About ten years ago I found myself sitting in the chapel at Geneva College, a small, conservative Presbyterian college in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. The speaker during the chapel service was a man from Harvest Christian Fellowship, a non-profit organization which claims to “help individuals struggling with homosexuality.”
During the sermon, the speaker discussed how he struggled with “homosexual thoughts” since he was a teenager. However, after intensive therapy and support from Harvest Christian Fellowship, he had been “cured” of his homosexuality.
As I think back to that sermon and other conversations and teachings from professors at Geneva College, I can see why I not only left Geneva College after a year. But I also can see why I left “the church” altogether because of my struggles to identify as a Christian when I greatly disagreed in what I thought “the church” was teaching.
Last month, I was invited to speak at a local LGBTQ bar during a vigil to honor those who lost their lives following the attack in Orlando at the Pulse Night Club as a local clergy.
While my words were brief, I wanted to express to those attending the support of those of us who are allies and the support of many of us clergy and local churches who working to bring LGBTQ equality in the United States. But more importantly, I wanted to express a message that all of us are loved by God and accepted by God no matter whom we are or how we may sexually identify ourselves.
The theological ideology of acceptance from God regardless of our sexuality is something that many evangelical Christians would argue and dispute with me. For them, homosexuality is considered sinful behavior as they point to particular elements in scripture to highlight their viewpoint.
My counterargument and that of many progressive Christians is that scripture was written in a different time and culture where sexuality had a different meaning that it does today. While I and many progressive Christians believe scripture was inspired by God, we don’t believe that all scripture should be taken literally. If we did, we would also be saying that we should not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material ( Leviticus 19:19) nor shall we not round the corners of our heads.(Leviticus 19:27)
After I spoke at the vigil, I took some time and lingered around the bar where I had the opportunity not to speak, but to listen to the stories from many of those who sexuality identify as a member of the LGBTQ community. For about an hour, I listened to their struggle with “the church” and with many Christians.
Through their stories, many of which were painful to hear, many things became clear to me.
The first is that while as an ally, I still cannot understand or relate to what it feels like to be condemned, discriminated, and even hated because of my sexuality. Just like my friends who are people of color, I can stand in solidarity for racial equality, but I cannot understand what it’s like to be discriminated because of it.
But another aspect which became clear to me was the surprise by many at the vigil to know there were churches which not only were open and welcome to those who sexually identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, but there were churches which didn’t believe their sexuality was viewed as a sin nor believed their sexuality prohibited in their ability to receive love and grace of God.
“You got to understand, it’s easy for churches to say they are welcoming of us in the LGBTQ community,” one woman said to me. “But unfortunately, many still cannot accept our sexuality.”
As an (almost ordained) minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination, I am glad to be part of a denomination which not only is open to those in the LGBTQ community but also affirms sexuality of individuals no matter how they identify themselves. Additionally, along with other denominations such as the United Church of Christ, The Presbyterian Church USA, The Episcopalian Church, and many other “mainline denominations,” many of our clergy sexually identify as being a member of the LGBTQ community and work to promote sexual equality while sharing the message that one’s sexuality does not conflict from receiving love and acceptance from God through Jesus Christ.
For many of these pioneers, they are evangelizing who are not only helping reclaim the word “evangelical” from conservative Christians, but they are also sharing a message which needs to be shared far and loud. A message that says you are created by God just as you are and are loved by God just as you are.
Even though I come from a church and come from a seminary (San Francisco Theological Seminary) which seeks to promote the acceptance and inclusiveness of all people regardless of their sexuality while emboldening church leaders to be advocates for equality, the realistic truth is we as “inclusive evangelicals” need to share this message more boldly and loudly.
By reclaiming the evangelical spirit of the early apostles, we as a church are called to not only welcome those regardless of their sexuality by having simple phrases such as “all are welcome” on church signs. But more importantly, we are called to evangelize the message of Christ’s inclusive love for all people boldly and loudly.
After all, haven’t we have been called proclaim to the all-inclusive love found through Jesus Christ?”