As many of you know, the ‘issue’ of sexuality/gender preference and faith is one I am passionate about. I recently ran a series on my blog about LGBT issues and faith, sharing my own story and the story of members of the LGBT community, in order to engage in healthy conversation about this issue, rather than heated debate – which ultimately, leads nowhere.
It’s an ongoing discussion for me, and it’s work I will continue with – both in my writing and in work in my local community.
And, for me, this is not simply about LGBT community – it’s about the kind of church we want to have.
I was recently invited to a conference held at Oasis Waterloo, over two days, called ‘Open Church’. The conference was about the discussion around Christianity and LGBT issues, and building a more welcoming, open church.
It hosted speakers including Vicky Beeching, who came out as a lesbian last year, Andrew Marin, who runs The Marin Foundation in helping church communities build bridges with LGBT groups in their local area, and several others from all perspectives and sides of the issue.
It was a privilege to be there and to see people of all genders, races, sexual preferences and even theological perspectives, sitting together having healthy discussion.
And there were five key issues which stuck out for me – almost 5 key areas we need to address in relation to this issue, and building a more open, inclusive church. So stick with me, and let’s explore these briefly:
1) Incarnation: We can’t possibly understand this issue – or any issue at all – unless we put flesh and blood on it. I lost count of the number of stories I heard where people said they believed the traditional view of homosexuality being ‘sin’. But then one of their best friends, relatives, children, even partners, came out. And it altered their perspective completely.
These people realised they’d believed what they had because they’d been brought up that way, and had never really researched the issue before. When they did, their perspective & understanding of this issue completely changed.
2) Authenticity & grace: Vicky shared how ever since she came out, she has felt more authentic more than ever, and this has liberated her & opened unexpected doors for her.
Because when we own the truth of who we are, and are free to express it without fear, it allows us to be who we were truly created to be.
And this comes down to the root of it all – grace.
Knowing God loves us for who we are, how we are, where we are, and we are all welcome at His table. Churches should be places people can be honest about their sexuality or gender preference without fear.
3) Theology isn’t the issue: There are many of us want to have a big theological debate on this issue. But, for me, debates are purely a way for us to boost our own egos at the same time as putting others down, simply to prove to everyone how right we are. They literally have no purpose, and achieve nothing but division.
Healthy discussion with respect? Yes. But not debate.
4) Let’s build a truly inclusive church: A truly inclusive church, as Andrew Marin said, is not one which simply breaks free from another part of the church it disagrees with and sets up on it’s own. Because by definition they are excluding those they disagree with. And this is what has been going on throughout history, and it causes more and more division.
And it has to stop.
A truly inclusive church is one where all views are welcome, where we can disagree, and surrender our need to be right. (you can tweet that).
Inclusive church is a place where all are able to love, serve and build relationship with one another, and journey in discipleship together, despite disagreements.
Uncomfortable? Yes. Perfect? No. But church is made up of human beings. It will never be perfect.
5) This is a real issue for real people: Many of us write, discuss and tweet about this issue. But when I went to this conference, the vast majority of attendees were members of the LGBT community, with real stories, real experiences, many of whom had suffered real hurt at the hands of Christians and the church. Bottom line, things have to change. Now.
Real people are committing suicide and others are suffering from mental illness, often as a direct result of treatment and prejudice by the church and Christians. This isn’t the fruit of the spirit of God. It’s not love, joy, or peace. It’s despair, depression and death. There has to be change and it begins with us, today, right now.
My Response (& Yours)
So what’s my practical response? To get more involved in my own community building bridges with LGBT groups. To help facilitate the Marin courses in my church which explore this issue. To try and be an example of love, grace, and acceptance in my relationships, my attitude and behaviour – even if I don’t get it right all the time.
And online, my job is to keep on sharing resources to help others on their journey, and keep standing up for the LGBT community.
We need to become a more truly inclusive church, where all are welcome as they are, for who they are, whatever their gender, sexuality, or opinion – without fear or judgement. Where we can disagree but still serve and have fellowship together.
Let us build communities where all boundaries and labels of age, gender, sexual preference, race and all others are forgotten, and we come together to be disciples of Jesus, and serving our communities, and showing them that love and grace.
Change is necessary – and it’s up to all of us to play our part.
Are you with me?
Question for Reflection:
What can you do to help build a more inclusive church?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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(Picture Sources: Oasis/Online Sources)
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