Illustration Courtesy of Wes Magruder
I received an email once which went something like this:
Hi, my partner and I are trying to find a church home. We haven’t been in years, but feel the need to reconnect with a faith community. We’ve thought about visiting your church, but I don’t know what your congregation would think about having a gay couple attend service. We aren’t looking to cause problems, but we also don’t want to be rejected. Do you believe it would be safe for us to visit this Sunday?
As a United Methodist pastor, I tried my best to make church a safe place for everyone. To ensure the safety of children and young people, we implemented programs like Safe Sanctuaries and Ministry Safe. Boards of Trustees worked hard to ensure that the facilities were kept accessible for the elderly and disabled.
But I will admit that I never had thought about how to make my church safe for gays and lesbians, their children and families. What does “safe” even mean in this context? I was pretty sure that nobody would attack them physically, or throw stones. I was also confident that no one would pull out a “God hates fags” sign.
Yet I was certainly aware that there are looks that kill, glances that judge, attitudes that quietly condemn. And it occurred to me that there was no way I could keep these things from happening.
Officially, of course, our church wants to be friendly: “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.” But this comes right after we state that we do not “condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” For that reason alone, any church that bears the name “United Methodist” automatically feels unsafe to homosexual persons.
The truth is that I really can’t make church safe for gays and lesbians. I can’t make church safe for anyone. Churches are filled with people who struggle to love, accept others, and live the Golden Rule. Church committees are full of folks who are racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic. Pews fill up every Sunday with people who don’t know what or why they believe.
That’s what human community is like. When you walk into any crowd, it’s always a crap-shoot whether you will find folks who act out of love or fear. When you enter into any sort of relationship, there is a chance you will be rejected, used, or betrayed. It simply might not turn out well.
Life in community entails risk. And the so-called Christian community might be just as risky as any other. In fact, you might have reason to believe that it could be a greater risk, especially if you attend one of those churches which reads the Bible literally.