What we say, how we say it, and how we treat others can profoundly affect those around us.
Exclusion and discrimination in the church can take many forms. It can occur as
excluding from leadership roles
expecting people to keep silent about their relationships
expecting people to be “like us” and not be different.
refusing to bless relationships or perform marriages
We must also be sensitive to the fact that many people anticipate or expect rejection from religious institutions because of the prevalent and very public condemnation from many pulpits to persons whose sexual orientation or gender identity seems different than that of others.
Churches hurt people when they exclude or discriminate because of sexual orientation or gender identity. All people want to, and we should make sure they can, participate fully in church without fear of being hurt or being “discovered.”
A young adult moves into town and begins attending a church in her neighborhood. Quickly feeling at home, she wants to transfer her membership. The pastor tells her that since she is a lesbian, it isn’t appropriate for her to join and denies the transfer.
Exclusion affects children, parents, friends
When a church excludes someone, the pain and hurt spreads out in waves beyond just the person excluded. Families and friends of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people often feel excluded and set apart. Children with gay parents may feel they need to lie about or hide their family situation in order to feel accepted. Parents with gender variant children feel isolated and alone. In their church community, many do not feel free to share the joys and struggles of their lives related to their gay or transgender friends or family members.
It was a lonely day when our daughter came out to us as a bisexual. I knew immediately that she was still the child we’d loved and cherished for 25 years and was totally accepting of what she’d discovered about her sexual identity. Yet I still felt isolated and alone—worried for her safety and praying that she would find acceptance in her world—and, yes, wondering what my friends and fellow church members would think if I told them. (Adapted from Helen Andrew, “The Story of a Stole,” The Kindred Connection, Newsletter of the Parents Reconciling Network, Winter 2009, p.3)
Negative messages about orientation and gender affect teens
The well-being of teens matters to all of us. Young people are frequently teased, judged, harassed, put down, beaten up, or estranged from their families because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result they are often left wounded, lonely, hurting and suicidal. Our choice to speak loving messages rather than harmful messages can be literally life-giving.
Someone at church said, “When it comes to homosexuality, we love the sinner, but hate the sin.” When I heard this, I did not feel loved; I felt like I was being judged and pushed away. I’m a Christian and I also happen to be gay—I felt like I was being forced to choose between being part of the church that I love so much and being who God made me to be.
Peoples’ lives are diminished when denied ministries of the church
We usually think of the church as a place where the important events of our lives are shared, celebrated, and wept over. When people are denied these pivotal faith experiences due to gender identity or sexual orientation, they are treated as second class members of the church. As people created in God’s image, the ministries of the church should be equally available to all.
Two church members have fallen in love and want to commit their lives to each other before God and their community of faith. They want to hold this ceremony in their church and have their pastor be the celebrant, just as their siblings have done. Since they are both the same gender, however, they can't fulfill that dream in their own church.
The church loses gifted spiritual leadership
When people with gifts and graces for ministry are denied ordination because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, the church loses out on their leadership. These persons endure the pain and alienation of having their call to ministry rejected.
Baptized and confirmed in the church, involved in Sunday school, youth group, mission trips, and youth events at local and judicatory levels—God is nudging a young man toward a life dedicated to ministry. Many people recognize his strong faith and his ability to inspire and strengthen those around him. As his faith grows, so does his awareness that he is attracted to men. He dreams of the day when he will become a minister. He also dreams of the day when he will meet and fall in love with a man who will be his life partner. If both dreams come true, he will be forced to choose one or the other. He cannot have both in his faith tradition.