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