"How Can the Church Love You Better?"
A gay Christian responds
by Shae Washington
"See me as a whole person, not as an issue."
This is how I began my response to a question posed by a fellow participant at a recent Oriented to Love dialogue. We had gathered together as siblings in Christ—12 participants, a facilitator, and a spiritual director—to journey together through issues of faith and sexuality. While a broad range of identities and beliefs were represented in our intimate group, we came agreeing to share our lives and to hold each other's stories with gentleness and honor. This was not a time for flashing our theologies at each other. This was a time to listen, share, and be moved.
The question I was responding to was: "How can I/the church love you better? Make you feel welcome and a real part? What changes can those of us who hold a traditional sexual ethic make that would help you feel comfortable in a traditional-majority congregation?"
While I could not answer for my entire community of queer, Christian, affirming people, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide my words to inspire more love for all who identify as I do. Here's the rest of what I shared that day.
See us as whole people, not issues.
Coming out to the fellow Christians in my life is the most terrifying thing I have ever done. People who had for years known me as a Christ-follower immediately started seeing me as just gay. And not even gay in all its beauty and richness—no, just the stereotype of gay, which to them was certainly not Christian. I have been told that a central criticism non-affirming people have with the LGBTQ community is that we focus almost exclusively on being gay. In my experience, the people focused solely on our sexuality are those who believe our romantic attraction makes us sinners. Policies preventing us from serving and holding leadership positions in our church homes are enforced solely because we are gay. We are often ostracized from the Christian homes we grew up in, because we're gay. Instead of reducing us to one thing, please press in to understand the fullness of who we are.
Ask about our stories, and believe what we share.
One misconception I've encountered from those who hold traditional beliefs is that those of us who affirm LGBTQ relationships are living life for ourselves and have abandoned the truth. We feel this judgmental assumption, and nothing about it comes off as loving. The reason I decided to come out was because of my belief that Christ's sacrifice had set me free. After much seeking of God's heart, I felt that by remaining in the closet—in fear, closed off from embracing how God had made me—I wasn't taking full advantage of His desires for my life. I knew that in the eyes of many people their perception of me would change for the worse, but I wanted to honor God and knew that meant trusting Him with my reputation. Many of us have similar stories of embracing our sexuality because of (not in spite of) Christ and desiring to honor God with our relationships. If you want to love us better, recognize our integrity, our character, and the ways we're striving to grow deeper in our relationship with Christ.
If you want to love us better, recognize our integrity, our character, and the ways we're striving to grow deeper in our relationship with Christ.
Gay Christians are becoming more and more a topic of conversation within the church, but talking about us and not with us leaves room for stereotypes to prevail, and it only furthers the divide. At the same time, be mindful about not tokenizing us. Only seeking our opinion and perspective on "gay issues" marginalizes us more. Welcome the spiritual gifts we have been given and allow us space to function inside the body in an edifying way. Even more, include us in your lives outside of church, and accept invitations to be included in ours. Often times conservative Christians seem more concerned about maintaining their stance and keeping us at arm's length than loving us well. You can have a different understanding of the Scriptures and still show interest in our relationships, rejoice in our joy when we tell you we're engaged, or provide a meal when we bring a baby home.
Recognize the oppression we face and do something.
With the recent SCOTUS decision to legalize marriage for LGBTQ couples, many outside the sexual minority community think all is going right for us in the world now. But just as having our first black president did not stop the oppression black people have long endured, so advancing marriage equality is not a cure-all for the oppression that plagues the gay community. For some who hold a traditional sexual ethic, the SCOTUS decision is actually provoking a doubling down of their resistance towards LGBTQ people. As with any marginalized group, we endure interpersonal and institutional oppression regularly. This happens through being targets of violence, enduring housing and employment discrimination, and much more. Many of us deal with oppression stemming from being a part of more than one marginalized identity, and the last thing we need is to be marginalized in our spiritual communities as well. Get involved as an ally in our communities. Offer resources, support, and compassion.
Participating in the Oriented to Love dialogue was a powerful experience. The Body, beautiful and diverse, cared for each other tenderly over the course of our two days together. I left deeply moved and encouraged by my experiences with everyone, but particularly with those who identified as holding a traditional sexual ethic. Their sincerity in wanting to understand LGBTQ-affirming Christians and know how to show love more effectively was clear. What's awesome is that we share a commitment to Jesus, who provided the perfect example of what love looks like, and the Spirit of God is able to equip us to love each other well. May we all grab hold of God's example.
Shae Washington identifies as a black, queer, woman who loves Jesus and is committed to building bridges and pursing social justice. She is an artist who is passionate about creating and presenting work that will awaken needed change in society. She is devoted to working for LGBTQ inclusion in Christian spaces, specifically in her church home in Washington, DC. A trained facilitator, she is thrilled to be co-facilitating The Reformation Project's Academy for Racial Justice as a part of their Kansas City Conference this fall.