It has been about eight months since I have felt comfortable attending a church service. When I first made the decision to step back from attending church regularly, I felt very uncomfortable. Since childhood, I have found great comfort in community, and that community was primarily found in church settings. As I grew older, I found a sense of belonging in campus ministry, an evangelical/contemporary church, Bible studies, and discipleship. When that ended my senior year of college, I was left with a sense of loss and rejection.
Spiritual trauma comes from spiritual abuse. It is the “good intention” of the Church that causes lasting, detrimental impact on LGBTQ people.
I spent a week in Chicago surrounded by queer people and allies who are confident that there is more to offer the LGBTQ community than what the traditional Church has taught. In the opening session, Pastor Jarell asked for people to raise their hands if they have contemplated ending their lives because of the rejection they’ve faced from the Church. I don’t know exactly how many people raised their hands, but I can assure you there were many. I can assure you there were people who felt this way and were too uncomfortable, even in this protected space, to raise their hands and share that truth. Pastor Jarell then took a moment to thank God for our lives, to thank God that we are still alive. He praised God because God stepped in when we were told by the world that our lives weren’t worth living anymore.
God…You brought life, when there was only death. [Pastor Jarell]
If that is not the Gospel, then what is?
I have been a victim of these “good intentions.” I am a survivor of theological abuse and I am a survivor of suicidal contemplation. I know I am not alone. To be in a group of 400+ individuals who have experienced these same “good intentions” was both incredible and overwhelming. I felt intimately close with these strangers after just a few hours because of this shared trauma. We have been told that the table is not meant for us. I have been removed from leadership, removed from ministry opportunities, and removed from a church because of my sexuality. For years, I justified this because I felt that I had done something to deserve it. I knew that I was not welcome to the table, so I did not go to it.
I remember the first time I walked out of a worship service. The band had just begun to play “It is Well.” It was not well with my soul and I could not force myself to sing these words. In fact, it felt blasphemous to do so. I began hiding from worship services, and ultimately, from church altogether. I had found a safe space to worship by this time but it was incredibly hard to feel secure. How long before they removed me? How long before I was uninvited to their table?
You see, I had been told for years that my sexuality led to death. Imagine hearing that something inside your soul, something that you did not choose, was sending you straight to Hell. This is sadly not uncommon in the Church. Not only is this poor theology; it is leading to actual death. When the hundreds of people raised their hands around me, signifying that they had contemplated suicide, a message is being shared. These “good intentions” of the non-affirming Church are leading to death, both spiritual and literal. The Church is not wrong when it says that same-sex attraction leads to death, but I don’t believe this is at the hands of God. Church, you are killing people.
When the Church invites queer people into the Church only if they are willing to be a part of a reparative or celibate community, they are not welcoming them with the love of Jesus. Jesus commanded that the Church let the children come to Him (Matthew 19). When the Church brings rebuke, Jesus welcomes with open arms. In each of the four Gospels, Jesus shares a final meal with his disciples. The Church remembers this through communion. I wonder, who would Jesus refuse from his table? Who would be uninvited? Would he entertain the conversations about who is more worthy to be there? Or would he rebuke them, like he did his disciples in the Gospel of Luke? The table did not belong to those who sat around it. The table belonged to Jesus, and I don’t think he would have turned anyone away.
The Nashville Statement made it clear (once again) that “love the sinner, hate the sin” is not a way that the Church can operate.
We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness. We deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree. [Article 10]
This statement calls on the Church to make a decision regarding the LGBTQ+ people who are seeking refuge in their place of worship. There are countless numbers of LGBTQ+ people who want to believe that there is a God who loves them, yet the Church does not want to share this message. There is so much at stake. LGBTQ+ people are not invited to come as they are. They are told that they will be welcomed back when they attend reparative therapy, or when they surrender their sexuality to the brand of theology that has been misinterpreting Scripture for generations. There is no love in a parent who threatens their children and sends them into a fearful submission. Why would there be love in a God who did the same?
When I try to dig into the actual reason why God denies access of same-sex attracted people into the Kingdom, the answer is usually, “It’s what the Word says, and we must follow the Word of God….it’s one of the great mysteries of God….God doesn’t have to answer your questions…it’s not about the ‘why’ so much as it is about faith.” Church, these answers are not enough, and it is not blasphemous to ask for more. It is not blasphemous to dig into the depths of Scripture, and when you do, you may find that your theology is indeed poisonous for the Kingdom of God.
If there is true freedom in the Gospel, then it would accept the idea that Jesus suffered for the people, and that the people just need to accept this free gift of salvation. If there is true freedom in the Gospel, LGBTQ+ children of God would be welcomed to the table. The true mystery of God lies beyond the grave. We may believe in eternity, but we live in the present. How can we love one another fully if we cannot share a meal together, much less a meal that signifies Jesus Christ’s love and recognition of his followers? Jesus lived in the margins and served the marginalized. If you’ve learned anything from the life of Christ, I hope it’s that we are called to seek him in everyone that we meet. If we indeed are the image-bearers of God, it must include the LGBTQ+ community.
I am forever thankful to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community because, without them, I don’t know that I would have ever been able to see such hope in the Church. Maybe it is well with my soul, after all. Maybe God is working the great mystery of sanctification in me and through me. Maybe The Nashville Statement is paving the way for Churches to have healing, bridge-building conversations by commanding that churches define same-sex behavior as wrong. It is letting the LGBTQ+ community know without a doubt where they stand in your congregation. It allows for movements like Church Clarity to step in and demand that churches reveal their stance. It’s allowing the community to demand a conversation about LGBTQ+ inclusion. By their fruits you will know them. I’ve seen good fruit in The Reformation Project. I’ve seen healing, reconciliation, and grace. Is a pattern of suicidality your good fruit, Church? Is playing the role of God and refusing people from the table your good fruit? What kind of impact are your “good intentions” having on the LGBTQ+ community? Where does it lead? It’s time to pay attention.
If you have been told that you are not welcome to the table, you have been told incorrectly. [Pastor Jarell]