Posted by: Daniel Katyl | February 8, 2010

Applying an old message to a current issue: a Christian perspective on affirming LGBT people in the church

A few months ago I met with the pastor of a church I will keep anonymous. We discussed the necessity of church involvement in facilitating social justice and the need for providing comfort and rest to those in fields that focus on the many issues around social justice. The conversation was very positive and flowed nicely up to a point.

The mood of the conversation significantly changed when I brought up the topic of LGBT people and church involvement. The pastor’s mood changed from pleasant to awkward when I began asking questions like “Would you consider your congregation an LGTB-friendly community?”  “What is your and your church’s stance on Gays, Lesbians, Transsexuals, and Bisexuals being in your church and a part of Christianity?”   “Does your church do any work to promote LGBT justice?”

What the pastor told me quite timidly is that their church is not ready to talk about such a controversial issue, and neither was she open to discussing her personal views on the subject. While the pastor did believe that anyone of an “alternative lifestyle” would find the congregation to be friendly, it is a topic that has been avoided as the church has not yet had to deal with any LGBT issues. The pastor also expressed fear that if such a topic were to be brought up in church there would be much divisiveness throughout the congregation, as members would be split on the many issues. The pastor seemed very uncomfortable talking about anything related to LGBT and it was clear that while the church was not yet ready, neither was the pastor.

I believe this pastor and church are not alone, as I believe that there are many more clergy, churches, and denominations that remain unwilling to talk about anything LGBT-related. It is an uncomfortable and sensitive issue because churches fear it will cause arguments and debates. It is not hard to wonder why churches avoid the issues; if we look at denominations that have tackled the topics of LGBT ordination, marriage, and justice, many of those denominations have been in turmoil or have even divided. It would seem that many just want to keep their hands clean from the issue.

With it being Black History Month, I watched a short film on the civil rights work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and read his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” After King was arrested for leading a civil rights protest, many church leaders in the city spoke out against King’s protests. They said that now is not the time to protest for civil rights and that the church needs to take the process for civil rights more gradually. King’s letter from prison was a direct response to these religious figures.

We all know the famous line from the letter: “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This famous quote was not said simply to share how injustice can spread, but to show as well the need to never stop the fight against injustice.  The religious leaders did not want to cause strife; they did not want to get their hands dirty. They concluded that eventually the freedoms they wanted for black Americans would happen over time, and that causing problems like what King did just upsets people too much.  We can only wonder how long it would have taken for those freedoms gained through the civil rights movement to be achieved if King and other civil rights leaders took that advice and took a few steps backward. This is an amazing example of how, in the face of adversity, the only way to fight injustice is head on.

Looking now on the conversation I had with that pastor, in the fight for LGBT justice we need to apply the same message that Martin Luther King, Jr. did concerning civil rights: that apathy and indirect resistance against injustice allows for more oppression to occur. I know the pastor I was talking to well enough to know she leans in the direction of accepting and affirming the LGBT community, as well as is on the side of gay and lesbian ordination and same-sex unions. Unfortunately this pastor’s denomination is silent on the issues except that they do not support LGBT movements, which in turn has caused this pastor’s mouth to stay shut.

As the voices of the religious right have no problem sharing the views, we in the middle and left cannot stay silent any more even if it creates strife. The truth is that there is a small percentage of Americans that are told they cannot marry and receive the rights that a marriage can provide. The truth is that professional gays and lesbians are still being discriminated against in the workplace and especially in the military. The truth is that there are still so many young people in this country that are afraid to be who they are because of the responses they believe they will receive from friends and family.

We, who are a part of the Church and claim to know the love and peace of Christ, can no longer sit idly by while these injustices occur. We need to stand up for justice that we believe in, just as King did all those years ago.  We cannot think that if we do not bring it up that justice eventually will prevail. We need to learn from King, and stand up refusing to be silent anymore.

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Responses

  1. And if we don’t speak up about injustice that impacts others, then why should they speak up when it impacts us? Isn’t that what loving our neighbors is all about, being in their corner and watching their backs? The question is, what would Jesus have done in such an instance, keep his mouth closed out of fear of Caesar or cast his lot on the side of the oppressed?


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