One pastor’s journey towards the full affirmation of LGBTQ+ folk

I have been vocal in recent years about my support of the LGBTQ+ community. One thing I have yet to do is share my story of how I came to a point of being fully affirming of LGBTQ+ people and relationships. This is what I hope to do here.

My Early Homophobia (fear/dislike of LGBTQ+ people)

I can’t remember the first time I encountered LGBTQ+ people in the world. All I can remember is that, as a child, I was taught that homosexuality is wrong. Whenever a gay couple came on the TV or walked past us in the mall, someone in my family would make a comment about how it was “against nature.” I never questioned it. I just presumed this was the way it was - anyone who was gay chose to go against the flow of how things “should” be.

I attended an all-boys school where toxic masculinity ran rampant and the word gay was a synonym for anything that was uncool or it was used as a derogatory term for anyone who didn’t fit the mould of a macho man.

As I became more involved in the church as a teenager, my anti-gay views were enforced by the conservative circles I found myself a part of, but now the bible was used as the justification for my homophobia.

My Gay Friend

Although I knew of one or two gay people from a distance during my schooling years, I tried my best to distance myself from them and never intentionally engaged with them.

The year after I finished school, I stayed in touch with my closest friends, one of which stayed in the same town as me. My friend and I used to chill together regularly. One day we were watching a movie when a gay couple kissed on the screen. Without even thinking, I loudly exclaimed “ewww!” I didn’t think twice about it. We continued with our day and then I gave my friend a lift home that evening. As we pulled into his yard, he started crying. I asked him what was wrong and he said he needed to tell me something. He explained that he is gay and has hated himself since realizing it a few years earlier. I was shocked. This was one of my best friends and I had absolutely no idea. I did not know what to say. What do you say to someone you know and love deeply, but suddenly confessed to being something that you had always thought was reserved for sinners and evil people? I think I said something like “don’t worry, it’s okay, I don’t mind, we can still be friends.”

Unfortunately, we never spoke about it again and our friendship quickly deteriorated. I could say that my friend struggled to accept himself and wasn’t able to be himself around me, but it is more likely that I could not get past my entrenched homophobia to see my friend as a real person worthy of love and friendship again.

Luckily my friend and I reconnected again years later, but the way that I hurt him and our friendship will forever haunt me and be one of my biggest regrets in life.

My Hidden Homophobia

So I finally knew an openly gay person and the topic of homosexuality was no longer an issue that didn’t affect me. I realized that I was now dealing with real people with real names, lives, joys and struggles.

I began to preach and work full-time in a church as a worship and youth pastor. I still believed that homosexuality was a sin, but the way I spoke and taught about it had to be more measured and considerate as I encountered more and more LGBTQ+ folk in my church and community. I had to start asking serious questions… What do we do with the gay couple that has been attending our services and want to get involved in the worship team? How do I love and care for the fourteen year old in my youth group who was born with male genitalia, but is clearly a girl and desires to live as such? These were real issues that real people were dealing with. Clever Christian catch-phrases and bible verses used out of context were not going to help them experience God’s presence and grace.

And so I began listening to people’s stories and experiences. I stopped telling people that homosexuality was a sin, but I wasn’t ready to fully accept LGBTQ+ folk as they were. I could not reconcile my previous beliefs about homosexuality with my new experience of meeting good people who I loved who clearly did not fit the gender and sexuality norms. Furthermore, I was told that the bible clearly condemned homosexuality so what was I to do?

My go to approach to LGBTQ+ conversations was to avoid them as much as possible. I was kind to the LGBTQ+ people in our church and community, but I never went out of my way to include them. If asked about my stance on homosexuality, I would revert to the age old slogan: “I love then sinner, but I hate their sin.” Looking back now, I know how unloving this approach actually was. You don’t love someone by ignoring all that they share with you about their own experience and everything science tells you about the natural occurrence of homosexuality. It is impossible to love someone fully when you consider a core part of who they are and who they love as a sin (more on this in an upcoming post).

My Biggest Turning Point

A few years later, I felt a call into the ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament. I went to seminary and this was the biggest turning point in my journey towards full affirmation.

I have always loved the bible and I made it a habit to read my bible as much as possible, often memorizing whole passages of Scripture. I was always ready to offer scripture references that addressed every issue I could have been confronted with (homosexuality included). I believed the bible was the inerrant Word of God and that it was written to be our instruction manual for life on this earth. I thought that this was what it meant to take the bible seriously.

At seminary, I learnt that taking the bible seriously didn’t mean taking it literally or taking verses out of context to support our beliefs. It was here that I learnt Hebrew and Greek and the challenges of translating the bible from ancient languages. I learnt about the ancient context when the bible was written and how to discern the author’s original purpose for sharing what they did. I learnt about the many contradictions in the bible and the many different genres that are present. I learnt how to interpret scripture responsibly in order to prepare sermons and preach the Gospel in a lifegiving way. I learnt about the way scripture has been interpreted through the thousands of years since it was written. I learnt about different interpretive frameworks when reading the bible such as liberation, feminist and queer theology. I learnt about how the Church has used the bible to harm as much as heal and how faithful Christians fought for years (sometimes against the Church itself) to abolish injustices like slavery and the subjugation of women and children. I am certainly not perfect or unique in my knowledge and I am still learning every day, but because of my studies and formation at seminary, I am a completely different person to who I was before.

As I committed myself to studying more and more of the Bible, Christianity and the Church, I discovered that the biblical evidence I assumed would support my previous beliefs simply wasn’t there. This studying is a responsibility that I still take seriously today through reading, attending courses and listening to scholars from various cultures and contexts.

I must clarify that not everyone who attended seminary with me became fully-affirming as I have, but I can safely say that everyone became more open-minded and mature as we encountered and did life with people who were starkly different to us. Every single one of us was transformed into wiser, more respectful people as we began to take God and the Bible seriously.

Ministry with LGBTQ+ Christians

Even more convincing to me than the biblical knowledge and tools I gained while at seminary was the people that I have met along the way. I studied theology with people who were gay, intersex and transgender. I met ordained LGBTQ+ clergy who had faithfully been serving God in their churches for many years. I served under their leadership and continue to minister alongside them to this day.

Jesus said that we will know true prophets by the fruit that they produce; a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad fruit cannot bear good fruit (Matthew 7:16-18). I simply cannot deny the fruits of God’s Spirit I have seen present in the lives of many faithful LGBTQ+ Christians I have met and journeyed alongside in recent years. I am continuously amazed at their faithfulness and humility, even at the hands of immense persecution and opposition. These are true disciples of Jesus who are responding to the sacrificial call that God has placed on their lives.

Becoming an Ally and an Advocate

Finally, as I have continued to read LGBTQ+ voices and grown in my understanding of LGBTQ+ issues, I have arrived at a place in my life and ministry where I cannot be silent any more. I have seen first-hand the immense hatred and even violence that LGBTQ+ people have encountered and continue to experience today. As a minister and an insider to the Church, I have seen how the bible has been used and abused to exclude and oppress others. I can no longer stand by silently as this injustice goes on unchecked. As Einstein once said, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”

I believe that the world and Christ’s Church is beautiful and powerful because of the diversity of its people. When we exclude LGBTQ+ people from our churches and our leadership, we are missing out on a large, beautiful part of God’s Kindom in this world. If we want to experience God’s Kindom in all of its glory and diversity, no-one can be excluded because of their gender or sexuality. This I believe with all my heart and soul.

I believe that this journey towards full affirmation of LGBTQ+ people is the direction that God’s Spirit is inviting the Church and anyone actively working against this movement is working against God.

Comments

  1. Its good to know your journey. Not sure i fully agree with your stance but now see it comes from genuine reading and prayer. Now comes the question - then what or how do you define serial immorality in Biblical terms?Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Leap of Faith

The God of Running, Talents and Passions

Harmony of Grace