“I’ve been a Christian my entire life and I’ve never been able to ask these questions because I feared how I’d be treated in my church. Reading your writing today gave me permission to push back, to start conversations, and to ask for better answers than I’d been given.” – A reader
I can’t tell you how many times over the past few months that I’ve read a variation of these same exhausted, religion-weary words from people all over the world, from every denomination, every theological tradition, and every church setting.
And though the language and the story and the circumstances may change slightly from person to person, one idea has surfaced over and over and over again; a familiar melody reprised nearly every single day: permission.
Straight Christians, many of whom have spent the entirety of their faith lives unable to address the nagging, persistent, terrifying questions about the way the Church and her theology has laid waste to the LGBT community, have felt like they’ve been given some consent to speak, if only through hushed tones in the protected sanctuary of my email inbox.
Good, God-fearing, faithful heterosexual followers of Jesus who’ve lived for decades feeling that something is terribly but unquestionably wrong with the havoc we’ve wreaked in the lives of gay people in the name of God, are moving ever so slowly out of the shadows and into the bright light of open divergence from the violent, bullying faith story they’ve inherited and been complicit in.
Now I’m here, asking you to move faster; you whose eyes have seen things differently, you whose hearts have been irrevocably altered.
It’s a sobering and telling thing to see someone in a place of power and privilege, identify with a marginalized, quieted, oppressed group of people, simply as they feel empathy for that group—and that’s exactly what’s happened in the Church.
For far too many straight Christians, their compassion for the LGBT community has ironically kept them in a closet of silence themselves; a voiceless space in their own faith communities, where their thoughts stay unshared and their questions remain unspoken.
These are parents, siblings, children, family members, friends, and coworkers of gay people; whose life experiences are yielding an ever more clear disconnect with the party line and practice of their religion regarding “homosexuality”, but who’ve kept that truth hidden from their small groups, family dinners, ministry teams, and social media profiles.
If this describes you, perhaps you’ll consider this your coming out party?
History teaches us that whenever entrenched and systematic discrimination, bigotry, and hatred have been overcome, it’s only happened when those within the ranks of the oppressors have found the courage to speak difficult, direct truth into their own. It’s happened as those on the inside risked alienation and isolation from their very tribe, in order to defend the powerless, bullied, outnumbered outsiders.
This is such a time, Church.
It has to be, because LGBT people are dying from the wounds our religion has inflicted; not just figuratively, metaphorically, poetically dying, mind you; but brutal, real, bloody, final, no-longer-living, kinda dying—and it’s a flat-out sin.
And yes, let’s use that sin word we all love to throw around so easily in our interactions; a word whose original meeting is, “to miss the mark”, because when it comes to really loving our LGBT neighbors in any meaningful way, we in the Church have missed the mark completely. In fact, we haven’t just failed to love, we’ve actively and willingly harmed people and then simply passed the buck to God, (or at least, to the Apostle Paul).
All this “love the sinner, hate the sin” talk is just a pretty, painted, cheap facade nailed overtop a destructive, hateful, hurtful expression of fear, allowed to be called Religion.
It’s not fooling the LGBT community who receive the damage daily; who are driven to the very brink of hope (and many times well beyond it) by people claiming to follow Jesus; professing faith in a God of love, while speaking and doing violence to them.
It’s not fooling the Christian families and friends of those who love LGBT people; who’ve watched them be overtaken by a cancer of self-hatred and shame that doesn’t come from God, but from God’s people.
It’s not fooling many of the people sitting in our churches; those whose questions are growing louder and more clear and more frequent by the day.
Most importantly, it’s not fooling God; who sees those callous hearts hidden beneath the veneer of sweet and flowery words of “love for all people”, while treating the LGBT community as disqualified contestants, ineligible to receive that love.
Maybe it’s not fooling you either and maybe it’s time you said so.
This is not a theological debate, it’s simply an invitation.
This message isn’t to the believer who feels Biblically justified in condemning a child or excluding a teen or persecuting an adult or shunning anyone for their sexuality. This message is for those within the Church whose love for Christ and whose personal faith convictions ensure that they no longer can.
I have no desire to, nor will I argue or debate with those who believe that God is perfectly OK with the depression, cutting, suicide, addiction, isolation, and hopelessness that the Church is actively sowing into LGBT people’s lives, but I am challenging you followers of Jesus, who are very much not-OK with it and who believe the same of God.
I’m asking you to speak; to bravely use your “outside voices” and ask all of the questions that you share with me in secret and hold in solitude; to challenge your pastors, parents, coworkers, cousins, friends, and churches to be accountable for the collateral damage of our theology on sexuality.
I’m asking you to publicly state your conscientious objection to joining the vicious, unprovoked, one-sided war the Church has been so very willing to wage on the LGBT community; from pulpits, through politics, and across picket lines.
I’m asking you to bring your feelings fully to the light in your small groups, family dinners, ministry teams, and social media profiles, where your voice matters and where it has power to start conversations and to give life.
I’m asking you, straight Christian, to make the bold, costly, risky decision to stand with LGBT people in whatever way your personal faith calls you to, regardless of the cost.
Too many gay people have been abused for far too long in the name of Jesus, and too many of those people have lived miserably and have left too soon. That’s simply not acceptable.
Ultimately, the greatest evil is never the injustice that exists in our world but our silence in the face of it.
And incidentally, heterosexual Christian; this “coming out” that I’m inviting you to? It ain’t even in the same universe as what the LGBT community faces. For them, telling their hidden truth may cost them jobs and livelihoods and friends. They may be forced out of churches and social groups, and be subject to verbal, emotional and physical abuse that you and I will never understand or experience.
The worst consequences you’ll likely face by speaking out will be some awkward conversations on Facebook and a judgmental glance or two in the commissary. So while I use the words “coming out”, it’s admittedly in the most inferior way and only to illustrate the truth that for you, simply being honest in support is the most minuscule expression of solidarity with their incredible struggle that you can make—so make it.
For them, for those LGBT people hanging by the thinnest of threads right now and for those who love them, I’m begging you: stand-up, straight Christian and come out of the closet. It’s the very least you can do.