There is a reason why Christians call each other brother and sister; the Church is a family. But the Church, unfortunately, receives the most press time for certain congregations displaying the ugly side of family gatherings: the bitterness, the dark secrets, the infighting, and the awkward scenes in public. We can do better.
We all have to do better, because I am convinced the integrity and credibility of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality depend entirely on its response to actual gay people in its community. If the Church expects men and women to give up something that can seem so natural, so essential to happiness, so culturally acceptable, it needs to show that it has something even better to offer the gay person than marriage, sex, and the small thrills of a daily romance and companionship.
To be blunt, we are by and large terrible at that. For reasons we have previously discussed (notably in Tony’s excellent post on marriage), the Church (at least in the USA) is often less an invitation to a full and communal life as it is a sparkling infomercial for something unavailable to the chastely single gay person – marriage.
So I thought I’d write down a few of the things that I will be looking for in a local church, things I expect from every church, specifically in regard to my homosexuality.
– I expect to become family. This is possibly the biggest thing a church can do to make singleness seem bearable (and maybe even, gasp, attractive?). If I cannot start a family of my own, the families surrounding me should be darn well prepared to invite me to meals, holidays, children’s sporting events, movie nights, whatever. An enormous part of feeling loved and whole is knowing that people want you to be in their lives and miss you when you are gone. Lonely people are very aware that everyone else is probably having a good time without them. It’s one thing to develop a healthy appreciation of solitude and quiet, and it’s another thing to have no other options available because people are not including you as they should.
I don’t think I have to write anything more about this here. It should be obvious what it would look like to treat someone as family. Honestly, I’m not too worried about finding “family” in my 20’s. Churches are used to twenty-somethings needing to be included in home life. But what about when I’m 40, 50, 60 (is there life after 60?). It kind of scares me. I trust God will provide, but the small whispers of anxiety linger.
– I expect to be able to minister, as God leads, in any role a straight, single guy could. I have heard too many stories of men and women being restricted from serving in leadership specifically because they are gay, notably in children’s ministry (even if they are celibate!). I don’t get it. If there is a Men’s Naked Mud-Wrestling ministry, I will happily take the advice that perhaps my strengths are needed elsewhere (though now we’ll never know if I possess as-of-yet untapped evangelistic mud-wrestling potential…sigh). Otherwise, I would love to be able to use the passions and talents God has given me as he calls me.
There are pervasive cultural messages out there that tell me I am broken, compromised, and tragic because I’m attracted to men or because I won’t have sex with them. Some days I believe it all. One of the most powerfully transformative times in my life was when I lived and worked with abused kids for a summer. The all-Christian staff were ceaselessly affirming, always letting me know how proud they were of me, how excited they were that I was there with them, and how much the kids loved me. For one of the first times in my life I was being empowered to use all of me constructively for the sake of these beautiful children and the glory of God. That summer was the least lonely I have ever been because I finally experienced, and believed, that I was not “broken” beyond use, was not “compromised” beyond love, and not “tragic” beyond celebration.
Making sure that the gay members of each congregation are being encouraged to minister in life-giving ways and are validated for their contributions is an important part of preserving the church’s role as a place of where all people, no matter their background, can humbly take part in blessed service for the sake of the world.
– Lastly, I expect to be used as a resource. For too long the church has tried to “solve the problem of homosexuality” without drawing upon the experiences of its gay members. Remember that time they successfully built a safe and sturdy highway bridge with zero input from qualified engineers? Me neither.
Not every person who is attracted to the same sex wants to be so “public” about it, and that is totally fine. I personally feel strongly that I can be a helpful resource for my church as it becomes more passionate and capable of loving gay people of every conviction. The pastor at my current church has been wonderfully open to talking and has shown an eagerness to learn that makes me feel both validated and hopeful – that the pain and darkness I have gone through might be used to save someone like me from the same anguish. I won’t have all the answers, but that won’t stop God from using my story to build up his Church.
I guess the longing behind much of these expectations is that I simply want to be seen and loved as I am. For the gay Christian, rarely do the two coincide. Often we remain invisible out of anxiety that we will lose what love we do have, or maybe just because no one has noticed we were there to begin with. But visibility frequently seems to draw out confusion and fear far more readily than love and inclusion.
But isn’t it a truth of the Gospel that God sees each of his children fully and loves us unconditionally? Isn’t the Church supposed to embody (literally) that same, startling, counter-cultural embrace? How can we expect the world to think we are anything but crazy homophobes with a ridiculously backward sexual ethic unless we display this kind of inclusive, Christ-centered love to the gay men and women already kneeling under our steeples?
I’m excited. We have quite the opportunity here, I just hope we don’t miss it entirely.
Peace, brothers and sisters. Peace.
 …and may fill 50% of their journal from Junior year with whiny complaints about it.