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.