There’s something deeply flawed in the way the church talks about the affirmation of LGBTQ persons — and it’s time for it to change.
For as long as I’ve been preaching (and of course long before), LGBTQ brothers and sisters and siblings have always had to be on the defensive, trying to provide all of the reasons why it’s not sinful for them to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Book after book, Bible study after Bible study, sermon after sermon, frequently trying to convince Nice Straight Cis Church People that it’s okay for LGBTQ people to be part of the church (how kind of Nice Straight Cis Church People to consider letting LGBTQ people be part of the club too, right?). I honestly can’t imagine how exhausting all of this must be for my LGBTQ friends and neighbors.
With this in mind, it’s past time for the church — especially Nice Straight Cis Church People — to repent.
Because here’s the thing. If the church wants to talk about sin as related to LGBTQ brothers and sisters and siblings, then let’s talk about the real sin at work here: the repeated and systemic oppression of LGBTQ people by the church.
Why should the LGBTQ community always have to defend themselves as being “okay in the sight of God,” when in fact the harmful (i.e., sinful) position — that which robs life rather than gives life — is found in *not* affirming LGBTQ persons as being beautifully made in the image of God? After all, it’s cis-hetero-normativity that is oppressive (which is to say, sinful). Instead of thinking about whether or not LGBTQ persons should be allowed to be fully included in the life of the church, the church should be celebrating who they are, made in the image of God, and celebrating the gifts they offer to the church.
As debates over the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church have played out over these many years, Nice Straight Cis Church People have perfected the art of oppression by constantly “discerning” (read: “delaying”) how the “spirit” (read: “personal opinion”) is leading them. But it’s an absolute travesty for LGBTQ people to have to constantly prove their basic humanity and worth — not to mention their gifts for the church — to Nice Straight Cis Church People who somehow think they’re the gatekeepers and spokespersons for God, because — newsflash! — they aren’t anymore than anyone else is, regardless of however much they might try to convince you they are (usually through their finely crafted mastery of what my theologian friend, Sarah Morice Brubaker, has technically and accurately classified as “theological blowhardism”).
There are a multitude of Christian books and resources that provide all kinds of reasons why faithful Christians should fully affirm LGBTQ persons — not in spite of one’s faith, but precisely because of it. As such, the burden of proof should not be on LGBTQ persons to defend their basic humanity; the true sin is found in Nice Straight Cis Church People who constantly require them to do so.
A few years ago, a pastor of a megachurch in a nearby town was fighting a local non-discrimination ordinance that protected the rights of LGBTQ persons (in other words, he wanted to discriminate against them). Yet he was quick to note that LGBTQ people are still welcome in his church. He said that their sin was like any other sin, and went on to list
“homosexual orientation and practice” with “anger, chemical addiction, gambling, slander, stealing, pride, lying, etc.” In so doing, he demonstrated a fatal (yet far too pervasive) flaw in Nice Straight Cis Church People’s understanding of sin. After all, sin is that which is harmful — that which takes life, instead of that which gives life. While the behaviors he named hurt individuals and communities, what actually hurts LGBTQ persons is the repression of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, if someone cheats on their beloved by committing adultery, that is harmful. If someone is struggling with opioid abuse, that is harmful. But if in a relationship neither partner cheats on the other, well, obviously, that’s much healthier for the relationship. If one is struggling with addiction, and gets sober, one’s life improves, it gets better. And if an LGBTQ person is able to fully live in to who they are — as beloved in the sight of God — their life improves, it gets better. It doesn’t bring harm but, conversely, healing. Which is the precise opposite of what sin does.
Affirming LGBTQ persons doesn’t harm, it heals. It saves. It’s not sinful to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. But it is sinful to oppress those who are. And it’s past time for the church to change its ways.