The Future of LGBT+ People in the Church
The Future of LGBT+ People in the Church
Are we expecting too little, not too much?
Recently I’ve had several conversations with friends about how we’re all doing as LGBT+ people in different Christian traditions and denominations in the UK. Generally the answer has been a variation on the one theme: pretty poorly.
On the one hand it might seem that the increased attention that LGBT+ people are receiving in the church is positive. Our grievances are being aired, and sometimes even listened to and acted upon, and more and more churches are seeking to engage in dialogue and journey towards a position of inclusion or full affirmation. Yet, this constant toing and froing on what is permissible about our identities is exhausting, and the endless asks of us to act as educator, confidant, and sounding board are taking their toll.
In the conversations I’ve been having another concern is expressing itself: that of respectability. There’s a growing unease at the level of assimilation that is expected of us by church structures before we’re deemed legitimate enough to be included and affirmed. In some denominations and traditions, if you aspire to marry/enter a civil partnership, raise a family, or pursue ordination, or perhaps a combination, then you are deemed respectable and are permitted to engage with church life in almost the same ways as your cisgender and heterosexual peers. Almost.
Unity has been confused with uniformity.
And so, what if your LGBT+ identity is expressed beyond what is considered respectable by your majority cis-het church? What if your gender fluidity offends? Or the expression of your sexual liberation deemed sinful? Or the pronouns you use are questioned and scorned? (“I can just about handle they/them, anything else is nonsense.”)
And so I’m asking: are we expecting too little, not too much?
Over the years I’ve frequently been counselled to slow down, not demand things to change straight away, and to have patience with the process; usually by cis-het men from privileged backgrounds. At times I have paid heed to their words and reluctantly acknowledged that you don’t change millennia of church history in a day. Yet, this continues to unsettle me – these words that placate and soothe, that legitimise the delay and defer responsibility of change once again to the oppressed, not to the oppressor. If you’re stick at it for long enough, you’ll be change you want to see.
And to be fair, I have. I married my husband in a British Baptist Church for one thing, a sign of something changing at least. Yet, whilst I love my husband dearly and deeply value the nature of our relationship, it’s hard not to see this in the cold and harsh light of respectability. Am I accepted in liberal Christian circles because I am married – am I somehow safer now because I have chosen to legitimise my relationship in the same way they have?
Frankly, I think the answer is yes.
I will fight for the right for anyone to marry the person they love, or to have children with them, yet I want to stop fighting for that to be the bar to which everyone must aspire – albeit an unintentional fight on my part so far.
Instead, I want to fight for the right for people to love and be loved, for families to be creative and diverse and not defined by gender roles or whether there are children present or not; I want to fight for people to wear whatever they want and not live in fear of verbal or physical abuse; I want to fight for queer expressions of sex and sexuality to be treated as valid and beautiful; I want to fight for a church that is a sanctuary for all, not an empire for the few.
So yes, we might have to be patient to see the church as it is change – but perhaps that isn’t the only option. Continue to push for change, demand justice, and challenge inequality in your denomination or tradition, by all means – because for many people this is what is needed. But perhaps we also ought to start lighting a few fires, rooting out the false god of respectability and letting something new, joyful, and holy rise from the ashes. Do we have to fight to stay in the church as it is, or can we be part of the creation of something new?
Perhaps one way we might be able to support, nurture, and grow with another is through dialogue in community. If you’d like to be part of a conversation that will include sex and sexuality for LGBT+ people, how we might challenge the false god of respectability, and what a new church for a new day might look like, then drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, the church isn’t going to change overnight, and the darkness of respectability is going to fight against the fire; Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that, and it didn’t burn in one either.