Organized religion. Those words can cause some lively if not heated discussion. You add the topic of sexual orientation and gender identity into the mix and the heat gets dialed up a few notches. Then add being gay or transgender in the church and the conversation can often go to the negative extremes. Organized religion has failed when it comes to the perception of the church that is so dominate in the LGBT community.
Being transgender and being Christian, I know that I am a minority of a minority. I consider my walk with Christ to be the most important part of who I am and unfortunately, I have seen and been the victim, more than once, of the church’s ignorance, shallowness and prejudice towards the transgender community.
A recent study done by PEW Research shows some interesting and extremely disappointing numbers. Only 1 out of 10 people that identify as LGBT say that mainstream religious institutions are friendly to the LGBT community. Though it is the pastors of Christian churches that are the ones we hear about most speaking out against the Marriage equality or transgender policies in schools, it is not the only religion that takes a hit in this survey. The majority of the LGBT individuals surveyed rate that the Muslim, Mormon and the Catholic church as unfriendly. For me, this statistic is one of the saddest numbers I have ever seen. But from experience, it’s one statistic that doesn’t surprise me in the least.
The most important commandment that Christ left us with was to love one another just as He loves us. Whether my child chooses to have tattoos, body piercings or a radical and extreme hairdo, I love my child. If my child chooses to wear clothes that rebel against what the rest of society deems normal, I love my child. If my child would come to me in the years to come and tell me he or she is gay or trans – then I will love them all the same and I dare say many of you would as love your children the same way.
This is a love that many of us don’t even think about when it comes to individuals outside our own immediate family. I love my kids so much I would lay down my life to save them just as Christ laid down his life for me. But would I do that for a friend? Would you do it for a stranger? That is exactly what God is asking us to do. He wants us to know a love so deep, so sacrificing, so unconditional that all else, ethnicity and appearance and orientation and identity, all of it fades away.
My question for the church in general is where did we go wrong? When nearly half of the LGBT community has no religious affiliation compared to only 20% of the general public, it tells me that the church is missing out on a mission field right in it’s own back yard. Even worse, the church is the reason so many LGBT individuals have such a dim view of it. Nearly thirty percent of those surveyed stated they were made to feel unwelcome by a religious institution. MADE TO FEEL UNWELCOME. What is wrong with this picture? A church or religious organization pushing people out the door is the last thing Christ would want.
So I ask again, Where on earth did the church go wrong? I wish I had an answer to what the church is doing wrong, but to be perfectly honest – I don’t.
If the church is supposed to be the hands, feet and body of Christ, why do so many LGBT individuals have such a negative view of the church? Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4 “And in fact, you do love all of God’s family. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders . . . .” The church these days certainly is not minding it’s own business and they certainly have not won the respect of outsiders.
I was raised in a Christian home where acceptance was taught, but the reality was I also feared the reaction when I would come out. I even feared what my own parents would say and do. With the conversations I have had with other LGBT individuals, my fears were not at all uncommon. Since my Trans Girl at the Cross blog and Facebook page came into being, there have been numerous trans men and women from around the world, as far away as South Africa, who have expressed their own troubles being accepted with in a church body.
"I also think the inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to put aside prejudice is what blinds many to an accurate interpretation of scripture." - Jenni Mat
I’m fortunate. After having to leave two churches because of the lack of understanding, acceptance and love, I have found a church that not only is one that I feel comfortable in, but one where I am an active and a welcomed participant in the workings of the church.
I don’t know the exact number, but I would gather that after two and a half years in the church, close to a third of the congregation knows about my past and even a few of them read this blog. I have been the subject of gossip and my time at the church has not gone without some issues, but over all I have found a loving place to fellowship, minister and worship and even found allies within the elder board. But sadly, my experience is the exception and certainly not the standard.
When it is the pastors speaking out against the gay and trans communities, how is a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person going to have a positive view of the church?
The church on a whole has a long way to go. It will only begin when there is thoughtful education and discussion about how to overcome their preconceptions of the LGBT community. Bridges will have to be built to bring the two communities together. The damage that has been done will take time to repair. Leaders need to beginning rising up and taking a public stand to show the love that God intended for everyone, not the select few that conform to a their particular doctrine.
With only 18% of LGBT individuals that regularly attend a worship service, the church needs to find a way to reach out, heal and build the relationship it has with the LGBT community.
If you would like to learn more about bridging the gap between the church and the LGBT community, one of the leaders is right here in Chicago. Please visit The Marin Foundation @ Themarinfoundation.org
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