contrast to what DJ posted above, I feel that when you write about LGBs and their inclusion (or exclusion), you mean those of us who agree with the “affirming position”: LGBs who have decided they can live out their sexuality in some way as Christians, Many churches ARE inclusive to LGBs who remain “traditional” and therefore celibate.

    The issue is this: In the eyes of traditional Christians, “affirming LGBs” live in direct contrast to God’s word. So traditional Christians feel puzzled and wonder why they should include an unrepentant sinner who insists he still belongs.

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