Social Issues

opening the door to an affirming church?

Where I live, there are no LGBT-affirming churches. Most are outright hostile, and the ones that aren’t still preach from the pulpit that wanting to be in a loving relationship is a sin for a significant number of people. It’s just a deeply conservative area when it comes to religion, and because of that, I’ve been having a hard time finding a church. My politics and my theology puts me squarely outside what’s acceptable here … and occasionally that’s a little heartbreaking. I want so badly to be a part of a church, but nowhere feels at all safe.

Which is one of the reasons why I decided to attend The Reformation Project’s (TRP) Regional Training Conference in DC last weekend. I’ve recommended Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, and he’s the founder of TRP.  I don’t agree with Matthew on a lot of things, but his theological positions put him in a unique place when it comes to “the gay debate“: he agrees that abstinence before marriage is a requirement for Christians, and he has what conservative evangelicals call “a high view of Scripture.” Those two things enable him to have conversations that a person like me can’t really have with conservative Christians.

And, because of where I live, if I’m going to be able to have conversations with pretty much anyone, I have to be able to have a conversation the way that Matthew would have it. I don’t personally believe the same things about the Bible that the people around me might believe, but what I can do is work with where they are. There’s a way to see the “clobber verses” in a new light– and, personally, I find arguments like Brownson’s and Matthew’s pretty convincing.

I wrote a reflection of my experiences at the conference for Convergent Books, Matthew’s publisher, that you can read here.

Photo by GF Peck
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  • Have you tried the UCC- United Church of Christ?

  • Crazylikeafox

    Sometimes the best, most convincing arguments for change come from the inside. It’s why Eisenhower used Nixon to go against McCarthy. Heck, it’s why Eisenhower could oppose McCarthy when Truman couldn’t.

  • It is sad when we don’t feel accepted by a church simply because of difference of opinion which has nothing to do with the basic teachings of Jesus.

    • The list of fanon Christianity requirements to stay in the fundamentalist tribe is probably longer and stricter than list of actual theological requirements.

    • I have to disagree that this issue I completely unrelated to the teachings of Jesus. Although Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, (which would indicate to me that he did not have a problem with it) one of the biggest tenets of his teachings was reaching out to those who are marginalized by society. In our society, the LGBT community is definitely included in that, perhaps more so than any other group of people. If a church is not affirming, in my mind they are not following the spirit of the teaching of Jesus, which in my mind is a pretty big deal.

      • Tim

        I agree with what you’re saying about a major component of Jesus’s teachings being an emphasis on reaching out to those marginalized by society. That’s absolutely true. And it’s also true that the history of God-followers as recorded in the old and new testaments and in church history since then is that very often the leaders of the organized religion have been affirming of the least when the majority of believers were among the least, and not so affirming when the majority of the believers (or at least the leaders themselves) had achieved a degree of wealth and power within the broader society. What is playing out now in the 21st century is a pretty similar story to many prior centuries.

        But in drawing conclusions about the fact that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, I think it’s probably relevant that the modern western concept of homosexuality was socially constructed only about 150 years ago during the height of modernism. People have always been sexual to one degree or another and each individual has his or her own set of attractions or aversions, sense of sexual self, and in that sense, personal sexual identity. I think that’s part of being human that transcends individual cultures. But although you will find ample evidence of same-sex sexual activity in the ancient world of Jesus’s day, you won’t find evidence of distinct groups of individuals organized around a common sexual identity of being exclusively attracted to members of the same sex. We view ourselves and others as “male” and “female” or “trans*”, etc., but what we mean by those words are social constructs that are different in some ways than what Jews or Greeks 2000 years ago might have meant within the context of their culture. And there probably just didn’t exist a construct in Jesus’s society that was the equivalent of what we mean when we use the word “homosexuality” today.

        • Pedantic note: I hope there’s a typo in the “150” years” part, because the 1860s were nowhere near the height of modernism.

          • Tim

            Not so much a typo as imprecision. What I was intending to refer to was the modern era rather than the philosophical movement that grew out of that at the tail end of that era.
            What I was trying to get at was the idea behind this quote from the wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_history : “In contrast to the pre-modern era, Western civilization made a gradual transition from premodernity to modernity when scientific methods were developed which led many to believe that the use of science would lead to all knowledge, thus throwing back the shroud of myth under which pre-modern peoples lived. New information about the world was discovered via empirical observation,[13] versus the historic use of reason and innate knowledge.” It was at this point, after the scientific revolution of which Newton was a pivotal progenitor, that human sexuality began to be viewed through the lens of a particular set of “scientific” assumptions.
            Michel Foucault explores this idea in “The History of Sexuality” (again from the wiki) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_History_of_Sexuality : “Entering the second chapter of this section, “The Perverse Implantation”, Foucault argues that prior to the 18th century, discourse on sexuality focuses on the productive role of the married couple, which is monitored by both canonical and civil law. In the 18th and 19th centuries, he argues, society ceases discussing the sex lives of married couples, instead taking an increasing interest in sexualities that did not fit within this union; the “world of perversion” that includes the sexuality of children, the mentally ill, the criminal and the homosexual. He notes that this had three major effects on society. Firstly, there was increasing categorization of these “perverts”; where previously a man who engaged in same-sex activities would be labeled as an individual who succumbed to the sin of sodomy, now they would be categorised into a new “species,” that of homosexual. Secondly, Foucault argues that the labeling of perverts conveyed a sense of “pleasure and power” onto both those studying sexuality and the perverts themselves. Thirdly, he argues that bourgeoisie society exhibited “blatant and fragmented perversion,” readily engaging in perversity but regulating where it could take place.[9]”
            There’s probably a lot that arguable or at least discussable about what Foucault had to say, but I think he’s onto something real about a shift in western thought about the whole idea of sexuality, which shift was precipitated by a distinctively modern way of looking at the world, which was the result of the Newtonian revolution, as well as, probably, the Protestant reaction to the counter-Reformation.
            I may be right or wrong; I particularly hope to avoid simply being confusing. 🙁

  • Caroline M

    I’m assuming there are no Episcopal or Evangelical Lutheran churches in your area either. And in any case, individual churches in those denominations can be less affirming than one might hope.

  • Adele

    You have probably already tried these options, but I wanted to put them out there:
    This site has a directory of affirming Christian churches: http://www.gaychurch.org/
    You can search by state or within a certain distance of your address.
    The above site is restricted to Christian churches only (they have a page that explains what that means to them but they summarize by referencing the Nicene Creed).
    You mention that there are no UCC churches in your area. I assume that includes churches that refer to themselves as congregationalist. If there are no UCC/Congregationalist churches, then most likely there are no Unitarian/Universalist churches either. However, since UU churches are not Christian, you may not have considered them as a possibility. There are a few (very few) UU churches that are actually Christian. You can find a list here: http://www.cccuua.org/member-churches/ Far more UU churches have significant numbers of members who self-identify as Christian, and I would imagine this would be more common in areas where liberal Christian options are fewer. This page lists UU churches that have a chapter of the UU Christian Fellowship: http://www.uuchristian.org/S_ChapterMap.html And many UU churches that don’t will still have a significant Christian presence. My UU church does not have a chapter, for example, but we have a new Christian Fellowship group. You can find a directory of UU congregations here: http://uua.org/directory/congregations/index.php
    Finally, Quakers or Friends are affirming and, while a traditional Quaker meeting may not be what you had in mind, you may find they turn out to be just the spiritual Christian community you are looking for. You can search for Quaker meetings here: http://www.fgcquaker.org/connect/quaker-finder
    Of course, you may pursue every avenue and find there really are no good options within a reasonable traveling distance. I hope that is not the case because I understand the importance of being part of a spiritual community. Good luck!

  • Should have stayed in Colorado 🙂

    I’m church-shopping too, and my views on so many social issues are shifting, so I’m a little terrified at the thought of stepping into new churches. It doesn’t help, though, that so many people are reading the same verses and coming up with contradictory interpretations of them.

  • I live in the rural Deep South and attend an LGBT-affirming church. It’s an Episcopal Church, and although not all individual members are LGBT-affirming, the parish as a whole and the denomination as a whole are. There also is an LGBT-affirming Presbyterian Church nearby.

  • Tim

    Other people here have offered you a few suggestions. When you talk about what you desire in church and what makes you feel unsafe in church, I think it’s possible that a Catholic parish could work for you until you move somewhere else where you have a broader set of options. I know you don’t agree with official Catholic theology, and politically there are some areas where you probably would agree and others where you would strongly disagree. But, here are some pros: because of the structure of a mass and the training that a priest goes through, the “sermon” will be short, and it will likely be focused on the text. You might disagree with it, but it won’t make you roll your eyes at the ignorance on display. I think it likely that you would be safe from hearing a homily that blames victims of sexual abuse or that offers any judgement about any sexual or gender identities. Parishioners will have a lot of different opinions on a lot of different topics. It’s not as much like a club meeting of people who agree with each other theologically and politically (or even have a common set of standards of behavior, actually) as it is like a family gathering where people believe a lot of different things, but they love each other as members of the same family.

    I’m not Catholic, but I have close friends and family who are. If I were in a small town where there were as few options as you have, I think I would consider going that way. Maybe talk to a priest about your spiritual needs and sore spots and see if he has any suggestions or anything to offer.

  • Brennan

    You’re probably aware of this, but I figured I’d put a quick plug in for the Reconciling Ministries Network of the United Methodist Church. The UMC is sort of an odd situation because the denomination as a whole is not affirming, but a grassroots movement of affirming churches have cropped up to try to change that. Churches can be declared Reconciling Churches if they take steps (including leadership training and a public declaration) to welcome LGBT people, and being Reconciling gets those churches access to the resources of the national RMN organization. The RMN also provides a lot of information on what a church has to do to join the network and provides training in how to broach the subject with a congregation. You may still have trouble finding a church within a reasonable distance, since they are few in number and concentrated in urban areas (of the 8 in Georgia, for instance, 5 are in Atlanta), but it’s something to keep on your radar.

  • sivandra

    I read this and realize all over again how deeply blessed I have been to find a wonderful, deeply scriptural, very affirming church.