An Open Letter To NALT Christians

This is a letter to NALT Christians taking the first step to tell the world they support LGBTQ inclusion.

First and foremost: welcome, and thank you! 

I know that many people participating in the NALT campaign are taking great risks to stand up, often alone, to homophobia and transphobia in their communities. I know from my own coming out how terrifying this can be, and I want to honor the courage that this takes. 

The problems we are here to address are big, in fact—they are bigger than any one of us. We are all taught homophobia and transphobia in our culture, similar to the ways we are taught racism, mysogony, and other forms of oppression.

We are all a part of these systems, and we all play a role in their survival—whether we are harmed by these forms of oppression, hold oppressive beliefs, or behave in oppressive ways. Most of us play all of these roles at various points in our lives.

In our churches, our denominations, and our Christian culture, we see the ways homophobia and transphobia persist. These examples of oppression are the very reason we feel compelled to tell the world we are "not all like that." 

The problem is—it is not helpful to define ourselves in opposition.

I know what is at stake here. I know what it is like to be hurt by harmful theology. I grew up learning it was not ok to be gay, and I hid my attraction to women from myself for many years.

Along the way, I have met many people who abandoned their faith because staying in non-welcoming churches or denominations is too painful. I also know many people who continue hiding who they really are—at great personal cost—because they are deeply invested in their church communities. 

But simply saying we are "not like those other Christians" does little to create safe space for people who have been hurt by non-affirming theology. It does not encourage us to address the problems at hand.

Even worse, it distances us from people I love—people like some of my extended family members, compassionate and loving Christians, who still believe my gayness is not "God's best" for me.

I am not comfortable putting these Christians in the same category as extremists like Pat Robertson.

There are good reasons the "not all like that" phrase resonates with us. We see this in Rev. Mary Lynn Tobin’s video for the NALT campaign, as she expresses with grace how it feels to be misrepresented by caricatures of Christianity.

The media thrives on the "God vs. Gays" narrative, and at our best, welcoming and affirming Christians challenge this misconception. However, it is not helpful or honest to replace this narrative with another false dichotomy: "these Christians vs. those Christians."

We cannot make our church homes more inclusive by demonizing the people who disagree with us. Many of the people creating NALT videos understand this nuance of this discussion, and I commend participants for sharing difficult stories about their own struggles to reconcile their Christian faith with LGBTQ inclusion.

In these moments, we witness how much we do have in common with non-affirming Christians. 

The truth is, all of us are a little bit “like that." When I am honest with myself, I know I still hold stereotypes and participate in systems of oppression. The "us vs. them" narrative in the NALT framework erases people who are still on their journey toward inclusion.

At its worst, this negative framework encourages the bullying of Christians and others who disagree with our stance on LGBTQ equality. I have already seen the effects of this in online spaces as people who disagree with NALT’s message are pushed out of the conversation.

I am an ally to many communities, and I know overcoming internalized oppression is a difficult and lifelong journey. My own coming out was my first act of undermining homophobia, and I take steps every day to challenge the many internalized -isms I have been taught my entire life.

Saying we are "not like those other Christians" is a lie; these systems of oppression are deeply rooted in all of us. As Christians, we are called to overcome these systems in both ourselves and our communities as we work to build love and inclusion into our churches, our denominations, and our world.

Being an ally is about much more than telling people who we are not—it means showing the world who we are. 

Being an ally means identifying the ways we sometimes harm the very people we are trying to help. In this case, that means identifying the ways we still exclude and harm our LGBTQ siblings in the church. Our challenge is to figure out how we can best stand in solidarity with the communities we have oppressed.

So where should allies start? The first step I always take is listening to the communities with whom we are in alliance. This means letting go of our defenses, being honest with ourselves about the ways we do harm, and committing to changing our behaviors.

As we listen, we can also work to lift up the stories of LGBTQ people. The stories of allies are crucial because they set an example for others on the journey toward inclusion. (I know allies helped create space for me to come out as a queer Baptist 3 years ago!) But it is only by hearing the stories of queer people first that allies can truly find their place in this narrative.

The next step is modeling allyship in faith communities that have driven away or muted our LGBTQ siblings in faith. We do this ministry in hopes that these communities will welcome back the queer congregants they have turned away and recognize the gift of perspective that LGBTQ people have to offer.

We are all on this journey together as we struggle to overcome the homophobia and transphobia in our religious communities. As we do this work, we can find strength by partnering with the people and organizations who have led the way for decades.

Every day, I get to tell the stories of a diverse and inspiring movement of Christians for LGBTQ inclusion.

As you work to discern your next steps in this movement, I encourage you to browse the Believe Out Loud blog and read the stories of LGBTQ Christians and allies. Then, take the pledge to stand up for LGBTQ equality and sign up to receive these stories in your inbox each week.

We also encourage to find a welcoming & affirming congregation in your area and connect to one of the many partner organizations doing work in your denomination. And finally, shoot me an email if you want to share your story in this space.

We are happy to have you here, and I am grateful for the role you will play in encouraging healthy dialogue at the intersection of Christian faith & LGBTQ equality!

#BOLTalk: How do you model LGBTQ inclusion in your congregation?

Photo by Angela Jimenez Photography

Comments (20)

when I see "we're not all like that" extremists like Pat Robertson are exactly who I associate with "like that". I have no problem distancing myself from Christians "like that". That doesn't mean I "other-ize" every Christian who disagrees with me. Christians "like that" are the reason I stopped identifying myself as a Christian long ago, even though I still consider myself a follower of Christ. Lately I suffered more from Christian stereotypes than I have from gay stereotypes. Frankly, I resent being told that I'm "like that" too, that we're ALL like that. You can certainly speak for yourself, but you don't speak for me.

I know you said in the beginning of this, "welcome, and thank you," but the rest of the article seems to lack in the welcoming or the gratitude. I recognized multiple problems with the points you raise. I'll address them in order.

1)Sometimes it *is* helpful to define yourselves by what you oppose, as is the case here. If you poll Americans on how they view Christianity, what are the most common answers? Homophobic and hypocritical. I don't think it's merely helpful to define ourselves as "not all like that," it's essential. Too often when people find out I'm a Christian they begin tuning out right then because they do equate that label with the negative ones. I am always compelled to at a caveat such as "not like Fundy Christians or Pat Robertson or ___church down the street."

2)I'm perfectly comfortable putting these people in the same category as Pat Robertson. In fact, I'm comfortable putting them in the same category as Fred Phelps. This includes my parents whom I love dearly. But like Martin Luther King Jr. said, "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." If someone insists on less than full equality of lgbt Christians within the church then they are actively oppressing our entire community and leading to continued self-loathing, suicide, and further homophobia. By not vocally saying, "you are loved by God just as you are" they are pushing children away from God. You mention that you know many people who left the faith because of the exclusive nature of churches. That is not okay. Jesus talks about people who push people away from Him. The Message has a great translation of Matthew 18:6-7 "6-7 “But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse—and it’s doomsday to you if you do." We need to be vocal, not only so that lgbt youth will grow up knowing an inclusive faith with a loving God, but also so that Christians who "are like that" will realize what incredible damage they are doing.

3)You seem to be implying that it's a mere disagreement between the pro- and anti-equality Christians. IF those who were against it merely held their belief and didn't go out of their way to demonize lgbt people and their allies then disagreeing would be fine. We always disagree about some things. That's why there are so many denominations. But when a belief someone holds moves past themselves and hurts others then it is not okay to remain silent. The people who started NALT and those making videos understand this. I fear you are minimizing the damage that anti-equality Christians do by clinging to the bigoted belief that God condemns gays/gay "behavior," as it is commonly called.

4)The NALT Project is fulfilling this. They are showing people through their videos what they are about. Have you imagined what it would have been like had we had videos like these when we were young and confused and deeply in the closet? Imagine the freedom you would have felt knowing that there were so many Christians who did not believe like those in your own church or family. I can imagine that.

In this section you also seem to imply that we need to only listen to the stories of lgbtq people and their journeys, yet at the same time you mention the positive impact that allies had on you. Confusing to say the least. Have you listened to all the videos at NALT? I have. Many are from LGBTQ Christians. But you know what? I think the stories from allies are just as important as those from within the queer community. Without our allies we would have zero rights today. None. It is the stories of our straight allies that will help change the hearts of our straight non-allies.

In your final section you talk about how you get to tell the stories of the journey towards full inclusion. Why not just appreciate NALT and recognize that they are doing the same thing? In fact, they're helping with the whole movement. If it was just you telling stories we wouldn't move forward very quickly, if at all. If it was just NALT, it would be the same thing. But combine them and add in all the voices that are proponents of full equality and inclusion within and without the church, and we might just see some serious progress. I know you said "thank you" in the beginning. Maybe you could have left it at that instead of adding to the divisiveness that is already too prevalent.

Thanks for this! I appreciate the reminder that almost all of us (even queer and/or trans* people) are implicit in forms of oppression. It is an important reminder that while our participation in oppression might be quieter than that of Pat Robertson it still exists. While I disagree with the NALT project for very different reasons, I think this piece is an important addition to the conversation. Thank you for sharing it.

Alison,

Thank you for your article. I know as a Christian my goal is not to be at odds with my brothers and sisters who disagree with me, because if we are at odds we will not communicate with each other but if we respect that we are brought together as children of God and joint heirs with Christ and will respect that in and for each other I believe we can make powerful changes for all involved.

I came very close to posting a video that I was up until 4am last night for the NALT project. After 10 tries getting it right. As a gay man, having lived through the AIDS crisis. I appreciate (as I was taken to task in my own post) that there are diverse voices.

I've come to tell my own tale of gratitude to these people, without condition. I don't see the various resources as being mutually exclusive and I CERTAINLY do not pick apart all that is wrong. I would have hoped that I'd hav seen a welcome, as well as a "where are we strong, where are we weak, and can we refer them to those brothers and sisters running another site that might be able to help." Instead, as would seem to be the norm, we're critical and prescriptive.

I'm American but live in Canada and am 49 years old. Yours is a good blog and article site, as is Patheos. I find that to be B.O.L's strength. But when I see under construction in the "conversation" area, I think "OK, they don't have that available." I don't comment on those who don't read well, don't understand nuance, etc., and wouldn't find this site as meaningful as they might find NALT, where faces and voices speak to someone. NALT wouldn't have the resources, directories that gaychurch.org has (which, living in Canada, B.O.L. also doesn't have). I should think that triage on the part of all "welcomed allies" would be much more constructive than denigration.

I agree with the person who indicated that this wasn't in existence 25 years ago, and there were no faces/voices. Just silence, and the slogan "SILENCE=DEATH" meant something. The post is on my website in response to the NALT criticisms are my own voice about it, but I've championed them ad nauseum. For what they're good at doing.

The video that I would have posted is here. You can derive my gratitude and my history from it if you'd like. If not, then all best wishes with whatever form of Christianity you employ. Spiritual but not Religious/staying out of the institutional side of religion seems to always be a good route when the infighting begins.

http://youtu.be/OtVCOW_cXT8

So do you want me, a straight Christian, to just shut-up and let the Westboro Church speak for me? I

I very much agree with this perspective, and unlike some of the other commenters, read you as trying very hard to express your discomfort and disagreement with the NALT movement while recognizing the good intentions of those involved. I feel just as you do.

Recently a friend who is gay told me that she is praying to change. She knows how I feel, that I disagree with her theology, and hope that she will come to love and accept herself as I know God does. But she is not yet ready to be separated from the faith of her family and friends. I can't help but think it would be counterproductive for me to put even more distance between myself and the Christianity she has known and trusted and that has been a source of much good in her life. Do we forget that there are gay people on both sides of this divide? I suspect that for many gay Christians there is a slow movement, from a conservative theology to a more accepting one. Strongly dissing the only faith they've ever known --does that help? Yes, I understand we need to be clear about what we believe, but how we do that may matter more than we think.

Thanks for this. There has been some debate in some of my friend circles about NALT, the intentions, the tone, etc. Thanks for this as I think it helps people to make better decisions about how and through whom solidarity, support and convictions to to be expressed. I do think that much good can come from these videos, but I also think it's important to name some of the concerns so all may grow in their impact.I think as long as NALT does not try to claim THE way or hold a "you're either with us or you're against" mentality, the more platforms the better.

Hey I'm really glad you wrote this, I've been thinking about making a video and have chewed on the same ideas. After watching the videos that people have made I realize that no one is really being demonized (aside from savage himself who has years of righteous anger built up). Almost everyone focuses on themselves and the reasons they believe what they do. One woman even addresses her friends who believe differently than her to ensure that she does indeed feel compassion for their position.

This is a big deal, children and grown people are dying physically by their own hand and spiritually at the hands of others. While we as Christians are on body, one family, I have to choose the path that supports the innocent and marginalized on this one.

Alison - thank you for such a thoughtful, balanced, and well-written article! There is definitely a tension between the good that the NALT project will do, as well as the concerns that you have raised here. I've also heard other concerns about a lack of diverse and queer voices. I honestly believe both can be true at the same time: critiquing a movement or organization does not mean that that movement or organization is without merit. My hope is that those leading the NALT movement are actually OPEN to feedback and pushback; that they will realize that criticism can be very constructive. I think you've offered very good constructive criticism and advice here. I also believe this is a sign of growth--growing pains--of more widespread affirmation and inclusion. Both activism and bridge-building can exist simultaneously--different members of the body of Christ! Thank you for modeling an example of iron sharpening iron, and for all that you do for the LGBTQ community.

I was a cradle Methodist. I left the denomination because I am bi queer and called and there is no way on this green Earth that I will be ordained as an openly queer person in the denomination. I had stayed closeted for 21 years because of my call and the denomination's stance on us. Only once in my time as a Methodist did I hear "If your home congregation doesn't want you - come here, we will take you" out of another Methodist's mouth. That alone kept me in the denomination for a while longer. Those words of acceptance - especially from another non-straight individual made a difference. Speak up. Speak out. Not enough LGBTQ and allies do. Even in reconciling or Believe out loud congregations.

The one thing I would encourage in all this, with the videos - those who are willing to do them, be willing to back your words up in person as well. I've been in a few welcoming congregations in my search to find a new faith community. Welcoming everyone should mean everyone While I'm not totally alternative in my appearance or manner alone, when it comes down to it - I am not cookie cutter at all. I have multiple ear piercings, tattoos, wear my hair short, prefer shorts and no shoes on a Sunday morning. Yes - I wear shorts and tend to go shoeless in church. When need be, yes, I look fairly mundane - I wear slacks and button down shirts to work. One of the first LGBT friendly congregations I visited I will not go back to at all. I was the most alternative person there . . . the only one not dressed as if I work at a state office. My gaydar went off like crazy which was a novel thing for me in a worship service. But I wasn't welcomed because I didn't have that cookie-cutter state job look. Other than the passing of the peace - the only people who talked to me were the greeters, who BTW did an awesome job of making me feel welcome - but no one else did because I didn't LOOK like them. I guess, put yourself on the line - being LGBTQ friendly got me in the door but the people are what keep someone coming back. Pass the peace like you MEAN it. Don't look away or ignore someone just because their APPEARANCE is not the norm for the congregation. LGBTQ who are already marginalized from another denomination are less likely to come back if they get the vibe that they are not welcome because of some other difference.

Thank you so much for speaking up, Alison. I appreciate that you did so with such courage and compassion.

I'm particularly moved by the care you take in uplifting the nuance between people who are not quite queer-affirming and Christian extremists. Lumping them together is simplistic and dismissive of people who are struggling to be loving, even if that struggle is difficult for me to appreciate at times.

I also know that it takes courage to wake up everyday and admit we are all complicit in oppressing others. Your reminder to us as Christians seems to be very fitting, for it is to take a confessional stance, remembering that while we and the world are being healed, we remain broken in many ways.

Most of all, I appreciate that you model the very tone for which you advocate, inviting everyone who is open to join in the conversation. This reflects what who we seek to be as the one body of Christ. Thank you!

A lot of your post resonated with me. I think the name of the project is problematic for the reasons you describe. However, in watching the videos (and I've watched a lot of them, though not all) it seems that the general tone is "this is my story. This is how being Christian and an ally is for me. This is my story about how I came to reject a hateful position and affirm a loving position." I would have much rather the project been called something more positive not "we're not X" -- Having said that, I don't think it should be dismissed out of hand, just because the name is crappy. My experience of the stories in the videos is that they are humble, heartfelt, and sincere... worthy of watching despite some of the flaws inherent in the name. I wrote my take on it here: http://tracimsmith.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/why-i-support-the-nalt-proje...

Thanks so very much, Alison, for sharing your thoughts. I too am of too minds about this. On the one hand, it's great that more and more Christians and those who hear about Christians realize that there are many, many Christians who fully affirm LGBT members of the church and celebrate (rather than just tolerate) diversity. This is a good thing, and both John Shore and Dan Savage have contributed enormously (I produced an "It Gets Better Video (for Adventists Too) and appreciate that project a great deal.

And yet, the adversarial tone and style of what I've seen of the NALT presence has so far not been what I'd hope to see from those of us who want to teach and model love. I feel that as an advocate in this community who goes between quite liberal and quite conservative spaces, I must model that which I ask for. And people are on a journey. Loving Christians can and do take a lot of time with this, and I'm not convinced that--at this moment--the very strident voice will do much but preach to the already converted. I've seen absolutely incredible change when people actually have an emotional encounter with "the other" at our film screenings. I don't think any of us change by being argued or shamed into it. The "They''ll know you are Christians by your love," should apply to those of us advocating for more love and inclusion too.

Thanks,

Daneen Akers
Producer
"Seventh-Gay Adventists"

I just want to say thank you for drawing these oppressive behaviors to our attention. Often times we are quick to point the finger at those that are oppressing and judging us, but forget to examine our own behavior whether it be previous, current, or possibly future behavior. I am a firm believer in mutual respect. When you think about the "golden rule" we are all taught, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", we can truly understand how to live Christ like lives. Although it may seem like a great idea to explode into a rainbow firework of pride, we must respect that a lot of people, especially Christians, have a hard time understanding and accepting that. It is important to be gentle when seeking acceptance. It is better for people to get to know WHO we are before they can judge us for WHAT we are. I am not saying that this will prevent any oppression at all, but it will certainly prevent people from becoming defensive and unresponsive to us as a community. Thank you again for this blog. It really makes you think about how we affect the response we receive. Someone said this to me recently and I think it is an interesting quote to reflect on: "50% of drama is created by ourselves, the other 50% doesn't exist." Pretty profound when you truly understand it.

Good people of deep faith can and do read the same Bible and come to a variety of conclusions on a variety of issues -- including human sexuality and LGBT inclusion. AND ... when "Christian values" are hijacked in the service of homophobia and used as weapons of mass discrimination against God's beloved LGBT children then if we do NOT step up and speak out we are participating in our own oppression. After decades of work in the trenches of the "inclusion wars" in the Episcopal Church" with all due respect I have to disagree and say that there are indeed times when we are called to say what we are not in order to build the bridge to talk about what we are.

God bless!
The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena CA

Just so you know when you use acronyms such NALT LGBTQ some os us do not have a clue what you are talking about. I have no idea what NALT means. I think it would help if you used the full words and then later in post use acronyms.

"The problem is—it is not helpful to define ourselves in opposition."

That's the problem? Really? As a Christian I'm opposed to all sorts of wrongs in the world, and I WANT to be known for my opposition to them: opposition to hunger and poverty and injustice and death and oppression and hate. The moment we're unwilling to stand up against what's wrong we become complicit in those wrongs whether we consciously intend to or not. If we only define ourselves in terms of positive declarations, we risk remaining silent on a whole slew of issues that are absolutely crucial to our faith.

Yes, we need to show love and respect to those who oppose us and seek to foster irenic dialogue rather than demonization. But that doesn't mean we should quietly sacrifice our own deeply held convictions because we're afraid to make waves and disrupt the status quo. We NEED to stand up against those toxic elements within our own families and churches and denominations and organizations. We can't allow them dictate the parameters of the conversation, we can't allow them to define Christianity as a hateful, judgmental, oppressive faith. We NEED to stand up and say "hey, wait a minute -- the Christianity I know and love and that's such an integral part of my life -- ISN'T like the Christianity that's so loudly trumpeted by Conservative American Evangelicalism."

If we're unwilling to declare "We're Not Like That," then what are we willing to do? Will we stand up to a pastor that preaches that being gay is a sin? Will we speak out to our LGBT friends and let them know that, as Christians, we welcome them for who they are? Will we have a forthright conversation with our family members who think that being gay is choice?

Or will we stay quiet, perhaps thinking that, while individually we think there's nothing wrong with being LGBT, we certainly don't have the power to effect any meaningful change on an institutional level, that we shouldn't stir up divisiveness, that we should simply try to get along with one another, that we should meekly and humbly accept the dictates of those in authority?

I made a NALT video because I'm a Christian and I support LGBT rights -- and that's a perspective that is woefully underrepresented in our society. NALT as an organization may not be perfect, but its message -- that there's nothing anti-biblical or at all inherently sinful about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender -- is about as close to perfect as you can get.

For anyone who still has doubts about NALT: watch the videos. I defy anyone to sit through the 70 some NALT videos that I've watched and NOT think that something meaningful and important and absolutely essential is being said. Our words have the power to change hearts and minds, and the words being proclaimed in each and every NALT video give me hope for Christianity and hope for humanity.

Alison,

Thank you for this thoughtful article. You've clearly hit a nerve and are taking some heat! Good for you and for all of us!

As a transgender faith organizer, I want to note that a lot of us are "like that" about transgender and gender non-conforming people. Lesbian and gay people who are cisgender (i.e. not transgender) are often "like that" about transgender people. LGBT affirming Christians are also often "like that" about transgender people.

"Like that" is often about well-meaning ignorance and inexperience, not necessarily hateful ill intent. Understanding is a spectrum, just like love and commitment. It's important for us to leave space for everyone to move and grow.

In transgender communities, we know all to well that an "ally" claiming to be "LGBT inclusive" or "Straight but not Narrow" or "NALT" (or the next trendy slogan) doesn't necessarily mean that they have any sensitivity to transgender experience. These are nice feel-good gestures, but I pray they won't distract us from moving towards deeper understanding.

Chris Paige
Executive Director
Transfaith
www.transfaithonline.org

No one actually believes that the Westboro Baptist Church speaks for anyone.

The author ended her post with a few suggestions on what you might do:

- Listen to the stories of LGBTQ people of faith
- Take a stand for LGBTQ justice in your church and community
- Support an open & affirming congregation
- Connect with a Believe Out Loud partner organization working within the various Christian denominations

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