Can the Church Ally with the LGBT Community?

Hi, all. I’m going to write something for my church friends. I’m writing on Facebook so everyone can listen in, but please keep the audience in mind. Thanks!

What would it look like for the church to ally with the LGBT community?

It seems impossible. When the Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision came down, LGBT advocates responded with elation and church leaders responded with dismay. Not universally, of course—some LGBT folks don’t approve of same-sex marriage and some church folks embrace it—but as a general matter, the two groups hold opposing views.

It is disingenuous to try to patch over such disagreements. They stem from core beliefs about human autonomy and self-determination. LGBT folks and church folks are unlikely to come to much consensus. I hope that conversations continue on these points in respectful ways, although that seems to not be the trajectory. We need to learn to live with each other, after all.

That said, as a member of the church, I don’t believe that LGBT folks are my enemy. I submit that there are areas in which we can work together. Let me provide an example.

There is a big problem of homelessness among LGBT youth. The US LGBT population, according to a federal government survey, is roughly 3%. However, according to some studies, LGBT youth comprise 20-40% of the homeless youth population. The most commonly cited reason for LGBT youth homelessness is rejection by family members after coming out, compounded by bullying at school. These LGBT homeless youth are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be victims of crime, have mental health issues and suicidal inclinations, and engage in substance abuse. The push on marriage has in some ways eclipsed this problem. In fact, some of my LGBT friends cynically say “We may not have enough money to buy bread, but at least we can eat wedding cake.”

The problem of homelessness in general is one that we as a society need to confront. The church has played a vital role in championing the cause of the homeless, both in the US and throughout history. This may be an area in which we can partner with LGBT organizations for coordination and strategy.

Some in the church may say we should just focus on homelessness or homeless youth in general, which would include LGBT youth. I see their point that this is part of a bigger issue, but we would be wise to see the specific contours here and recognize our lack of expertise. If I ran a homeless shelter and 40% of the people I saw were Armenian, I would ask my Armenian friends for advice on what to do. If 40% were African-American or Buddhist, I would ask my African-American or Buddhist friends. If 40% are LGBT, I would talk to my LGBT friends. This doesn’t mean their experiences will be directly parallel—everyone’s experience is different—but they can advise me of trends or patterns. Even if we disagree on how to help these youth, we can still share ideas.

Some in the church may say we should not partner with LGBT organizations that were our enemies on the battle for marriage. “I won’t give Lambda Legal money, because they could use that to spread their message on redefining marriage.” I can understand that, and it is wise to choose allies carefully. However, it is striking to me that the same logic applies for people that refuse to give Christian humanitarian organizations money for fear that it would be channeled to proselytizing. “I won’t give the Salvation Army money to help with natural disasters, because they could use that to spread their message of hate.” And again, I don’t believe LGBT folks are my enemy.

Some in the church may say that working specifically on LGBT issues would legitimize the existence of an LGBT identity, which is not in accordance with church teaching. I understand that too. That said, it is at the very least a powerful social reality that affects people’s lived experiences. I believe that even those who reject the idea of an LGBT identity can still recognize that people who express same-sex attractions have specific lived social experiences.

Some in the church may say that we need to respond with truth. I agree. I say that the first truth is that all of us are terribly broken and wonderfully loved. I would tell my LGBT friends that God loves them more than they could ever imagine. I would apologize for how the church has done a horrible job of representing that love. I would also express my earnest desire for them to walk with God and work through all the brokenness and beauty of life, not just the parts that the church is so keen on highlighting. And I believe that the truth is far easier to hear in quiet, respectful conversation with someone you trust than shouted through a megaphone from 100 feet away.

What would it look like if I, as an attorney, decide to partner with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force or Lambda Legal and provide pro bono help for LGBT homeless youth? Would my church consider that an expression of the love of God, or capitulation to a rapidly decaying culture?

I’m still working through these thoughts myself, and would love people’s input. I don’t want to see the church ride in as conquering cavalry, taking over a movement that people have worked so hard to sustain. I do want to come alongside those who are suffering and ask how I can help. I want the church to continue to proclaim a distinctly Christian vision for all of life, including care for others and sexual identity. We also need to live out this teaching. As my friend put it, “Please! Stop watching porn, committing adultery, and getting divorced just because you ‘feel like it,’ and then we can talk about what marriage should look like.”

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