Saturday Symposium: LGBT People on the Margins of Pastoral Care

Hello readers! Happy Saturday. We’re spending our weekend at an ASL retreat. Sarah has been immersed in voice-off environments for a few hours at a time, and the retreat will be Lindsey’s first time using ASL in a completely voice-off situation. For a little more context as to why learning ASL is so important to us, consider reading Lindsey’s reflection from a few weeks ago.

Quick announcement: if you’re planning on attending the next Gay Christian Network Conference in Portland, Oregon, early bird registration ends on October 3. Limited scholarships are available provided you apply before September 30. We attend the conference ever year, and it’s always a fantastic experience.

Now, onto our new Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week, we’ve been talking a lot about conventional wisdom when helping an LGBT person discern pathways forward. On Wednesday, we talked about how progressive resources geared especially at those who are coming out frequently suggest that LGB and T lives follow particular trajectories. Yesterday, we expressed our frustration that many conservative churches who say “No” to same-sex marriage also actively campaign against helping LGBT people sort their legal affairs. Today, our questions are: how have you felt on the margins of conservative and/or progressive approaches to directing LGBT people? Do you have positive experiences of people who hold a particular view adapting their approach to speak more directly to your concerns? How has sharing your story with others influenced how these people talk about LGBT people?

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

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8 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: LGBT People on the Margins of Pastoral Care

  1. Before I start, I know a lot of people are not going to like the choices I made. But the fact is that my faith is more central to my identity than my sexuality. So if anyone is thinking of telling me I am stupid for choosing my faith over a sexual relationship, don’t bother. you would be telling me to deny who I am.

    Anyway, In my denomination we put a lot of emphasis on the forgiveness of sins through the cross. It is supposed to be the center of everything.

    As a kid back in the 70’s, when I found myself attracted to other boys there was no one to help me figure out how to handle it. I could not deny that the Bible categorically forbids sex between two men. I did not feel it would be fair to date and marry a woman. And i was afraid to make friends with other guys. So I was pretty much a loner. I didn’t actually mind that and I felt I could handle not being married. The three things that were very very important to me, however, were: 1) knowing that homosexuality is a temptation neither worse nor better than any other temptation and, therefore, I was on an equal footing with my straight peers before God, 2) That Christ died on the cross for me and therefore loved me, and 3) that I was in a church that was willing to tell me of the forgiveness of sins and, therefore, I had a community around me even if I did not let myself get close to others.

    I have always been satisfied, therefore, with my choice of celibacy.

    Until the last seven years or so.

    Now my denomination has gotten caught up in the whole same sex marriage debate. And in dealing with it the leaders of my denomination have completely forgotten the call to feed and care for the same sex attracted sheep under their care.

    For some reason the current fad in my denomination (The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, by the way) is to argue against homosexuality using “natural law” arguments instead of the Bible. Unfortunately, these natural law arguments are really stupid and don’t work. Worse, they are based on differentiating homosexual temptation as “unnatural” and heterosexual temptation as “natural.” The only result of these stupid arguments is that people like me, who are striving to do what the Church asks, feel horrible amounts of shame all the time. It makes us feel worse and more perverted than our straight acquaintances and sends a clear message that we do not really belong in the Church.

    Secondly, the message of forgiveness to those who are “gay” has all but disappeared. Up until five or 6 years ago, our international office never put out any statement about same sex marriage or homosexuality that did not include at least some message of forgiveness in Christ. In the last 6 years, however, that has changed. They have a program on the LCMS website called “free to be faithful” that is supposed to help churches and Christians take a stand against same sex marriage. In all the materials in that program there are 1 paragraph in a Bible study that points to forgiveness and 1/2 sentence in a prayer. That is pretty much it for the message of forgiveness to homosexuals from my denomination in the last six years.

    I have written to the synodical president more than once. To several pastors in the synod multiple times. I have asked, pleaded and begged them to point to the cross and tell of Christ’s love when speaking about homosexuality. I got a reply from the presidents office that he is “wants to show compassion to homosexuals” but not one word about Christ forgiving sins or loving us. It is like pulling toe nails to get pastors to say even one sentence about Christ and His forgiveness.

    I don’t ask for friendship or support groups or any thing fancy. All I want from my Church is to know that pastors are willing to tell me that I, too, am forgiven by Jesus.

    Now, all of this does not make me doubt the love or forgiveness of Christ. But it clearly tells me that my denomination, that has been my Church home for over 50 years, has no interest in whether I know the forgiveness of Christ or not, and that people like me are not wanted. It is a clear message that pastors no longer care whether their same sex attracted sheep go to heaven or hell as long as people of the same sex don’t get married.

    It’s a pretty crappy thing to find out after 5 decades.

    Sorry for the long rant But, yeah, I do feel very much on the margins of pastoral care. And, though I will not abandon my faith nor my choice for celibacy, I am finding that I have a lot more understanding of those who choose to find a same sex life partner/spouse. Every one has to feel they belong somewhere – God made us that way. And the Church has pretty much said we don’t belong there anymore. So I really can’t condemn anyone who finds a place they belong and a person they belong with.

    • Hi Matt, thanks so much for sharing your perspective. We absolutely agree with you that the zoomed-in focus on same-sex marriage has changed how churches approach LGBT people in church. Culture war issues can completely disrupt how Christian traditions present the Gospel. We cannot lose sight of Christ and the power of his cross.

      We know that it’s not much consolation, but we definitely feel your frustration. Have you been successful finding places where you feel like people communicate Christ’s forgiveness and Christ’s desire to grow in a relationship with you?

      We hope to see you again in the comments!

  2. Nobody’s going to like my testimony either, and I’m heterosexual. My first encounter with homosexuality was in high school, when a group I could only describe as a gang of homosexuals cornered me in the hallway and tried to convince me that my differences meant I was gay. I wasn’t very knowledgeable about sex at all, this being the 1980s when parents thought ignorance equaled innocence, plus I had undiagnosed Asperger’s so I was very weird, but I knew somehow I wasn’t gay (the hormone driven obsession with breasts was a part of knowing I wasn’t gay). In college, the Roman Catholic Church got into AIDS ministry big time- I remember going to a “The Body of Christ has AIDS” candlelight vigil in 1990. While I knew I was heterosexual, and believed the teachings of the Church, I saw homosexuality as actually being less of a sin than fornication, in part because it wasn’t procreative and at least it didn’t include what I saw as the liberal sins of bringing children into an overpopulated world without parents and abortion.

    In 1997, my Asperger’s was finally diagnosed- and I began to see how wrong I was about sexuality. My official diagnosis would not come until 2000, but in the autistic community I had finally found my tribe. While researching how my disability had affected me, I found how wrong I had been about the Church- and why objective morality made more sense than me depending on internal emotions for morality. I knew my internal emotions were all screwy, I didn’t understand how that had affected my politics.

    In 1999 I got married, and in 2003 I had a special needs child. What better parents for a kid with CP than a dyslexic and an autistic- we bring a unique perspective to IEP meetings indeed.

    I was still very much for civil unions, not just for homosexuals, but for heterosexuals as well. I had come to view our current form of marriage as an unnecessary government intrusion into a sacrament. I learned how marriage had come under the government under the Stuart crown in England, and how it had been used to destroy Catholic families.

    I thought I had friends in the homosexual community on that, until that dark day in March 2004, when three out of five county commissioners in Multnomah County took it upon themselves to, in secret session that the other two commissioners were not even invited to, legalize gay marriage against state law and against the Constitution.

    Overnight I went from being that liberal Catholic Social Teaching guy going to being that Catholic Bigot who won’t allow People to Get Married!

    The world changed, and I didn’t change a darn thing. But now, for having a special needs child, I’m that evil breeder who adds broken people to the world. By being for the natural family, and against abortion, I must hate women. Because I’m a Knight of Columbus and KofC supported Proposition 8 in California, people at church avoid KofC breakfasts. In 2009, George Tiller was killed and curious, I went to the website of his clinic only to find letters from mothers who wished they had been allowed to abort their autistic children. Islam gets more violent every day. Through the HHS Mandate, the IRS is now persecuting Catholic businesses and non-profits like the Knights of Columbus.

    I am no longer welcome as an American. Congratulations liberals, you won the culture war- and destroyed the world.

    • Hi Ted, there’s a lot in your comment to be sure.

      It’s amazing to us how many people take liberties to tell another person his or her sexual orientation (or gender identity as the case may be). The journey of self-discovery is challenging, and everyone has their own unique circumstances. It’s frequently helpful to undertake self-discovery in a supportive community. There’s something about finding communities where one feels like one has found a tribe where one meets others who understand.

      You bring up an important point that people with various disabilities are frequently on the margins as well.

      It can be all too true that people focus on justice issues that concern them while avoiding justice issues that involve other people. One thing we’ve noted with the focus on marriage equality is that other important issues (even within the LGBT community) hardly get discussed.

  3. Sinners all me included, guilty of sin some of which is willful, some is sin not known, some is the sin of false accusation that results when we err in the interpretation of the mind of God and falsely accuse our fellow Christians. Best we love one another, pray for the atonement of Christ to cover a multitude of sins.

    • Hi Lloyd, thanks for commenting. Loving conversation can go a long way as well as every person focusing on where he or she falls short.

  4. I can’t imagine the depth of pain, but my heart breaks for Matt nonetheless. It’s hard to comprehend not only how it must hurt to hear that current ongoing lack of forgiveness, but also what young LGBT people must feel growing up in the LCMS and never hearing that message of forgiveness at all.

    In my own church, the situation doesn’t compare, but although I’m still in the closet, I’ve felt that I would be marginalized after seeing how the church handled a situation surrounding a regularly attending agnostic LGBT teen. On the one hand, most people treated the teen with respect; I suspect that the widely held belief that the teen was simply “straight but confused about gender identity” actually gave people a modicum of compassion, compared to how they talk about LGBT activists and the “homosexuals” out in the world. On the other hand, there were longstanding members of the church who made vile and untruthful comments about LGBT people – and specifically this teen – and pulled their kids out of church functions to keep them from being “infected” by the perceived evil incarnate in the LGBT kid.

    How did the church leadership respond to the existence of the LGBT teen in the youth group? While I commend them for not creating a public ruckus, in internal discussions, the matter still received what I’d half jokingly call “heightened scrutiny.” This teen was considered more likely to be a potential threat than any non-LGBT teen would be in similar circumstances.

    How did the leadership respond to the reactionary parents? Nothing. No discipline, no correction, no challenges to stop the gossip, slander, and fear mongering. I guess it’s a sin to have a “gay identity,” but spreading vicious lies about LGBT people gets a pass.

    So, this is why I have some confidence that if it were to become known that I, the volunteer youth leader, happen to be gay and celibate, I would no longer be the youth leader, and I might even find myself under a glass ceiling that prevents me from being involved with anything at all. That is the marginalization that could be coming my way if I were to be as transparent and vulnerable as it’s trendy to be these days in modern evangelicalism.

    • LJ, you’ve said a lot here about the various ways double-standards get applied to LGBT people. Sometimes churches are anything-but-safe for LGBT youth. We can relate a lot to your concerns about the gossip chains in your own community. May God grant you wisdom while opening the eyes of your church to how they might modify their approach to LGBT people.

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