I hold the church personally responsible for any LGBTQ person who walks away from God and Christianity. Every week, I get emails from individuals all across the country who are full of desire to be a part of a church. They want to go on the church-wide mission trip, join the choir, serve in the youth group and attend a small group.
These are people who long to serve God, connect with other Christians and be a part of a wider community.
Here’s the heartbreaking part: they write me because the church won’t let them do those things and they don’t know what to do. Their church has found out they are LGBTQ and because of this are no longer welcome to join in these church activities they long to be a part of.
The worst are the emails I get are from young people who are no longer allowed in their youth group or who are bullied at church camps because of their sexual orientation. You might not think this is a big deal, or would just tell that person to go to a different church. You might be so used to the idea that those in the LGBTQ community are not welcome at church that this does not alarm you.
But WAKE UP. THIS NEEDS TO GREATLY ALARM YOU.
People are being turned away from the body of Christ.
Shouldn’t that bother you?
“But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me–it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42
This week wasn’t the first time I personally experienced this kind of rejection, but it was the first time I did so as a new mom and it’s left me feeling sad, hopeless, angry and in tears. In the past, my wife and I weren’t super careful about attending a church that openly welcomed and affirmed LGBTQ people.
Even though we would have liked a clear support, it wasn’t a deal breaker for us. But now that we have children, it totally is. We don’t want to feel anxious about a “well meaning” person indoctrinating our children in a way that makes them question their moms’ salvation, or even worse, their own.
We also want a place where we can serve the Church, and we want a place where we can grow in community with others and make friends with other Christian parents. When I look at my own parents and their closest friends, those are friends they made at church when my brother and I were toddlers. These families are the people I grew up around and who my parents still spend time with to this day. It was (and is) such a beautiful, loving way to grow up, and I want what my parents had.
I want a safe place to serve, find belonging and community and to grow in my relationship with God.
I live in southern California, so as we set out on this journey to find a church I didn’t think it would be very hard. I ache for those people living in rural areas, or middle of the country places where they don’t have access to variety of church options, making it difficult to find a church that is open and affirming.
The first church we attended was great! It was filled with gay and straight people alike, all worshiping God. We could feel the genuine kindheartedness of the people and very much liked it. But there were only a couple other families with children, and it was roughly 40 miles from our home. That’s a long way to travel for church with two infants in the car.
We left there feeling encouraged, sure that it wouldn’t be hard to find an option just like this closer to our home. So, the next Sunday we attended a Methodist church. It was beyond beautiful inside and how could we not feel welcomed in a place where this was stamped on the front of every bulletin:
“We are a warm and loving Christian community of faith where we continually strive to create meaningful opportunities for growth and service. First church is also a Reconciling Congregation which intentionally welcomes all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, age, physical or mental capacity, education, and socioeconomic or marital status.”
This statement is so beautiful and I’m not sure I’ve read anything so Christ-like in a long time. Still, while this church had the heart and the location we desired, I’d say roughly 90% of the people were over the age of 60.
When you are gay and looking for a church, the options fall into two main categories.
First, there are churches that state clearly that they are welcoming and affirming to the LGBTQ community. Secondly, there are churches that say something like, “This is a church for all people” but don’t mention the LGBTQ community by name. The first category includes churches that believe it’s not enough to simply be willing to have you come to their church without blocking the door. Instead, they are willing to take a stand with and for the LGBTQ community.
In the past week, I began reaching out to churches in the second category that I could easily see our family attending. Their websites were cool, hip and filled with images of young families. Their worship bands have banjos (our family loves music like Mumford & Sons or Bob Dylan) and their children’s ministry is just as vibrant as their church service for adults.
I felt so excited in finding these churches, but also equally as nervous knowing I needed to call them in order to make sure my family and I were welcome before showing up on a Sunday morning. We didn’t want to get attached to any churches that we’d eventually have to leave because they didn’t affirm LGBT people. It would be far too painful to attend a church that we loved only to find out we weren’t allowed to become members or serve in any way.
Calling these churches before visiting was a self-protective measure.
You can’t imagine how vulnerable it is to leave a voicemail that sounds something like this, “Um, yes, hello Pastor So-and-so… um my name is Candice and my wife and I and our children are looking for a church… I’m calling… well… wondering if we are welcome to attend your church? What I mean is, well — I’m having a hard time finding the words, but… will we be discriminated against? Or told we are sinning as homosexuals if we come to your church?” Leaving this kind of message left me feeling shaky and exposed.
I’m not over exaggerating when I say this but, when they called back, all three pastors said the same exact thing and almost in the same exact tone. It was so eerie and similar that I wonder if they all went to the same training on how to reject a homosexual while sounding super nice about it.
“You and your family are of course welcome to come to our church, but I don’t want to mislead you. If you wanted to join our church or serve in any way, you wouldn’t be allowed. Our congregation is mixed on the subject and to my knowledge there aren’t any other gay people.”
They follow this statement up with a, “But I’d love to help you and your family find the right fit for you in the way of a church community,” and with one swoop, I felt my humanity go out the door. The pastors all mentioned the few churches that I had already found that are filled with older people.
So I said to them, “We want to come to a church like yours with contemporary worship and other families our age.”
I asked them what we should do. The pastors would follow up with a, “Hunh. Yeah, I guess your right, hmmm…” And then silence.At this point in the conversation – the silence – I feel my stomach quickly turns into knots. I get hot, my blood starts racing through my veins and my eyes fill with tears.
I break the silence by saying something like, “What are my family and I going to do?! I know we would add so much to your church. My wife and I are creative, smart and seminary educated women. We have much to give and yet your church is going to miss out because we’re gay.” It’s even worse when the pastor responds, “Please do let me know if there’s anything I can do for you in the future.” It feels like an empty statement, and with that I know it’s time to end the call.
Perhaps my skin should be thicker, but it only took having this same conversation several times before I broke down. I’m filled with a deep ache that my children don’t get access to the same church experience that I had while growing up and that my wife and I will have to find a community of friends somewhere else.
My personal pain takes me back quickly to the many emails I get filled with similar sentiments from believers around the country.
How are Christians reasoning that the LGBTQ community is the cause of the fall of the family, and evil at the core when it’s us, the gays who are wanting to be a part of church but get turned away?! These emails bring me face-to-face with people whose desire to grow closer to God but are consistently met with rejection and hopelessness. These people have only one conclusion that they can draw from this — that God must not want them. And the Church is responsible.
Usually the emails I get end with something like, “I don’t know if I can be a Christian anymore, or why doesn’t God love me anymore,” or “I feel so alone in the world.” I wonder if the church isn’t responsible for these people turning away from God, who is?
Of course, there is a personal responsibility for every individual to find and choose God. But when people in positions of power who represent God reject someone in the name of God, it’s hard to separate God from the human rejection that comes from a pastor. That kind of weeding out process can take years and requires a certain level of mature brain development in order to understand a complicated experience like this.
I get these emails because I’m supposed to be the professional filled with answers.
But here’s the thing: I don’t have any answers and my heart is completely broken by this fact. I should have a list of 5,000 churches where these people would be welcomed to serve, join and grow in, but I don’t.
What I have is a list of churches that may or may not meet the needs of the individuals searching for a place to worship. And these churches are only helpful to those people who 1) reach out to me, and 2) who are adults able to choose where they worship. The answers and options for young people still living at home are even more scarce.
When young people who cannot choose where they worship contact me, instead of sending them to a church to find healing, community and answers, I only have one option. I send them to their local LGBTQ community center. They will surely end up finding some of what they need there in the way of friends and support, but there’s a great chance they will forever be turned off by Christianity, perpetuating the feeling that God does not want them.
This is why I can say with confidence that God is deeply grieved by all of this.
Rejecting people from worshipping God is everything – everything – that Christianity is opposed to but we have somehow reached the point where rejecting people is the normal, even “Christian” thing to do.
That’s what I am asking for, begging for — to be treated fairly, equally, and to have church communities that supports that pursuit.
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