How do you be an ally when your church isn’t?

At the beginning of Christmas break, looking ahead to a whole glorious month of no classes, I checked out a whole armload of books from the library. Theology books, mostly – I am drinking theology these days, marinating in it. Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible, for one: his brilliant pulling-apart of the biblicism that pervades American evangelical culture, and then replacing it with a “Christocentric hermeneutic,” one that views all of scripture not in light of itself (that tangled attempt to cross-reference and weave it into an internally consistent roadmap-for-21st-century-life sort of book) but rather seeing it all for how it reveals Christ, the euangelion, the Good News, the true Word. It’s a lovely book, paradigm-shifting for me as I wrestle through this time of reframing my faith.

Smith’s book, in fact, is one of only two books from my armload that I actually made it through; I was overzealous at the library it turns out, forgot that while I won’t have school to contend with over break, neither will my children. So, no increase in my available reading time; but at the last minute before spring semester started back, I plowed through Justin Lee’s TORN: Rescuing the Bible from the Gays -vs.-Christians Debate, and oh, I am so glad I did. In it Justin tells his story of growing up devoutly Christian, secure in his relationships with God and his parents, and then realizing as a teenager that he is gay. He is honest and transparent about the struggles he went through as he dealt with his identity – the things he tried in order to rid himself of his same-sex attractions: the support groups, the fervent prayers, the war between two unchangeable parts of himself. It is thoroughly worth reading for anyone who wrestles with the problem of the discord between the Church and people who are gay.

Justin spends a few chapters dealing with the problems of “ex-gay” ministries, which chapters Rachel Held Evans (the eternal Rachel Held Evans! I love her so) reviews here so I won’t rehash, but the short version is: 1. they don’tcurehomosexuality in the sense of removing attractions to the same gender, much less replacing them with attractions for the opposite gender; 2. they often base their therapies on the roundly-disproven theory that homosexuality is caused by an inability to form healthy bonds with members of the same gender, due to a dysfunctional relationship with one’s parents, and that learning how to be more masculine/feminine and forming close friendships with members of the same gender will make one’s homosexuality disappear; and 3. they provide the church the plausible deniability to believe that anyone who is gay can be reformed by sufficient devotion to Christ (thus reinforcing the belief that a gay person isn’t really a Christian, and a true Christian can’t be gay), and the satisfaction of knowing that the church as an institution is dealing with any gay people within its walls, and so the individual members of the church have no need to see them as individuals, form relationships, and hear their stories.

Reading these chapters made me sad for Justin and for the many gay and lesbian people that we, the church, have insisted on seeing only as a sinful homogeneous monolith and not as the infinitely unique people they are, image-bearers of God instead of problems to be corrected. And then it made me go digging into the recesses of my church’s website to see if we have an ex-gay ministry of our own.

We have two.

One of the groups appears to be an arm of Exodus International, and lists no information except an email contact. The other group has several pages of resources hosted on our church website, where it declares that homosexuality is caused by “a deficiency in the boy’s relationship with the father or father-figure,” thus leading him to “isolate himself from the world of men and masculinity and consequently believe the lie that he is different from other men.” To counteract this deficiency and “diminish SSA,” the support group pairs each man with a male mentor, because “In joining with a male mentor non-sexually, the struggler will be challenged to his very core that he is not different, and in fact, has many commonalities with straight men. … Healing [from homosexuality, presumably] will manifest itself through relationships with straight, godly men and a commitment to Jesus Christ through a prolific prayer life and by devotion to God’s Word.”

This is so problematic.

And now that I have this information, now that I know about this thing that my church is doing that is not just something I disagree with on theological grounds, but is actively wrong and harmful, what do I do? Because I do not want to be a part of supporting this “ministry,” not even tacitly. Do I leave my church? Bring my concerns to a pastor, someone in leadership? Uh, write about it semi-anonymously on the internet?

I don’t know what to do now. I am determined to be an ally to LGBT people, both Christians and non-. And I am committed to my church, although that commitment has been wavering lately, something I intend to write more about soon.

What do I do now?

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3 thoughts on “How do you be an ally when your church isn’t?

  1. This is a big question and ultimately one you will decide not just on the basis of an issue but whether or not your church can continue with you on the journey as you take a hard look at your faith. If you end of leaving, it’s that more than anything else, I think, that will be the reason.

    However, in regard to the issue of homosexuality, I can give you some insight as a gay Christian. First, in a church like yours, it can be very scary for someone growing up gay. I felt invisible, like people didn’t know I existed. When they talked about people who were gay, it was always about the other. So it felt like if I told someone, I would be labeled as different and sick. One thing you can do about this is let it be known among the youth that you don’t think that being gay is a choice. Let it be known that you are open to hearing people’s stories. Realize, too, that many gay kids will probably believe what they’ve been taught, that it is wrong to act on their attractions or even wrong to be gay. You don’t need to change their minds, but be someone who will listen to them. And give them Torn to read.

    The other thing you can do is start a conversation in your church using Torn as a starting place. Get the book out there and get people reading it and talking about it. If they are open to loving people who are different, they will set aside their judgments and take a second look. If people aren’t willing to have the conversation, they probably tells you that they are not willing to look seriously at their faith. Then the question becomes, is that a place where you can become closer to God?

  2. This is totally off topic, but I got here through my mad detective skillz (yeah, right). The answer to your question over on Slacktivist about that sermon on the parables is, “No, it’s not up on the web anywhere. That one got missed for a variety of reasons.”

    However — if you send me an e-mail request (so that I have your e-mail, because those mad detective skillz aren’t really all that mad), I will gladly send you a copy of that sermon.

    Blessings,

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