Does Your Church Welcome LGBTQ People?

I hold the church personally responsible for any LGBTQ person who walks away from God and Christianity. Every week, I get emails from individuals all across the country who are full of desire to be a part of a church. They want to go on the church-wide mission trip, join the choir, serve in the youth group and attend a small group.

These are people who long to serve God, connect with other Christians and be a part of a wider community.

Here’s the heartbreaking part: they write me because the church won’t let them do those things and they don’t know what to do. Their church has found out they are LGBTQ and because of this are no longer welcome to join in these church activities they long to be a part of.

The worst are the emails I get are from young people who are no longer allowed in their youth group or who are bullied at church camps because of their sexual orientation. You might not think this is a big deal, or would just tell that person to go to a different church. You might be so used to the idea that those in the LGBTQ community are not welcome at church that this does not alarm you.

But WAKE UP. THIS NEEDS TO GREATLY ALARM YOU.

People are being turned away from the body of Christ.

Shouldn’t that bother you?

“But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me–it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42

This week wasn’t the first time I personally experienced this kind of rejection, but it was the first time I did so as a new mom and it’s left me feeling sad, hopeless, angry and in tears. In the past, my wife and I weren’t super careful about attending a church that openly welcomed and affirmed LGBTQ people.

Even though we would have liked a clear support, it wasn’t a deal breaker for us. But now that we have children, it totally is. We don’t want to feel anxious about a “well meaning” person indoctrinating our children in a way that makes them question their moms’ salvation, or even worse, their own. 

We also want a place where we can serve the Church, and we want a place where we can grow in community with others and make friends with other Christian parents. When I look at my own parents and their closest friends, those are friends they made at church when my brother and I were toddlers. These families are the people I grew up around and who my parents still spend time with to this day. It was (and is) such a beautiful, loving way to grow up, and I want what my parents had.

I want a safe place to serve, find belonging and community and to grow in my relationship with God.

I live in southern California, so as we set out on this journey to find a church I didn’t think it would be very hard. I ache for those people living in rural areas, or middle of the country places where they don’t have access to variety of church options, making it difficult to find a church that is open and affirming.

The first church we attended was great! It was filled with gay and straight people alike, all worshiping God. We could feel the genuine kindheartedness of the people and very much liked it. But there were only a couple other families with children, and it was roughly 40 miles from our home. That’s a long way to travel for church with two infants in the car.

We left there feeling encouraged, sure that it wouldn’t be hard to find an option just like this closer to our home. So, the next Sunday we attended a Methodist church. It was beyond beautiful inside and how could we not feel welcomed in a place where this was stamped on the front of every bulletin:

“We are a warm and loving Christian community of faith where we continually strive to create meaningful opportunities for growth and service. First church is also a Reconciling Congregation which intentionally welcomes all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, age, physical or mental capacity, education, and socioeconomic or marital status.”

This statement is so beautiful and I’m not sure I’ve read anything so Christ-like in a long time. Still, while this church had the heart and the location we desired, I’d say roughly 90% of the people were over the age of 60.

When you are gay and looking for a church, the options fall into two main categories.

First, there are churches that state clearly that they are welcoming and affirming to the LGBTQ community. Secondly, there are churches that say something like, “This is a church for all people” but don’t mention the LGBTQ community by name. The first category includes churches that believe it’s not enough to simply be willing to have you come to their church without blocking the door. Instead, they are willing to take a stand with and for the LGBTQ community.

In the past week, I began reaching out to churches in the second category that I could easily see our family attending. Their websites were cool, hip and filled with images of young families. Their worship bands have banjos (our family loves music like Mumford & Sons or Bob Dylan) and their children’s ministry is just as vibrant as their church service for adults.

I felt so excited in finding these churches, but also equally as nervous knowing I needed to call them in order to make sure my family and I were welcome before showing up on a Sunday morning. We didn’t want to get attached to any churches that we’d eventually have to leave because they didn’t affirm LGBT people. It would be far too painful to attend a church that we loved only to find out we weren’t allowed to become members or serve in any way.

Calling these churches before visiting was a self-protective measure.

You can’t imagine how vulnerable it is to leave a voicemail that sounds something like this, “Um, yes, hello Pastor So-and-so… um my name is Candice and my wife and I and our children are looking for a church… I’m calling… well… wondering if we are welcome to attend your church? What I mean is, well — I’m having a hard time finding the words, but… will we be discriminated against? Or told we are sinning as homosexuals if we come to your church?” Leaving this kind of message left me feeling shaky and exposed.

I’m not over exaggerating when I say this but, when they called back, all three pastors said the same exact thing and almost in the same exact tone. It was so eerie and similar that I wonder if they all went to the same training on how to reject a homosexual while sounding super nice about it.

“You and your family are of course welcome to come to our church, but I don’t want to mislead you. If you wanted to join our church or serve in any way, you wouldn’t be allowed. Our congregation is mixed on the subject and to my knowledge there aren’t any other gay people.”

They follow this statement up with a, “But I’d love to help you and your family find the right fit for you in the way of a church community,” and with one swoop, I felt my humanity go out the door. The pastors all mentioned the few churches that I had already found that are filled with older people.

So I said to them, “We want to come to a church like yours with contemporary worship and other families our age.

I asked them what we should do. The pastors would follow up with a, “Hunh. Yeah, I guess your right, hmmm…” And then silence.At this point in the conversation – the silence – I feel my stomach quickly turns into knots. I get hot, my blood starts racing through my veins and my eyes fill with tears.

I break the silence by saying something like, “What are my family and I going to do?! I know we would add so much to your church. My wife and I are creative, smart and seminary educated women. We have much to give and yet your church is going to miss out because we’re gay.” It’s even worse when the pastor responds, “Please do let me know if there’s anything I can do for you in the future.” It feels like an empty statement, and with that I know it’s time to end the call.

Perhaps my skin should be thicker, but it only took having this same conversation several times before I broke down. I’m filled with a deep ache that my children don’t get access to the same church experience that I had while growing up and that my wife and I will have to find a community of friends somewhere else.

My personal pain takes me back quickly to the many emails I get filled with similar sentiments from believers around the country.

How are Christians reasoning that the LGBTQ community is the cause of the fall of the family, and evil at the core when it’s us, the gays who are wanting to be a part of church but get turned away?! These emails bring me face-to-face with people whose desire to grow closer to God but are consistently met with rejection and hopelessness. These people have only one conclusion that they can draw from this — that God must not want them. And the Church is responsible.

Usually the emails I get end with something like, “I don’t know if I can be a Christian anymore, or why doesn’t God love me anymore,” or “I feel so alone in the world.” I wonder if the church isn’t responsible for these people turning away from God, who is?

Of course, there is a personal responsibility for every individual to find and choose God. But when people in positions of power who represent God reject someone in the name of God, it’s hard to separate God from the human rejection that comes from a pastor. That kind of weeding out process can take years and requires a certain level of mature brain development in order to understand a complicated experience like this.

I get these emails because I’m supposed to be the professional filled with answers.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have any answers and my heart is completely broken by this fact. I should have a list of 5,000 churches where these people would be welcomed to serve, join and grow in, but I don’t.

What I have is a list of churches that may or may not meet the needs of the individuals searching for a place to worship. And these churches are only helpful to those people who 1) reach out to me, and 2) who are adults able to choose where they worship. The answers and options for young people still living at home are even more scarce.

When young people who cannot choose where they worship contact me, instead of sending them to a church to find healing, community and answers, I only have one option. I send them to their local LGBTQ community center. They will surely end up finding some of what they need there in the way of friends and support, but there’s a great chance they will forever be turned off by Christianity, perpetuating the feeling that God does not want them.

This is why I can say with confidence that God is deeply grieved by all of this.

Rejecting people from worshipping God is everything – everything – that Christianity is opposed to but we have somehow reached the point where rejecting people is the normal, even “Christian” thing to do.

That’s what I am asking for, begging for — to be treated fairly, equally, and to have church communities that supports that pursuit.

Find a welcoming & affirming church today, and email us at team@believeoutloud.com to add your church to the list! Churches on our map are verified through the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force's Institute for Welcoming Resources.

Originally published by Candice Czubernat; Image via flickr user Savannah Roberts

Comments (16)

Our church is welcoming and affirming. We are in the DFW area.
novitaschurch.com

I suggest you contact your local Episcopal Church. And if you ever visit the San Joaquin Valley, please join us at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Visalia. Our motto is "All Are Welcome"...and we live out that charge. We are not large in numbers, but you will find affirmation here, not because you are part of the LGBT community, but because you (and your wife and children) are a child of God. - Fawn

Grace Episcopal Church, Ellensburg. I sing in the choir, my wife is on Vestry. We were married (legally since it is Washington State). All are Welcome! It is not just a phrase or slogan.

Welcome to North Dakota, where the answer from too many is, "Why don't you just move to a bigger city like Minneapolis or someplace else?"

I really appreciate hearing the pain and sadness in your writing. It is very important to hear that. As hard and painful as it was, I am glad that you called those pastors. They had to listen to themselves rejecting you, a seeker of Christ -- not as an abstract homosexual, but as a live human with a wife and kids. I firmly believe such conversations plant seeds. Hate does not have the ultimate say. I believe that as they continue to worship, preach, and teach Jesus, it will be harder and harder to maintain the hypocrisy when confronted with love and forgiveness.

Meanwhile, all the better for all LGBT Christians to support and affirm each other and learn together how to confront hatred with love.

We shall overcome.

For those of the Baptist persuasion, there's a whole organization -- the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists -- that maintains a list of W&A churches and continues to work to eradicate the idea that God would kick someone out of His house just because of their identity.

I don't know,but it should.i am morally active in this movement.i encourage, support whenever I can.to have transgendered stay true to themselves.

I wasn't impressed with this blog when I read it on Facebook, and I'm no more impressed now. Make no mistake, the writer raises very valid points about churches that say they are welcoming, but mean "you're welcome if you're willing to change".

The first thing that turned me off was the use of the term "The Church". There is no universal church, and no single attitude about LGBTQ people. There are whole denominations and individual churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques that are doing everything in their power to offer both an Open AND Affirming welcome to those who identify as LGBTQ. The blogger even admits that.

But what struck me most was the pervasive tone of whiny entitlement to find EXACTLY the church she wanted, of the right denomination, age, worship style, and welcome, right outside her door. God forbid she should have to drive a few miles. Or worse, worship with a bunch of old folks.

Has she considered that perhaps God is calling her to be the beginning of a younger group in one of the welcoming churches she turned her nose up at?

Why not try a church in the first category. Our community is a very traditional Congregational church and we voted unanimously to become an Open And Affirming (ONA) church of the United Church of Christ almost a decade ago specifically because we wanted LGBT folks to know that they were welcome and affirmed here as they are in all aspects of our faith and life. We're on Long Island in NY but there are many ONA UCC churches in SoCal where no advance call would be required and where your family would be not just welcome but celebrated. If you come to NY, look us up and if you can sing, we could use a few more voices in our choir!

I'm a member of St Paul UCC church in Barrington, IL. We are a small congregation, with a mix of young, middle-aged, and elderly, but we are truly welcoming to all. We have gay and lesbian singles and families among our members, some are ministry chairs, but all are actively involved in the church. Don't be afraid of the old people; I'm one myself - and you might be surprised at how we can fit in with young families. Just like your parents and grandparents. Check out UCC churches.uy23k

All are welcome at New Bridges Presbyterian Church in Hayward, California. We encourage you to join us for worship any Sunday @ 10 AM.

We have a similar issue. The nearest gay friendly churches are an hour away. We ended up going to a gay questioning church (if that makes sense). This church is a Presbyterian Church in a very conservative community where the pastor and the leadership are gay affirming, but the congregation is older and questioning. We do not have children so it is ok for us. I have joined the choir, and the people are awesome. They have really accepted us. There are other gay people slowly coming in also. We decided to stay in the older congregation. If we did not stay, we could not help them and minister to them and help them change and move into a more inclusive congregation that the pastor and leadership wants. We are a living example of gay Christians that they need to see.

As priest in charge of a rural Episcopal parish, I would urge you to not dismiss a congregation based on average age. I understand your desire to worship with others of your age group, that is young parents. But consider that someone has to be that first young couple and you could be a magnet for other young people. Also, your child might find a plethora of "grandma's and grandpa's" to love her/him. And finally, most important consideration is finding a congregation that will support and challenge to grow as a disciple. Blessings and peace.

My church Fourth Ave Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn NY welcomes everyone. It took my years to find this Church. I am gay and was a Deacon for 6 years and an Elder now. Before I found this Church I had to weed out a few sad to say phoney Churches that called themselves Christian. All of us are children of God and shame on those Churches that discriminate. It is their loss. The people in my church know what a wonderful person I am and I am very lucky to have them in my life. Don't feel bad about the pastor and people in those Churches that turned you away. It is their loss. You will find the right place...Try to have faith. Hope

I do believe that all ELCA (Lutheran) churches in So. Cal. are now "Reconciling in Christ" (open & affirming) At least I think their synod's bishop made a huge announcement about being RIC.

I liked this for the most part. It does bother me that you didn't feel welcome in churches with elderly folk who were welcoming to you. I have been in churches where I was one of the few young families. Basically, they loved us and we loved them. I started turning friends on to the church. The younger population grew, because we were well received by the elderly community who had been wanting younger people to join. Unless they actively hated young people (I strongly doubt this), you are definitely missing out and underestimating the love that the elderly can offer.

I appreciate the information in this article. As a member of a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation which has just voted to be an "open and Affirming" congregation, I am on a committee to write our identity statement. I have tried to stress the need for terminology such as gender identity and gender orientation as well as race, age, etc but don't seem to be able to have the other committee members realize the need for the LGBT community to see these words of welcome in a bulletin or visitor information pamphlet. My question is "How important is it for the LGBT community to see these words to feel they are welcome completely in a church?" Your article indicates it is very important. Do you have any statistics as to how much of a difference this would make to LGBT folks. I've shared with some of the members that I myself am transgendered and that I am passionate about needing the words written in print. I appreciate any input folks may have. Thank you.

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