6 steps for pastors: Opening dialogue about welcoming gay and transgender people in the church

Is your congregation silent on the subject?

Contrary to popular assumptions, most churches are not loudly condemning gay and transgender (LGBT) people; they’re simply silent. In fact, many pastors want to be affirming but fear the congregation’s reaction, and many church members long to hear affirming words from the pulpit but are wary of bringing up the subject with their pastor.

What to do about this impasse? We recommend starting with an invitation. Here are steps you might take to get started.

Step #1: Initiate conversations with church members who you think will be open.

Today nearly everyone knows, loves, or is close to someone who is gay or transgender. Very likely your congregation includes LGBT people, family members, and close friends who are troubled by the silence. Ask them what they’d like to see in your church, what impact they would anticipate if the church became inclusive, and who else they think would be interested in dialogue.

Step #2: Initiate conversation with other church members and leaders.

You may be surprised to find that they too are troubled by the silence, but if they hold negative views, respectfully ask what they’re based on. The Bible? What they’ve heard from other pastors? Negative personal experiences?  If your congregation is very large, you might eventually enlist the help of people in step #1 to branch out for these conversations.

Your respectful listening lays important groundwork in signaling that everyone’s opinions and concerns have value, and loving discourse is possible.

Step #3: Privately convene a small group of those who have expressed interest in exploring these issues.

From your beginning conversations, you will have identified people who hope to see change. Invite them to gather. Ideally, the small group would include straight as well as LGBT members, and at least one other church leader. Share your “research” and encourage the group to brainstorm ways the congregation might tackle the issue in a way that promotes loving community.

Step #4: With the core group, identify one or two door-openers as reasons to begin a church-wide conversation.

For example, gay and transgender youth, especially those who go to church, seriously consider suicide at a significantly higher rate than other youth, and suicide rates are even higher among youth who are bullied because they’re perceived to be gay or transgender. You could ask the congregation to consider the church’s role in this societal problem.

Another door-opener might be a public scandal about a church leader’s sexual misconduct. Given that our silence—our failure to faithfully discuss sexuality—creates fertile ground for such abuses, you could ask the congregation to begin an educational program that addresses human sexuality and what constitutes faithful relationships.

These are just examples; you will identify the right one that seems timely or resonates for your congregation.

Step #5: Similarly, choose where to begin the dialogue.

With the support of a core group, you may be comfortable opening the conversation from the pulpit and making the case for an inquiry. Alternatively, you and your group may want to engage the church council in affirming the need for dialogue, or begin with one of your adult classes or groups and branch out from there.

There’s no “right” way to do this; trust the process and your group’s combined wisdom about how to engage the congregation.

Step #6: Explore the resources at Many Voices.

By now, you are well on your way, the path is becoming clear, and a core group will have emerged to ensure that the process is right for your congregation. Many Voices has many resources that others have developed for use in worship, education, and dialogue. Use our resources freely, and adapt them to your situation.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for, please tell us. We’ll do our best to point you to it, find someone who can offer it, or create it for you!

Finally, know that many pastors around the country have been on this journey before you and have been gratified by the resulting growth and strengthening of their congregations. Blessings as you begin!

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