does the church hate gay people?
Early on in my desire to understand what life looked like through the lens of a gay person, I found that my thoughts were very black and white, with no sense of nuance. Since many of you reading this have also been raised in the church, you may share some of these thoughts and feelings with me. I had no idea of the mountain of preconceived ideas, notions, and beliefs the Lord would need to work me through to add some nuance to my thoughts and words.
This is the third in a short series of posts on these preconceived ideas. You can read the first andsecond posts for background. I said a few sentences ago that some of you may share these same thoughts. But if I am being honest, I know that most of you do share my thoughts. And we can’t change the way we think and believe without being challenged. And if we don’t change the way that we believe, we won’t ever change the way that we live — because our beliefs always get worked out in our actions.
Last week, we looked at the idea of whether or not same-gender attraction is a choice. This week, the preconceived idea we are going to tackle is the attitude of the church. Is the church in opposition to gay people? Does the church hate gay people (as my gay friends would say)? And how have we gotten to the place where this is thought of the church?
For starters, let’s do a bit of a timeline of the last 60 or so years in American/church history. While this may seem academic, to me it is very interesting.
The 1950’s brought fear of both communists and gay people in the country as a whole. This was often referred to as “The Lavender Scare”.
In 1969, the Stonewall Uprisings made gay people more visible nationwide.
In the 70’s, real battle lines were drawn between the church and the gay community as the church feared the “moral slide” in America. Anita Bryantwrote a book and organized Evangelicals to fight against a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida.
Organizations such as The Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, and ExodusInternational were formed to help combat the “slide”. (This is just a side note, but what do the names ‘moral majority’ and ‘focus on the family’ convey to the random unbeliever?)
Exodus became the “go-to” organization for the church to send people who experienced attraction to the same gender in the hope that their desires could be “reoriented”.
The 80’s brought the AIDS crisis, which much of the church considered a gay disease and a punishment from God.
The 90’s and into the new century sees the church continue to focus on “reparative therapy” as the answer. Though Exodus dissolved in 2013 with an apology, reparative therapy continues today (I found an article from 2017), despite solid research denying the effectiveness of this method.
This decade also brought a rise of Mixed Orientation Marriages (where one person identifies as a sexual minority).
In 2001, Justin Lee formed the Gay Christian Network, to create a space where gay Christians can dialogue about the affirmation of same-sex marriage. The terms “Side A” (those Christians that believe God affirms gay marriage) and “Side B” (those Christians who do not believe God affirms gay marriage) enter the dialogue.
The 2000’s to today brings an increase in the number of church congregations that affirm gay marriage and large disputes in the Evangelical church in the area of sexuality.
While this history may seem irrelevant, I believe it shows a foundation laid for the large separation of the Evangelical church from the actual lives of gay Christians (let alone those gay people that are unsaved). “Why,” you might ask?
Since I am writing about my own preconceived ideas, I will allow myself a bit of speculation.
I entered the church in 1984 as a new believer of 3 months and a college freshman. During college, I attended a large evangelical Christian movement on my campus. After graduating and getting married, we joined a solid church and began the work of serving and growing.
In the church in the 80’s and 90’s, I never heard any teaching (that I recall) in the area of sexuality. Looking back, that seems odd to me. The country itself was experiencing huge transformation in how it viewed sexuality and gay people, and the church was largely silent. I had heard the name Exodus, and I knew that it “healed gay people”. And that was all that I knew.
I wrote previously about the single man that my husband and I were close friends with. This experience put me at odds with the name of the radio program “Focus on the Family”, as I saw a huge focus on families in my church, to the exclusion of our friend Mike. He was an anomaly the church didn’t know how to deal with. These experiences formed my early thoughts about singleness and family.
The church, to me, seemed to dig in its heels in the areas of public morality and influencing policy in the country. We became an institution that enforced truth without discussion, without knowing people’s real stories.
We told teens to “save sex for marriage”, assuming that everyone would marry, without really teaching a full sexual ethic that would explain why God’s best plan was for opposite-gender marriage and sex inside of that union.
We became impersonal and unapproachable. And that is not the picture I get of Jesus in the gospels.
And that, to me, is sad. I grew up in the church as it distanced itself from hurting people, without even realizing what was happening.
Now, please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I have a deep love for the church and her place in the world. We are His bride and the picture of Jesus to a world that is truly lost and dying. And we do not have to compromise our view on sexuality to love people.
But we have been wrong. And we need to admit and own this wrong.
We have created a thriving atmosphere for families at the expense of single people.
We’ve not recognized the legitimate gift that singleness is to the body.
We’ve poorly educated ourselves and our church bodies about God’s desire for sexual stewardship.
Our language has alienated those persons in our church bodies experiencing attraction to the same gender, making it unsafe to share.
Our solution of orientation change in the 90’s has led to great bitterness in Christians that were encouraged on that path.
And those persons that were encouraged to “just get married” often had painful paths to trod in their mixed orientation marriages.
And now, those Side B Christians in our midst often struggle to find a space and a place in our church bodies.
To me, it’s no wonder that the population at large considers us to be anti-gay. Often our own members would see us this way.
In his recent book, Us Versus Us, Andrew Marin sites his research that shows that 86% of people in the LGBTQ community were raised in church. 54% of those persons left their churches after age 18. And 76% of those that have left are open to return. And 92% of those open to return would return without any theological change. But they feel that there is no space for them.
Why is there no room?
But this is not the end of the story. At least it shouldn’t be. We can take back our reputation and take up our responsibility to love.
We can own how we have injured and hurt our brothers and sisters.
We can own how we have alienated those outside the church.
We can change our actions.
But this requires changing our thinking.