I used to think that if you found yourself attending a non-affirming church, and you were gay and by yourself, that dialogue with a non-affirming church was the answer–but I know differently now. Safety for gay people is more important than trying to “change” a non-affirming church. The only way they will change is if they lose people. If people walk out of non-affirming churches–straights and gays alike–non-affirming churches will lose power. That’s the only answer. Lack of people means lack of offerings means closing their doors–or changing their ways. This does not mean that if a church is open to hearing your thoughts, and they put you in a pulpit to talk about it, or they invite over some well know gay christians to talk that you should leave. There Dialogue is working! God bless those churches who have listened to his current message to them–that gays and lesbians are to be accepted and affirmed. The rest of the churches, those who refuse to listen to GLBT folks, refuse to be open to this new affirmation and acceptance (which isn’t really new) are rapidly moving towards a minority, and will fall under the non-affirming mantle. You can’t have a dialogue with a non-listening church by yourself (unless they give you a pulpit to talk to the congregation or a panel discussion). It’s just rare. I think you can only have a dialogue with an individual, someone who comes to you (like Nicodemus). Churches are ruled by denominations or by money or by administration with red tape. Non-affirming churches are a Mighty Fortress of Entrenched Bigotry. They have archers on the battlements. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can help out, even fund, a church that discriminates and seeks to destroy GLBT individuals and their relationships.
How to know if you’re attending a non-affirming church:
If you are going into a church for the first time, look for any literature that says “we are an affirming church” or says “gays and lesbians are welcome here.” Check the pews, or the front lobby, for that kind of literature. An easy way to find out about a church is to scan their books in their library, if it’s open to the public. If you find no literature (or no pro-gay books in their library) get a moment with the pastor, or another church member, and ask one question to determine whether you stay or not: Are you an affirming church?
If the pastor says anything BUT, “Yes, we affirm gays and lesbians,” be polite, and walk out. Do not look back.
They will attempt to hold you there in conversation, convince you to chat with them more, say it’s complicated–all sorts of excuses. They will want to talk to you more about it, but ask them for their bottom line right up front. There is no Godly, no Biblical reason NOT to affirm Gays and Lesbians in their relationships and in their sexuality.
These churches need to know that they can no longer smokescreen discrimination with nice conversation.
Non-affirming churches say they want to start a dialogue, a conversation, so that they can, ultimately, confuse people with a lot of bad interpretation. These churches want to remain relevant in the world today, as it changes, and they know that gays are on your mind. They believe hobbling gays, in the name of God, is the answer. They want to convince you, if you are gay, that God accepts all kinds of sinners, you among them, and they want to equate your gay sexual relationships with sin. The bottom line is that they want you to be celibate. If you are straight, they want to convince you that they have the best answer for gays, really. And that they know better. They want to assure you that they have “dealt” with the issue. They will be “concerned” for gays, and want them to know the truth.
For gays, it won’t matter what else they say: if they don’t accept you for who you are and who you are made in God’s image to be, walk out. Knock the dust off your feet (Matthew 10:14) and find an affirming church.
Some tactics: Non-affirming churches talk about “dialogue”
I’ve just listened to a sermon from Connexus Community Church in Barrie, Ontario by Lead Pastor Carey Nieuwhof on homosexuality. Actually it was entitled “Why is it so difficult for Gays and Lesbians in the Church?” The irony of the title puts a lot of the blame for the uncomfortability gays feel back on the gays and lesbians themselves (“Why you squirm so much in our fun churches!”).
Not to put Carey on the hot seat— but so much of Carey’s sermon was smoke and mirrors and misdirection that it took everything I had to sit and allow that poison to come out. The answer for why it is so difficult for gays in churches apparently rests on God’s shoulders: He did it to gays–He is asking them to be celibate. (admittedly, Carey makes a strong statement to his congregation to stop arguing and hating gay people. Carey’s remedy, the homework for straight people who “hate” gays, awkward at best, is to “love their enemies” meaning gay people–who are equated with enemies and non-Christians…how’s that?)
Carey wants to start a dialogue, a conversation. Instead of having a conversation, though, he gives a sermon, where he outlines all his points, the way he believes. I’m not certain, but if anyone ever wanted a conversation with me it would not start off with a 44 minute sermon. Too bad he didn’t have a gay christian on stage, one that disagreed with his Major Points:
1. He says–Natural inclinations often lead to sin; Jesus wants us to deny natural inclinations. Jesus wants us to surrender our inclinations to Him.
2. He claims–Asking straights to be committed to their spouse is the exact same (in both difficulty and importance) as asking gays to be celibate.
3. And he’d like to say– gays can have their own relationships, but the Bible says different.
Afterwards, it was the same dreck we’ve heard before in other churches who proclaim to love and who instead offer a message of “if you’re with us, you’ll change.” Since God can’t affirm all our actions, gays can’t have sex either. (Lovely example of Non Sequitur reasoning)
My point, though, in this post is that you, as a gay person, get to safety. There is no safety in a church that believes God is telling you something which He is not telling you. There is no safety in a message that asks you to deny your sexuality. And when straight people say, as Carey does, “Oh if you think we’re being tough on gay people, just listen to my last sermon on marriage. Married guys, you have to be devoted to your wives!”– he should listen to his lack of compassion. Catch that comparison, Carey. Gay people don’t have it so bad, because straight people are FORCED to love their spouses for life. Oh, the burden. Oh, the pain. God is FORCING people to stay devoted in marriage to each other. But for gays, Carey wouldn’t even allow them someone to be devoted to. What a mockery of the burden he wants to place on gays! Remember: This is CAREY talking. NOT GOD.
Creating the “dialogue”–how it’s done
According to Carey, what the Bible tells him is equal to saying “What God Says”, but this is not true. He will say it again and again though until you think it is. Repetition of “what God says, not me” is using God’s name in vain. God said nothing of the sort.
His 44 min sermon is designed to pretend to answer questions gays might have (as well as questions from straights). It fashions our questions for us, therefore pretending to have a dialogue. He sets up straw men, so that he can knock them down. He doesn’t ask the questions that need to be asked. He pretends he’s answering really tough questions. He makes those listening, Straight people, believe that they are just as much in a pickle with their “sins” as gay people are: but the bottom line for him is that straights are only in sin if they have too much of something. Gays are in sin, apparently, if they have any.
Most of the drive in this sermon is for straight people, really. His goal is to make them believe that the church is really answering gays’ needs, really addressing the gay’s issues. The problem is that Carey thinks our issues are in regards to sexuality. Wrong. Our issues are in regards to affirmation, acceptance, finding a community, hunger, poverty, struggles in life–the same as straight people. He makes our issue sexuality. He wants straight people to believe that they have an answer for gay people, and it’s really not so bad. Gays will LIKE the Answer. And if they don’t, well then they’re not listening to Jesus, so it’s okay to let them go out of church.
While he should have had a gay person up on stage with him to have a conversation, or even, yes a minister of a church that affirms gay people, I’m telling you not to even wade through the sermon. You can. If you want. But it is poison.
The primary goal of this sermon is to make gay people believe that they are being treated no worse or better than other Christians and that they are ALL under the same difficult rules. Their goal is to convince you to stay with them, under their mentorship, to remain celibate–and that God’s love and relationship is dependent on your continued celibacy, your “surrender of your sexuality”.
Dear God, that sets up an impossible task. While Carey is allowed to slip in his gluttony or greed, he gets a wife. You are allowed to slip in your gluttony or greed too, but you don’t get a spouse. Carey tries to make “surrender your sexuality” an across the board requirement, but he’s not asked to give up his sexuality, his sexual practice. If he wants to be even with what he’s requiring gay people to do, he would move out of his house and never have more than a friendship with the woman that was his wife. That’s what he’s asking gay people to do.
Get out of his church. Get out of any church that does not affirm you. Do not argue with them. Do not discuss. What’s important is that you retain what God has given you as his child–which includes your sexuality and your sexual feelings and your relationships.
Just some Polite Conversation
He comes across very politely, just asking for conversation. But his side of the conversation has just been spoken to thousands, both in his church and online. His sermon is permanently online. He asks for individual talks with him. Your side of the conversation will always be private so that your opinion won’t get out. He’s just indoctrinated the rest of his congregation to believe his way–which is what the power of a sermon, or any speech is. A private conversation cannot hope to compete. (This is one reason why I will be posting my response and not entering into a private dialogue with Carey).
Carey will not change his opinion on gay people for two reasons: he rests his opinion in the “authority of the Bible”; however, his interpretation clouds what that Bible actually says. He is no friend of the Father. And his interpretation does God no favours.
If he wanted dialogue, he would have many dialogues with gay christians who are happy in their sexuality, embedded in other churches. He would have sought out great speakers and men and women like Mel White, Gene Robinson, Shelby Spong–people who disagree with him. Instead, as most pastors do, they don’t want to give up their authority, and so they do some private reading, and some consultation with gays who are uncertain, maybe non-christian, and that suffices as an equal argument.
Get out of any church that does not affirm you. Your lives are too important, too special to God, to be hobbled by Connexus Community Church or any other church that says God doesn’t affirm gays and lesbians. Your time is too important to argue about it. They are just going to try to convince you of their side.
It boils down to this:
Either you believe God designed you to be gay, and to have sexual expression, or you believe he didn’t design you to be that way. Either you agree with non-affirming churches and become celibate and find a happiness in that celibacy because the church you are in is forcing you to do it; or you come to a church that realizes that God never asked you to be celibate, and they bless your unions and marriages with your same-sex partners and build a loving community around you.
A crippling church, or an uplifting church? Is there really a decision here?
Leave and find the freedom in Christ in an affirming church.
For straight allies, I leave this with you— I know it’s hard to find a good church. No matter how much good a church is doing in Uganda, or with an inner city mission, if it still harbors judgment towards ANY person–and supports telling gays they can never marry or find love, it is doing damage in the world. Rather they did nothing good rather than do something hurtful. It’s as if they help those they find helpless–and that act of charity is supposed to compensate for the pain they divvy out to others in the name of God. Helping those less fortunate is nice, but it also makes us look good–and churches need to look good. But can you live with the fact that you are a part of a church that hurts gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people? Can you be associated with “non-affirming” churches? Would you ever want your child to know that you purposefully assisted a church in hurting another human being?
In a growing world of Affirming churches (6,826 at last count), I would hope that you would look for an open, accepting, affirming church. You never know when you might be the person who needs to be affirmed and accepted.