The Church's Message to the LGBTQIA+ Community
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
During Pride month, I’ve been talking about the relationship between Christianity and the LGBTQIA+ community. This week, I’d like to talk about the problems surrounding the traditional teaching of the church on these questions—and the harm it can do.
As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the Scriptural questions surrounding the place of LGBTQIA+ people in the church can get thorny. Very easily, people fall into their own sorts of proof-texting, each person coming up with Scripture that justifies their own view. Part of the reason for this is that Scripture is not a monolithic witness. Rather, Scripture is the unfolding story of God’s grace—and our growing apprehension of God’s grace and design for us and the world.
Sometimes, there are just different ways of telling the story in the Bible. In Genesis one, for example, humanity is created last, as the pinnacle of creation. In Genesis two, however, humanity is created before animals and given stewardship. If the point of the creation narratives is a newsreel retelling of the events, this is a problem. But if the point is not about specific order, but theological principals revealed in myth and ancient story, then we can find the inconsistencies helpful for understanding the text.
At other times the Bible simply disagrees with itself. When the Jewish people returned from captivity in Babylon, Ezra commanded them to divorce their foreign wives. However, this is contrary to the prohibitions on how you treat foreigners in Leviticus 19 and is in direct contrast to the story of Ruth, a Moabite, who marries Boaz and becomes the great-grandmother of King David. The prophet Malachi, writing after Ezra, also argues against putting away a foreign wife simply based upon her ethnicity.
In short, the old saying, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it,” simply does not really work in practice.
But there is a deeper reason why using those seven verses people claim are about homosexuality to exclude and discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people is wrong—because that reading of the Bible comes at a cost
If you are opposed to people of different sexual and gender identities expressing themselves honestly according to their own understanding of themself, then the question becomes… what is the message of the church to the gay Christian? And does that message sound like Jesus?
Most conservative Christians respond that the message is “Go and sin no more,” echoing Jesus in the Gospel of John. But what does that look like?
For some people, the message of the church has been that God’s grace can change you and make you straight or cisgender. This has been the claim of so-called reparative or conversion therapy. However, there is no reliable evidence that this is actually possible. Indeed, there is actually reliable evidence that it is not only ineffective but can cause significant harm, leading to suicide, this is why it is deemed to be an unethical practice by the American Psychological Association and is illegal in several jurisdictions. One of the largest proponents of this approach, Exodus International, disbanded in 2013 the board published a statement repudiating their use of reparative therapy and apologizing for the harm they had done.
So, neither prayer nor psychology can turn a gay person straight or a transgender person into a cisgender person.
The next offering I’ll usually hear is that the message of the church is that gay people should live celibate lives. This is the stance the American Association of Christian Counselors took when they removed their promotion of conversion therapy from their code of ethics. However, the church has long understood celibacy as a gift some people may be called to but never as something that can be imposed upon a class of people due to their biology.
We’ve already established that you don’t choose to be gay. Requiring someone who happens to be gay to be celibate would be a violent imposition of a manner of life on a whole class of people without regard to God’s calling in their lives. Some might respond that straight people are also called to chaste lives until they’re married. I’d counter that even that view is a shrinking one these days, but that at least straight people are told to be chaste until they find someone. Gay people are not given that chance by much of the church.
So, what is the message of the church to LGBTQIA+ people. It must be two-fold. First, that you are the way you are through no choice or fault of your own. Indeed, this is your natural state of existence—a state that is found in the rest of God’s creation at times. Second, you are called, just like anyone else, to holiness of life: by living in covenanted relationship with the person you love, should you so chose. The affirmation of same-sex marriage is indeed the best graced response to gay Christians, an avenue that enables them to be who they are, while also to receive the gifts of the sacrament of marriage just like straight people.
And, one more time, if you’re LGBTQIA+ or an ally, and you live in West Michigan, I’d invite you to join me on Sunday, June 27, at 10am at the downtown Waterfront Stadium in Grand Haven, for a special pride worship service to celebrate all of God’s beloved children.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.