When the Church’s “Welcome” to LGBT People Hurts

In the last several weeks, we’ve noticed an uptick in messaging that churches do not need to extend a special welcome to specific groups because churches follow Christ’s example and welcome everyone. We believe that any time a local church extends a special welcome to any group, that welcome has its roots in past hurts. Even a celebration like Mother’s Day came after society realized it was not particularly appreciative of mothers. Neither of us has ever attended a local congregation that has explicitly identified itself as a community that welcomes LGBT people. On occasion, we’ve attended churches that are generally regarded as places that are willing to journey alongside LGBT people even if they don’t say so explicitly. At present, we feel blessed to have a priest who appreciates and respects our desires to live celibacy while assuming the best about our intentions. Nonetheless, this past Sunday was probably the most traumatic experience we’ve ever had in a church environment, even though we had done our best to prepare for the worst.

Churches that teach traditional sexual ethics tend to be traditional in other areas as well. Traditional churches often recognize places where the Gospel praises seemingly disparate approaches to life. They strive to find a good balance between extremes. They see it as important to proclaim both Love and Truth, to have space for both Justice and Mercy. They value both right belief (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy). We firmly believe that churches need to present a balanced view of the faith. Like many Christians, we know that the way of Christ is indeed a narrow way that can be hard to find. Like many Christians, we’ve experienced seasons of needing to be reminded of God’s law and other seasons of needing to be reminded of God’s grace. Growing spiritually can sometimes be two steps forward and one step back as we frequently overcorrect along the way. It seems fitting to suggest that maturing in Christ is a lot like bowling with bumpers where all things good and holy try to direct forward progress.

Just as individuals can struggle to find the narrow way of Christ, many church communities teaching traditional sexual ethics do struggle with welcoming LGBT Christians. Every week, we experience a mixed bag of “welcome” when we attend church. You could think of it in terms of our necessary adaptation to a certain undercurrent. On a typical Sunday, we might experience between 1 and 3 interactions that indicate a person feels considerable animosity towards LGBT people. We know to expect it and even truly welcome the occasional presumptive “understanding” of what our lives are like. It doesn’t offend us when people try to be welcoming, but struggle. We’re glad to educate those who want to be educated. People asking almost-stupid questions directly can be a sign that they trust us enough to let their guards down and open up to learning more. However, while we’re used to hearing questions that contain some arguably innocent misconceptions, a particularly pointed discussion about LGBT issues in the Church has the potential to rip our hearts out through our noses. It’s especially bad when misconception stacks on top of misconception, and discussants drift away from considering LGBT people first and foremost as people. We’ve seen this trend in multiple local church communities, so we wanted to take the opportunity to say what not to do if you are trying to “welcome” LGBT Christians:

  • Use the first possible opportunity to ask the pastor publicly to clarify teaching on homosexuality because you suspect that there are LGBT people among your church’s membership.
  • Explain that LGBT people are welcome only because all sinners are welcome, assuming that all LGBT people struggle with lust.
  • Zoom in on a vague sense of “sinful behaviors” when discussing LGBT issues without offering any discussion about what said behaviors are.
  • Defend conservative reactionaries who have been “hurt” by gay activists before acknowledging the emotional and spiritual strains on LGBT Christians who are constantly accused of any number of outrageous activities.
  • Permit cisgender, heterosexual people space to talk openly about LGBT issues while telling LGBT people to remain “discreet” about their sexual orientations and/or gender identities.
  • Discuss the sexual orientations and perceived sins of specific members in the congregation with a priest or pastor while less than 6 feet away from those members.
  • Glare over your shoulder directly at suspected LGBT people while talking about them.
  • Accuse celibate LGBT people of a well-crafted charade to corrupt a perfectly good congregation with a hidden “liberal” agenda.
  • Suggest that LGBT people are secretly flirting with one another at church.
  • Demand proof of exactly how pastors know celibate LGBT people aren’t having all sorts of sex.
  • Accuse celibate LGBT people of lying about their celibacy.
  • Inform LGBT people they’re being “too sensitive” if they give examples of people saying hurtful things.

To be crystal clear, we’ve directly experienced all of these things in multiple congregations. Moreover, we know other celibate LGBT people who experience comparable “welcome” from their congregations. Enduring this litany seems to be part and parcel of the parish experience for many LGBT Christians, both celibate and non-celibate, who attend churches teaching a traditional sexual ethic.

The natural next question is, “So why don’t you just find a different church?”

Short answer: it’s not that easy.

Longer answer: These experiences are shockingly common. Especially within conservative Christian traditions, it’s challenging to find parishes where several items on the above list don’t happen on a regular basis. Seeking a parish and a priest is emotionally taxing beyond description. It’s like dating while knowing full well that 8 of your 10 first dates will involve verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse. It requires being willing to try out a specific church, actually going, meeting with the pastor, being prepared for the severe condemnation that usually follows, taking a week or two to recover from that encounter, then repeating the process again and again until finally landing in a parish that seems not ideal, but survivable. Both in the past when we were single and now that we are a couple, we’ve found that it can take months or years of searching before finding even one priest in our tradition who is willing to see us as people instead of pastoral challenges. At this point you might be wondering, “If the two of you are celibate, why are you encountering such problems?” When it comes to our presence within a parish, our celibacy matters very little to culture warriors who see us as nothing more than incarnations of a political agenda.

We’ve never made a public statement about our LGBT status. People simply assume that we’re public sinners because we have committed the unthinkable act of showing up for Liturgy. We’ve had to recalibrate our sense of welcome and what it means to have realistic expectations about acceptance. To us, “welcome” frequently means that there are at least two people present who won’t scowl at us for every person who does. That’s not the kind of welcome other groups of people receive at church, yet so many parishes where members behave in the ways described above seriously think they’re doing all they can and all they should need to do in order to welcome LGBT Christians. How is it welcoming to foster an environment where parishioners are constantly suspecting other parishioners’ actions and motives? This is why thinking about exactly how we experience “welcome” hurts. It hurts a lot. 

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31 thoughts on “When the Church’s “Welcome” to LGBT People Hurts

  1. I realize a blog comment can’t undo the hurt, but as a member of the tradition making a huge stink over the word “welcome” lately, I’m so, so sorry this is the treatment you receive. It baffles me that honest, earnest witness such as yours isn’t at the forefront of these “discussions.” Thank you for writing.

  2. As someone who isn’t out to anyone at church, not even the pastor, and as someone who must naturally “play it straight” well enough that no one seems to have guessed, I haven’t been on the receiving end of the kind of things you describe here. But I have seen how some people in my church treated a gay person who came around for a while, and I can affirm everything you’ve said here based on that experience. It’s sad that I go to a church that explicitly uses the tagline “where everyone is welcome,” when that is clearly not the case for _everyone_.

    • We are sad to hear about these things any time they happen in churches. We will be praying for your church community.

  3. The way you, and others, have been mistreated is terribly sad and so against what Jesus taught and practiced.

    God Bless

    • We pray that one day, everyone will receive the same kind of genuine welcome when they come to church. What passes for welcome in some churches is downright shameful.

  4. If you lived in my city, I’d invite you to my open and affirming Presbyterian church. We have gay and lesbian staff members. There are churches out there who welcome LGBT people just like they welcome any other person, without discrimination. I would encourage you to look beyond your traditional denomination and worship style, to find a welcoming church home where you can be loved for who God made you to be.

  5. I for one really appreciate your blog. It’s helped me understand many of the issues that LGBTQ people face in the Church. And why so many LGBTQ people are hostile to Christ.

    in charitate Christi

    Matt

    • Hi Matt, we’re glad that you’ve found our blog helpful. We know many people, LGBTQ and otherwise, who find the dominant Christian response to LGBTQ issues incredibly difficult to reconcile with Christ’s example. So many secular folks would echo Ghandi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Thanks for dropping by our comment box. We hope to see you again!

  6. Knowing one of you from your previous parish, I’m pained to hear the two of you had to endure this–I can’t imagine what it would be like. Praying for strength for both of you.

  7. I have a lot to say. I’m going to try and limit it to things you might be interested in, but you’ve given me an awful lot to think about. When I started reading your post I thought that there would be no way for me to leave a polite comment. I was sure I would think that you’re too sensitive. That was until I read your list. It’s horrible that you were put through that. You are addressing a real problem. Ignorance can be some kind of excuse for some of it, but it’s awful. It’s possible that it’s not conscious, but it’s not an accident. These people enjoy saying hurtful things. (I think.)

    In any event, because of my experience that whole world is alien to me. I’ve gone to Mass about every Sunday for 50 years. For the last 20 often in Center City Philadelphia. I don’t think I’ve ever saw somebody in a pew and thought “I bet that person’s gay.” I don’t check them out. I don’t think about it. I have had that reaction to lectors. I’ve thought (some) of the thoughts that you’ve heard expressed, but I can’t imagine saying any of them and certainly not the worst of them.

    People who say that stuff can’t be only offending LGBT people. They must be really rude in general, saying offensive things to childless married couples about childlessness and offensive things to mothers with six kids about having too many, to stay at home moms for staying at home, for mothers working full time for not working part time.

    When I used to see the church lady on SNL I found it annoying. I perceived him as making fun of nice people. After reading 3 or 4 interviews where Dana Carvey explained the character, eventually I believed him. At every church his family went to some lady would indirectly, but not subtly, give them a hard time for not coming every week.

    The reasons Catholics wear whatever they want to church is because (for now) we don’t have church ladies. People can think about what you’re wearing but it’s not socially acceptable to tell you. I find that not talking to someone you see in a Protestant church is like not talking to someone you see in you living room. Talking to someone you see in a Catholic church is like talking to someone in the supermarket.

    Liberals hate this, of course, and if they get their way with lay leadership and councils and stuff we’ll wind up with church ladies, too.

    I don’t know how any of this is relevant to welcoming LGBT people, or ssa people as Catholics tend to say. One thing I learned on the Internet is how many LGBT people have my religious beliefs. It’s wrong for you to have to say “I actually believe this stuff” but it’s also wrong for LGBT activists and the mainstream media to say “Welcoming LGBT people means rejecting Christian sexual morality.” We shouldn’t believe them, but, sadly, until we see the opposite we do. Way stupid I know. I’m glad I met so many on the Internet so I won’t embarrass myself. But if you believe what you see on TV, instead of reality, gays, who are about 25% of the population, want to take over your church.

    Like I said, I see nothing that can cure this problem. The pastor might say in a sermon “You rude people, you know who you are, lay off the gay people. Don’t talk to them. At least give them a few weeks to get settled.” But that probably wouldn’t work out for him.

    What can Catholics do? I’m still thinking about that.

    • Thanks for your comment and your candor.

      We know that we’re not the first people who have ever written on how the Church welcomes LGBT people. Many people have their lists of what’s happened. We do try to vet our lists carefully. We both have our own experiences of seething through a particular sermon only to realize later that the sermon was exactly what we needed to hear that time. We have also experienced times where a person has come to us to ask our forgiveness after he or she wronged us in this way. Thanks for stating plainly that you think we’re addressing a real problem. It means a lot.

      Philadelphia is an interesting context on its own. Lindsey lived just north of the city for a bit. There’s certainly a large LGBT community, but the community blends smoothly with the rest of the city (at least from Lindsey’s limited perspective).

      You’re absolutely right in calling attention to the reality that people who deliberately offend LGBT people out of a desire to “uphold Church teaching” are likely applying that same vigor to everyone else missing the mark. It takes great grace indeed to be able to see one’s own sins. And God, in inestimable mercy, never makes us see all of our own sins at once. The weight of such would be crushing. One strategy we’ve used in church is to seek out whatever is praiseworthy about such persons. We’ve been attending services in this parish for over a year, and one can see progress of real spiritual growth [in others] when one tries to be observant.

      Larger parishes are definitely different from small parishes. Sometimes we like going to a larger parish where we can feel invisible for a Sunday. It’s also notable that in many Protestant churches, people do gather in living rooms during mid-week. Maybe some Christians just need some more practice hanging out when they’re not at church.

      As to what Catholics can do, some friends from Lindsey’s baptismal parish seem to have offered a starting point: they reached out to Lindsey and to us before we even asked them to. And maybe as we all nudge closer together in familial love, God might have more space to address the heart issues that incite a subset of the parish to open hostility.

  8. I’ve always had a problem with saying fornication is wrong but refusing people the right to be married. And I’m not sure the Bible (especially the New Testament) is as anti-non male/female loving partnerships that some claim. But I’m still, forty years after my teenage years, when we assumed all the ‘mature christians’ constantly banged on about sex because they weren’t getting any, pretty sure there are way more important things Christians should be focusing on than long-term loving unities of whatever gender. I am envious of my LGBT friends who have the kind of trust in relationship I, as a straight Christian, have never been able to achieve and I look to the day when we can all to focus on creating the kingdom here with love, justice and peace for all.
    As for welcoming in church ‘hello’ is a good start and everone should stop making slanderous assumptions and abusing the innocent as liars. Eph 4:29 isn’t just about rude words.

    • Hello! Thanks for your contribution to the conversation.

      One thing that we do know for sure is that each and every person who claims to follow Christ is on a journey. A journey to love and be loved, to know and be known. And all of us muck it up so often. How fantastic would it be if the local churches called people to make the love of God clearly manifest everywhere they went?

      Thanks for the Eph 4:29 reference. It’s so appropriate for this discussion. We hope to see you again in the comments!

  9. It sounds as though much of what you experience is rather like what the Harry Enfield “Father of a Gay Son” character used to express in the 90’s — a genuine love but around something very edgy and fear inducing. I puzzle over this in the light of Galatians 5, and rejoice when, as happens what some might find surprisingly often but not often enough, love wins through and Evangelicals manage to be, er, Evangelical and be themselves all at once. In our diocese we are responsible for 280 schools which manage to live joyful within an equalities framework, and flourish, including for many, in their Christian ethos and identities. Many are stronger this way than they were ten years ago. Many of our churches struggle with equalities culture, notably about gay people but also, measurably, I’m ashamed to say, about race and disability. I’ve had interesting conversations about this with Christian friends who drove equalities compliance in organisations like the Police and Prisons as well as education and healthcare. They all say there was a mountain to climb and practice had to change and new attitudes be articulated at all levels but, encouragingly, when progress came in all those fields, they say it came remarkably swiftly. I hope we manage to do this, and see some signs we are now on a road in a good direction. I wish the Church were a safe and hospitable space, and believe one day it will be.

  10. My ‘Like’ is for the fact that you’ve written this; that writing it should have been necessary is another matter entirely. Your quote from Gandhi in response to earlier comment is apt: I frequently cite it myself. You will always find a welcome at the Lord’s table, of course, for he is the always-welcoming host, but his self-appointed stewards can be a hazard along the way: may you always find a way to bat aside their ministrations!

    • Phil, thank you for dropping by. May Christ Himself be present in the Eucharistic mystery to gather us all. We’d make for absolutely miserable priests and do not envy those who are called to administer the chalice.

  11. My husband and I got expelled from two parishes, but only after we had been spending several years in each. It would have been much easier if they had told us their policy from the beginning.

    The «traditional» word has to be used carefully and not necessary as equivalent for «conservative». There are lots of things to say about the holy Tradition of the Church.

    Let me take an example. You are talking about «traditional sexual ethics». There’s no such a thing. The sexual ethics, untill the end of the 19th century, was about gender inequality (husband raping wife was ok), no contraception whatsoever etc. There’s no parish in the Western world – except maybe some LCMS – where those old ethics are still kept today. Or you may find some neo-protestant cults that still hold those pre-20th-century ethics, but who don’t profess anything of the Church Tradition’s liturgy or domgmatics.

    • Hello Georges, thank you for your comment. Many LGBT Christians attend parishes with bated breath, just waiting for the other shoe to drop. We’re sorry that the shoe has been dropped on you not once, but twice. Being disfellowshipped for whatever reason is deeply traumatizing.

      We generally adopt language of “traditional” sexual ethics and “progressive” sexual ethics on this blog in an effort to avoid more polarizing descriptors. No language is especially well-suited to convey nuance, but we think the two terms we use do a reasonable job in helping our readers orient themselves relative to LGBT Christian concerns.

  12. I am a heterosexual woman married to a man. I used to be a born again Christian, but in the end issues such as these made me not want to go to church any more. I am sorry you have suffered this treatment. I hope you are genuinely happy with the celebate life you have chosen. I guess God is worth it for you x

    • Hello Clarie, thanks for your comment. We’re sorry that you have been a causality alongside so many others in this culture war. Neither of us chose our celibate vocation trying to somehow escape poor treatment from the church. However, we share about our experiences being hurt by the church so 1) other people don’t feel so alone as they have comparable experiences, 2) it reminds us that not all Christians want us to be mistreated, and 3) we can cultivate hope that God might be calling those who mistreat us to repentance. We do remind ourselves often that this treatment is enacted on us by individual people who are still working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Even though it’s a struggle at times, we do pray for them and there are seasons where we see signs of positive growth.

  13. (This article was linked from Facebook:Diverse Church Friends–>Beaker Folk of Husborne blogspot)

    Hi. I haven’t read about you beyond this page and I’d be interested to know what ‘tradition’ or ‘denomination’ you profess. I’ve visited many friends in several very different denominations around the country (and of course in my town’s “Churches Together” ecumenical partnership) and I often witness what seem to be attitudes on certain subjects that are indigenous either to certain denominations or certain demographics of parish/community.

    I am a devout Catholic of a parish in an affluent firmly middle-class (upper-middle?) country town with a significant number of “upper-class” permanent and part-time residents. It is therefore quite a ‘conservative’ parish (not in the sense of “fuddy-duddy/old-fashioned” but of “nothing too outlandish/don’t rock the boat _too much_/don’t put people _too far_ out of their comfort zone”) and yet with a healthy ‘liberal’ element (again, not in the sense of “anything goes” but of “it’s good to challenge people, push ones perceptions, question everything starting with ones faith, learn” but without “going too” far and making folk uncomfortable — it’s a typically middle-class dichotomy/balancing act!).

    I know there will always be ‘traditionalists’ (for want of a better word that doesn’t mean ‘conservative’) and regrettably even ‘fundamentalists’, but I am glad that my parish in community, and the overwhelming majority (that I can picture) of its members as individuals, are the kind of folk to be genuinely non-discriminatory. Due to our location we have welcomed to our flock a healthy number of people from all manner of ethnic backgrounds (mostly Goans, Ghaneans, Philippinos and Hungarians this last 10 years) and not once have I ever seen or heard the slightest sideways glance at skin colour or native language or apparent social class.

    I know the people in my church and I can’t picture anyone responding negatively towards a newcomer with an “alternative gender designation or sexual proclivity”. If you came to the coffee morning at the end of Mass and said “we’re gay but choose to be celibate” I truly believe the only responses you’d get are “Oh really? Here, have another Jammy Dodger” or “Interesting. Why?/Tell me what that means?” And I remember a number of other communities where I believe you’d get substantially the same reaction (especially the neighbouring Quakers, who are simple nice!).

    I’m not shortsighted, I do know other places where the response you’d receive simply by attending would make me uncomfortable merely to observe it and make me want to leave. But I am optimistic enough to see (hope) that larger society is changing sufficiently that faith communities are being populated with more open-hearted people and fewer bigoted ones. Even the really conservatives, if truly Christian at heart, can use the old favourite “love the sinner and not the sin” and welcome the individual with open arms, giving them the opportunity to learn that their predicate was probably wrong in the first place.

    I don’t doubt for a minute that you’ve experienced some truly unChristian or dispicably uncivilized behavour, but have you not also experienced some genuinely unblinkered and (I love the phrase) uncaring welcomes? (“You’re what? Oh I don’t care — Welcome!”)

    [Strewth, I just looked up at my stream of consciousness — sorry for wasting your bandwitdh! It’s gone 2AM and my brain has lost it’s “internal monologue” filter…]

    Love and Prayers +

    • Hi Dranok,

      Thanks for your comment. If you take a look at our FAQ, you’ll see that we don’t name our specific Christian tradition. There are a lot of factors that affect how these issues play out in various local church contexts. Oftentimes, our welcome at particular congregations depends on the attitude of the clergy and key members of the laity. When clergy would rather have an environment where LGBT folk keep absolutely mum about their sexuality, it can be challenging for anyone who naturally pings up on another person’s gaydar.

      We hope to see you again!

      • Yes, I read a few more articles before finding my way to your FAQ. (Both of you write extremely well: precise, academic, theological, spiritual, with a fluidity that’s easy on the reader’s eye, and with so few Americanisms of idiom or grammatical style that I took you for English educated! Where are you based? Or if you’d rather not say, what’s your background/from where do you hail?) This article didn’t tell me enough about you to enter into proper conversation — from your writing style I thought you were English and so I was very disappointed to learn of your negative experiences.

        It’s been very interesting and enlightening so far to scratch the surface, especially to one not part of your community (my foster-sister was gay and I spent good periods of her formative years taxiing her to gay community venues around the country as she learned about her sexuality, her condition and way in the world — ooh, poor word choice, ‘condition’ implies illness, I meant the ‘human condition’ of life, loves and sorrows, that we all share both sides of the fence) but that doesn’t mean I’m an intimate part of ‘your’ world or sufficiently familiar with the problems experienced therein.

        What I’ve read so far hasn’t been to me what some call ‘challenging’ but rather deeply disappointing. I am thoroughly unfamiliar with the culture of the USA beyond what we learn on the ‘small’ and ‘silver’ screens, which I fully expect to be distorted from reality but only really goes so far as to indicate deep-running differences between rural and metropolitan (‘hick’ vs ‘civilized’), North and South (is the Dixie Line still such a strong cultural division?), God-fearing or atheist (we are bombarded with the stereotype that “Christian” means “fundamentalist” in the USA). Do you think there is a deep difference between our cultures that means that, across the UK, our culture is far more accepting of people from ‘alternate’ communities, far less ‘black and white’ and generally tolerant of everyone’s beliefs and social practices, than is the case in the Americas? It really would be a crying shame if a nation that advertises itself to the rest of the world as the “land of the free” can yet be a place to suppress freedom of expression, belief and practice, but it would go a long way to explain the significant differences between your repeated experiences in different church groups and my experiences of the general attitudes of different Christian denominations across my country North to South (and for that matter in several European cities in which I have worshipped).

        I suppose I could say “come live in England,” but that’s a cop-out of the type “what if you just went to an Open and Affirming church?” but blown up to the nationalist level of “why can’t you just change the attitude of your entire culture?”

        Is it just that American culture still has a lot of growing to do that Europe has already acquired (to a certain degree)? We had suffer a dozen multi-cultural and civil wars throughout last century to experience, as a direct result, the great social and religious mixing pot we have become, which in my eyes seems to have prepared most European cultures for the changes in sexual awareness that we are still developing and leaning about — the acceptance our societies have had to demonstrate towards other ‘invading’ (perhaps ‘refugee’) cultures and beliefs seems to have made us more tolerant and permissive in ways that are becoming more necessary every year as the world changes around us. Nobody wants to see you involved in a war just so that, in a round-about way, you can experience learning and growth, but there clearly needs to be some stimulus for cultural change before the majority will be able to ‘move on’, modify their world-views and join the greater global society.

        I really must learn to engage my “inner-monologue filter” before such streams of consciousness completely hijack the thread. This really wasn’t what you were writing about, was it? But when I realized just how different your church communities appear to be from mine (only from your writings) I “felt the need to share.” I hope you’ll forgive me for taking you so far off track. But I’d love to hear your answers to some of my questions 🙂

        L&P+

        • Hi Dranok. You’ve given us a lot to think about! First off, we are glad you enjoy our writing. While we don’t share our exact location, we have shared in other places in the blog that we live in a city on the East Coast of the United States. Sarah is originally from Kentucky and Lindsey is originally from Minnesota. However, both of us have spent some time in England for educational reasons. Sarah studied abroad in London for one term during Sarah’s undergraduate degree work, and Lindsey read for a Master’s degree in England and lived there for a year. We would both agree that in general, the English are much more accepting of difference, and there is much less black and white thinking in English culture than there is here. We’ve both experienced the differences in some fairly shocking ways. Perhaps the best example is that in our experiences of living in England, we were able to have much more civil conversations about controversial issues–even with people who disagreed with us strongly. “Is it just that American culture still has a lot of growing to do that Europe has already acquired (to a certain degree)?” That’s very likely. Thanks for stopping by, and we hope to see you here again.

  14. Peter (not his real name) was a fine and upstanding member of an Evangelical Anglican church attended (and was for 2 years on its staff) in Leeds, UK in the late 1980s. Peter was on the PCC, a leading light in the music group and led a house group. At the time I lived in a shared flat with two housemates who I also worked with at the church. It was our custom to have people round for meals on a regular basis and that is how I first met Peter – he came to our flat for a meal.
    However I instantly recognised him. I have a good memory for faces and I remembered seeing Peter in the Greyhound, a gay pub in Huddersfield, two years before. I never mentioned this to anyone else, but I was fairly confident Peter was gay. Move forward a few months and Peter began to attend church with a man around the same age as himself who was a little more obviously ‘gay looking’: the obligatory moustache of the 1980s, the bright, American Cloth button eyes, his clothes perhaps a size smaller than was actually comfortable for him to wear… And (again remember this is the late 80s) he had a penchant for lumber-jack shirts. No one commented on this new friend and I really wondered if the congregation was blind!
    Move forward a year or so and suddenly Peter had vanished. He had approached the then vicar (now the a suffragan bishop in East London, in the diocese of Chelsmford) and informed him that he and his friend had decided to live together in a committed, but celibate relationship. He was told this could not be tolerated and was asked to step down from the PCC and any other positions he held in the church. He decided to leave the church. What is interesting is at the same time, the parish lay-assistant proved to be more lay and less assistant as his girlfriend had become pregnant. What happened? He had to apologise to the church – in reality an apology for breaking the 11th Commandment (‘Thou Shalt Not Get Found Out…’) and he proceeded on his merry way and he is now a vicar himself.
    At the time I found the hypocrisy concerning this incident hurtful indeed. The earnestness of a gay man was see as worthless and he was severely punished, whilst at the same time a toffee-nosed Evangelical vicar in embryo was given every opportunity to sweep his indiscretion under the surplice and get on with his ecclesiastical career – and let’s remember, if his girlfriend hadn’t got pregnant we would have been none the wiser for his sexual activity outside of marriage!
    This instructive story aside, I will note that LGBT people have a problem from the start. They are a minority – which means they tend to lack any real power in a church. Moreover, religion is, like it or not, discriminatory in nature (save/unsaved; believer/non-believer; clean/unclean etc.) and believers have a habit of imposing on others judgements they could not bear themselves. Believers WANT to feel better than their neighbour, they want to feel special, chosen, redeemed and altogether less sinful than the rest of humanity. Religion is primarily a species of institutionalised narcissism. In this respect LGBT people will always be useful scapegoats – a means whereby the imperfect parishioner can at least feel better than these poor unfortunates who somehow bear the burden of the Fall far more than your average parishioner.
    That said, care is also needed that the LGBT person doesn’t fall foul of a consanguine species of vanity, namely victimhood and the conceit of paranoia. There is the temptation for the Christian LGBT to be burdened by a double weight of the narcissism implicit in a goodly portion of religion and the narcissism of the victim fuelled by the vanity and conceit of paranoia.
    It is a difficult way forward – but if a LGBT person finds themselves communicant members of a church – when their sexuality is fully known – then I would just get on with it lest there is a temptation to fall foul of wanting special treatment or of imbibing the behaviour of others with a sinister motives that might just exist more in the mind of the wannabe victim rather than in objective reality.

    • Thanks for sharing your comment. So many people can point to situations where a straight person’s sexual indiscretions were swept under the rug while gay people endure heightened scrutiny. The double standards are extremely unfortunate.

      Thanks for sharing Peter’s story!

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