Thursday, January 19, 2017

Why are people in your church hiding in closets?

As a Christian pastor, one of my greatest hopes is that children of all sexual orientations or gender identities will be loved for who they are. Too many times (more times than I can count), I have had conversations with queer Christians about the burden they carry of having struggled all their lives with communities of faith telling them, “You can just pray the gay away.” But they discover through repeated effort… it isn’t true.

Young gay people in church should not have to feel shame when they can’t change. If leaders, like clergy or family, tell them they should or can, such young people trust, and firmly and really do believe that they can change. It’s the church telling them this, after all. Trusting their spiritual leadership, they really do want to change and not be different and “be a sinner and go to hell.”

It’s a terrible kind of spiritual abuse. It often ends up making young people, if not suicidal, then at the very least very unhappy, with a poor self image and the fear that God hates them for not having enough faith to change.

As one gay friend wrote: “Being gay is not as much about sex as it is more importantly about a person’s true identity. Denying your true self will only cause problems. In fact, it makes it even more difficult for people to become Christians since they will always foster resentment towards a God that made them that way and did not answer their prayers to be changed. I really don't understand why people continue to promote this harmful process. I also believe it can make the young person depressed, because it is basically teaching you to hate who you are.”

So there’s a conference in Bentonville next Saturday, January 28th, hosted by an “ex-gay” pastor who offers a “road to freedom from same sex attraction.” What I want to say to this pastor is this:

“Although I honor your own individual journey as a person, I am deeply disturbed by your marketing of it to Northwest Arkansas clergy and congregation. You are exercising a form of spiritual abuse, cultural erasure, in most ways indistinguishable from the ways European immigrants to America tried to erase Native culture, or every dominant culture in its attempts to destroy or convert difference. Please stop. Go home and enjoy your family and stop preaching a prison as if it were freedom.”

One of the topics for the conference is indicative of the wider issue. They ask: “What do you do when your Worship Leader comes out of the closet?” Well, isn’t the point that a healthy faith community would already know that their worship leader was gay? And would celebrate and affirm it? What closet? Why are people in your church hiding in closets?

See, in our community of faith, what we learn is that LGBTQ+ people have many gifts to share with us. They have a perspective on life that can teach the church how to be the church. It isn’t that they need us to help them walk away from their queer identity. Quite the opposite, we need their queer selves, precisely as themselves, to be more fully the body of Christ.

As my friend Liz Edman writes in her fantastic book, Queer Virtue:

“For too long, public discourse about LGBTQ people has tended to operate from the premise that queer identity is morally problematic, but that there are specific instances of individual queer people who live upright lives. I argue precisely the opposite: while individual queer people struggle at times with moral failing--as all human beings do--in general I perceive queer identity to have at its core a moral center of high caliber, one that is both inspirational and aspirational. My experience being immersed in the lives of and spiritual journeying of queer people tells me plainly not only that the divine is alive and well in us, but that many of us are deeply attuned to it."

So, bottom line, you can either go attend a conference where you reinforce denial, and erase identity, and ignore spiritual gifts--or--you can join communities of faith that see queer as a central aspect of faith, and celebrate that identity.

If you are of such a mind and heart, perhaps you’d like to join us at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for a celebration of such reconciliation with the queering of Christianity. We’re celebrating our annual reconciling in Christ Sunday on January 29th, 9 or 11 a.m. worship, then hosting Liz Edman at our congregation for a talk and visit on February 24th, 6:30 p.m., social outing after.

We’re always still learning and growing. We’re here in an open posture, to learn and grow with you into the fullness of life in Christ. Really.

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