Growing up as a straight girl in New England’s Evangelical subculture in the 90s and early 2000s, it was easy to be oblivious to the challenges of LGBT kids in the church. None of the gay kids I knew were out of the closet back then and I don’t remember homosexuality being quite the hot topic it became in the years leading up to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I started to put the beliefs I had been steeped in my entire life under the microscope. I had been living with the devastating effects of chronic Lyme disease for some years by that time and my frustration with our society’s ignorant and apathetic response to the suffering of people with chronic illness weighed heavily on me.
I can’t remember what it was exactly that prompted me to start researching LGBTQ issues (It was probably an article I read.), but my own disease and the social and institutional prejudice I’ve endured because of it contributed to my gradual awakening. The LBGTQ community faces many similar obstacles–ignorance, prejudice, apathy to their suffering, and downright hostility from people in positions of power.
I started reading books and articles–mostly by gay Christians on both sides of the marriage equality debate–and trying to figure out how this segment of the population fit (or didn’t fit) into the worldview of my childhood.
I researched both the theology of same-sex relationships and the experiences (through stories and statistics) of LGBTQ people. I found overwhelming evidence of enormous harm to gay and transgender people caused by that worldview. No surprise there. But what did surprise me is what I learned about the Bible’s relationship to this hotly debated subject.
I found that even a Reformed reading of the Bible (for those who believe in the total inerrancy of scripture) doesn’t support Evangelical beliefs about sexuality and gender identity. In fact, the Bible, when examined in the context of culture and without the screen of translation, doesn’t have a whole lot to say about it at all.
Shocking, when you consider the vehemence with which so many pastors and theologians defend their beliefs with–you guessed it–the Bible.
While the results of my theological survey were interesting, what really moved me to start openly talking about why I support marriage equality and LGBTQ rights were the horrifying statistics that demonstrate just how much damage is caused by homophobia. After seeing statistics like these, I realized that silence was not an option if I wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror and respect the person looking back at me.
- LGB youth are 2-3x more likely to attempt suicide and 4x more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.
- LGB youth who come from highly rejecting homes are 8x more likely to commit suicide than their LGB peers who report no or low levels of family rejection.
- Nearly 85% of LGBTQ teens are harassed in high school because of their sexual orientation. 61% report feeling unsafe in school and nearly a third report staying home from school to avoid bullying. In 2015, one in ten LGB students was threatened or injured with an actual weapon on school property. 61% never reported attacks and 31% of those who did report said the school took no action.
- 42% of LGBT youth have experienced cyberbullying and 35% have been threatened online.
- 50% of LGBT youth experience a negative environment at home if they come out to their parents and 26% are actually kicked out. Up to 50% of homeless youth are LGBT kids.
By and large, Evangelicalism’s response to these facts has been to double down on its position. A little over two months ago, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (a notorious bastion of misogyny), released The Nashville Statement (no-follow link). In addition to the usual sexism and anti-“homosexual” rhetoric one can reliably expect from this organization, the manifesto also attacks allies, proclaiming, “We deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.” In other words, tow the line or you’re not a real Christian. As if people aren’t divided enough already.
Homophobia and transphobia are widespread problems. They exist in nearly every school, workplace, and public institution. Not all of it is religiously motivated but the Evangelical church definitely plays a significant role. This matters on more than just a local community level because so many politicians name their Christian beliefs as the reason why they oppose gay marriage and safeguards for transgender people. The Evangelical vote also influences policy moves like Trump’s recent attempt to ban transgender servicemen and women from serving in the military.
The bottom line is that if there is a conflict between your theology and your ability to love your neighbor, then there is a problem with your theology.
That’s something that everyone raised in a conservative religious subculture has to wrestle with, whether it’s the issue of gay rights, women’s rights, or, in the case of some predominantly white Evangelical churches, racism.6 Books on the Challenges Faced by LGBT People in the American Evangelical ChurchClick To Tweet
I’m optimistic for the future. According to one Pew survey, a significantly higher percentage of Christians and people of Christian-derived faith were accepting of homosexuality in 2014 than they were just seven years earlier. Catholics are leading the charge at 70% approval and Jehovah’s Witnesses are lagging in last place with only 16% approval. Evangelical Protestants and Mormons sit at 36% approval. And it’s possible the numbers have improved in the three years since that survey was done.
But we still have a long way to go.
Recommended Books + Resources
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. A complimentary copy of one of the books mentioned below was provided by the publisher.
To read more about Christian theology and the personal experiences of gay Christians in the church, check out the following books:
- Unclobber by Colby Martin: A great introduction to inclusive theology. This was one of my favorite Christian books of 2016.
- Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James Brownson: An academic book by a Reformed theologian. Because it’s written by someone who believes in biblical inerrancy, I would highly recommend this as a book to give to someone whose belief that homosexuality is wrong is based solely on scripture. This book challenges that notion brilliantly and, in the process, dismantles complementarian (sexist) theology as well.
- God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines: A great introductory text by a gay pastor.
- Torn by Justin Lee: A very personal book by the founder of the Gay Christian Network.
- Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu: A memoir of spiritual pilgrimage to find out what it means to be gay and Christian in America.
- Undivided by Vicky Beeching: This one won’t be out until mid-2018 but it’s worth pre-ordering. Vicky Beeching is a British theologian and Christian songwriter who came out for the first time three years ago at the age of thirty-five.
How You Can Make a Difference
If you’re a straight ally, the best way to make a difference is to speak out about your beliefs in your faith community, especially if it’s not yet affirming of gay Christians.
Something else you can do is donate to the Gay Christian Network. The GCN is an organization made of gay and straight believers whose goal is to “create a world where the next generation of LGBTQ youth will grow up fully loved and embraced by their families, churches, and neighbors.”
In the church’s debate about same-sex relationships, the GCN refers to the side that believes same-sex relationships are blessed by God as Side A and those who believe gay Christians are called to lifelong celibacy as Side B. Gay Christians who find themselves on Side B are frequently ostracized by both the church and the gay community. The GCN welcomes all gay Christians, regardless of which position they hold, which I applaud. It gives them a safe space to work out their personal beliefs without judgment.
What are the best books you’ve read about LGBTQ people and the American Church? What are you doing to make a difference?