Dear religious leaders: When you tell people that God doesn’t love them as they are, they believe you. And then they act accordingly. Namely, leaving your faith community.
In an interview with The Telegraph, pop superstar Ariana Grande shared that she left the Roman Catholic Church after her gay brother shared with her that God didn’t love him. Grande’s reaction was, “OK, that’s not cool.” And she and her brother left.
But Grande didn’t leave her faith behind.
As she describes in the interview, Grande continues to embrace ritual and spirituality, which she describes as “watching your intentions” and “not giving into your ego.” She has maintained an active faith life, even after leaving the faith the rejected her family.
However, as a Christian, reading this story is really painful. We didn’t just lose two high-profile Catholics. They were actively chased away from the faith they were nurtured in. Someone, who decided that they knew the mind of God, told a young man that God didn’t love him.
First, who would share such a blatant lie? God created the whole world, including everyone in it, and called it “very good.” God loved and cared for the world enough to take on human form, suffer and die, all for us. God continues to sustain this world through the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s love for us is unconditional. It is a free gift from God that none of us deserve, but that God provides to us.
And because someone chose to spread this lie to a young impressionable man, they didn’t just chase him away. When he shared that message with his sister, who loves and cares for him very much, she also chose to leave.
I wish I could say that this story is rare, but it’s not.
Just a few years ago, actress Anne Hathaway shared a similar story. And it happens countless times to families around the world. Parents, siblings, friends, and family often are faced with the choice between standing with a loved one or believing that they God they have come to know has run out of love for them. It’s an epidemic, and it needs to stop.
Earlier this month, the Vatican offered millions of Catholics a glimpse of what the Roman Catholic Church could sound like if it recognized and accepted the realities of LGBT people within the Church. The cardinals gathered didn’t have the courage to make that vision a reality, and instead opted for the same message that has been driving thousands of people out of the pews. They will revisit this issue again in a year, but how many more stories like the one above will we see in that time?
This isn’t just about the Roman Catholic Church, although they get more than their share of attention. All faith communities need to examine what their message is, not just because that message is damaging to the people who have to hear and internalize them (although it is), but for the health and future of the faith. It may be easy for some traditions to write off the LGBT people they lose by these messages. What they often don’t count on is how much they lose the rest of their membership.
I ask for each of us who identify as people of faith to examine our messages, and what impact those messages have, not just on the LGBT people themselves, but on the rest of those who are hearing.
Does our message match what we’ve learned about God to be true?
Do we best share the gospel by pushing people away? Are we letting our light shine so that we can glorify our God in heaven? Are our words producing good fruit?
If the answer is no, then we cut people off from the faith we all hold dear.