The stories are piling up. A gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person is drawn to a church that brands itself as “welcoming”. They search the church website to see whether they are welcome without conditions and find nothing. Instead they often see code words that suggest full inclusion–words like diversity, justice, multi-cultural, etc. In a surprising number of cases, they speak with a pastor who assures them they will be supported. But later, they learn the pastor was fudging his answers. No, they cannot serve in this or that position unless they commit to lifelong celibacy. No, the pastor cannot perform a same-gender wedding, “for the sake of church unity.” For lack of a straight answer up front they endure a kind of psychological torture, falling in love with a church that cannot love them back.
Straight Answers Not Easy to Come By
In searching for a church home, it turns out you have speak to the lead pastor, asking pointed questions that require a yes or no answer. Do you fully accept LGBTQ people without insisting on life-long abstinence? Would you ordain an LGBTQ person who otherwise qualifies for ordination? Does your denomination allow this? Would you perform a wedding for a same-gender couple? Have you already done so? Can trans people go to the restroom of their stated gender? If pastors give positive answers to these question, ask a point-blank follow up: “If you perform a same-gender wedding or support the ordination of a non-celibate gay person, can you assure me that it will not throw your church into a crisis?
If the answer to all of these questions is not a straight-eyed yes, proceed at your own risk.
Why is it Like This?
How could this be, you wonder? It’s fairly straightforward. The vast majority of churches in every sector of Christianity insist on some exclusionary practice (usually no gay marriage and no ordination of non-celibate LGBTQ people.) This is true of churches in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical traditions. Some (but not all) mainline Protestant traditions (The Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) have national policies allowing local congregations to perform gay weddings and ordinations. But it is still up to the local parish to decide, and many congregations in these “affirming” denominations do not fully accept LGBTQ people. Often the clergy are personally supportive, but the politics of the congregation prohibit them from acting in in concert with their convictions. The rainbow flag is not a sufficient indicator of full inclusion.
Across the board, in nearly every sector of the Christian landscape, pastors are conflicted over the traditional approach, which requires some form of discrimination. These leaders are in a state of anxious double-mindedness. They don’t want to pay the price for contravening the traditional practices of their denomination and they don’t want to pay the penalty for revealing the limits of the welcome they can offer LGBTQ people.
An Appeal to Clergy
For the love of God, end the bait and switch. Because that’s exactly what it is. Welcoming language baits LGBTQ people in, but the hard realities of keeping local churches running smoothly require an eventual switch.If there is a glass ceiling for LGBTQ people, it is more harmful to LGBTQ people–it hurts more–when it is invisible, as glass ceilings tend to be. LGBTQ people suffer enough without adding to their suffering by offering elliptical answers to their straightforward questions. If you are not able to deliver on an implied or even an ardently desired full acceptance, say so and say so openly, on your church website where virtually all LGBTQ people and their allies first seek the answers to their questions. To use the founder’s language: Let your yes be yes and let your no be no; anything else comes from the evil one.