Homophobia in the Church

The Corner of Gay and Church

Image by Wyoming_Jackrabbit via Flickr

The recent series of suicides by teenagers who are gay or perceived to be gay should break our hearts and alarm our senses to the bullying that is going on and to the plight of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans) people. Forth Worth City Councillor Joel Burns, himself gay, told suicidal LGBT teens that “it gets better,” telling his own personal story of facing harassment from bullies. Please watch the video and you will get a glimpse of the pain that LGBT people face growing up, and see the faces of the teens that have died.

At York University, the external coordinator of TBLGAY (the Trans Bisexual Lesbians Gays Allies at York) who himself contemplated suicide in grade two said, “It [the suicides] points to a really big epidemic in society. Not just bullying in school, but in society in general – homophobia is alive and well.” (From the Excalibur student newspaper)

Alas, homophobia is alive and well in the churches too. Some, perhaps, would even say that the Christian church is THE source of homophobia in our culture. Author and columnist Dan Savage, who started the It Gets Better Project, clearly blames Christians for spreading homophobia and for creating an environment that leads to bullying of LGBT teens. You can read his opinions here (note: Savage uses strong language at times): “Who Teaches Straight Teenagers That Being Gay is a Choice?” and “In Your Image“.

He is not the only one who thinks so. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that two-thirds of Americans think “the message coming out of churches about gay people is negative, and about the same number say those messages contribute “a lot” to negative perceptions of gay and lesbian people.” (See Savage again in this column: Two-Thirds of Americans Say: Churches Contribute to LGBT Teen Suicides) If that does not dishearten Christians this one should. David Kinnaman of the Barna Group published his findings in a book, Unchristian (Baker 2007), where he found that 91% of non-church going young Americans (16-29 years old) believe the church is antihomosexual (which I guess is a polite way of saying “homophobic”). What is worse, (and clergy/pastors, church leaders, Christian parents please take note) a whopping 80% of church-going (and we mean faithful churchgoers) youth think the church is antihomosexual! Think about that. The majority of our own Christian youth think the church is homophobic.

My own experience as a campus pastor at York University for the past 9 years seem to validate that perception. Most young people definitely see the conservative churches’ stance of “hate the sin but love the sinner” as hypocritical. Whatever the intended message was, the message that people got is the church hates homosexuals. It seems that the actions, sermons, and messages of church leaders, by and large, are perceived as homophobic (yes, there are exceptions thankfully, e.g. Jim Wallis’ post). Either this is a major, major breakdown in communication or the church better wake up to the reality that it is infected with homophobia.

(Also check out Michele Somerville’s post on homophobia in the Catholic church and the dissenters within it.)

And people are avoiding and leaving the church because of this. The most dramatic is the recent mass exodus of 30,000 people from the state church in Finland (see this Huffington Post column). There are thoughtful young Christians in universities who have either left or are seriously contemplating leaving the church over this issue.

But most importantly, as we see with the recent rash of suicides, young people are literally dying from this. Young Christians and non-Christians are hurting, suffering from bullying and from the pain of alienation and lack of understanding. These are our children and our neighbors’ children. Regardless of your theological position on homosexuality, surely all Christians should agree that if our current practices and messages are causing death and destruction to people, including our own (and yes, there are LGBT youths in the church, many who are in the closet), we ought to stop and honestly re-examine them and re-examine ourselves. How could our gospel of love become a source of hate? Surely, we must have done something wrong.

I am not a LGBT activist. I am a heterosexual who is married for 13 years with three daughters. But I have met and befriended gays and lesbians. I have a Christian friend who is gay. I also once had a Christian York student came out to me that he believed he was bisexual. The sad thing was that he felt he couldn’t come out to his on campus Christian fellowship friends because they had homophobic tendencies. For instance, he inwardly cringed everytime his Christian friends would use “fag”, “queer” or “gay” as derogatory jokes or put-downs, which according to him, was often. It was only after receiving my support and care that he eventually had the courage to come out to his Christian friends, and to reprimand them for their unchristian behavior and use of language. Yes, let me say it again, Christians and churches are infected with homophobia.

Yes, there are exceptions (thank God). Some churches, and even some denominations, are welcoming and nurturing of LGBT people. And I am not even talking about theology. There are churches holding to the position that homosexuality is not “normal” that still do a good job of including LGBT folks into their midst. And I know for a fact that there are theologically conservative LGBT Christians too.

So, my hope in this post is to stimulate churches and Christians to examine themselves, their behavior, their language: are we being hypocritical? why are we investing so much time and energy focusing on this “sin” while ignoring many other “sins” that the Bible spent more verses on in denouncing, e.g. greed? are we truly acting out of zeal for the faith or are we motivated by homophobia?

Let us work towards contributing to saving lives of LGBT teens, not to killing them.

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About Shiao Chong

Editor in Chief of The Banner, official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). Formerly CRC Campus Minister serving at York University in Toronto, Canada. (All postings here are my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of the CRC or of The Banner.)
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14 Responses to Homophobia in the Church

  1. Paul Weidig says:

    I am both gay and a follower of Jesus (an identification I prefer above “Christian, ” which carries too much judgmentalism and underlying homophobic baggage), I lived for 45 years in a monogamous, devoted relationship that could only be called a marriage with another man, who died three years ago.
    After his death, I was totally shredded and could find no solace in six months of grief therapy and bereavement counselling, until I sought spiritual meaning in the church of which I am now a member, I was saved and surrendered to Our Lord less than three years ago on Easter Sunday, when I found my own resurrection and Jesus found me, Since then, the Lord has branded on my heart a calling to bring other sexual minorities to Him,I founded our church’s ministry to sexual minorities and have witnessed to many gay people.
    I have launched a Web site specifically designed to bring gay people to Our Lord, through whatever power the Holy Spirit grants me. I am now a candidate for a Master’s degree in Christian Ministry with an emphasis on outreach to the gay community.
    I have been rescued and I am ardently following the Way, the Truth and the Life. That means submission to God’s will for us as gay people.
    I am passionately committed to bringing our gay brothers and sisters who have been maligned, despised and persecuted by those who dare to call themselves “Christian” to the full awareness of God’s unconditional and unchanging love for them. My motto; “Focus on the win, not on the sin!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. >>>>>I am not a LGBT activist. I am a heterosexual who is married for 13 years with three daughters.
    I don’t think you actually technically need to be LGBT in order to be a LGBT activist. I think of an activist as one who stands up for someone’s social rights. Thus, in the Civil Rights’ movement of the 1960’s there white people who could be considered black or Hispanic activists.

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    • Shiao Chong says:

      You are absolutely right. My heterosexual orientation have nothing to do with whether I am an activist for the cause or not. I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that sentence. Thanks for correcting me.

      Like

  3. azileretsis says:

    I’m not a fan of labels but it can be a way to simplify our viewpoints if self-imposed. How do you feel about marriage in this arena?

    Like many of you, I have known many college students who walked away from God because of this issue. Many of them still continue to hurt. However, this issue in the US has spiraled from a spiritual or moral issue to a political issue. The other camp also confuses the idea of individual acceptance with the idea of moral complicity. Also, why should this behavior be a label or even a source of identity? Should I call myself a glutton Christian if that is my sin or call myself proudly as an adulterer? This issue loses all logic in its emotion in both the church and political contexts.

    The heart of the issue is that the church does do a poor job of going beyond its comfort zone. However, those in outreach need to be careful that we don’t compromise the fundamental belief in a Holy God who came in the Person of a Savior to redeem a world of sinners.

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    • Shiao Chong says:

      Thanks azileretsis.

      It`s not simple by any means, as you have noted how it is complicated already by politics, etc. One of the problems as I see it is that society, including the church, has labelled homosexuals such and has made sexual orientation into a source of identity for same-sex attraction folks whether they liked it or not. In other words, part of the history of oppression here has been to identify and label homosexuals primarily through their sexual orientation in order to demonize and/or marginalize them. Hence, it’s no surprise that they now internalize that history and see that as a primary identity. Hence, to me, it’s not fair for the church to condemn them for making sexual orientation a major identity marker because, guess what, the church made it an identity marker in the past in the first place! The church, in its history, singled out homosexuality as a sin above other sins – by practice if not by theory – condemned people with same-sex attraction – as if that sin defines them totally – and marginalized them.

      For example, in practice, how many churches refuse to ordain a pastor because he is greedy? Yet, the apostle Paul often points out that greed is idolatry or sin. But we do enshrine policies – many churches do – that forbid a person who has same-sex attraction from being ordained as a pastor. So, who has labelled whom? Who has made that one sin/label an identity marker?

      Yes, it is an emotional issue precisely because it has become a major identity marker. And, yes, you are right that we need to stop making sexual orientation as THE major identity marker. Our identities are not one-dimensional but complex, multi-dimensional. Many other markers contribute to our identities, not the least of, our faith. As Christians, our Christian identity should be a stronger identity marker.

      I do believe in following Jesus’ example of having fellowship with sinners, eating and drinking with them – which in his culture and time was scandalous for a religious leader to do – to accept them as persons made in God’s image too, as persons in need of God’s grace, just as I am, as sinners, just as I am, as persons loved and invited to God’s redemption, just as I am. I suspect that many of the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ time thought Jesus was compromising God’s holiness through his behavior of eating and drinking with sinners. I think I am on safer ground in following Jesus’ example rather than the Pharisees’ example. I believe it is only through such close encounters will “sinners” actually see God’s holiness – not from a distance, excluded and marginalized, and being preached at.

      I’m not saying that’s what you are suggesting but the reality is that’s what churches do these days when they say we need to make sure they know God’s holiness even as we reach out to them – outreach merely means “preaching at them” and not embracing them in love, in fellowship, in acceptance. We can accept people without condoning everything they do. I accept my children – my three daughters – but I do not condone everything they do. In fact, as a parent, I have to many times over correct their behaviors and actions that I believe are unhealthy, wrong and ungodly. So, acceptance and condoning are two separate things.

      As for same-sex marriage – well, I haven’t studied thoroughly the issue, so I won’t comment too much on it. But part of the problem here is that the church has fused the religious significance of marriage with political civil duties. In some countries, only civil servants, like City Hall officials, can give marriage licenses and solemnize marriages that satisfy the government. Churches there only perform the religious ceremonies, and hence the religious blessings and responsibilities, of marriage. A marriage in the church does not make it an official marriage in the books of the government. Singapore, where I lived for a number of years, is such a country. That kind of church and state split, I believe, is ultimately healthier in the long run and would simplify the same-sex issue. For instance, in the civil side, the question of same-sex marriage is based on whether it is just, fair, constitutional to grant same-sex marriage? And on the religious side, the question is whether it is theologically right for the church to bless same-sex unions? A religious wedding is totally different from a civil marriage. But in Canada and the USA, marriage is one instance where the church and state are conflated – it is not neatly divided – and this complicates the matter. In many cases, the pastor/priest officiating the religious wedding is also acting as a civil servant, an agent of the government, in those occasions. As a pastor, you answer to God and serve people by God’s laws. As a civil servant, you answer to the government and serve its citizens according to its laws. There isn’t always a practical conflict (although there’s a theological conflict), but answering to two bosses ain’t going to be healthy in the long term. I haven’t applied for a license to officiate weddings yet, partly because I’m not totally comfortable, theologically, with this situation. But I have been asked from time to time by students if I could “do weddings”. And I’m still struggling about this.

      Thanks again for your comment.

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  4. wendy says:

    Thanks Chong for addressing this critical reality in the Christian community. Until we have the courage to face our own fears, anxieties, and systemic inequities, we will not only be unable to root out homophobia from the church, but we will be hindered in fully living out the radical hospitality the Jesus embodied. For many who live in the unconscious privileged status of heterosexuality it will require a willingness and an intentionality to enter into the experience of those on the sexual margins of the Christian community. But doing so will deepen the experience of living in the way of Jesus who continually postured himself on the margins, breaking social stigma, and deconstructing the power of exclusion with his unconditional invitation to be reconciled – to God and into community. If we fail to do this – it will be to our impoverishment and God’s lament.

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    • Shiao Chong says:

      Thank you Wendy and well said. Thank you for reminding me and all of us that to be hospitable, to walk alongside those marginalized and oppressed, is an integral part of following Christ. It is part and parcel of our spirituality. Homosexual Christians are not the only ones who suffer if the church fails to take seriously this aspect of our spirituality but heterosexual Christians also loose out spiritually when we, as the church community, fail to follow Jesus in those steps.

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  5. Matthew says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I think a lot needs to be said about homosexuality and the church… but from the way things look, we’ll never be able to reconcile the two. I’m interested in what your view of homosexuality is — is it a sin?

    Let me just leave off with this story:

    A young man just affirmed his faith in Christ Jesus and was baptized. He could not contain his excitement as he ran up to his best friend, who happened to be gay, and said, “I’m a Christian!”. His best friend looked away and whispered, “So… I guess you hate me now.”

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    • Shiao Chong says:

      Thanks Matthew for your comment. Sorry for a delayed response as I was extremely busy lately.

      It seems irreconcilable partly because of the injustice and offenses we Christians have caused in the past. Christians have stereotyped and labelled LGBT folks in very harmful ways, and thus, also creating a gulf between “us and them”. For instance, Wendy Gritter the Director of New Direction Ministries, wrote an excellent blog post recently about her reflections on the recent Lausanne Conference on Missions. Wendy made precisely this point: that Christians tend to use the term “gay” as inherently negative and definitive rather than as a neutral descriptive term, so much so that some circles think that a gay Christian is an oxymoron! But it isn’t. A gay Christian is merely a Christian who has same-sex attraction. “Gay” does not mean that the person automatically indulges in a certain sexual lifestyle that most Christians disapprove of. Read the whole blog post here: http://btgproject.blogspot.com/2010/10/lausanne-concludes-reflections-on.html

      So, you asked me what is my position on homosexuality – is it a sin? I am an ordained Christian Reformed Campus Minister and my position equals my denomination’s position, which I quote here:

      Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world. Persons of same-sex attraction should not be denied community acceptance solely because of their sexual orientation and should be wholeheartedly received by the church and given loving support and encouragement. Christian homosexuals, like all Christians, are called to discipleship, holy obedience, and the use of their gifts in the cause of the kingdom. Opportunities to serve within the offices and the life of the congregation should be afforded to them as to heterosexual Christians.

      Homosexualism (that is, explicit homosexual practice), however, is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. The church affirms that it must exercise the same compassion for homosexuals in their sins as it exercises for all other sinners. The church should do everything in its power to help persons with homosexual orientation and give them support toward healing and wholeness.

      Here’s the link to my denomination’s position statement: http://crcna.org/pages/positions_homosexuality.cfm

      So, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) does not see the homosexual condition – same-sex attraction – as sin but explicit homosexual practice as sin. Just as my heterosexual condition is not sinful but if I indulge in pornography, then I’m sinning. Hence, gay or lesbian Christians can (and do) serve as elders, deacons and pastors in the CRC (full involvement in the community) as long as they refrain from a homosexual lifestyle. This is similar to a heterosexual Christian being asked to refrain from sinful sexual practices, e.g. adultery, fornication, etc. The problem, of course, is that Christians tend to be far more forgiving of heterosexual Christians when they stray than on homosexual Christians. That, to me, is another sign of homophobia.

      I know this position might not be fully satisfactory to either the LGBT community or to the vast majority of conservative Christianity. We are “stuck in the middle” it seems. But at this point, this is the best theological position I have. I know for a fact that there are LGBT Christians who hold this position as well, as I have a gay Christian friend who is CRC and holds to this.

      Ultimately, though, my emphasis leans towards pastoral care, compassion and grace, and building relationships rather than debating theology. And, for me, that means accepting people as they are, loving them without having to change them, journeying alongside with them, and helping them where they need and want help. This is the same approach I use with anyone – straight or gay, black or white, male or female. There are three things that I always use to guide me, which I derive from Micah 6:8 in the Bible: humility to listen and learn without judging, compassion/mercy to forgive and reconcile, and justice to be fair and to give what is due to others. With these, I hope to walk with people in their spiritual journeys, encourage them to draw closer to God, let them ask me the questions, let them take their own initiatives, and let God do the rest.

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  6. Victoria says:

    Coming to faith later in life I can definitely identify with the hate that churches have for homosexuals. I’m not sugar coating because I’m talking about the institution of church – when it comes through the mouths of the faithful it is either discussed silently – for fear of being labelled too liberal or its sugar coated for fear of being labelled a homophobe. When I first starting coming to faith I had determined that I would never be CRC because of the voices I heard in the local church. I was leaning towards United which seemed to be the only alternative.

    Now in my final year of seminary I am again faced with the label of liberal if I point out that the sins that we are all guilty of carry the same punishment and that all far short of the grace of God. There is no room to even discuss a possible different intepretation of the passages in class though I have approached this in assignments.

    I have prayed to be convicted of what God has to say on this issue – I would love to say that I am convicted of the certainty that others have…it seems like a place of security to be so sure of the Word and unconcerned with the application.

    My brother is gay among many other things – intelligent, funny, politically aware, broken and far from God. I pray God grabs him up as is and whispers to him what the truth is about the love He has for him. Meanwhile I watch this struggle from within the Church wondering how we will ever reach him…..

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    • Shiao Chong says:

      Thank you for your honest words,Victoria. I appreciate you being vulnerable in sharing your story and I also feel for your brother.
      Your point about how Christians are labelled as “liberal” (which usually suggests heretic) whenever they have interpretations that differ from the normal conservative views is so true. I wish we would not so easily use labels and stereotypes to box people into categories. Each one of us is not a label – hardly anyone is entirely conservative or entirely liberal or whatever in all of their opinions or views.
      The tendency to label “liberals” is the same tendency to label LGBT people into a stereotype category, as if all LGBT persons think alike, act alike, believe alike. It’s the same tendency as well in labelling people of different ethnicities, of women, and of people with disabilities.
      This is something Christians and the church need to stop doing. Such labelling, in my opinion, is intellectual violence.

      Like

    • anonymous says:

      “the sins that we are all guilty of carry the same punishment and that all far short of the grace of God. ”

      wow. well said.

      Like

  7. Jason Postma says:

    Thanks for this post!

    Like

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