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.
Ironically, my pastor at RBC suggested I write for Geez magazine. I don’t think he imagined what piece I would eventually write for them. But here it is, Issue #24, on “privilege”. I wrote the fast version of my coming out at church. I centered it on the idea of privilege–of the privileges I had as a single, white male Christian who had leadership potential and of the privileges I no longer had when I added “gay” to that mix.
The church has to change. It has to. It may not change from those fighting it on the outside, but it will have to incorporate change if it is to survive further. It faces irrelevance, it postures with discrimination, it plays favorites, it values money.
Not all churches–no. (When I say a statement like this I have to stop and say, Thank you, churches that are moving more towards social justice, focusing on issues like poverty, the environment, civil rights. You do exist, but I wouldn’t, yet, call you the “Church”–as the “Church” tends to be the Catholic Castle or the Evangelical Juggernaut. One day, you will take on that mantle–you will be the “Church” and it will have a positive ring.)
The full essay is here, Moving Up, Coming Out, Moving On.
Anyway, there it is, in Geez #24. If this brings you to this website, welcome. There’s lots here, I hope, that will spark conversation. If this entry leads you to Geez, welcome to Geez. There’s lots there that will spark conversation as well. It’s a valuable, important magazine carrying on “the” conversations we need to have happen. It is intrepid, bold, and unflinching.
I would marry Geez magazine if it looked like a bear and loved me back.
*apologies to Kevin James, pictured, who is not gay.
To be a Christian, it’s important to live a life of integrity, honesty, transparency, and of love. Being in the closet doesn’t allow these things to happen. You will find it difficult to love others if you can’t love yourself first, and increasingly, hiding who you are will take away the friendships you wanted to preserve. Being in the closet is a false sense of security–and like every big secret, it takes a big toll.
But how do you be who you are and keep the church and the faith and the God that you love? Where is the abundant life Christ promised us? While we, as Christians, are ready to sacrifice our pleasures and lives for the cause of Christianity—certainly we’re not all required to give up our sexual expression. And I can’t believe God intended only gay people to do that either, while letting straight Christians have more freedom.
If fear keeps us in the closet, it will have to be “love” that casts out that fear. If love is the answer to eradicating fear, it’s going to take a lot of people’s decisions. I’ve outlined a few of them in the pages: what to do when someone comes out to your church, and what to do when you want to come out to your church. But let’s look at the life you can have as a gay Christian.
“I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly”
Amen. So what will that look like, and how do I know that this life is possible? First, I know it’s possible because Christ offered it to everyone–not just the straight folk. We already saw how Jesus treated those who “sinned,” which in his eyes had to be everyone. Think about it. And he affirmed them. Welcomed and affirmed them. His “Good News” is for everyone.
More Freedom to be who you need to be
If and when you come out, you will find a great freedom. “The truth shall set you free” never meant more to anyone else than it does to GLBT Christians. Literally it allows us to stretch and grow, unencumbered by the constant weight of our own fear and the constant work of our own deception. You will find yourself able to love others deeply, more deeply than you ever have before—because you have been rejected too. And you have tried to play the game of perfection.
I’ll tell you this about that game: you’re not going to be as nitpicky about perfection anymore. Because tied to the pursuit of perfection is the pursuit of a perfect reputation. And once you come out, your reputation will take a beating, at least in some circles. Whew! That’s a load off your shoulders, I expect. Now you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. You and God still work things out, but you don’t have to be “perfect.”
You will be where Jesus was–not in the elite, not in the people polishing their Sunday School attendance pins, or seeing who could outdo whom–you will be with the people who are hurting, and who need to know that God and Jesus still care for them. Until you are rejected, you almost can’t see the invisible “Rejected” around you.
It’s an Old Message for the New Evangelicals
It’s amazing the parallels between Paul’s struggle with bringing Gentiles in to the mostly Jewish church, and today’s struggle with the acceptance of the GLBT community in the mostly Straight church. But Jews adapted–and ironically, the church became mostly gentile. I don’t think the church will become mostly gay…. However. The reason that the Christian church lost its Jewish heritage is because mainstream Jews didn’t want to give up their traditions to embrace new ones. The church gathered members from the Gentile community. Who knows if the parallel will extend to modern churches? Churches without gay members might completely break away, and we will see that those churches that accept gay members are the only true churches left.
As a Gay Christian, you get to talk about Jesus in a completely different way. Suddenly God and Jesus are divorced from mainstream evangelical creeds that come across as judgmental, fear-inducing and shame-oriented. You get to bring the original message–of hope, of love, of salvation–that has gotten mired by 21st Century Corporate-Modeled churches who think of membership and tithes as dues to a club, and the prestige of membership–with its benefits–as available to those who can pay. (To be fair, some MCC churches also stress a financial angle–for the good of God and the good of the mission–and they can add just as much pressure for the generosity of those who attend services.)
You get a chance to show Jesus on the right side of justice and the right side of history once again—you get to save Jesus from the Conservative Evangelical Doctrine that had him trapped. People need to know they are loved and accepted in whatever way they want to express themselves. Christ isn’t Republican, Conservative, Wealthy or Exclusively White. But he seems owned by them. You get a chance to break that mold, to show Jesus as the person who can go anywhere to talk to anyone and spread joy and love to them. You get to be Christ to a world that needs him.
There is a Joy in being liberated from the confines of current Christianity
The Rule is Love. Love God, Love Each Other. In Jesus’ words, it was “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and mind.” And the second was like it–that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. All the commandments and laws HANG on this idea, he said. Notice that it’s not the reverse. Loving God and Each Other do not HANG on keeping the commandments. We get caught up in commandment keeping, rule keeping, and lose sight of what’s truly important. Of who is truly important. I’ve heard countless preachers amend Jesus by saying, “and the way to love God is to keep his commandments…” and then they list a hundred rules that you have to follow or else you make God angry. Thank God you don’t have to listen to them any longer.
Preachers have power, for now. They’re enjoying their time with power–and they can bring politicians to their knees. I wait for the day that a politician puts a preacher in his place. But you don’t have to worry anymore about preachers. You can if you want–you can fight them and tell them they’re wrong, but you can also turn around and do good in the community and let the false churches and the false prophets rail on….
Your Power is with God. God is not with the Preachers who are against you. Romans 8:31 “If God is for you, who can be against you?” That goes for Preachers and Evangelicals and those who have anything to say about the exclusionary nature of God, or his “rule” of celibacy for gay people. Be the disciples who were in direct conflict with the City (Acts 5) who preached the gospel because they had to obey God rather than man. Let no one stop you from telling gays and lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and straight people too that God loves them–and that God has a plan for them. Tell them it does not include suffering under the straightjackets of any church that says the GLBT community must stop “acting on” their gayness.
The Lost and the Evangelicals: a reversal of roles
Today, the GLBT community can be the evangelicals who tell the good news of Christ’s love. The churches, unfortunate for them, get to be the LOST who need to hear this message. They dished it out for so long, they believe they can say no wrong, but God knows they have gotten off topic and off message. It’s time they got a new lesson in Christianity.
“It is Good that Man not Be Alone”
The importance of the Genesis story for man is that God knew that Adam should not be alone—and neither should anyone. Though Adam was straight and needed an Eve, you are not, and you need a partner. Many in the gay community have given up on partnership. No wonder–the straight community has not allowed us to have it for hundreds of years–but it is still a good thing to have a partner, to not be alone.
You have the freedom now to find someone, and over the next ten years, there will be more and more Christian men and women to choose from—but get someone who can love, whom the bitterness and cynicism given to us by the straight culture has not broken–if you find the cynical and the bitter, love them and help them know they don’t have to listen to anyone who tells them that they are less. It’s a NEW OLD Good News—the original is the best, and it was for everyone.
Take back Christianity. You are made to have an abundant life in Christ Jesus and the enemies who come in Christ’s name are not acting anymore on His behalf. They have lost their way. Love them and when they don’t listen, wipe the dust from your shoes and move out to those who will listen to the great message of New Life.
Many times people ask why a person didn’t come out beforehand–why they waited, why they lived a lie, or stayed hidden, why they kept their secret. To understand this, you must understand the fear associated with coming out, especially for those who are both gay and Christian.
Christianity: the ultimate lifestyle choice
First of all, you already understand that being a Christian is the biggest lifestyle choice you can make—it changes everything from your friends, your activities, to your career, and certainly adds a component of the supernatural–a relationship with God–into the mix. That’s an all-encompassing choice: to be a Christian is to fill your life with Christian people, events, motivations, aspirations, and other things.
It is also about joining a church family–a group to do all of that stuff with together in a building called a church. You can only be friends, or be intimate friends, with a few people–and becoming a Christian is like being connected to a whole club for your life. You eliminate, or limit, most other activities outside of church-related ones–because you just don’t have the time. A Christian reduces his or her world to a set of people who support, affirm, encourage and love them throughout their lives (if they are lucky to live in the same place for a long time). It also guides your future—you stay with the same denomination if you move; it may guide your decisions as you make those moves, because you are always in prayer. This is a 24hour hobby, this being Christian. You aren’t just gold-plated; you get turned into solid gold. Becoming Christian takes over everything you are.
But if you’ve shrunk your visible society down to the size of a church—and you’re gay—you have a dilemma. In a society where churches fear homosexuals, fear them enough to want to silence them, legislate against them, push them out of their churches, or strip them of their ability to serve, and finally to withdraw love from them, stop listening to them, and ostracize them—it is not a safe place to be gay, and in the end, it’s not a safe place to be an authentic Christian either.
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“Welcoming and not affirming” is a murky idea. As an English teacher, it’s hard to read it and really understand what it means. We all know what “welcome” is and how to welcome, but it seems “not affirming” is an odd way to express a verb. It seems important to figure out what “affirming” is and then what “not” doing that would look like. According to the dictionary, affirming is defined as:
State as a fact; assert strongly and publicly
he affirmed the country’s commitment to peace
he affirmed that she was, indeed, a good editor
“Pessimism,” she affirmed, “is the most rational view.”
Declare one’s support for; uphold or defend
Accept or confirm the validity of (a judgment or agreement); ratify
Make a formal declaration rather than taking an oath (e.g., to testify truthfully)
(of a court) Uphold (a decision) on appeal
Offer (someone) emotional support or encouragement
Antonyms include: negate, reject, deny, nullify, renounce, refuse, decline
So, “welcoming and not affirming” could just as easily be said as “welcoming and denying ” or “welcoming and rejecting.” We can probably see that no one wants to have a billboard say that they are both “welcoming and rejecting”…. but in a sense that’s what welcoming and not affirming means.
The other problem with this phrase is that for most evangelicals the adjectives don’t modify the same noun. What are we “Welcoming” –all people, we might say. What are we “not affirming”–a sinful lifestyle. But without the nouns to make a difference, the phrase gets confusing—and we end up saying we are “Welcoming, but not affirming” actual people. Because we’re not saying we’re “welcoming and not affirming” a lifestyle…. You’re not welcoming a lifestyle into your church are you?
But perhaps there is another definition that we need to consider.
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