Recently, while advocating for Christian churches to do the hard work to make their communities equitable and safe, a friend gently chided me to acknowledge all the good that was happening. They asserted:
“I see a lot of churches working really hard to welcome everyone!”
On one hand, they are right. There is more awareness and momentum in the wider Christian community today than there was when I was growing up. Such growth is important and should be acknowledged. So here it is: I acknowledge it. On the other hand, having now acknowledged it: Keep going! Do more! Dig deeper!
At the risk of sounding overly negative on this theme, I think there are some important points to keep in mind. First, stopping the historic, ongoing harm being done to countless people in the name of Jesus is good, but not exactly praise-worthy. Yes, I want to encourage people to celebrate the movement but also resist any effort to make such commitments seem exceptional. They are literally the lowest bar.
Second, and more importantly, the nature of a lot of that change is problematic. As churches seek to make space for LGBTQ+ folks, they often focus on creating public apologies and affirming theological statements. While such steps are important, they often mistake welcome for change. It unintentionally still locates the center of the problem within the LGBTQ+ community (or other corresponding marginalized groups). Let me unpack that.
All too often when churches adopt LGBTQ+ affirming statements, allowing queer members to have access to every aspect of life and service in the community, they believe that is the main (or even only) hurdle. Unfortunately, this further “others” the LGBTQ+ members, as though their only barrier to inclusion was a policy or doctrinal statement. In reality, the church often remains a toxic and hostile place in practice, given that the church’s beliefs and practices (perpetuated in homes and families) were predicated on centuries of hetero- and cis-normative (even supremacist) assumptions.
So while it is important for churches to make genuine apologies for past and present mistreatment and to grapple with and celebrate LGBTQ+ affirming theology, the real work is not about LGBTQ+ people but rather about dismantling the…