Should Straight Allies Remain at Non-Affirming Churches?
A friend asked me to participate in his company’s Pride Month “Ask Me Anything: I’m Queer” event. The program was an open period for people to ask questions giving the LGBTQ+ members of the company to respond.
The question I was asked centered around straight people attending churches that speak out against gays; that being anything other than straight was a sin. The person asking the question wanted to know our take on that condition.
Here is my response, which was published to the company’s internal website:
It’s tough living among people with such a wide spectrum of beliefs, knowing the person on your right or left may think you’re an “abomination,” as some label me. They’re quoting religious scriptures they grew up with and they’re earnest in their beliefs.
It must be equally tough for certain religious people to live and work alongside people they have been taught are abominations. Some of them use that scripture to call me horrible names because they’re just homophobic. Others earnestly believe that if I don’t change, I’ll suffer for an eternity, and they don’t want me to have to experience that. So in the latter case, the motives aren’t horrible — but it doesn’t stop the pain caused by “get right or get left” messages.
For some perspective on what it’s like to be LGBT in a non-accepting religious community, I’d recommend two movies: “Prayers for Bobby” which is a true story that occurred with a family and church in the East Bay, California, and “Boy Erased.” I personally know people from both stories and found the representations enlightening.
Most of us would leave an organization that told us we were horrible. The problem that many LGBT people have is that it also means leaving family and friends as well. The pain and sadness that religious messaging causes people for something they had no more choice over than the color of their eyes drives many to despair and self-harm. It’s hard to deal with as a grown adult — imagine getting those messages as a kid? It’s bad enough the creator of the universe has a problem with you when you’re 12, but mom, too?
Many of us don’t have to imagine that. We lived it growing up. That’s why the mere mention of religion can be a huge trigger for many in the LGBTQIA+ community.
I’ll point out two factors impacting religious intolerance of gays. First, almost 50 years of the modern movement containing various conversion therapies and other change efforts have been a disastrous failure. Second, people coming out have dispelled once-held beliefs that gays were mentally sick. It was much easier to think of gays as monsters when we didn’t know any as people. The result is a trend towards obsolescence for organizations that hold these views. Not cancel culture (although that exists), but when theory clashes with observable reality, theory typically loses.
So, should the conversation be held at a church on the right way to love people? Absolutely. Are you the person to lead it? Maybe.
It could be that your position in the church affords you a proverbial microphone. In that case, you may want to use your position to call attention to any hurt the church is causing anyone. If not, another way of sending that message is to find an “affirming” church where all are welcome and let your church leadership know exactly why you’re leaving.
I cannot remain silent in an organization that diminishes me. To do so is to be an active participant in my own diminishment. Likewise, anyone who chooses to remain silent in an organization that diminishes others is taking an active role in diminishing others.
A few thoughts after a fairly positive reception from this post:
First, as a friend of mine often points out, I don’t need the love of a church. I get that they love me, but the sentiment is hardly enough. As a human being, I need to be affirmed as every bit as valuable as the person sitting next to me. My work affirmed as every bit as valuable as anyone else’s, married, single, straight or whatever. An organization that doesn’t do that for me doesn’t deserve my time, my money, or my respect. It doesn’t deserve yours, either.